Monday, March 13, 2017

SLPS: Via Susan Turk, Survey of Schoolboard Candidates, the first: JAMES REECE

St. Louis Schools Watch
By Susan Turk

School Board Candidate Survey Responses

Over the next week, the Watch will publish responses submitted by candidates for the April 4, 2017 St. Louis Board of Education election.
We will publish one per issue because of their length.  Feel free to forward them to other city voters, especially to SLPS parents and staff.

James Reece

April 2017 School Board Candidates Questionnaire

Please supply a brief autobiography.

My name is James Reece and I was born here in St. Louis. My family was in the military so we moved around over the years, but I found my way back to St. Louis and have been a resident of this amazing city most of my adult life. I’m a proud veteran of the United States Army where I served my country honorably. I also attended Fisk University where I majored in Psychology. I’m a full-time father of a current SLPS honor roll student who’s also a current member of the State Champion basketball team at Vashon. I have spent a great deal of time volunteering, mentoring, and being a steady role model for my son as well as other children in our community. I am the current PTO President at my son’s school which enables me to keep a pulse on the overall school environment. In between all of my current activities I assist in keeping our young men out of the streets by sponsoring open play basketball sessions at St. Margaret of Scotland. My primary focus has always centered around giving back to my community and creating growth opportunities for children.

The SLPS is currently governed by an appointed board.  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.  Why, then, are you running?  If you believe the elected board will return to power, please give reasons.

I am running because I want to see St. Louis Public Schools continue to grow and make strides for providing quality and effective education for ALL of our students. We have the potential to become a competitive district that contributes not only to the educational growth of our students, but also the social and emotional aspects that will enable them to compete in the global society. Our students and families deserve to be heard, and their voice and needs are the forefront of my desire to serve and represent their interest. The appointed board has served its initial purpose which was to guide our district back to accreditation, but I feel that it is time to bring the SLPS community back on board to collectively lead us into the future.

What is your understanding of the role of a board member?

The role of the School Board is to protect the interest of everyone invested in the educational community. Students, teachers, parents, and community leaders need and deserve someone who will listen to their concerns as well as act on those concerns. St. Louis Public Schools is in a unique position because of the challenges of the past few years. If we have the ability to recreate our own elected board the responsibilities will center around providing resources and support to promote positive educational growth for both staff and students, creating rigorous programs that facilitate equitable learning and career readiness opportunities, evaluating district operations and services, and working closely with the superintendent to implement procedures to ensure continued progress and improvement around the district.

What do you want to accomplish as a board member?

As a board member, my main concern is making decisions based on our community as a whole. Everything that is done and every decision that is made should be based on what is best for the kids! Our students’ hold the very future in their hands and it’s up to us to provide them with the tools and resources necessary to succeed. My other points of action would revolve around attracting and retaining quality and effective staff, financial accountability and equity across the district, increasing community involvement, and transparency that cycles both ways from the administration to the community at large.

Are you the parent of children who currently attend or graduated from the SLPS?  Did you attend and/or graduate from the SLPS? Have you ever worked for the SLPS or are you related to a current or former employee? Are you now or have you in the past served as a board member? If you are not an SLPS parent, graduate, former employee or relation of one, or board member, do you have any other connection with the SLPS?

I am a full-time father of a SLPS Honor Roll student. My son is currently a Junior and a member of the State Champion basketball team at Vashon. I am not personally an alum of SLPS, but I have coached, mentored, and volunteered for several years. I currently facilitate a Chess Club at Hamilton Elementary which is sponsored and supported by the St. Louis Chess Club.

What are your thoughts about the SAB which governs the district?

The Special Administrative board played an integral part in helping the district get back on track both educationally and financially. The appointment of three members from the Governor, Mayor, and Board of Alderman’s office created a broad range of ideas and experience that was needed to tackle some of the issues that were weighing down the district. Nonetheless, as I previously stated I believe that it is time to bring the board back to its roots. The pulse of SLPS lies in the hands of the people who are directly involved and aware of our unique situations. A thorough abdication of power doesn’t need to happen, but a collective effort can provide the smooth transition that is sorely needed at this point in time.

What is your understanding of the effect of charter schools on the SLPS?  Should more charter schools open in the city?

The Secretary of Education and the Governor of Missouri are both proponents of school choice legislation. It seems almost likely that a two-tiered bill will be introduced that will allow funding for more charter schools across the country.  Going on this assumption the question that needs to be addressed is how would this affect the educational system already in place? There are some very successful charter schools in existence that were created around strong educational and student focused growth. However, there are quite a few charter schools that are struggling because they do not have the specialized curriculum or leadership to create a quality program. Our future success doesn’t necessarily hinge on whether we have more charter schools, but our resources are already spread very thin. Allocating or diverting funds from our existent infrastructure weakens our ability to be competitive. The true focus should be on creating strong quality programs so that parents don’t feel as if they need more options to successfully educate their children.

Do you have any ideas to improve public confidence in SLPS and improve enrollment?

Regaining the trust of the public should be one of our top priorities. A child is a parents’ or caregivers’ biggest asset. When parents/caregivers feel as if their assets are being protected and supported they will in turn support the organization. Listening to the students and the community’s voices are going to be integral in turning this district around. Creating positive and welcoming environments in every school should be the first step. Community based schools and outreach programs that support the staff and students will assist in creating a solid foundation for improvement. We also have to do better in terms of creating, building, and maintaining substantial educational experiences that challenge our students to do more than just show up for school. The bottom line is making students and the community believe and understand that we are working toward a common goal of educational excellence.

