Speech and Debate finds new adviser, hires two coaches

From transitioning from former adviser Michael Nguyen to Dennis Sosnowski in 2015, to shifting towards greater student management by removing the Parent Booster Club (a group of the members’ parents who organize the judges for tournaments) in 2016, Speech and Debate had always found a way to stay afloat.

This year, however, the club faced problems bigger than ever before. Sosnowski and former coach Maureen Friend both resigned at the end of last year due to their busy schedules, which often conflicted with the club’s tournament schedule.

Without an adviser or a coach, Speech and Debate immediately ran into several problems concerning the legality of attending tournaments on their own, and quickly needed to find someone to fill the positions.

In order for Speech and Debate to legally compete in their tournaments, they need a PUSD teacher to attend along with them.

“When we represent Westview at tournaments, we need to have a teacher or an adult sign up because we take legal responsibility for these kids,” Speech and Debate president Allison Bao (12) said. “If something happens, we really need a teacher to sign off [for the students].”

Though Sosnowski temporarily allowed the club to continue to meet in his room, Speech and Debate’s first few weeks of this school year were off to a rough start without a permanent teacher to fill the position, Bao said.

“Every year, we always want to get started right away and compete in tournaments, so when we missed the first tournament it was really terrible for the club,” she said. “That’s when we knew it was getting out of control.”

According to Bao, many members of Speech and Debate were worried when they heard that they couldn’t compete in the first two tournaments of the year due to their lack of an advisor.

“It was really sad,” Mingda He (11) said. “I already had cases researched and prepared for the public forum tournament, so I was really hoping we could compete.”

Others were equally as distressed.

“It was possible that we weren’t going to be able to compete for the entire year,” Speech captain Rachel Schlusselberg (11) said. “I’ve been doing it since I was a freshman, so the thought of not competing was really stressful.”

Initially, Bao waited for administrators to support the club and assist in finding a new adviser, but as weeks went by with no word or improvement, she knew something had to be done. She went from classroom to classroom, trying to find a teacher who would agree to be their adviser.

However, finding a teacher who was willing to dedicate a large portion of their time outside of school proved to be extremely difficult.

“I talked to three quarters of the staff, but pretty much everyone told us no,” Bao said. “I was really panicking. I felt like a chicken with my head cut off.”

One of the biggest problems the club faced was communication.

“We needed to communicate better with the district administration from the very beginning,” Bao said. “No one really knew what was happening. We were really unsure with what the tournament administration required for qualified advisers. We offered some [potential teachers as advisers], but the administration kept springing requirements onto us that we didn’t know about before.”

In spite of this, with the help of Schlusselberg, Bao eventually found the help the club needed from the parents of the former booster club.

Schlusselberg enlisted the help of her mom, who served an important role by becoming the club’s liaison with other parents as well as Bao and the school administration.

According to Bao, the club faced problems with holding people accountable to the things they were supposed to do last year.

“Delegation was our big thing, but now that we actually have adults here who organize things, it helped,” said Bao.

After getting in touch with Debbie Schlusselberg, Bao was able to figure out the tournament forms and requirements that the club needed.

“Thankfully we had people who could help us communicate effectively,” Bao said. “When adults communicate with each other they respect each other more than when kids ask them to do something.”

After rallying enough parents, Bao was finally able to meet with Principal Tina Ziegler and ASB adviser Shannon Parker to figure out the technicalities of hiring a new adviser. After several parent meetings with the administration, the club became fully aware of the requirements for coaches and advisers, and the club was back on track to finding a suitable adviser and some coaches.

Ziegler helped in appointing English teacher Shannon Wilcox as Speech and Debate’s new adviser, briefing her on her responsibilities and the logistics of being a 4.5 class.

“She’s been really eager to help us, and same with the parents, which is what we really needed all along,” Bao said.

Along with finding a teacher who meets the requirements for the adviser role, Debbie Schlusselberg found two parents who were willing to be Speech and Debate’s new coaches, Alyssa Navapanich and Grace Parra. Navapanich, whose children had been involved with Speech and Debate, teaches at Del Sur Elementary School and was easily approved because of her employment within Poway Unified School District. Parra, a retired pageant coach, would be available to coach Speech and attend all the tournaments.

“Now we’re settling down,” Bao said. “We have a better foundation and understanding of how we do things, and we’re finally going back to being stable.”