Metro Pulse sent the following questionnaire to all 13 candidates for the four contested and one uncontested Knox County Schools Board of Education seats. Candidates' responses have not been edited in any way, except to correct minor typographical errors for stylistic clarity.
BRAD BUCHANAN, candidate for KCS Board of Education in the Sixth District
Why are you running for the Board of Education? If you're an incumbent, why do you want to continue to serve for another four years, and is there anything you hope to do differently this term if reelected? If you're a freshly minted candidate, how long have you been interested in serving on the Board, and what do you think you can bring to the position?
I've been interested in education prior to working on my Master of Education and throughout my years teaching high school and extending into teaching in a teacher prep program at the collegiate level. As a former educator and father of Knox County kids I have always been active in the educational process of my children. I have been actively involved in my children's schools and began to notice gradual changes in how my children were learning. I noted a different morale within those schools and began speaking to teachers. What ultimately motived me to run was watching BOE meetings and seeing how parent and teacher concerns were only being listened to and no action was being taken. I was concerned that the leadership was headed in the wrong direction. As I continued watching the BOE meetings and speaking with teachers in Knox County schools it became clear to me that the board needed more representation that understands the issues that teachers and students face.
Please elaborate on any experience or qualifications you have that you think would serve you well as a member of the Board.
I have three children active in Knox County schools and another that will be there in a few years. I also have taught at the high school level for 3 years and also in a collegiate teacher prep program. I know first-hand from my experience teaching at the collegiate level what it means to be college ready. My wife is also currently a teacher in Knox County schools. All of these things combined give me not only a unique perspective into what is happening in Knox County Schools, but also a solid foundation in educational theory and practice. I also have a background in business administration and computer science which gives me a well-rounded and realistic ideology. Having children that will be active in Knox County Schools for many years to come only cements my commitment to assuring that the most resources possible make it to the classroom and positively impact our children.
What is your opinion of the current leadership of the state Department of Education under Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner Kevin Huffman? If positive, how will you work with the many teachers and parents who are frustrated with the direction of the department? If negative, how will you try to maintain a good working relationship with the department?
I do believe that our current Department of Education (DOE) leaders are answering to too many outside interests and are not focused on what is best for the students in Tennessee. You can see this influence from the large amount of federal funding tied to Common Core and Commissioner Kevin Huffman's previous employment with Teach for America. I think that the current TN DOE has lost sight of what is and should be our primary focus and that is students. I feel that my responsibility is to let the wishes of my constituents be heard. If the TN DOE supports certain educational policies that my constituents disagree with then I feel it is my responsibility to let their voices be heard.
What is your opinion of the job being done by the current Knox County Schools Superintendent, Jim McIntyre? If negative, how will you try to maintain a good working relationship with him? Would you vote to buy his contract out before it ends, despite the substantial cost to the district, if you felt you had the support of enough Board members to do so?
My opinion of the job being done by the current Knox County Schools Superintendent is shaped by the teacher survey results, teacher turn over and parental discontent. He is not proving himself to be an effective leader. When 70% of your teachers are unhappy that is a direct reflection on your effectiveness as a leader. The current BOE created a very difficult situation with the contract extension. To buy out his contract would be a costly endeavor and would again take money away from teachers and students. I would make it a priority to hold the superintendent accountable for doing his job to the fullest. If he is unable to that or is proven to be unfit I would then look at removing him from his position.
What is your opinion of the performance of the current Board members, both those running for reelection and those who will remain in office until at least 2016? If negative, how will you try to maintain a good working relationship with them, especially if you've publicly criticized your potential colleagues in the past? If you're an incumbent, how will you try to maintain a good working relationship with any potential new colleagues who have been vocally critical of you?
I believe that the majority of current board members are not taking responsibility for their position and asking the difficult questions. As the employer of the superintendent they should actively participate in the system of checks and balances to assure that the administration is acting in the best interest of our parents, students and teachers. When it comes to working with others, the idea that everyone must all hold the same beliefs in order for the best outcome is ridiculous. The truth is that when professionals come together with good intentions and different opinions that many times better solutions are reached.
Putting your thoughts about the administration aside, what is your opinion of the Knox County Schools—the district itself? Do you think the schools are generally moving in the right direction? If not, in what direction do you think they should be moving? How would you work to make that happen on the Board?
