Meet the Candidates: Bill Farris

SSUSD Board of Education

Meet the Candidates: Bill FarrisBy LAURA LEIGH MONTEREY

News Review Correspondent

Bill Farris, an incumbent on the SSUSD school board, has been a member of the community since 1969, and graduated from Burroughs High School in 1972. He’s run local businesses – restaurant and furniture – for more than 30 years, and usually more than one at a time. He and his wife, Cherie, raised their 12 children here, all of whom attended Sierra Sands schools, as well as many of their 26 grandchildren. He has served on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the AltaOne Board of Directors, the Civic Light Opera and Theater Association (CLOTA) Board, and has been involved in community theater through many different venues. “This is the community I’m committed to long term. I have never planned on going anywhere else. I believe in making the community the place you want it to become.”

Farris points to his experience as a parent, a business person, and community involvement as the source of the skills he uses for oversight, and lays particular emphasis on his skill in team building. Farris also brings to the board an extensive network of contacts that he has developed in multiple organizations over the past 35 years. He is a member of the Kern County School Board Association and serves on the California School Board Association board, whose territory encompasses all of Kern and Tulare Counties. “We’re in the process of building a grassroots network so we can have stronger influence on legislation affecting local schools. In order to effect that level of governance, you have to have the involvement, the ear, the gateway to have those conversations with people in those positions,” especially where funding is concerned.”

While Farris may have his own philosophical views, he said he recognizes that “right now, we’re driven by specific forces,” chiefly a state prohibition of on-campus instruction. “We will continue to refine our virtual provisions for students to meet needs as comprehensively as possible. We have made progress, but the challenges for teachers, students, families, administrators are through the roof. And these challenges are hard.”

Nonetheless, he remains a firm proponent of in-class instruction. “On-campus instruction is where they have interaction, work together, where they learn so much about collaboration and pick up the real world skills that you just can’t get to in the virtual world.” Farris recognizes that to some degree that we will not return to exactly the way we were, and that that’s not necessarily bad. Returning to the classroom would be accomplished only with the utmost care and consideration for safety. “We can’t put anyone at significant risk.”

Farris recognizes that financial planning for the district is going to be tricky. “The reality is that everything is up in the air, but my gut tells me that the next couple years will be kind of tough,” and that while the district has a history of being “thoughtful and strategic, “we need to continue being precise to spend resources as well as possible.” In Farris’ view, this means that along with the careful implementation of the CARES Act, the district will need to take a thoughtful and deliberate approach to all spending. “But the beauty of this kind of thinking is that if we’re wrong, then we’re in a much better position than we thought we would be.”

According to Farris, the district did follow the distance learning guidelines, but that if they had known in the beginning that they wouldn’t be reopening for so long, they probably would have put the elements of distance learning in place sooner. “We had to balance campus learning against virtual, but circumstances were so dynamic that every day, a new aspect came forward. We had to respond in real time, and this will continue to be the case.”

The challenge will be to successfully implement dual objectives — developing and refining the virtual environment while working to reopen campuses. To create a roadmap, they are observing other school districts. “We don’t know when we will become eligible to reopen, but we’re observing now so we can move forward as efficiently and quickly as possible. This is extremely important because some kids are missing out.”

Story First Published: 2020-09-25