We are sharing the St. Louis Schools Watch Newsletter’s Candidate Survey with their permission. The formatting has been altered to fit a one paragraph answer and without bullets. Candidates Adam Layne, David L. Jackson Jr., and Cydney Johnson did not participate in the Watch Survey.
1. Please supply a brief autobiography.
Donna Jones: My name is Donna Jones and I have proudly served on the St. Louis Board of Education since 2007. During my tenure on the board I have served as Secretary and Vice- President. I was born and raised in St. Louis and currently reside in Walnut Park. I am a mother to 7 wonderful children, and have been a St. Louis Public Schools parent for over 33 years. All of my children have attended / graduated from St. Louis Public Schools. I am now a grandmother to a St. Louis Public Schools student. For over 10 years I served as a PTO Board Member/ Chair at my children’s schools. Good citizenship, serving my community and advocating for children are very important to me. Outside of my school board service I enjoy the volunteer work I do in my community that allows me to serve in a multitude of ways, I particularly enjoy mentoring our youth. I am an activist that’s proven to be dedicated, knowledgeable, and qualified to advocate for the students, staff, and parents of St. Louis Public Schools. I am Missouri Schools Boards Association Certified and prepared to work with the local school board, leaders, and community members to develop and implement policies that work in the best interest of our students.
Joyce Roberts: I am a candidate seeking to become a member of the St. Louis Public Schools Elected Board of Education. My family and I have resided in the city of St. Louis all our lives. I am also a homegrown product of the SLPS district, having served as a Local 420 teacher, and principal of Pierre Laclede Elementary recognized as Gold Star and Blue Ribbon awardee for consistent academic achievement. The students consistently met and exceeded local, state and federal benchmarks. I have served in a variety of capacities within the district. My lived experience as a parent, teacher, principal, and central office administrator (Director of Middle Schools, Assistant Superintendent of Low-performing Schools, and Assistant Superintendent of Professional Development) will bring a unique historical perspective and in-depth experience at every level in the district to the Board. I have a track record of excellence, accountability and a demonstrated willingness to build relationships among all the stakeholders. I retired in 2005. In May, 2017 I received my D. Ed from the University of Missouri, St. Louis.
Bill Haas: I’m a semi-retired corporate lawyer with 20 years college and secondary teaching experience, currently a daily substitute for Ritenour Schools. I’ve served four terms on the St.Louis School Board. Among my accomplishments are the 9th grade dropout prevention initiative in 2001 or so which people credit with preventing our losing accreditation, working with Mary Armstrong to settle teacher negotiations in 2005 when the Slay slate of school board members was trying to break the union, initiating the audit of the St. Louis Schools from my friend Tom Schweich’s Auditor’s office, and this past school year initiating a pilot program of a second qualified adult in early child classrooms to improve reading scores, and other initiatives to improve early childhood reading.
Jared Opsal: I was born and raised in the St. Louis area and currently live in the Shaw neighborhood with my wife, daughter, and two dogs. I hold a Bachelor’s of Science in Health Education and a Masters of Public Administration. My professional experience began soon after high school when I began working for a internet technology company in Downtown St. Louis in 2002. After working in the corporate world for a handful of years, I decided to change career paths and become a public servant. Since 2010, I have worked and volunteered for non-profits focused on improving the health of children and adults as well as be the founding Executive Director of a new community development organization.
2. The SLPS is currently governed by an appointed Special Administrative Board, whose current term ends June, 30 2019. The elected board has limited responsibilities. While possible, it is not guaranteed the elected board will return to power during the term for which you are running because the state board of education has the authority to extend the SAB for as many terms as they wish. Why, then, are you running?
Donna Jones: Although the board has limited responsibilities, I have been afforded the opportunity to gain valuable school board training by the Missouri School Boards Association. Along with past professional development training, this will enable our elected board to do a great job once governance is returned back. I truly believe in this elected board, I believe that governance will be returned back. I am a strong advocate for this community to have a voice in education. Transparency and accountability are very important to me. I believe strongly that taxpayers should exercise their civic duty by voting for people that will represent their best interest. I recognize that strong schools are the heartbeat of a great community and without them the community does not grow. I pledge to continue to advocate for equity, excellence and transparency in public education.
