Athens for Everyone sent a questionnaire to both District 8 School Board candidates, John Knox and Kamau Hull. We have published their responses unedited and in-full.
A4E 2016 School Board QuestionnaireWhy are you running for school board? What are your qualifications for this office? What ideas are you bringing to the table as a school board candidate?
In addition to 13 years as a CCSD parent, I have lived in District 8 for the past 15 years and I’m invested in the local district. I am an elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church, in the center of District 8, and I have mentored at both Hilsman Middle School and Cedar Shoals High School.
I am an experienced educator. I have taught at UGA for 15 years, focusing on the large introductory classes that many professors avoid. I’ve taught over 5,000 students so far in my career, and I have spent summers doing workshops for K-12 teachers. I would bring this teaching experience to the board. If elected, I would be the only currently active classroom teacher on the board. This is important, because I am constantly reminded in my day job that the students come first.
I am also a very experienced board member. I have served on 7 different boards of directors for educational and religious groups for a total of 34 years of board experience. I currently serve as national chair of two such groups. My long experience on boards would translate into effective leadership on this Board.
As evidence of my efforts in education and on boards, I direct you to the endorsements I have received for my candidacy, at www.knox2016.com/endorsements.html.
The ideas I would bring to the Board would focus on issues related to:
-attendance and discipline (see below);
-the fleshing-out of the just-approved charter school district;
-the negative impact of the Opportunity School District constitutional amendment;
-access of CCSD students to higher education; and
-open, transparent and proactive leadership on the Board.
These ideas, in turn, would be:
-making sure that students are in class and that teachers have the support of their principals in maintaining an appropriate climate for learning in their classrooms;
-promoting the Local School Governance Teams throughout the district so that the charter district plan can function;
-opposing the takeover of Gaines Elementary by a state “czar” because of an arbitrary definition of “chronically failing” schools;
-examining in detail the ability of CCSD students to enroll at UGA and other local colleges, including trends in dual enrollment. My initial analysis suggests that CCSD students are becoming scarce on the UGA campus, and I want to look into this more deeply; and
-promoting a culture on the Board that provides more access and real-time feedback to the public than currently exists in the public-comment time at regular Board meetings. HB 959, passed by the Georgia House and Senate this past March, states (or, it would seem, restates) that any school board member can conduct or attend town hall meetings, and can discuss nonconfidential matters with the public and the media. I have always maintained an open-door, ask-away relationship with my students and I cannot imagine serving on the school board in any way other than the maximum transparency allowable under law.”
I bring a wide range of overlapping experience that will be unique to the Clarke County Board of Education. I am uniquely qualified to tap into the needs of our students as an Athens native who graduated from a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence (Cedar Shoals), a community coach for various youth sports, and an invested parent in the Clarke County School District with one son attending a district school and another on the way. I have the experience of serving both our schools and this community. I have served our schools through the Whit Davis School Council and PTO, and as a Trainer/Sponsor for Peer Mediation at Clarke Central High School. I serve our community as a member of the Athens MLK Day Steering Committee, a board member of Chess & Community, and through my involvement with several local churches. As a Child Welfare Attorney in this county’s Juvenile Courts, I have firsthand experience with the legal side of our educational policies and interact frequently with the school district as an advocate for juveniles and parents. Further, as Mediation Trainers, my wife and I have taught, trained, and coached students and professionals about conflict resolution in our firm, high schools, colleges, and law schools for several years.
My wife and I have so much invested in this district, as do so many other parents. We want to do all we can to see it succeed. As such, bringing this cross-section of experiences to the Board of Education can only help further what I consider to be the two main issues currently facing our district – school discipline and safety, and community engagement. These two issues are not only paramount in the Clarke County School District right now, but also they play a key role in other challenges our district faces – namely a seemingly widening achievement gap, and teacher turnover. I will work vigorously to revisit our school discipline policies and standards, set clear objectives and expectations for our students, and make sure our administrators are empowered to enforce our objectives and standards impartially. I will work to make sure our schools operate as extensions of our community, rather than isolated aspects of our community. I will work to make sure our policies can work hand in hand with our Juvenile Courts to restore juveniles and families, rather than feed into the school-to-prison pipeline. Our schools should be places that foster and establish the respect and appreciation that our teachers need while building the trust between our parents, teachers, administrators, and students. I believe creating this type of environment is the key to closing the achievement gap, and retaining our teachers and administrators.”
The Board makes and enforces policies, as described at https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/index.aspx?S=4036 (click on “Policies”). The relevant policy here is:
Policy B. School Board Operations, subheading BBD “Board-School Superintendent Relations”
“…The Board holds the Superintendent responsible for carrying out its policies within established guidelines and for keeping the Board informed about school operations. In his/her efforts to keep the Board informed, the Superintendent will notify Board members as promptly as possible of any happenings of an emergency nature which occur in schools.”
