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LRSD School Board Candidates: Michael Mason, Zone 1

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Why did you decide to run for the Little Rock School Board?

“I’m a graduate and a product of the Little Rock School District, graduate of Little Rock Central [High School], 1976. And [the]Little Rock School District during those years was one of the best school districts in the state. All of my children have graduated from the Little Rock School District…My reasons are to better our school district, to bring it back to top form, to help students and families become productive citizens in our state and our city."

What education experience do you have?

"Well I have a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff. I have a dual Master’s degree for management and public administration…I’ve worked for the City of Little Rock. I’ve worked for the federal government. So I’ve done about 30 years of public service."

Did you and/or your children go to public school?

“Oh yes. We are public school advocates. The best education is in public schools. And it may not be academic. It could be social. It’s just an all-around better education because public education provides so many opportunities.”

What are your main goals/policy points/things you want to accomplish when you’re on the school board?

"One of the most difficult things is going to be increasing parent participation. Me, I believe that our parents are the most important product to help students learn. When I was in school, when I was in Little Rock Public Schools, there were certain things I couldn’t do until I got my homework done. Couldn’t watch TV. Couldn’t go out and play. I had to complete my work." 

"One of the things I want to do is to encourage parents to participate, provide 100% participation in schools, in the children’s education [and] provide adequate processes and resources for that to occur; also, provide a safe and dynamic learning environment for students, teachers and administrators in the Little Rock School District. I want to ensure all students are literate in all subjects, empower the teachers as they provide opportunity, change lives, give unconditional love to students who are learning and support our administrators in managing and maintaining resources, assist the Little Rock School District to be competitive and visionary in providing world-class public education."

How do you think Little Rock School District Schools have fared without a school board over these past years?

"It’s been difficult. I think with one person acting as a school board, I think it’s been a little stressful on both, for the public, for teachers, administrators. It’s been stressful for the Secretary of Education because he had to account for everything. He had to be responsible. He had to make some hard choices and I think those, the school district has improved, but it has a long way to go. But it’s going to take teachers, administrators, [the] superintendent to keep navigating.

"One of the things that was most important to me in learning and being on the Community Advisory Board, because I’m currently on the Community Advisory Board, one of the most important things I learned is how many students have learning disabilities. It’s important to know that teachers are not teaching the same type of students that they used to. They have to do a whole lot more teaching and facilitating because most of the students have so many adversities in life now. Especially now with this pandemic going on, it’s a lot of adversity going on in families. It could be anything that is not giving a student an opportunity to learn…I think without a school board, it’s been tough, but I think with an elected school board working together and not working against each other, working together, we will prevail in bringing our Little Rock School District back to the top form it used to be."

How do you reintroduce the concept of a school board to a community that’s been without one for years?

“You just have to, for those who know representation, you pay taxes for your school and as a member of the public paying taxes, you have the opportunity to provide representation for the school district. You have to educate the public again, to help them understand our responsibility, the public’s responsibility to educate the children and to make the children replace the adults to be productive citizens. We have to educate the public to make them understand the recycling aspects of…a child learning how to be productive, pay taxes and then that child…here comes another child that does the same. That recycling effect helps fuel our economy and fuel our neighborhoods and our city.

Do you think that the state takeover of the Little Rock School District in 2015 was fair?

“I think it was fair because of what the federal laws provided. Now those federal laws change, but the state also had been putting money into the Little Rock School District. The segregation agreement that the federal court had provided for the Little Rock School District, the agreement, the settlement, which made the state provide money into the school district, [that money] went from one place to another, buying programs, trying to help the students. But those programs they provided during those years didn’t work and then they kept buying more programs and then those didn’t work. So they state had to do what it had to do to ensure their investment and to the students in the Little Rock School District. They had put $40 million into the Little Rock School District over those years, but they still weren’t getting the product they were buying. The students still weren’t doing the best they could. So, if you look at it like that, yes it was fair that the state had to go in because of the money they invested in the Little Rock School District and wasn’t getting a good product.”

What will you do to avoid a possible takeover of the district again?

"Well, I’m going to do the very best I can to provide leadership in making sure that the students, the teachers, parents, administrators, everybody work together…so that we don’t go backwards. I think if it’s a team effort going forward, we will accomplish what we need to accomplish, so we won’t go back into state control."

And do you feel like you have to build trust with educators, with parents, with the community as you bring this new school board to the public? 

“Yes. That trust must be reestablished because we have to build, we have to connect with the parents, teachers, students, everyone in the community, even in the business community. The business community needs to understand that the Little Rock School District is important to the community. Students are important to the community. I keep harping on making students productive citizens instead of citizens going to be incarcerated, or becoming a burden on society, becoming criminals. I think it’s incumbent on the Little Rock School District to take the students and mold them, even with the adversities they may have at home. It’s incumbent on the Little Rock School District to educate this child, or children, to make sure they’re ready for the workplace or continued education. It’s incumbent on the Little Rock School District to get to that point where we provide a good product for society. And that product is the child.”

Are you at all worried that expectations will be more than what the board can accomplish?

“No, because I’ve always known and always believed that even if this is an enormous task, you can only do one bite at a time and if we take this very seriously, strategically, set goals, make accomplishments, milestones, timetables and meticulously take it one step at a time, one bite at a time to reach that goal, I think our mission will be maybe not 100%, but maybe we’ll get an A.”

There are some limitations to what the board can and can’t do set by the state. So how do those restrictions limit the board’s ability to function?

"Well, I know the state has provided some guardrails so we don’t get out of hand. But like I said again, our mission, everybody’s mission, it should be the same. It’s not about individuals. It’s not about the teachers, administrators, board members separately. It’s about education and educating the children and students in the Little Rock School District. That’s the one goal. The guardrails there are set by the state so people don’t get out of control, people don’t become self-serving. I think those guardrails are there to keep people from being self-serving and not taking the accomplishments backwards. But our one mission should be only to educate children and make sure that the children are productive and educated.”

How will you handle any disagreements, whether its with other board members, with the community? 

"I would try to learn from someone else and try to listen and communicate my thoughts and communicate as much as I can to make people understand my side. And I will listen to understand their side. We’re not going to make it about ourselves. I’m not going to be self-serving. It’s going to be what is best for the students, the children, educators and administrators.”