The League of Women Voters sent me a few questions to answer this week. I thought voters may want to take a look. For the purposes of the League of Women Voters I was limited to a 200-word response, but I’d like to provide more insight here.
What do you see as the top two needs for your school system, and how would you work to address them?
We need to restore manageable class sizes in our schools. In 2009 the board approved the IE2 contract and eliminated the right to appeal class size decisions. This year they accepted a budget that includes two Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce positions and central office salary increases, but fewer teaching positions and the same furlough days. I will work to open the budget process to the community, ask questions to clarify priorities, listen, and engage in rigorous discussion with my fellow board members.
At the same time we must invest in our teachers...can you imagine facing the learning curve on common core standards, e-class technology, and a new teacher evaluation, all while grading 160 essays or teaching 28 kindergarteners their ABC's? We must insist that teachers have protected planning periods, that guidance counselors are able to focus on counseling and that our children have the best possibility to learn. If we refocus the budget and involve the community we should be able to achieve these goals. After all, GCPS central office expenses are 30 percent above the state average in spite of the economies of scale that should exist in the state’s largest district.
We have pockets of excellence – we need excellence across the board. We can’t just rely on positive statistics. We need to identify and address troubling trends and patterns. Our on-time graduation rate is 67%, but we have schools where half the students don’t graduate on time. The Georgia Department of Education monitors some of our schools because they perform in the lowest 15% in Georgia. Schools we have known about for well over a decade – with little to no improvement. I will challenge any policy or practice that does not promote a thriving educational environment.
In your opinion, what is the single biggest weakness in your school system and what will you do while in office to address it?
Wise policy considers those it affects; misguided policy often stems from insufficient dialogue. Our board needs to listen. We need to open the doors to community discussion and debate on important issues like funding and educational equity. For lasting solutions, we must incorporate the voices of teachers and parents. Some current policies would never have been approved if the community had been informed of the likely consequences. For example, without community discussion, GCPS promptly secured a waiver when the state enacted a policy to allow parents to shift children to different schools with open capacity if they provided transportation. This gave our parents less flexibility than anywhere else in Georgia. My website blog, is an open forum where anyone can ask questions, discuss problems, and offer solutions.
By contrast, the policy change my opponent chose to champion puts in place a confusing and intimidating set of rules around public discussion with the board. People don’t choose to spend their time addressing a Board of Education without having a serious concern. In all likelihood they have run the gauntlet of email, teacher and administrator meetings, and appeals to county administration before addressing the board as their last resort. After facing those barriers, they then arrive at the rules for addressing the board -- another set of barriers, in an intimidating and unwelcoming place.
The biggest issues with the public speaking policy are:
- It limits speaking length to 3-5 minutes.
- You must notify the board 3 1/2 days in advance that you will be speaking and notify the board what you will be speaking about in order to address the board. Why the constraints?
- If you are to go speak about a policy the night it is going to be voted on, then the vote is held before the public speaking section of the agenda. Therefore the public is required to speak during the "unrecorded" part of the session at 6:15-6:30 p.m. when the board does not have to officially address your concerns.
Is this how you would treat your neighbors and friends if you were a board member?