Joyce Roberts: I love the work and I know schooling; what it feels like, sounds like and looks like. I bring the experience of working within the district at every level from teacher, principal, and central office. I have a demonstrated track record of student achievement. I have credibility and understand how to effectively utilize curriculum, instruction and assessment as the resources used by teachers to meet the individual needs of the students they serve. I am an influencer, a capacity builder, who can collaborate to identify appropriate process, procedures to maintain accreditation and move the district forward. These are key ingredients necessary to attract support from the community/business/and families who want to return to the city for prospective jobs and access to the plethora of museums, parks, art center, etc. St. Louis is a great city to raise a family.
Bill Haas: I ran in 2010, after 5 year hiatus from the board, because I thought we would be regaining governing then, and was disappointed that we didn’t. I think the writing is on the wall that we’ll be regaining governance by June of 2019 at the latest.
Jared Opsal: Being chosen by the people of St. Louis through a free and open election provides every school board member an opportunity to advocate for the full return of power to the elected board of education. I am running to ensure the people have a say in how their children are taught once again, just as every other accredited school in the state does.
3. If you believe the elected board will return to power, please explain why.
Donna Jones: I believe that the elected board will return to power because the citizens here in St. Louis deserve and want to have local control of a school district that is currently being dismantled before their eyes. Many in school leadership, and those that serve on the elected board aspire to bring new ideas to the table on how to best serve the interests of public school students, parents, and the taxpayers. School boards are accountable for the performance of the schools in their district and represent the diverse beliefs and values of that community. The citizens here in this great city have expressed a deep desire to be represented by an elected body of their choice.
Joyce Roberts: I believe the Elected Board will be returned to governance. The series of open to the public School District Governance Task Force forums/meeting made it clear that the citizenry of the City of St. Louis was adamant about the return of local control. The community resoundingly agreed that the state had also been clear, that upon the return of full accreditation the SLPS district would be returned to local control without qualifiers.
Bill Haas: The SAB is tired of governance, as is the community of their governance, and after their recent hearings, they recommended return of governance, and I think the state board is prepared to follow that recommendation.
Jared Opsal: The board will not return to power unless the elected board and the people demand it, and I offer my experience advocating for public health and community-driven policies to ensure the people are in control of their school district once again.
4. What is your understanding of the role of a school board member and what do you want to accomplish as a board member?
Donna Jones: School board members ensure that school districts are responsive to the beliefs, values, and concerns of their communities. School boards are a group of nonpartisan citizens responsible for vision setting. Creating/ Adopt education policies that serve in the best interest of the students. Structures the curriculum for the district that serve in the best interest of the district. Adopt and oversee budget. The school board must collaborate and work very closely with the superintendent that they are responsible for hiring. As a Board member I would like to see more highly qualified and experienced teachers in the classroom have that have the flexibility to be innovative. Here are just a few of the great ideals given to me by the community members: Transparency and inclusion in the decision making process: St. Louis Public Schools students ranking number one in academic achievement; small classroom sizes; Diverse teaching staff; Teacher pay increase; Funds distributed equally to every classroom in the district; All schools are adequately stocked with resources to meet the needs of students and staff; North and South Trade school; Financial literacy integrated into curriculum; Every student graduates with a diploma and financial portfolio in hand; Entrepreneurship offered as a career choice; Every student reading at grade level or above; A reduction in out sourcing services; Media, and banking centers in every school; In house chefs; Modernizing school environments high tech school buildings.
Joyce Roberts: The role of a school board member includes governance of the school district, setting/adhering to policy, the supervision, evaluation, hiring and dismissing of the superintendent along with the approval and expenditures of school district funds. I want to be a board member that advocates for students and their families. One that makes informed and data driven decisions that will maintain accreditation, improve student achievement, increase district attendance percentages and holds the superintendent accountable to leading, guiding and serving as the instructional leader of the SLPS, ensuring that students meet and exceed local, state and federal standards.
Bill Haas: A board member sets policy (which means different things at different times), hires the superintendent, helps set goals for the district, and dialogues with the superintendent about means to reach those goals. The superintendent’s role is to implement those plans to achieve those goals and generally administer the day to day operations of the district.
Jared Opsal: The board has three main roles all guided by the needs and wants of the parents, children, and voters in the district. One, they oversee and guide the budgeting process alongside the superintendent of the district. Priorities can usually be gleaned by looking at a budget, and the Saint Louis Public School District’s budget is no different. Two, the school board members review, create, and edit district policies associated with what our children are learning and how that information is delivered to them. I intend to advocate for policies that are guided by evidence and focused on addressing impediments to a child’s ability to learn and live a happy and healthy life. Three, the board reviews the performance of the district superintendent, hires/fires the district superintendent, and works alongside the superintendent to set the district budget and goals.