During the Jan. 7 incident at Cedar Shoals HS, it is my understanding that at least some Board members were not notified until four weeks later, and through the news media. As this does not satisfy the “as promptly as possible” requirement for “happenings of an emergency nature” (e.g., felonious conduct), there should be a thorough impartial review of why policy was not followed. The Board should now and in the future “[hold] the Superintendent responsible,” as per Board policy, for “keeping the Board informed” in such circumstances.
Sadly, this incident might have been averted if changes in the leadership at Cedar Shoals had occurred earlier. The new interim principal, Derrick Maxwell, has made what appears to be substantial progress at CSHS in just two months, simply by enforcing student conduct policies that were already on the books and changing the deployment of security personnel on the rather vast Cedar Shoals campus. This suggests that the Board needs to be more careful in scrutinizing and approving the superintendent’s choice of principals. This is, again, fully within the purview of the Board: the superintendent makes recommendations, but the Board makes the ultimate decision and does not have to be a “rubber stamp.” As a Board member, I would be insistent that our most challenged schools get the best principals.
Finally, as we have seen in the document compiled by nearly fifty Clarke Central and Cedar Shoals teachers and staff, we have a wealth of wisdom, energy, and ideas within our own schools for how best to create a climate and culture of learning that would greatly reduce the chances of similar incidents occurring in the future. See this document at:
When I serve on boards of directors, I always pay careful attention to what those who are “closest to the action” have to say. CCSD teachers and staff, along with students, likely have the best and most practical ideas for how to create a healthy school climate. We should all be listening to them, and shaping our recommendations around what they say, rather than forcing top-down recommendations on them from above.”
In addition, I’m aware that at least one state, California, has adopted a sexual consent curriculum for high schools. I would ask that the school board assess what our current sexual education courses offer in terms of consent, and work to include these issues as a future preventative measure.”
The solution is to ensure that our schools have strong principals who support inspired and inspiring teachers, and to give all of them the time, space, and backing necessary for them to do their jobs well. Nearly any time I hear about a troubled school, the troubles lead directly to the principal. Better leadership, plus enforcement of basic attendance/discipline policies, should improve student achievement. In short, in the words from Apollo 13, “work the problem.” Our nation’s institutions function best when everyone is engaged and doing their jobs, from the top (the Board and superintendent) down (to the students, parents, and the community). I would do my part as a Board member by keeping a very watchful eye on the leadership at CCSD schools.
But we shouldn’t let the wording of the constitutional amendment subtly persuade us that the schools targeted for takeover by the czar are, in fact, “chronically failing.” As currently defined, “chronically failing” is based on a standardized test that was not intended to be used for these purposes. In the case of Gaines Elementary, the label contradicts what even the State Superintendent of Education thought about Gaines after an on-site visit (see http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2015-02-15/failing-label-gaines-elementary-surprises-clarke-school-officials). So, while I fully agree with supporting and improving CCSD schools, I disagree that we should allow ourselves to be coerced into a discussion of our local schools as viewed through the distorted lens of the “Opportunity” School District amendment proposal.”
This is a problem that’s bigger than the school district, in my opinion. Wi-fi in the U.S. is abysmally slow by international standards, and efforts to create city-wide free wi-fi around the nation seemed to collapse as soon as wealthier people were willing to pay more for faster (but slow, by, say, South Korean measures) wi-fi. The public has managed to opt for one of the worst possible solutions, in which access is private, not public, but we don’t really get what we pay for in terms of speed or ease of use.
How I would approach this problem:
-Ascertain how big a problem this is for CCSD students—how many students, how often, at what times of day/night;
-Map out the areas where CCSD students live who are experiencing this problem (with help from the GIS and cartography experts in my department at UGA);
-Identify safe public areas near the affected students where wi-fi could be installed; or else nearby private establishments with wi-fi that would be willing to cooperate (e.g., could the Chick-fil-A cow really say ‘no’ to students needing to finish their homework?);
-Work with Athens-Clarke County, as needed, to provide wi-fi zones for these students
How I think Athens should approach this problem is a much bigger vision: we should emulate Chattanooga and become a hub of high-speed Internet (see http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/04/technology/fast-internet-service-speeds-business-development-in-chattanooga.html?_r=0 and http://www.thegigtank.com/gig-city), and then provide free public access to it at selected public sites. But that would be well beyond the scope of the Board of Education, and would require vision and initiative at the Mayor/Commission level.”
For more information on the candidates, you can read their answers to a questionnaire published by The League of Women Voters which you can find here.by