Why did you decide to run for a position on the Little Rock School Board?
"I want to take the opportunity to maximize my strengths and help with the team, if I’m elected, move the needle forward for the success of our students. Everything should be student focused and I believe in that."
What education experience do you have?
"I am a graduate of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville 2004. I graduated Summa Cum Laude in the top 16% of that class. I have an MBA at Harding University. I have a doctorate in divinity, I am a licensed and ordained minister and I am completing a doctorate in education right now. I’m also a past graduate of Leadership Little Rock as well as Arkansas Leadership and I’m in the Executive Leadership Program now with Arkansas Business. So those opportunities that I’ve completed and are in now afford me the opportunity to continue to lead. Lead as a leader, lead to follow and follow to lead."
Did you and or your children go to public school?
"So Madeline, who is 31 and Mallory, who is 28. I moved 22 years ago so they could be students at the only Deaf school in Arkansas, the Arkansas School for the Deaf. At that time I believe they fell, they may have fell under the Little Rock School District or the Pulaski County. My students now, my daughter and my son are students at Brady Elementary in the Little Rock School District."
What are your main goals/policy points/things you would want to change if you were elected?
"First of all, as a board member, I will prioritize students in all actions. I’d like to see the reading readiness gap, which is currently about 320% between white students and African American students closed and transform high school experiences to prepare students for college, careers and community. I believe the Ford Next Generation Learning Academy and the academies in central Arkansas, I’m a firm believer of that. [Concerning] racial and mental health disparities, by supporting professional development for the teachers and staff to be trauma informed and trained. And lead the state in teacher salaries at all levels as it relates to recruiting, retaining strong and diverse faculty and staff. And [the] Little Rock School District is the richest school district in Arkansas history. I would also like to commit and engage and inform students and families and the broader Little Rock community on any actions and progress that the board is making if I’m elected and on that board."
And how do you believe schools in the Little Rock School District have fared without a school board for the past [six] years?
"That’s kind of a loaded question I think. We’re what they call the level five and it didn’t really have to be that way. The one thing is bringing the school to where there’s not a level five. Every child should have a roadmap to success and if with the board we could focus on the information that’s already outlined and keeping students on that road to success, that’s all the school district could have and will need to do. And to get out of the level five, it’s a pretty substantiated answer. Get out of level five, then level 4, level 3 and 2 and how do we do this? We need to have a plan to continue to grow our student achievement. If the district just continued to do what it’s created to do, the level five would not exist and the level five intensive support and the declining district, that would just be a thing of the past, so we definitely have to get there."
How do you reintroduce the concept then of a school board to a community that hasn’t had one in [six] years?
"Now we’re trying to get around in our zones, but there needs to be probably some meetings and we’ll start out virtual, meeting the community, meeting the parents and the families and each one of the zones, all of us. Because even though we’re elected by zone, they’re all our children so being able to meet them, being able to hear the parents and their concerns, letting the public know who we are. The churches, the faith base, letting them know that we’re here, we’re listening, we’re eager and we want to make a difference. But the students [should] be the focus. If we give the students a great viable learning plan, if the student succeeds, the community succeeds, [the] Little Rock School District succeeds.”
Do you think that the state takeover of the Little Rock School District in 2015 was fair?
"I’d have to do a little more research on that…I’m not sure. We didn’t need failing schools, we don’t need failing schools with intensive support if we just continue, if the school district would just continue at the plan that’s provided, again they can get out of it. Not sure, I mean you hear so many things. I’ll be quite honest, I don’t have to be a member of the union or be with them when they were out and actually picketing. But I listen, I read and I’m not sure what happened except there were failing schools and there are still failing schools. But I want to see that turned over for sure."
What would you do to try to prevent the state from maybe taking over again in the future?
"Stay within, be accountable, do what’s needed, continue to grow, grow in student achievement, making sure students have essential needs. Internet spots right now in the midst of [COVID-19] are essential. So not waiting on other to say that they’re going to purchase something for us, when we get funding from students. Go ahead and invest in these students. Students with special needs, students with intellectual disabilities, they learn just like any other student, but with accommodations. If we provide a foundation, provide the students with what they need…then we will succeed and the state won’t have a reason to take over. And a board that stays informed and engaged and knows how processes work by reading, researching, educating."
Do you feel that you’ll have to build trust with educators, with the community, with parents with the introduction of the board again?
"There has to be a relationship built. And the relationship should, we should make sure parents, families have a sense of belonging. I know that there’s been groups out there and different ones that picket, but being a member of PTA, which I am the immediate past president of the Little Rock School District’s PTA Council, and [in] PTA, the focus is all about the child. So no, I didn’t picket, no I couldn’t because it was against the rules of National PTA. However, I followed everything. If we can just wrap our minds around student focus and being about the business, not about who likes who, or not about what Johnny and Dick [are] saying, but what we know, then this school district can succeed."
Are you worried that expectations might be more than what the board can actually accomplish?
"There are some things that the board has no control and we have no control over charter schools, that’s at the state level. But parents have a choice. I’m not worried because if you can articulate to an individual what’s your stance and why it is. We as board members, if I’m elected, we have…there are some things that are out of our control, they’re already in motion there’s nothing we can do like the repurposing of McClellan [High School], that is court-ordered, nothing we can do. But we can actually look at the other buildings, we can look at what is available, and come up with a plan before we make decisions and let those individuals know we’re going to refute things. When board members are sworn in, in January the year’s almost up. It’ll be a lot of intense training and different things like that, so you can’t expect in a day or even a month for things to change because a lot of things are already in motion. So building trust, I’m not going to worry, I’m just going to show them that I can walk the walk and talk the talk.”
There are some limitations on what the school board can do…how do those limitations limit the ability of the school board to do things, to accomplish tasks?
"Right now yes, Superintendent Poore’s job is protected by the state-imposed guardrails, but eventually those will be lifted. Eventually. We don’t know when. So Mr. Poore’s job is to do what he’s doing. He’s the spokesperson, he leads and I believe that as long as he remains a good leader in what he’s doing…supporting what it right. I want to do what’s fair and equitable and I want to make sure that I’m on team that’s doing the same team, without compromising."
How will you handle any disagreements, whether it’s with other board members, with members of the community?
"I think that with anything when there’s a disagreement, you disagree to agree and vice versa, [I] make sure I have all of my facts. Even before you start pointing fingers or anything, I would say, even as a board member, you have to have all the facts and you have to let things weigh in before there’s any decisions made. And yes there will be disagreements, I know that there will be disagreements, but you have to...there’s also what you call a happy medium and at some point in time, there has to be where there’s a happy medium. If every member plays fairly, no compromise, ethical, we’re going to be held to a high standard, then I believe things will work for the good, for the students, the teachers the staff of the Little Rock School District."