Board of Education Questionnaire: District 9, Amber Rountree

Candidates in their own words

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.

AMBER ROUNTREE, candidate for KCS Board of Education in the Ninth District

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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?

In the past year, the constant changes at Knox County Schools have created a cause for concern and I have spoken out at many Board meetings. I believe the best way to affect positive change for South Knoxville students would be as a Board member. As a Board member, I can bring my educational experience to the position. A policy can look very different on paper than in a classroom setting. I will be able to discuss the real world implications of policies, as well as consideration of the financial ramifications of such policies.

Please elaborate on any experience or qualifications you have that you think would serve you well as a member of the Board.

I believe the combination of experiences I have, both in education and in working at a small business would serve me well as a Board member. I have a B.S. in Early Childhood Education and an M.S. in Library Science, along with 6 years of experience as an elementary school librarian for KCS. Prior to working for KCS, I worked for Long, Ragsdale & Waters as a legal assistant. A balance of having educational and small business experience would be beneficial in decision making.

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?

The current leadership has left much to be desired for education in Tennessee. The Board can and should be a voice for the community at the state level. The Board should champion state government for policies that it believes is best for children, regardless if those views are in opposition to the current leadership. Having an ongoing and open dialogue with the Department of Education would be in the best interest of KCS students.

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?

While the Superintendent may be a great Chief Financial Officer, I do not believe he is the leader we need for KCS. The teacher survey reflected that 70% of teachers were dissatisfied with the district leadership and that is a red flag. While the teacher advisory group is certainly a worthy effort I don't think it fully integrates educators into the decision-making process. I think there should be some very specific goals set for the Superintendent, along with a follow up of the teacher survey within the next 6 months to see if there has been any improvement of teacher morale. It is unfortunate that the buyout cost is higher due to the Board's vote to unnecessarily extend the Superintendent's contract in December. If there were enough Board members to support buying out the Superintendent's contract then I would certainly consider a buyout. The Superintendent is the employee of the Board and the Board needs to hold him accountable.

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?

As a Board member, one has to work collaboratively with others who may have differing viewpoints. Working collaboratively is essential to improving our schools. While I might disagree with certain Board members, my goal as a Board member is to make sure we are doing what is best for our children. I teach my students that collaboration and compromise are essential skills. Serving as a board member would be an opportunity to put this teaching into action, addressing one of the most important tasks facing our community.

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?

Our focus should be on adequately educating the whole child. While reading and math are foundational skills, social studies, science and related arts are equally important for our students. We have trimmed many of our related arts programs and vocational/tech programs, which provide invaluable educational experiences for our students. As a Board member, I would work to see that our students have adequate related arts time and ensure we are also preparing our students who want to pursue vocational training.

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 don't believe Tripod is an adequate way to gauge students' perception of their teachers' performance. It isn't developmentally appropriate for students in grades K-5 to complete Tripod surveys for their classroom teachers or special area teachers. The questions are confusing for students, i.e. "my teacher pushes me" to which students respond that their teacher would never physically push them. Students also lose valuable instructional time to take multiple surveys. Additionally, the funds used to administer Tripod would be better used in ways that directly benefit students. Many teachers incorporate student feedback into their classes on a regular basis, and we should determine how we can utilize the data we already have instead of committing to additional external spending. Tripod student data should absolutely not be tied to a teacher's evaluation.

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?

Yes, I do believe KCS should look into other evaluation models. KCS educators differentiate the learning experience for their students based on student needs, and evaluations should be differentiated based on the specific demands of each position. A kindergarten teacher shouldn't be evaluated on the same model as a high school band director. Evaluation feedback to teachers should be provided by evaluators with sufficient experience and specific content knowledge to be relevant and applicable.

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)?

My main concern is that charter schools funnel funding away from public schools and they also don't have to play by the same rules, i.e. accepting all students. I believe KCS and our students would be better served by growing our Community Schools program and increasing the supports available to struggling students.

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?

Absolutely not, on both counts. Our children deserve to have teachers who have sufficient training and are dedicated to the teaching profession.

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.

Over 700—my students at Halls Elementary! Hopefully one day my husband and I will have children of our own in KCS.

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?

I already do as a frequent attendee of Board meetings! Having snacks like bacon chocolate chip cookies helps too.