Mike Smith, school board candidate, District 6

1. What uniquely qualifies you to serve as a member of the Board of Education?

I have served as a board member for 28 years. I always want to do what is best for staff and students in the Public Schools of Robeson County so we can be the best we can be. We are constantly faced with decreasing budgets in public education. My background in management and finance allows me to provide a unique perspective to other board members when determining how to secure resources for the Public Schools of Robeson County. Spending in a fiscally responsible manner is important to me.

2. As an incumbent, what do you point to as major successes of the board, and what role did you have in them?

I strive to increase student achievement by working to create equitable educational opportunities and environments for our students. Equity in schools includes conducive learning environments that are safe and secure no matter what district a student lives in. We have worked to ensure instructional resources, athletics facilities, and effective teachers are distributed equitably around the county. I would like to also mention we have worked to increase teacher supplements, create bonuses for hard-to-staff areas, and have begun plans to ensure we have safe and secure schools that support transformation and innovation.

3. Safety is always a concern for our schools, but more so after the killing of 17 people at a Florida school in February. What would you recommend to make our schools more safe?

We must be more proactive, not just reactive. We request funding each year in our budget for more school resource officers. It is our goal for each school to have a full-time, well-trained school resource officer. We can also work to strengthen mental and behavioral supports in our schools. Additionally, we must look at our school campuses and evaluate how visitors gain access to our schools. Schools can install panic buttons, door buzzers, and video surveillance systems and increase training for SROs, staff, students and administrators. We must continue to work to make our multi-hazard crisis plans (that are submitted each year) more comprehensive and effective. Part of an effective plan includes holding frequent safety drills.

4. Our local school system is one of two in North Carolina that allows the use of corporal punishment, resulting in an embarrassing statistic, that most children who are paddled in North Carolina are minority and from Robeson County. Do you favor its use? Why or why not?

I favor the use of effective discipline practices proven by research and support eliminating the practice of corporal punishment in the Public Schools of Robeson County.

5. Our schools have been in short supply of textbooks in recent years,with some arguing that more books need to be purchased, and some saying that books become dated quickly, and arguing instead for greater use of E-books that stay current. What do you favor?

Textbooks are excellent resources that still have a place in the classroom. However, with changing standards for ELA and Math, E-books may prove to be a more cost-effective option. There should be a balance between the utilization of textbooks and 21st century technology.

6. Our school system ranks next to last in the state for local funding by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, about $1,000 short of the state average. How would you work to overcome that?

We must generate more revenue, which may be achieved with a special sales tax for public education in the county. We must also continue to foster and build relationships with community partners at the local, state and national levels. Partnership with other organizations could serve as a means of providing more resources for the district. We also must seek grants that support district initiatives, programs and projects.

7. Our school board has a reputation for micromanagement, and not staying within its jurisdiction of being a policy maker and allowing administrators to implement that policy. Do you agree with that assessment? What would you see as your role as a board member?

Our main focus as board members is policy making. Our administrators are responsible for day-to-day operations and managing the district. They monitor and implement our policies. Although we are sometimes engaged in personnel matters that require board action, grievance hearings that involve staff and students, etc. I always strive to be fair and consistent.

8. The school system is currently without a central office. There has been much conversation about the new one, where it might be located,and should an existing building be used or one built from the ground up.What are your thoughts?

The board purchased land on N.C. 711 with the intent of building a new central office. I am in support of building a new facility where we purchased the land. I believe we can do this with Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars and money from insurance and Golden LEAF funding. This is an ideal site because it is very close to the old central office. There is enough land for growth and expansion of the central office in the future.

9. Our school system lags far behind those across the state in every education metric except the graduation rate. Do you think this is something that can be significantly improved, and if so, how would you work to achieve that?

I think this can be improved but it is a process. We must use effective practices, monitor those practices and evaluate outcomes. Achieving success will take hard work from everyone to address significant challenges in Robeson County. All stakeholders will need to be involved when working to improve the district’s lowest performing schools. It will take comprehensive, evidence-based school improvement strategies unique to each school. We must work hard recruiting and training exemplary teachers and leaders, securing stakeholder investment, or buy-in, allotting sufficient planning time for the implementation of new, more innovative practices and financing the reform initiatives.

10. Question to myself: Why should you vote for Mike Smith?

I am the longest-serving board member at this time. With that time comes experience of understanding public school funding and other various factors that impact our schools. Being honest, trustworthy, dependable and fair are all reasons that I have been elected each time to serve. As I serve, I listen to all facts, take into consideration the impact and then make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the Public Schools of Robeson County.