Linda Emanuel, school board candidate, District 3

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

I have a long tenure in education. This tenure includes, but is not exclusive to, working as a teacher at multiple grade levels for over 21 years and serving in the areas of administration and supervision at the central office level for over 26 years. I also feel that my training and past work experiences in the areas of strategic planning and my understanding of local, state, and federal educational processes give me a knowledge base that is unique to my candidacy. Many of those years at the central office I served as an assistant superintendent. In that role I was able to observe very closely the actual workings of the board. Subsequently, I believe that my qualifications, varied specialized training, and experiences would add to the decision making processes and help with the challenges that school board members have to face when planning policies or procedures needed to best educate our students. Conversely, I have been on the other side where policies and procedures made by the board are implemented. I know the importance of putting words (policies/procedures) into action and the care that should be taken when making decision that impact students’ education. Therefore, I see my qualities as a candidate for a school board member as unique, informed, diverse, and valuable.

2. As a challenger, what do you see as the No. 1 failing of the current school board in general? What would you do to try and correct that failing?

Failure to communicate! There is the perception by many citizens that there appears to be two factions on the board. Such a perception is not healthy for any organization, especially a school board. In my opinion, this failure of board members to communicate effectively with each other and the public leads to a lack of transparency and mistrust. Ultimately, this mistrust quite often leads to no clear strategic plan for school improvement. If elected, I will try to use my one voice to encourage a sense of openness, strive to encourage strategic planning (with expected outcomes and timelines), and make every one of my decisions based on “How is this going to help our students, and will it lead to improving teaching and learning”?

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?

I would propose a stronger emphasis on each school’s safety processes. Specifically, I believe that the school system under the leadership of the superintendent should place more emphasis on their Safe School Plans. These plans should be updated/strengthened using newly formed school/community/law enforcement committees. These committees should conduct a thorough needs assessment to identify all vulnerable areas of each school. Also, these assessments should dictate the priority list for funding to address the identified vulnerable areas. To address the identified needs a certain percentage of monies allocated to each school will be used for school safety. Of course, any specific safety funding allocated by the state or other sources (such as grants) would be used to address the safety priorities noted for each school. Safety Drill Reports of all descriptions should be submitted on a monthly basis to the district office to assess progress. Most definitely, I would propose placing resource officers at all schools. Calling a resource officer as needed for smaller or elementary schools is a strategy that the board should rectify. That procedure is too risky.

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?

Parents must sign a form in advance (should be on file) if they want their child/children to receive or not receive corporal punishment. Specifically, the school cannot administer such punishment unless they have the prior consent of the parent/guardian. Also, the school must notify the parent if corporal punishment was administered. They also have to record the information in a database that will be sent to the state. It is true that the use of this type of school discipline has declined across the United States, in North Carolina, and in Robeson County. Society’s pressure to do away with corporal punishment and teachers and administrators philosophical views against this punishment is causing it to be viewed as a negative practice. I think that the school board may be hesitant to ban this discipline practice because its use is still accepted by some parents in a few areas of the county.

Also, this topic has come before the board on several occasions before and has never been changed. Presently, it is still the decision of the parents (not the school) if they want corporal punishment used as a discipline measure for their child/children, and I respect that fact. However, I do think that most of society has changed as to how they view corporal punishment. So, I understand the decision to stop using corporal punishment in the Public Schools of Robeson County School System. I think that more research on the discipline data (at least three years) on the students that received this type of punishment needs to be conducted to find the answers to the following questions: Did the corporal punishment correct the inappropriate behavior? Were there interventions put in place before the corporal punishment was administered since it is recommended that it be used as a last resort? What percentage of the students that received corporal punishment were repeat recipients? The answers to these questions could be valuable information to the policy committee when debating whether to ban corporal punishment.

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?