The Missouri legislature is considering bills this year that would expand school choice 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 they could use their own money for private tuition without being taxed on those funds, and expanding options for students in certain situations to attend schools outside of their school district.  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?

There are things that we can control and things that we can’t control. Government mandates are a prime example of things that we can’t control, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t implement quality practices within our schools. Even if Title I funding is cut we can still help students that are struggling. In house tutoring programs, can be created before and after school to assist with reading and math deficits. Retired teachers or community volunteers can be brought in to facilitate learning communities and clubs to further enhance student achievement. I can say with some certainty that we will lose some students if these mandates are put into fruition, however our focus needs to be on enriching those students who chose to stay.

What are your thoughts regarding the magnet schools?

I believe that Magnet schools are a wonderful addition to our school district. The very idea that a student can receive specialized curriculum (Math and Science, Performing Arts, International Studies, ROTC etc.) on top of their core studies is encouraging. Sparking the interest in learning from an early age is a great motivator for children. When education is differentiated and intentional, students have a tendency to take more responsibility for their learning and growth. If we increase the advertisement and promotion of these schools, we may also have a greater chance at retaining more of our student base.

What are your thoughts on neighborhood schools?

I mentioned this in one of my earlier comments, but I believe strongly in community/neighborhood based schools. Our students shouldn’t have to travel farther than a few blocks to get to school especially in the elementary levels. Strong family and school partnerships occur at a higher rate when the community can come together in a common place close to home. Neighborhood schools also have a specific pulse on what is happening in their area. The quote “It takes a village to raise a child.” has never rang more true than it does today. It is our responsibility to create systems that support children and their families from early childhood to college/career planning, graduation, and beyond.

What ideas do you have to help students learn?

Students learn best when they are placed in a supportive, caring, and well-designed atmosphere. The best way to support students in their learning is to create curriculum based activities and assignments geared to the students learning style and ability level. We don’t have to have the best textbooks to teach our children. We need to promote more professional development based on what our children need. The concept of Differentiated learning is not a new concept and it is something that I believe will help reach all of students within their given classroom. We need to move beyond the concept of “tracking” and make sure that each school has a plan in place to accelerate learning across all disciplines.

What do you think about the MAP tests and standardized tests in general?

There is value in standardized testing because it provides some data points regarding student needs and growth. However, the data needs to be utilized to drive instruction. Testing just to test isn’t beneficial to teachers or students. It creates a false sense of progress that doesn’t measure obtainable objectives. The key is to understand that the information that is gleaned from these tests are just a small snapshot of a students’ true abilities. If utilized in the correct manner they can provide some insight regarding curricular needs and the focus that the teacher needs to take the students to the next level.

In the past the elected board has been criticized as dysfunctional.  If a majority of fellow board members make a decision with which you disagree can you accept the outcome or would you publicly disagree with their decision?

Dissension is normal when you gather people together to come to a specific conclusion. It’s a normal and necessary practice that is expected. However, if I truly believe in something and have the facts and supporting evidence to back up my ideas I will make sure that my concerns are heard. I don’t have a problem with compromising, but if it comes at the expense of the students or the district I will have to look at the issue from all sides before coming to a mutual agreement. This doesn’t mean that the issue has to be taken outside of the boardroom into the public domain. It only means that if there is a disagreement it needs to be handled within the parameters of the board guidelines until a consensus can be made.

Approximately 70% of SLPS high school graduates who enroll in college must take remedial courses.  What policies would you promote to lower this statistic?

First, we need to make sure that the educators in place have the correct background and experience in the subject areas. It’s very difficult to learn from someone who doesn’t have a passion or depth of knowledge for a subject. Our students need to be rigorously challenged from the elementary level all the way up to high school. If we are looking at student achievement data with some vigilance, we can pinpoint the holes before they become a major factor or struggle. We may also have to do a curriculum review. Do our standards match closely with those of DESE and the surrounding districts? 70% is a large number and we have to tackle this problem at the root of its existence.

Is it important that SLPS parents be represented on the school board?

It is very important that SLPS parents be represented on the board. We are very aware of the challenges, unique situations, and obstacles that our children have to overcome to be successful in and outside of the school setting. We have direct contact with members of the community and fellow parents. By allowing parents to have a voice in the district we can support the district and become advocates within the school arena. A board can only truly function successfully when it has the input from all of the stakeholders.
Questions for the Watch? Letters to the Editor? Stories to contribute? News tips? Send them to SLS_Watch@yahoo.com
Please feel free to forward the SLS Watch to anyone you think will benefit from reading the publication.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Calendar

March 14, 2017, Tuesday, Board of Education meeting, regular monthly meeting, 7 p.m., Adams Elementary School,  1311 Tower Grove Avenue, 63110

March 16, 2017, Thursday, SAB meeting, 6 p.m., 801 North 11th Street, room 108

March 29, 2017, Wednesday, School Board Candidate Forum, 7 p.m., Metro H.S., 4015 McPherson Avenue, 63108

April 4, 2017, School Board Election, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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