Two contested county school board seats are on the ballot this year, with incumbents representing District 6 (Vinemont) and District 4 (Hanceville and Welti) defending their elected positions against challenges from newcomers.
All four candidates seeking a spot on the Cullman County School Board are Republicans, and on Thursday the local GOP hosted a question-and-answer forum to give each a chance to pitch their ideas to local voters. District 6 incumbent Mike Graves did not attend the event, leaving the other three – District 6 challenger Jamie Weathersby Smith, District 4 challenger Travis Eskew and District 4 incumbent Kenny Brockman – to answer questions. questions from moderator Ken Brown.
Challenged by Brown with test score statistics that poorly reflect the overall metric performance of county schools relative to other systems in Alabama and nationally, candidates generally agreed that objective measures like testing do not not always present the complete picture. They also pointed to the school system’s recent “A” ranking among county-level public schools in the Alabama Department of Education’s latest state report card.
“I don’t believe in standardized testing – I’ll just tell you that,” Smith said. “I know it’s politically incorrect. But our children are tested to death…it has become more [about] test and comparison of schools that what our children are learning, and if they are ready for the next stage. And we know more about it from what happens in the classroom than from test results.
Smith also expressed (and the other candidates agreed) that the measurement of student performance should be more a function of local standards; the values and ideals intrinsic to Cullman County, whether regional or national values. In communities where parental support is lacking and demographics tend towards poverty, she said, it’s possible for a school’s students to do better, even if their test scores don’t reflect it. .
“When we talk about standards, we’re talking about more than test scores,” Smith said. “…One of the things that a lot of people don’t know, or I think we just don’t want to face, is if you’re a title 1 school [which receives free and reduced lunches], you have poverty. Research shows that test scores are directly related to the socioeconomic status of families who live in that area.
No matter how student achievement is measured, how can elected members of a local school board help raise it? Brockman said part of the solution lies in securing additional funding, combined with a more personalized approach to allocating teacher units.
“I don’t know if the board would ever be able to do that, but reduce the size of the classroom; doing more one-on-one with students” would help, including assigning units of teachers dedicated to working with struggling students to free up classroom time for the rest of their teaching peers.
Schools and school boards, however, are only as strong as the individuals and families who attend and support them, he also observed. “The most important thing [to overcome] would be the lack of parenthood,” he said. “… The teachers do everything they can with the little time they have with the children. But we need more parental guidance.
Brown asked if it made sense that school board nominees, who are legally required to have a high school diploma to be eligible, would be tasked with six-figure salaried superintendents with doctoral-level professional training and teachers who hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Each candidate responded by defending the pay and performance of the county school system’s current superintendent and teaching staff, while saying it’s community service — not credentials — that should qualify school board members. to take their seats.
“I think anyone should be able to race,” Eskew said. “If you are interested in improving your community, then why not? There should be no requirement. Smith and Brockman agreed, Smith adding that narrowing the number of eligible school board members based on their education “seems a bit elitist.” I think there are people who could sit on the school board as well as I do – or any of these other people who serve.
Smith and Eskew are both first-time board nominees, and Eskew, himself a Hanceville graduate, said he was seeking the District 4 seat to serve the community where he grew up. “I just want to build on my community; to defend the children of Hanceville and Welti,” he said.
For Smith, who maintains professional ties to education after retiring from a 26-year career as a public school teacher, serving on the board would be informed by her experience with students in the field. Local outcomes — the kind that students and residents can see and appreciate firsthand in their home communities — are a key part, she said, of how she would approach her role.
For her, this means a return to academic fundamentals, more emphasis on skills training at an earlier age, and a retreat from policies and programs (such as the mass and widespread adoption of individual technology initiatives) that benefit systems. rather than students. Reading, writing and mastering basic arithmetic, she argued, are of the greatest value to children in the region.
“We are so immersed in [technology adoption] that we have failed to teach children some of the basic things they need to know to progress in school,” she said, noting her experience with primary school students who struggle with language. reading and basic math. “…I’d like to get away from that and get back to basics.”
Candidates for Cullman County School Board Districts 4 and 6 seats will be on the ballot later this spring, in the May 24 Republican primary election. meaning that the winners of the May 24 primary will face no opposition in the November 8 general election.