Thanks to the school level administration, teachers in the classroom and hard work of our students Knox County Schools is headed in the right direction. This is in spite of the direction that the current administration is attempting to push the district. The truth is that while teachers are transitioning to the Common Core they are still teaching to the current standards since those are the standards to which the students are being tested. I think that if it were not for the teachers of Knox County that our system would be in a sad place, much like other large systems that have adopted a similar approach as that which is advocated by our superintendent. I fear that the current BOE is allowing our Superintendent's policies to have a negative impact on Knox County schools and if we continue on this path it will further affect the students by eroding their love of learning.
What is your opinion of the Tripod survey administered to students, intended to gauge their perceptions of their teachers' performance? If favorable, do you think it's a good idea for all students, including those in grades K-2? If negative, are you specifically opposed to the Tripod methodology (and cost), or the idea of surveying students about teachers' performance in general? The Memphis school district, among others in the country, has tied these surveys into a teacher's overall evaluation—is this something you'd ever consider, whether with Tripod or a different but similar survey?
The Tripod survey is not only not valued by teachers, as shown in the teacher survey results, but also not used in any fashion by the district. So why waste the time and cause the students additional stress by administering it? Most students respect their teachers and do not like being put in the position where something they say can be used against their teacher. I do not believe that the Tripod or similar surveys should be administered much less used for teacher evaluations.
Although state law currently requires teacher evaluations be tied to test scores, there is not a mandate for Knox County to use the current TEAM model. Do you think KCS should look into other evaluation models? If not, why? If so, are there specific models you favor?
I believe that KCS should look into other evaluation models. Some of the many deficiencies of our current evaluation system include less experienced teachers evaluating more experienced teachers and teachers being reviewed by reviewers that do not have knowledge of the subject area being taught during the evaluation session. The TEAM rubric innately pits teachers against one another and good teaching should be about support and collaboration. The evaluation system should be designed by the teachers that will be evaluated and include teacher input and feedback that leads to continuous and formative teacher growth.
What is your opinion on charter schools? If negative, does this mean you would never vote to approve any charter application that came before the Board, no matter what? If you do support charter schools in any form, would you support an otherwise well-thought-out charter proposed by a for-profit operation, should the Legislature allow such schools to open in Tennessee (which it is currently considering doing)?
I believe that charter schools are harmful to the public school system in which they operate. KCS is already on a tight budget and removing some of the students from the system leaves KCS with the fixed cost of continued operation of the schools. This also involves the redistribution of tax dollars away from a public institution. Public institutions must be financially transparent and charters shift that money to a private organization that is not financially transparent and are not held to the same standards of public schools. All of this risk is for schools which have not historically performed any better than public schools. If despite this evidence there is still a belief in the power of experimenting with students' education why not allow the existing school system the flexibility that is offered to charter schools?
Would you support KCS funding going to employ Teach for America teachers at regular public schools in the district? Would you vote to authorize a charter school that planned to employ mostly TFA teachers?
No, I do not support funding to employ Teach for America teachers. This makes no sense educationally or financially. Why should KCS pay a premium for less experienced educators that historically leave the classroom after two years? We have a wealth of top notch educational institutions at our door step. There would be no reason to take on hidden TFA costs to put unqualified teachers in our classrooms. I ask myself, is that what I want for my own children? The answer is no, I would not want my own children being educated by an employee that has had as little as 5 weeks of training. I want my children to be educated by teachers that have chosen the career of education. I want my children to have teachers that view their career as the destination NOT a stepping stone.
Do you have children in the school system in Knox County? Have you ever? If your children are school-age and attend (or recently graduated from) non-KCS schools, please explain why.
Yes, two in elementary school and one in middle school. I also have a younger child that will be starting in Knox county schools in a few years.
As a member of the KCS Board of Education, you will be expected to sit through multiple long, tedious meetings filled with interminable PowerPoint presentations each month. Are you sure you can pay attention that long? Seriously, are you really sure about that?
If there are meaningless presentations given I would have no trouble addressing the issue of time-wasting presentations. I would however hope that scheduled presentations would be meaningful status reports or informative details about potential programs. These should lead to questions about whether or not those programs would be appropriate for KCS. This is all part of the healthy operation of the Board of Education.