1. What uniquely qualifies you to serve as a member of the Board of Education?
Out of 11 school board members, I am the only one with a child in the public schools. I have the unique position of being the voice for all parents. As a small business owner, I offer my expertise in finance and business sense to the board. As the incumbent with eight years of experience, I have the knowledge and awareness of the particular needs of the Public Schools of Robeson County. Now is not the time to change leadership for District 8. I am involved with the master planning process, Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement process, and have helped develop our new school prototype. I support the new Student Success Advocates in an effort to reduce out of school suspension rates. I lobbied our county commissioners for a supplement increase for our teachers. We have many endeavors happening now and it would put the citizens of District 8 at a disadvantage to elect a new representative who would be uninformed or possibly unsupportive of the steps we have taken to move this system forward in a progressive manner.
2. As an incumbent, what do you point to as major successes of the board, and what role did you have in them?
One of our major successes is the recent hire of Dr. Shanita Wooten as superintendent. Her hire marks a new day and direction for the public schools. She is the first female and African American superintendent. She brings a wealth of innovative ideas and a fresh perspective. I played a significant role in being part of the majority that hired her but also I charged her with working to remove the low performing label from the Public Schools of Robeson County. I am equally proud of my support in the sign on bonus we have for hard to staff areas and we have worked tirelessly to reduce the number of teacher vacancies. We have an outstanding beginning teacher support program in partnership with The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and UNC General Administration which will hopefully help us to retain the new teachers we have hired and reduce our teacher turnover rate in Robeson County.
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?
Dr. Wooten has conducted a comprehensive assessment of the safety needs. The General Assembly recently provided us with an update of some safety initiatives coming down the pipeline for our schools. I believe all schools should have a buzz entry front door that is camera monitored by the front office. I would like to see all outside doors locked and require a badge entry system. In the future, I would like to see our system have a safety department. Our children are our most valuable gifts and we need to do everything we can to ensure that they, along with our staff, are safely protected each and every day. We need highly trained school resource officers in all schools. We ask each year for funding from the county commissioners and are denied. We are working with the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies to do threat assessments in all schools to enable us to plan more efficiently.
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 policy being reviewed by the Policy Committee. I currently serve as the policy chair. I think we need a comprehensive review of all discipline policies. The number of minority students and students with disabilities being suspended from school is an embarrassing statistic as well. I do believe the current policy which allows for parent choice is fair because parents who want corporal punishment used in school have a voice as well as those who do not have the right to say no. Until a policy audit and review it will remain in effect but if the majority of the board supports a change then the policy will be revised. This is how a school board is required by law to adopt and implement new policies.
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?
I do believe our schools need more textbooks. Our student achievement is suffering due to a lack of books. I have gone on record to support more textbooks. We should be providing every possible resource for our students to be successful. We can improve the amount of technology as well but if children cannot read and write then we are putting them at a disadvantage from the beginning. We have made great strides over the last year and half to strengthen our Curriculum and Instruction department with the following innovation: regional content trainings, identifying K-12 Master teachers, producing study guides for End of Grade and End of Course tests, offering a beginning teacher retreat, meeting with priority schools more frequently and hiring a science supervisor. Recently, we received the 2018 STEAM Equity Community grant.
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 have had multiple conversations with our county commissioners regarding funding. I would encourage the citizens to hold their county commissioners responsible and demand the funding our students deserve. We are trying to do more with less and that is unfair to our students and their families. There is an election for three county commissioners on May 8; I would ask those residents in their districts to ask each candidate if they would support giving our students the state average funding. The local funding comes directly from the commissioners. It is no longer acceptable to nickel and dime our 23,000 boys and girls. Robeson County residents should promote a bond referendum and let the voters voice be heard is another way we can get additional funding for new construction.
7. Our school board has a reputation for micromanagement, and not staying within its jurisdiction of being a policymaker and allowing administrators to implement that policy. Do you agree with that assessment? What would you see as your role as a board member?
As a board member we are policymakers and the governing body. I have always supported giving administrators the autonomy to implement policies. I do not desire to be a micromanager nor have I been one. I believe it is a vital responsibility of the local school board to make relevant and fair policies for the sound and effective operation of the Robeson County school district. The N.C. statute laws requires that the local school board approve the district’s budget. We are responsible for the appropriate development of long- and short-term goals. We set educational goals and objectives to measure our students’ successes. I know my role and take it seriously.
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?
If the money is available then I would naturally want new construction to be built. We deserve the same quality school system headquarters that Raleigh and Charlotte have in their areas. However, as an elected official you must be financially responsible as well. If the funds are not there then we must find an existing building that meets the needs of our school system. It has never been about the zip code of the central office but finding the right fit for our employees and enabling them to efficiently operate our educational headquarters. Citizens must remember the decision we make now will affect Robeson County for the next 50 t0 100 years. This decision requires a vision and strategic planning.
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 do agree we lag behind those in the state on the education metric. One of the first things we have done to improve this is to hire a highly qualified superintendent with the appropriate credentials and years of experience to lead our system as we move forward. It all begins with the leadership. Next, we must hire highly effective principals and provide them with ongoing leadership training as well as monitor their performances. We must provide our teachers with the much needed resources in curriculum and instruction. Our curriculum department suffered for many years with the lack of effective leadership and this led to so many schools failing. But we are changing the course of the ship and are headed in a new direction. We did not become low performing overnight and we will not become high performing in a blink of the eye. But we can work daily to improve the work with we do with our children and set high expectations. Some specific examples are: ensuring our teachers are teaching the standards, providing quality staff development and increased accountability.
Ask yourself a question and answer it.
Smith did not do so.