The State Department of Public Instruction for North Carolina has adopted mandated goals/objectives/skills (what we are suppose to teach) for each grade level and/or subject through out the state. So, teachers have to teach what is outlined by the state. The point that I am making is that a textbook does not dictate what we must teach: it is only one resource that can be used to teach state required/ grade level concepts. Technology of many descriptions, resource speakers, videos, etc. should all be used to help deliver instruction. I believe that textbooks are used incorrectly when a teacher teaches the concepts in the book from page one to the end (cover to cover). The state curriculum should be guiding the instruction in a specific subject — not the textbook. I strongly favor less emphasis on textbooks and more on integrating technology into the teaching process. However, I understand the limitations that may exist when it comes to all of our students having equal access to technology. But I also know the advantages that it has to offer in the teaching and learning process. Students identify strongly with technology. I also think that more training is needed when it comes to how to integrate multiple teaching resources into the instructional process. Yes, I agree that some textbooks do not always stay current and that information delivered via technology (in most cases) does update more frequently. Another disadvantage of just using textbooks in the classroom is that the school system does not buy new edition of books every year. Also, the State Textbook Commission does not put out an approved list to choose from quicker than every five years.

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?

I will work with fellow board members to form better relationships with the commissioners. The basis for improving any relationship, I think, is to implement a positive, continuous dialogue based on mutual respect and trust. I would also recommend to the superintendent that every effort be made to form an educational sub-committee composed of members from both entities. Additionally, along with this suggestion, I would propose that there be monthly meetings of this sub-committee that would discuss needs, concerns, and formulate recommendations. From this point the chair of this committee would report to the commissioner’s monthly meetings as well as the school board monthly meetings relative to the topics discussed. As one voice on the board, I will speak openly about being transparent and the importance of avoiding hidden agendas. Hopefully, with the right environment taking hold between the two entities, we can get the commissioners to put greater emphasis on funding education at a higher level. I know that Robeson is a poor county, but we have got to do more for education. Where does it fit in our local priorities? Where should it fit?

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?

My role as a board member would be to help develop policy and approve any procedure that is needed to assist in providing a safe, sound, and basic education for our students in the Public Schools of Robeson County. Yes, there is the perception that the board does not give administrators the latitude to make decisions needed to successfully run their individual schools or the system for that matter. I believe that the board should not become involved in selecting personnel and/or using their influence to affect the day-to-day running of schools. The superintendent should lead these day-to-day activities.

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?

I am totally against building a central office from the ground up. How can we take on this type of expense when we need new schools and have so many facility needs in our school system? How many school districts in the state have brand new (from the ground up) central offices? Should not the answer to this question tell us something about where we ought to be placing our priorities? I do not believe that enough options (with cost proposals) of pre-existing buildings in reasonable areas that could be renovated have been put on the table for consideration. Surely there are more than two or three in our county. I do think that any option that is put on the table for consideration should not have any personal or political connection(s) to any school board member or county commissioner. Total transparency should be used in this process. Timelines for making a decision either way appears vague for the general public.

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?

Yes, I think that school improvement can happen. However, for this improvement to begin to take place, all of our students must continuously have highly qualified teachers so that they can effectively learn the required concepts expected of them. Also, effective leadership at all levels must be in place where there is a strategic plan for improving all metrics (especially teaching and learning) that are measured by our state. One major barrier that is having a negative effect on our system is the inadequate funding allocated to our school system. As a result of inadequate funding, it is very difficult to compete with other school systems when it comes to recruiting and retaining highly, qualified teachers. We cannot compete with more affluent systems with their sign-on bonuses. So, we have some classrooms (according to information shared with me) that went an entire semester without a highly qualified teacher. I can truthfully say that all school board members and some serving in the House and Senate continue to talk to their co-elected officials to raise our funding level for education. Yes, I will work cooperatively with the other board members and the superintendent to continue to talk to others that have the power to help us as as well. It is simply unexplainable when a student goes an entire year without a teacher. Teachers make the difference!

Ask yourself a question and answer it.

Emmanuel did not do so.