5. Are you the parent/grandparent of children who currently attend or recently graduated from the SLPS?
Donna Jones: Yes, I am a parent as well as a grandparent of two children currently in St. Louis Public Schools. Seven of my children have attended and graduated from St. Louis Public Schools. Some of the schools are Gateway, McKinley, Roosevelt and Soldan High Schools, to name a few.
Joyce Roberts: No.
Bill Haas: No.
Jared Opsal: No.
6. Did you attend and/or graduate from the SLPS?
Donna Jones: In my youth, I attended Blewett, Dunbar, and Northwest High school.
Joyce Roberts: No.
Bill Haas: No.
Jared Opsal: No.
7. Have you ever worked for the SLPS or are you related to a current or former employee?
Donna Jones: I worked for St. Louis Public Schools when my children were students at Dewey International Studies elementary. I served as a Parent Liaison, and as a Resource Person for the school.
Joyce Roberts: Yes, I was a SLPS district employee for 34 years at every level of the organization.
Bill Haas: I was a substitute for the district for the 1991-1992 school year, and again for the school years between 2007 and 2010 after I went back on the board.
Jared Opsal: No.
8. Are you now or have you in the past served as a board member?
Donna Jones: Yes, since 2007.
Joyce Roberts: No.
Bill Haas: Board member from 1997-2005, and again 2010 to present.
Jared Opsal: No.
9. What are your thoughts about the Special Administrative Board which currently governs the district?
Donna Jones: The Special Administrative Boar has served its time. Thankful for their service.
Joyce Roberts: The continuity of the Special Administrative Board provided direction and support to the superintendent’s plan to earn full accreditation.
Bill Haas: Dont get me started. Ok, you’ve got me started. I think they’re well meaning and have done the best they can. It seems obvious that the SAB has been run by Rick Sullivan and Richard Gaines. I think 10 years is too long to have been in governance, but that is not their fault. Student achievement was essentially flat under them and I’m not sure what to make of that because I have high respect for Dr. Adams, so I can only assume that achievement was not an issue the SAB excelled in promoting. I think I would fault the SAB most on thinking they had a monopoly on wisdom and what was best for the district and not involving the Elected Board in a continuous dialogue and advisory capacity. The district would have been much better off for that collaboration.
Jared Opsal: The people serving on the board are competent and dedicated public servants doing their best to improve the district. However, as they have voted to do so themselves, they need to disband when their terms expire next year and continue working for a smooth transition of power to the elected board.
10. What is your understanding of the impact of charter schools on the SLPS? Should more charter schools open in the city?
Donna Jones: Currently the city of St. Louis has approximately 38 charter schools. These numbers continue to grow every year. Charters schools receive funding from the state of Missouri first creating a serious decline in the funds St. Louis Public Schools receive. SLPS has begun to see a serious decline in student population. This attack on public schools by privately owned, publicly funded non-profits has contributed to a loss of 800 to 900 students a year for the district. The creation of more charters will force the closure of many neighborhood schools and more hardship on area families. I would like to see a limit of the number of charters a school district can have and have that initiative placed on the ballot.
Joyce Roberts: Charter schools impact the funding stream that constitutes the budget allocation the SLPS district’s ability to meet its fiduciary responsibility to pay the bills. The budget is spent on resources for students, maintenance of school buildings, salaries healthcare benefits, etc. There should be an accountability review of charter schools’ impact on student academic standing/ performance to determine if they should open, remain open or be made to close. So that the district never encounters another Imagine Management Company. A firm that was responsible for 8 schools that performed very poorly but were allowed to remain open to the detriment of students and their families. Imagine was abruptly closed by DESE for systemic low performance .
Bill Haas: Charter schools hurt SLPS by taking away funds from the schools and make it harder to educate the remaining students left behind. On the other hand, charter schools seem here to stay, and our goal should be to lobby that they have to be subject to the same rules we are, with respect to acceptance and expulsion of students, and academics. And that the traditional schools are treated fairly with respect to finances. Money to the charter school might be phased in, and if a student is expelled, remaining money should be returned to SLPS. SLPS should not be complicit in establishing charter schools except perhaps with collaboratives like we may have with KIPP.
Our goal should be to offer such excellent education that parents don’t feel that they children will get a better education in charter schools than they’d get in the SLPS.
