Sutherland-Abbott ready to continue on 480 board
By Rachel coleman
• Leader & Times
USD 480 School Board member Tammy Sutherland-Abbott is wrapping up her term on the board — but she’s not finished.
She pleased that she kept the two promises she made when she first ran for election:
“I vowed I would never take one of those national school-board convention trips, and I still have not,” she said. “That ought to be for the administration. I haven’t seen any board member bring anything back from those conventions that we’ve applied usefully in Liberal.”
Sutherland-Abbott also promised constituents she would not vote to increase taxes.
“There are other ways around funding problems,” she said. “I’m a property owner and a taxpayer, and I live just an average lifestyle. I’m very conscientious about how the district’s money is spent, because it affects me, too.”
Nor have Sutherland-Abbott’s main motives for running for office changed.
“Ultimately, it’s still the same as the first time,” she said. “That was when my son, Tyler (now a college student at West Point) was right around middle school age. Many of his classmates had parents who were good parents, cared about their kids, but were a little shy. I wanted to be a voice for those families, and those students, who might need someone to help them think ahead.”
Sutherland-Abbott’s desire springs from her own life story.
“Neither of my parents graduated high school. They were older parents; my dad, if he was living, would be 100 years old this year. Having no understanding of higher education, they were just glad to get me graduated from high school,” she said. “They didn’t understand all the options you can give kids. And that was one thing I felt responsible about for my own. I wanted to make them productive citizens, to have the foresight to do something more so they could give back to the world.”
For Liberal students, Sutherland-Abbott believes the ability to give back requires a firm foundation in the basics, particularly reading.
“I’ve been proud that, on the board in the last few years, I have helped push the idea that we do not socially promote students from one grade to the next,” she said. Despite Abbott’s wishes, she said, some social promotion has occurred, nonetheless.
“In the past years, some kids have been given the benefit of the doubt and were just promoted, thinking they’d catch up. It has worked in reverse,” she said. “I understand that if someone moves here who doesn’t have basic skills, that’s hard. Maybe we should consider some kind of entrance testing so the students are placed in the proper classroom.”
The situation can be particularly difficult when it comes to migrant or non-English-speaking students who enter the public school system, Sutherland-Abbott acknowledged.
“Our language, English, is quite tricky to learn,” she said, “and that makes it pretty tough for everyone — the student, the teacher, the district. I have a different perspective on it because my children’s father was a military man, and when my daughter Amanda was 2, we had to fly to Germany to meet him. Something happened and we ended up in the airport where I couldn’t read the signs or speak the language. I’m not stupid. But I just couldn’t communicate. I think it’s a lot like that for many of the kids in our system.”
Despite the difficulties, she believes it’s possible to “rise above it,” she said. “I think we, as a district, are perfectly capable of being able to shine. I just believe that.”
Leader & Times Candidate Q&A
BIO: Tammy Sutherland-Abbott moved to Liberal when daughter, Amanda — now a student at Seward County Community College, and mother herself — was in kindergarten. A son, Tyler, is enrolled at West Point. She is married to Travis Abbott, and mother to stepdaughter, Taylor, currently a fifth-grader. A grandson will soon start kindergarten. Sutherland-Abbott earned an associate’s degree at SCCC, and is completing her senior-year work for a business degree from Fort Hays State University. A full-time office manager at Weatherford, she says, “I believe life is about taking steps in the right direction, and that’s what I try to do. We are always in a learning process throughout life.”
Q: What motivated you to run for USD 480 School Board?
A: My desire to offer guidance to the youth of our community so they can become productive people who give back. When my generation is old, that’s who will be in charge of everything. I honestly believe the more education we can provide, the better our quality of life as a society. I’m not saying everyone needs to go to college. I appreciate that gentleman who picks up my trash as much as the doctor who takes care of me. I don’t measure success by the paycheck. As long as students grow up and are contributing to our community, that’s what I consider a successful student.
Q: Explain your priorities for the education of children and teens. What areas are most important?
A: I believe that it’s all foundational. Without the foundation to go to the next step, they’re going to crumble. They’re not going to be able to get to the next level. That goes back even to kindergarten, because if they don’t get their elementary fundamentals in reading and learning how to learn, how will they ever be able to learn math, science, social studies? Ultimately, it’s reading.
Q: Describe your vision for the future of USD 480 and its students.
A: I’m praying the program “Literacy First” will really help our kids, since the administration decided to use it. Thinking back to my own education, I think that’s exactly what they did when I was in elementary school. It’s not a new thought, it’s just a new label put on it. Ultimately my first goal is for every student to graduate.
Q: What challenges do you see in education in our school district? How should these be addressed?
A: I know the students who are not native English-speakers have a hard time. But instead of saying it’s something pulls us down, I’d like to see it being something we can rise above. I don’t like excuses. I like to see success.
State testing is supposed to hold schools accountable, but it’s a dual-edged sword. If you don’t play by the state and federal government rules, you don’t get the funding. At times, we’d like to say, “We’re going to go back to teaching like we used to,” but then you have to take all the consequences. We need active participation in the government, we need strong people to get in there and fight it.
I know my kids went through Liberal school systems, and both of them got a quality education. I still believe that the opportunity’s there.
Q: On the other hand, what strong points do you see in USD 480? What’s working well?
A: Our teachers are our greatest asset. They’re going to make or break each student on an individual basis. I don’t think every teacher realizes this but I know our teachers do their best. I haven’t been on the negotiating team when it’s time to work out the teachers’ contracts, so I might be out of line here, but I don’t see why it should be so difficult. Why not go in one time, lay it out, be honest and come to an adult agreement? That’s what I’d like to see happen. On both sides, I’d like to see different representation so maybe it could be smoother. The bottom line is we want what’s best for kids. It takes a team effort from both sides to work together. It shouldn’t be a battle. I thought that was utterly ridiculous at the beginning of this school year, for all those teachers to have this situation laying over their shoulders. They were worrying about that, when they were coming back to school to teach our kids.
Q: Personally, what strengths and relevant experience would you bring to the board?
A: I’m a mother and grandmother. I’ve been a student at Seward County. I approach every decision on the board with the thought, “Would this be OK for my child?” That’s the same decision I try to make for everyone else’s children. But in serving on a board, I have also learned from people who come from other circumstances. You can’t just think of it from your own perspective. You have to learn about teamwork.