Jefferson County School Board Candidates In District 6 Answer Our Questions
In District 6, incumbent Carol Haddad is running against Lisa Willner and Patrick John Hughes. District 6 covers central Jefferson County. (You can check which school district you live inhere.) Hughes did not respond to WFPL's questionnaire.What are your top priorities as a school board member?
Carol Haddad: We have a clear vision that I embrace fully—all children graduate prepared. We have charted a course that includes quality early childhood education, strong reading skills in elementary, exposing students to careers, and providing diverse, healthy learning environments. I will work to stay this course, and I always remain open to improvements. We need an involved community, and I have worked to create and strengthen partnerships like the one that supports expanding preschool and increasing literacy.Lisa Willner: Responsible leadership and financial transparency to restore the public trust. Ensuring fair and equal access to great schools for every child. We must strategically address disparities to improve all JCPS schools. Turning costs savings in the Central Office into new investments in the classroom. The state audit found that JCPS scored highest in non-teaching expenses, and at the bottom in investment in the classroom. Creating opportunities for every JCPS graduate to be college- and career- ready through new community partnerships.What is your position on charter schools?Haddad: JCPS is a District of Innovation, which allows us to try new ways to connect with students. That's what charter schools are about. Allowing charters is a state decision, and the Board will determine its course based on what can help kids. We must always ensure public funds are spent wisely and promote progress. I would want to be sure that any innovation or program has real promise and has proven results. As stewards of taxpayer funds, that's our job.
Willner: I am in favor of innovative approaches to increase student success. However, research indicates that, overall, charter schools are not more successful than public schools. Public schools are charged with educating every child, while charter schools have no such requirement. We must not support charter schools at the expense of public schools, and compromise their ability to educate every child. We should examine curricula and teaching methods of particularly effective charter school programs, and use those approaches within public schools.What changes should be implemented because of State Auditor Adam Edelen’s audit earlier this year?Haddad: I have supported critical reviews of JCPS to ensure we are using resources effectively. Our financial staff worked quickly to respond to the findings of the state audit. There are two areas I believe are especially important and this is to review our salary structure to make sure it is fair and comparable to other jobs in our area and with other school districts, and to strengthen our internal audit staff so we always catch operational concerns quickly.Willner: Integration of benchmarking with national peer districts into JCPS strategic planning. We must look beyond our own borders to produce students who are successful and competitive on a national and global scale. Re-evaluation of funding and staffing priorities, always keeping student success as the district’s top priority. Ensuring financial transparency, through improved navigability of the JCPS website, and putting all financial information online. Eliminating outdated, costly, and inefficient operations, such as JCPS’ central warehousing system, which could save $3 million per year.What do you think of the JCPS school choice system?Haddad: I have seen a number of student assignment plans over the years, and this one is working well. It is designed to ensure all schools are diverse, while allowing a lot of choice, meeting family needs and reducing transportation times. This plan was developed with community input by Dr. Gary Orfield, an expert in educational excellence and equity. The Board brought him in in 2010 to do this work. The project resulted in a good plan, which was implemented well.Willner: School choice means more opportunities for all children to have their unique learning needs met. There are many great choices within JCPS schools through the Optional and Magnet programs. Still, there is work to be done. It’s encouraging that some of our magnet schools are high- performing and successful (and we should learn from these successful programs), but we need more great choices across the district. We need a strategic approach to make sure that all JCPS schools promote student success.What would you like to do to support JCPS’ lowest performing schools?Haddad: We are focusing on increasing the performance of students in "gap" groups, which are not making the gains necessary to graduate prepared. This is our biggest challenge. Expanding preschool and emphasizing early skills - especially reading - can make a big difference. Teachers are working together more than ever, and this is paying off. Further teacher support and training is important. Also, out-of-school activities and learning can help, and we need to have community partnerships to increase those opportunities for kids.Willner: JCPS’ student assignment plan is designed to level the playing field between schools, yet there are huge disparities between our public schools. Some JCPS schools have incoming students with 90% kindergarten-readiness, while others’ kindergarten-readiness scores are only 10%. We need to closely, carefully, and fearlessly examine the reasons these disparities still exist. We also need to make early childhood programs available to more students, and to explore opportunities for new community partnerships. District 6 could benefit from these changes.What are your views of the Jefferson County Teachers Association’s relationship with the school district?Haddad: Teachers and the classroom matter most to kids, so it is important that we support them. I am proud we place a priority on providing teachers good pay and benefits. Overall, we have had a good relationship with the teachers' union, but we have had challenges and we don't always agree. These disagreements should never result in disrespect. I pledge to continue to work together with respect for all to find solutions that support good teaching and student achievement.Willner: Alongside active and engaged parents, teachers are the most important ingredient for student success. For JCPS to be the best urban school district in the country, it is vital for us to be able to attract and retain the best teachers in the country. It is also critical for teachers to have a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect life in the classroom in order to ensure the best outcomes for students.What is your view of Superintendent Donna Hargens?Haddad: We brought in Dr. Hargens to target resources toward student achievement, and we are getting results. She has developed a good relationship with the community and State Department of Education, which we emphasized. Dr. Hargens is developing a strong leadership team. The Board has asked her to work on internal communications and management of staff so that our operation functions well, and all employees work together and feel valued. As she has said, we are a "people-powered" business.Willner: Very positive. Dr. Hargens has made great gains in student achievement. I’m impressed by her openness to external review. She got it exactly right in her response to the Unbridled Learning scores when she said, “It’s not okay for some of our schools to be successful and others to not be successful.” I share her concerns about the disparities, particularly since the majority of schools in District 6 continue to struggle under the status quo.The school board election is Tuesday. You can find questionnaires for the two other contested Jefferson County Board of Education elections hereand here.