Jared Opsal: The impact on Saint Louis Public School District (SLPS) has been a reduction in enrollment and therefore funds to educate those children. Now that SLPS is fully accredited and a transition of power has begun, the City of St. Louis needs to be removed from the state’s list of areas that can have charter schools. Furthermore, a higher level of scrutiny is needed for every charter school. Underperforming charter schools should not be allowed to continue delivering subpar educations to our children year and year without either expedient interventions to improve their outcomes or to develop a plan to close them and transition the students to other schools.
11. The SAB is currently developing a not for profit corporation called the Consortium Partnership Network whose purpose will be to govern the lowest performing schools, possibly half of the district. The CPN will be empowered to contract with charter school operators to manage these schools. If returned to governance, the elected school board will have an as yet undefined oversight role regarding the CPN but no direct oversight of the schools they are assigned. What are your thoughts on this?
Donna Jones: I do not believe public funds should be used to fund privately owned non private ventures. From my direct experience parents of St. Louis Public Schools are tired of their children being used in experiments. The elected board was only notified recently of the SAB’s intent to create another form of governance. The Consortium Partnership was created without public knowledge nor public input. I will go on record to say I cannot support a plan that the public cannot hold accountable for the use of public funds.
Joyce Roberts: I believe that there should be no decision regarding the creation of a Consortium Partnership Network prior to the reinstatement of the SLPS Elected Board. The currently identified low-performing schools were factored into the determination made by DESE to approve the district as a fully accredited entity. These schools provided data that supported the decision to grant accreditation. We must review the data to determine if this is indeed a sound decision in the best interest of the students and their families. The Superintendent will continue to ensure that the proven strategies implemented to guide the district forward to accreditation remain intact.
Bill Haas: This is a complicated issue. At first I was against it even though it seemed like a done deal, until Dr. Adams told the board in response to my question that it was initially his idea. Tho he may have been required to say that even if it wasn’t, I trust his judgment. We have the right to end it after a year or two, I believe. We need metrics to see if it works and then we should decide. But with such a complicated issue, I think it’s important to have an experienced thoughtful person like myself on the board to evaluate and help oversee this new and different experiment and experience.
Jared Opsal: The model of a Consortium Partnership Network that allows for more flexibility in pedagogy as well as guidance from parents and teachers of the individual schools in the consortium has the potential to be a positive. However, the schools in the consortium must remain accountable to the elected board and the people who voted for them. Arranging a system for certain schools to operate severed from the rest of the district with little oversight and accountability measures in place from the elected board is not something I can support, and I recommend parents, children, and voters of the district to share their concerns about this model.
12. Do you have any ideas to improve public confidence in SLPS and improve enrollment?
Donna Jones: I believe that we can improve the public confidence in St. Louis Public Schools by showing how much we value their voices in creating a successful educational model that serves in the best interest of all students. Inclusion is very necessary.
Joyce Roberts: I believe that the Elected Board should take full control of the narrative of the SLPS and communicate directly to students, parents and the community at large. We begin by simply communicating that there is #NO US without #U and these are the specific steps we will take to earn your trust and confidence and maintain a strong united SLPS. Let’s begin by collectively agreeing to message and implement strategies aimed at getting all students to school every day and on time #ATTENDANCEPLEDGE (bumper stickers, student/parent buttons, community billboards, challenges from radio, TV, Greek organizations, businesses, bus signs, etc.) and Achievement and Attitude as our guiding principles. Everything done in the school district will support these tenets.
Bill Haas: I’ve always said that the district ultimately will have the public confidence and enrollment we’ve earned and deserved. And that will start with 3rd grade reading scores. If we don’t solve that, we’re not going anywhere good. For the 20 year period I’ve been on the board, 40% of third graders are still not reading at grade level. As long as that is true the district and the community are not going anywhere fast. When I recently ran for congress, third grade reading scores, rural, urban, and everyone in between was my number one issue and priority. And the key to changing that is a second qualified adult in the classroom, a certified TA, and I believe there are two different kinds. For those student falling behind, and behavior issues, and as Dr. Adams says, it just changes the culture of the classroom. During the 2017 mayor’s race, I asked Dr. Adams how much this would cost. The answer was $12 million/year, and I think we need to go back to the community for a tax increase (about half or less of what we went for before, I believe) to do this. This needs to be our number 1 priority, and the community’s.
