"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tamara Shepherd for Knox County School Board

Among those running for school board this year in Knox County where I taught for 15 years, Tamara Shepherd stands head and shoulders above her opponents as an informed, articulate, and forceful voice for sane and humane public schools in Knox County.  Over the years, I have watched Tamara research the issues and take principled stands on education policy issues that reflect the best interests of children, parents, and teachers.

She is a vocal advocate for public control of public schools, and she does not flinch from making her positions clear on the miseducative and self-serving polices promoted by the billionaires and their hand-picked representatives who have brought divisiveness and stress to the schools of Knox County.

I hope you will support Tamara's campaign.  Below are her responses to the questions for the Voters' Guide.
Questions for Board of Education Candidates February 2014

      Note that candidates were required to confine their answers to 100 words..
Questions for Board of Education Candidates
1. Some say the Board of Education appears to work for the superintendent rather than the other way around. Do you agree/disagree? What changes to board operations would you make to reduce or eliminate the perception?
I agree that this appears to be the case. The problem is likely that the Board of Education (BOE) has recently been asked to opine on too many proposed reforms, too rapidly. There have therefore been several instances in which its members have rendered their votes absent their adequate research of the reforms.
The BOE has also been compromised by a dearth of media coverage to assist them in fully vetting these proposals and their possible ill-effects on students and teachers. It has become necessary for dedicated board members to often undertake their own independent research to inform their decisions.
2. Two Knox County communities are mounting campaigns to override the Knox County Board of Education Three-Year Capital Improvement Plan in order to build middle schools in those two communities. Are you familiar with the contents of the Capital Improvement Plan? What, if any, recommendations do you have for adjusting current priorities?
The BOE should not adjust its current priorities.
The BOE should promptly investigate any obligation to the Gibbs community since a 2007 SCOTUS ruling prohibiting student assignment on the basis of race, but I do not know whether fulfilling that obligation translates into building a new middle school there.
The BOE should also address the consequences of past growth on schools before it addresses anticipated growth in the Hardin Valley community. System wide, 47 schools rely on portable buildings, seven of which presently house ten or more classrooms this way, and 17 schools were built in the 1930s or earlier.
3. Given the state mandate to implement the Common Core State Standards, what do you believe is the Board of Education’s role in addressing issues related to Common Core?
My root concerns are that the math and science standards are too rigid, that they are not developmentally appropriate in the lower grades, that they will result in even more frequent and more costly standardized testing of students, and that they will ultimately widen, not close, the so-called “achievement gap” in student test performance.
I expect that the BOE will soon need to begin advocating with state legislators to re-think their approach to boosting student achievement and especially to re-think their approach to closing the “achievement gap,” so that both goals may be achieved in a more holistic manner.
4. A perception exists among some in the community that the Board of Education is not listening to teachers. How will you address this perception?
The BOE has not listened to teachers. Paramount among teachers’ concerns are this broken and illogical teacher evaluation model, TEAM, as well as the heavy reliance on the volatile student growth measure, TVAAS, which the model employs.
Since state law requires the model (or one similar) and since law also requires the TVAAS growth measure the model employs, that law must be changed by either the legislature or the courts.
I believe on the basis of consultation with two local attorneys that it is both possible and advisable for the BOE to initiate legal proceedings to strike down the law.
5. Is the current funding for Knox County Schools adequate for teacher salaries and school facilities? Please explain your answer.
No, but it is the state, not the county, which is failing to adequately support Knox County Schools. Knox County continues to allocate around 62 or 63% of its total budget to local schools. Meanwhile, the 2013 State Report Card says Tennessee supplies just 36.65% of the KCS total budget, supplies less than 40% of any urban system’s budget, and on average supplies just 48.8% of all systems’ budgets, statewide.
Also, 2010 Census data rank Tennessee 46th nationally in per pupil funding.
Full funding of the state’s BEP 2.0 funding formula for schools would alleviate this problem to some extent.
6. As a member of the Board of Education, would you consider yourself responsible to your constituents or to the county as a whole?
I would consider myself responsible to both, of course, but I would always be mindful of the words of one of our much revered former BOE representatives, the late Dr. Paul Kelley, who often said he felt he represented all Knox County students.

Although his are big shoes to fill, I would strive to grow into them.

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