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.
SANDRA ROWCLIFFE, 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 am running for school board, first and foremost, because I believe the kids in Knox County are as smart as any kids in the nation if given the right skills, tools, and resources. They are capable of the higher expectations. They are capable of success! And, I believe I have the qualifications to help ensure this.
I have been a resident of Knox County for 27 years. I am a married mother of 4 children, all of whom attend Knox County Schools or have graduated from Knox County Schools. I have advocated for children, teachers, and education for 15+ years through volunteer service in PTA and other organizations. I have been in almost every school in Knox County whether painting faces at a carnival or meeting with administrators and parents in order to further parental involvement and engagement. I have a proven track record through PTA as a leader, motivator, creative problem-solver, good communicator, and empowerer.
Please elaborate on any experience or qualifications you have that you think would serve you well as a member of the Board.
• Knox County Council PTA, 2012-present; President, 2nd VP, By-laws Chair
• Reach Them to Teach Them, 2014, Board of Directors
• TN Achieves Mentor and Co-Lead, 2012-present; Hardin Valley Academy
• Mental Health Association of East TN, 2011-present; board member and Programs Chair
• ETCCY (East TN Council on Children and Youth), 2012-present; member
• Hardin Valley Academy PTSA, 2008-present; Founding President, board member, academy liaison; "TN PTA Rookie of the Year Local Unit" (2009), "TN PTA Outstanding Local High School Unit" (2010, 2011), naming of the Sandra Rowcliffe Scholarship (2010)
• Cedar Bluff Schools PTSA, 1999-present; member, board member, Ways and Means Chair, Elementary VP, President ,"TN PTA Outstanding Local Unit" (2008)
• Travel 2 Give travel agency, 2009-2013; Marketing Associate and Director of Operations
• St. Mary's Hospital, 1992-1997; Music Therapist
• Tennessee Technological University, 1991-1992; Adjunct Professor
• Ridgeview Psychiatric Hospital, 1987-1991, Music Therapist
• East Tennessee Children's Hospital-CHiPS Unit, 1987, Music Therapist
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?
It is my opinion that Governor Haslam and Commissioner Huffman have an educational plan in creating opportunities for increased student proficiency and achievement across the state. The problem has become the lack of follow-up and feedback from "boots on the ground" educators once initiatives and mandates are implemented re: logistics and implementation in the actual classroom. It is imperative that the Knox County Board of Education along with the Superintendent be that conduit for communication and feedback to the state Department of Education. Likewise, it is even more important that an increased level of communication between the Knox County Board of Education, the Superintendent and Knox County employees become a priority, so that advocacy efforts at the state level are, indeed, accurate and effective.
I have spent a fair amount of time in Nashville throughout the last 15 years talking with legislators about a mantra of issues related to education and mental health. This process can be difficult, time-consuming, frustrating, intimidating and filled with political bureaucracy. I have always followed through with personal resilience, confidence, and dedication. I have a good working relationship the Knox County delegation, and I believe they respect me and my efforts as I do them.
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?
I feel the KCS Superintendent has performed the job for which the Board of Education has requested of him. His contract was recently extended by the Board with a vote of 8-1 which is a significant vote of confidence. The cost of buying out his contract would exceed $800,000. It is my opinion that this loss of resources would be of great detriment to the students of KCS which is definitely not something I would be in favor of.
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?
Through my PTA leadership roles, I have had the opportunity to work with all the current Board of Education members as well as the vast majority of KCS senior administration. Whether agreeing or disagreeing on issues or simply exchanging ideas or concerns, I, as well as they, have always maintained a high level of respectfulness and professionalism that I have no reason to believe would be any different with changes to the Board.
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?
Clearly, there are some issues of concern in KCS which include big achievement gaps, organizational inefficiencies, and a lack of relational trust between the stakeholders, all of which must be addressed. Overall, however, I do believe Knox County Schools are moving in the right direction. Teachers, Principals, and Senior Administrators are committed to higher expectations and rigor. Eleven schools have exceptional technology capability which I want to see expanded. The Community Schools initiative has expanded. There are more options for students all across the county such as the STEM Academy, the Paul Kelley Academy, Vine Middle STEAM Academy, the IB program at West High School with more options soon coming such as the CTE Magnet Academy in partnership with Pellissippi Community College and the Middle School IB pilot. These are all great things for kids.
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?
I do believe that student perception of teachers is important and valid feedback for educators. In discussions with teachers, they overwhelmingly believe students in K-2 are definitely NOT equipped with skills necessary to provide this feedback. But, in talking with teachers and Principals after the most recent Tripod administration, they felt 3rd or 4th graders were a good age to begin this process, and I trust our Knox County educators in determining this. I am definitely in favor of some type student feedback method as numerous students have conveyed to me the importance of this to them, and students need to be heard as well. While it is my opinion that student feedback to teachers is certainly important, I would not be in favor of tying this feedback to overall teacher evaluation results as there are too many variables.
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?
When I have asked this question of principals, they overwhelmingly are in support of the TEAM model. In asking this question of teachers, almost without fail, teachers express to me an opinion that the TEAM evaluation model is difficult, it is a checklist that feels unattainable, and that it is too subjective. Teachers go on to say, however, that it has made them a better teacher.
Based on this feedback, it is my opinion that the TEAM evaluation model overall is a good tool which requires some adjustments in its subjectivity and evaluator training protocols. I am familiar with several other evaluation models including Marzano, TAP, McREL, and Tiger to name a few, however, in my opinion, none are as extensive and/or specifically detailed as the TEAM model except for TAP.
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 am a proponent of educating kids in the skills they require to be successful in college and/or career. If a charter school proposal demonstrated to me the ability to do this, I would consider it.
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?
I honestly cannot say for certain how I would vote or what I would support on either of these subjects without seeing the full proposal and plan of action. With that said, however, my goal is to educate kids, enlighten kids, and empower kids to the degree that they are prepared for college and/or career, to the degree that they are able to make a living wage, to the degree that they can provide a stable life for themselves and those they care about. If a charter school and/or Teach for America teachers could reasonably demonstrate to me that they could and would accomplish these goals, I could open my mind to the possibility of either.
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.
I have 3 children currently in Knox County Schools, and one child who graduated from a Knox County Schools in 2012 and currently attends UTK.
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?
Generally speaking, I'm a pretty focused individual, so I believe for the most part, I'd be able to sit through PowerPoint presentations. I currently serve as one of the parent representatives on the KCS Strategic Planning Advisory Committee as well as the Smarter Spending Steering Group, so I've actually sat through those PowerPoint presentations several times each, and I take away new material each time. However, I am not perfect but only human, so to say positively that I would never be distracted by other scenarios would be totally ridiculous.