Jared Opsal: Confidence will be gained by sustained positive outcomes for our children. If our district’s test scores continue to rise, student attendance continues to improve, and teachers are supported, then the public will take notice and begin to place faith in the Saint Louis Public School District again. Outside of my administrative duties as a board member of the district I will act as an ambassador to draw attention to the positive aspects of the district.
13. The Missouri legislature usually considers bills that would expand school choice by expanding charter schools, using vouchers, education savings accounts or tuition tax credits making it possible for students to attend private schools using public money or depriving the state of general revenue so parents could use their own money for private tuition without suffering tax penalties. The Trump administration promotes school choice and may re-allocate Title I funding away from providing low income children with extra resources to master reading and math toward expanding school choice options. School board members will be faced with an uphill battle in a struggle to attract and retain students to their school district. How will you respond to these challenging developments?
Donna Jones: As board members, it is important to me that we to work with legislators to fight for more funding as it relates to public schools. Expanding charter schools and using vouchers to divert public tax dollars to private/public schools that don’t have to be accountable to the community are a terrible idea. As it relates to retaining/ attracting students: Ensuring to offer ample opportunities for success; Poll Students/staff/teacher/ community; Combine strength of all resources; Focus on community building; Collect data and put it to good use.
Joyce Roberts: I will advocate and work to demonstrate that every school is a “quality” school and one in which any parent would be willing and proud to enroll their child.
Bill Haas: We must do everything we can to oppose these efforts and that wont be easy. Electing representatives who share our values will be necessary. The Clean Missouri redistricting bill might help.
Jared Opsal: There are now and always will be challenges finding the funding needed to address the needs of the children in our district, and I will address these challenges the same way I have addressed them in the non-profit world. The district needs to continue developing multiple sources of revenue to help prevent gaps of service for our kids, and I intend to offer my fundraising experience to help the Saint Louis Public Schools Foundation and District.
14. During the 2018 legislative session, an unsuccessful bill would have provided for the election of St. Louis school board members by sub-districts rather than at large. School board candidates would have to live in and would only represent a geographical area of the city. It will probably be filed again next year. Would you support or oppose this legislation?
Donna Jones: I oppose this legislation.
Joyce Roberts: The school board is responsible and accountable to all St. Louis children, parents and the community. To represent only the residents of a geographical area is a subtle form of defacto segregation.
Bill Haas: I think this is a complicated issue. One might think that this might lead to better and more fair representation, but people I respect oppose it, so that is my inclination, though I will also keep an open mind if this issue comes before the elected board that I’m on and we decide to take a position on it.
Jared Opsal: Similar to the Consortium Schools issue, the devil is in the details. The idea of sub-districts is intriguing due to the ability it has to provide representation to areas of the city that are historically underrepresented. However, the major sticking point will be in how the subdistrict lines are drawn. The body charged with drawing the lines will need to be separate from the school board and district to help prevent gerrymandering.
15. What are your thoughts on SLPS magnet schools?
Donna Jones: In my personal experiences magnet schools have proven to be successful for my children. Every St. Louis Public School should receive an adequate amount of resources and support. The Magnet School Program has been very successful and should be duplicated throughout the district.
Joyce Roberts: Magnet schools were established specifically as a part of the SLPS Desegregation Plan and designed specifically to attract white students to city schools while denying access to other groups of children. Magnet schools also received huge sums of money while segregated and integrated schools received smaller amounts of funding. The data indicates that the outcomes for student achievement of Magnet schools did not consistently surpass student achievement of non-magnet schools in SLPS over time. All schools should have comparable support, resources and marketing provided to district magnet schools.
Bill Haas: I like them. We seem to need more of them.
Jared Opsal: Magnet schools are a great option for kids who are high performers. It is an incredible option for families with incredibly talented children. With that said, the magnet schools need to ensure they are accessible to students who may not perform well on a standardized test. There are many kids who fit the criteria for needing a more challenging learning environment but are overlooked due to sometimes outdated and discriminatory testing standards. This needs to be addressed through continuous quality improvement of the systems used to identify children who need accelerated learning.
16. What are your thoughts on neighborhood schools?
Donna Jones: Neighborhood schools are the glue that binds a community together, but when the district reduced services and cut back on staffing we lost thousands of students. When a child is able to attend a neighborhood equipped with the resources, it provides families with the opportunity to actively participate and support their child’s school. Students that attend neighborhood schools have higher attendance rates and the cost of transportation is very small. Students benefit from the diversity and cultural awareness this type of school promotes.
Joyce Roberts: As a former principal of a neighborhood school, I am in full support of them. Neighborhood schools serve as anchors in the community. The culture of the neighborhood school extends and celebrates the concept of family, unity, and mutual support.
Bill Haas: I like them. I think we should have more of them. I think parents like them too.
Jared Opsal: Neighborhood schools are the standard throughout the country. Most schools base their attendance on geography, and I see no reason to change that in our district. Transportation to a school many miles away from home can be an incredible burden for kids and parents whether they are being transported by the district’s bussing system, Metro, or friends/family.
17. What ideas do you have to help students learn?
Donna Jones: We should work with the superintendent to develop personalized learning plans. Encourage peer learning, use a variety of ways to engage students. Make learning participatory. Help students learn how to organize their time. Encourage students to use their voices. Provide students with a regular tutor.
Joyce Roberts: I always return to the basic plan that I used in the schools and districts that I had the privilege of serving. We place a laser focus on the Triple AAA Standards of Achievement, Attendance, and Attitude. Everything that is done in school comes under this umbrella. We begin by creating a movement that is exciting for students. The school environment is welcoming, safe, engaging, and promotes academic success. We create a tag line that everyone in the school espouses. I used welcome to the #1 I CAN SCHOOL, Think you Can, Work Hard, and You Can Get Smart! or Conceive It, Believe and Achieve. We create an inclusive school culture where all children and staff are celebrated. We include student ideas (survey) that will be incorporated in to school life in the same way after we have focused on our academic goals. Each child will continue to be assessed in the first two weeks of school (long before we paid companies to generate electronic testing material). These Grade Level Assessments set important benchmarks for students and staff that guide instruction. The data is transferred to a student’s Individual Advancement Plan (IAP) to be shared with students allowing them access to their own strengths and weakness. A complete integration of wrap-around-services that deal with students and their families erasing any reasons that keep students out of school. These are the reasons that keep children out of school (lack of clothing, health concerns, permanent housing, etc.) School must be fun where students and teachers show up everyday striving for “POWERFUL TEACHING AND LEARNING” which we called our “TOP JOBS”.
Bill Haas: It’s about third grade reading scores and a second qualified adults in early childhood classrooms, as discussed above. I’ve also long been (since before I was elected in 1997) of computer based learning, especially for students behind in their grade level studies and have often advocated for us to make more use of this, but hardware and software are expensive, but we should find a way.
Jared Opsal: I will have three pillars to improve the learning outcomes of our children. Number one, health and wellness of our kids. Approximately 20% of our Saint Louis Public School children have insecure housing and many of them have dealt with undiagnosed and untreated traumas. We cannot expect kids dealing with the basic needs of housing, safety, and health to perform well in school, and we are doing our community a disservice by not dedicating everything we have to improve their outcomes. Number two, advocating for innovative and evidence-based pedagogies for our schools. I will push for the adoption of teaching methods shown to improve mandated standardized test scores, graduation rates, and post-secondary education and training. Not every child learns in the same way, and offering different paths that may be more suited to their learning needs will improve their educational outcomes. Number three, I will work to find ways to attract and retain the best teachers in the region. This begins by developing a funding plan to make Saint Louis Public School teachers some of the highest paid in the region. We lose many potentially great teachers because we simply are not able to offer them the salary they deserve. I will also work to make sure they are provided the best training options we can offer them so they are continuously refining their skills.
18. What do you think about the MAP tests and standardized tests in general?
Donna Jones: There are many different factors to think about when it comes to standardized tests. Standardized tests are said to be accountable, provide benchmarks, and structure. These tests have not proven to fair well for educational outcomes. They have proven to exist for financial and political purposes. Although this is the standard used for the state of Missouri, I don’t personally believe teachers should teach to a test.
Joyce Roberts: I believe that schools are in need of assessment tools to identify where students are and what specific skills they need to focus on. Assessment instruments also help to bridge learning gaps that children may have and adjust the curriculum to meet the individual needs of students. Children all learn differently, have differently learning styles but must be able to achieve competent levels identified by the current assessment instruments.
Bill Haas: I know people object to use teaching to the test, but if we have to teach to something, teaching to recognized skills is a place to start. Other values are important, but our kids have to learn reading and math, and we have to know where they’re at so we know where to improve, and well-designed standardized tests need to be part of that. One component of improving early childhood reading has always been regular testing to determine who is improving and who falling behind and who need intervention to catch up.
Jared Opsal: Standardized tests are a snap shot of a student’s ability. They only offer a small glimpse of what a child knows and is capable of. Also, the idea of standardized testing was born from racist and classist ideals to keep people who were not white and male out of institutes of learning. The tests have changed dramatically since those shameful beginnings, but there are still problems with our society’s reliance upon them that are reflected in standardized test performance gaps between white and black students. With all that said, we are stuck with standardized testing as a major academic performance measure for the foreseeable future. As a school board member, I will advocate for new approaches to test preparation that are shown to benefit all of our students, not just ones that look like me. For example, research from Mano Singham has shown that active learning environments improve test scores for all students regardless of race, which leads to a dramatic closing of the performance gap. These approaches need to be brought to our district as soon as possible.
19. Approximately 70% of SLPS high school graduates who enroll in college must take remedial courses. What policies would you promote to lower this statistic?
Donna Jones: This is a major issue that many families face when sending child to college. It is very important that the district works to decrease this percentage. Consider a policy of adding additional college level courses to the high school curriculum similar to the remedial college course. Provide additional resources and services where needed. Target students as soon as they enter high school, stressing the importance of college readiness earlier than later. Advocating for more funding to ensure proper allocation of funding/ resources.
Joyce Roberts: As a member of the Elected Board of Education, I would recommend to my fellow board members the creation of a policy specifically designed to lower the percentages of students enrolled in remedial courses in college. Policy: Competency Levels for High School Students. Implementation, assessment of student performance by grade level, and monitoring will be the responsibility of the student, parent, teacher(s) and administration under the direction of the district superintendent.
Bill Haas: It’d be nice if we could recognize and improve this before they graduate. Better reading by third grade will certainly help, and programmed computer-based learning. Skills tests before been allowed to graduate are controversial, but I’d be open to it if students without the skills are given intervention to acquire them.
Jared Opsal: In addition to what I have previously mentioned, I will ensure academic counselors are given the tools needed to identify students who are behind the curve and provide them with the resources needed to boost their academic performance. This may come in the form of before/after school Saint Louis Public School courses focused on the reading and math skills needed at the collegiate level. I will also push for the recognition and expansion of technical school and apprenticeship programming. As a society we need to move away from the dogmatic view that everyone must attend a 4-year university in order to find fulfilling work that also supports yourself and your family.
20. In the past the elected school board has been criticized as dysfunctional. Local media have unfairly perpetuated this impression. How would your election to the board help to dispel this inaccurate perception.
Donna Jones: This a false narrative created by those in the community that are currently part of the dismantling of SLPS district. My re-election would show that there are individuals that are qualified, dedicated, and ready to serve this district. Individuals that are ready to work and truly care about what’s in the best interest of our children.
Joyce Roberts: I am a homegrown product of the SLPS School District. I have worked in the district at every level, teacher, building principal and central office administration. I come with experience, credibility and a documented track record of leadership and student academic achievement. I understand schooling, what it looks like, sounds like and feels like. I can build capacity in students and teachers, forge critical relationships with the community, hold myself and others accountable for the work. I can work collaboratively with other board members to identify specific steps, policies and procedures to maintain accreditation and move the district forward while attracting a competent and diverse teaching force during my tenure on the Elected School Board. With the implementation of these strategies, I believe SLPS will become the first choice of the children and families we currently serve, but will be uniquely positioned, as an example, to draw other diverse families back to an academically challenging school district and an economically prosperous city.
Bill Haas: Oh, my. The Post Dispatch and other media has not been fair to the public schools since the Post supported the Slay slate of candidates and couldn’t get themselves to admit they were terrible (and The American since Donald Suggs supported the takeover), either in news or editorial, and don’t believe anyone who tells you they’re independent. Goodness knows I’ve become a pest trying to educate the Post on this issue, and have failed. I think the elected board should concentrate on the achievement of our students, and when that is successful, the media will acknowledge that and the job we’re doing. It’s not about the people we elect, it’s about what they do once elected.
Jared Opsal: I cannot speak to any perceived or actual dysfunction of the board in the past, but I will speak to the many years of board level experience I can offer the district. I have been a board member for multiple non-profits and special taxing districts in the city for many years, and I bring a level of professionalism and accountability to every board room I enter. As a representative of the organizations I have worked and volunteered for, I have found ways to share stories about our successes and challenges with media outlets.