Friday, March 17, 2017

SLPS Elected Board Candidate Surveys, via Susan Turk: Dorothy Rohde Collins

Second installment in Susan Turk's very useful survey of SLPS Elected Board candidates:

Here's #2 Dorothy Rohde Collins  (you can find James Reece here).

St. Louis Schools Watch

By Susan Turk

March 16, 2017--St. Louis—

April 2017 School Board Candidates Questionnaire for

Dorothy Rohde Collins

Please supply a brief autobiography.
During my last year of college, I worked as a lab assistant while studying Chemistry at Butler University in Indiana. My experiences teaching and helping students in the lab prompted me to rethink my chosen career. I began coursework toward teacher certification at SIUE about a year later.  I intentionally chose to do my student teaching at Madison High School in Madison, Illinois to get first-hand experience working at a school with few resources and a student population primarily made up of low-income families.  Once certified, I began my career at Northwest Academy of Law in SLPS where I taught science for six years.  I continued my education by obtaining my Master’s degree in Education from the University of Missouri in Mental Health Practices in Schools.  This program emphasized the design and implementation  of school practices and procedures to optimize student mental health.  My coursework covered resiliency, diversity, collaboration with families, mental health preventions and interventions, and the impact of trauma on education.  This unique Master’s program gave me practical solutions to improve the school experience for my students.  I am passionately committed to public education and view education as the path to a better, stronger city.

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.

It is my hope and belief that the elected board will return to power in the near future. The district recently received full accreditation from the state of Missouri which demonstrates the district has the stability necessary to transition power back to the elected board.  I am running for the elected board because I believe that my perspective as both an educator and parent is unique.  I want to be here and ready to implement changes when the elected board is returned to power.  As a certified teacher with a Master’s degree in education, I have the knowledge and professional experience necessary to positively impact school district policy in order to increase student enrollment and achievement.  As a parent, I understand the difficulties and shortcomings of the district and its interaction with families, so I will be able to improve the experience of district families.

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

The school board is responsible for creating and monitoring school district policies, procedures, and educational decisions.  It is the responsibility of a board member to stay up-to-date on advancements in the field of education, listen to the opinions and concerns of stakeholders and constituents, and make well-informed decisions that will positively impact the community as a whole.

What do you want to accomplish as a board member?

As an elected board member, my number one goal will be to encourage the implementation of policies and procedures that will not only improve achievement for district students, but contribute to a stronger, healthier St. Louis community.  I would like to see a renewed emphasis on neighborhood schools and community education sites.  Ideally, every SLPS school will offer community education opportunities like after-school programs, GED courses, parenting and family workshops, health care clinics, college and career readiness centers, etc.  l will work toward an increased emphasis on improving student mental health by implementing additional trauma-sensitive policies and increasing the number of counselors and social workers.  I want to increase the number of and improve the quality of professional development opportunities for teachers and school-based administrators so that the experiences are relevant to educators needs and goals.  I would like to bring more teachers into the district-level decision making process to ensure the decisions made by the board are actually effective when put into practice.  I will also seek to improve district communications with parents and students by streamlining application and enrollment procedures, increasing family outreach opportunities, and providing clear, informative, and  up-to-date information on district and school websites.

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 worked for the district from 2006-2012.  I was employed at Northwest Academy of Law where I taught a variety of science courses ranging from 8th grade general science to AP Chemistry and AP Environmental Science.  In addition, I also served as the Science Department Chair and AP (Advanced Placement) Coordinator, as well as led several district-wide professional development workshops for science teachers and participated in a textbook adoption committee.

Currently, my family is involved with the special education side of the district because my son has an IEP.  Beginning in Fall 2017, my son will attend Wilkinson ECC as kindergarten student.

What are your thoughts about the SAB which governs the district?
While the SAB provided much needed stability during a tumultuous time for the district, their approach to running the school district has been similar to that of running a business.  That approach has its benefits, but loses sight of the human nature of schools and students.  In addition, enrollment has continued to decrease while under the guidance of the SAB. Increasing enrollment must be a priority if we are to have a strong and healthy school district.

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

No, we should not open any additional charter schools in St. Louis City.  Charter schools pull funding from SLPS since they also operate as public schools. There are far too many schools in St. Louis all of which are competing for the same funds and resources. Charter schools who are performing well should remain open as they provide a quality educational experience for children.  However, low performing charter schools should be identified and evaluated to ensure they are meeting students’ needs.  Considering there are already so many schools within the City of St. Louis, we do not need additional schools at this time. We need to focus efforts on ensuring that all schools currently in operation are providing a high-quality education and experience to students.

Do you have any ideas to improve public confidence in SLPS and improve enrollment?
SLPS must increase enrollment so that schools receive the funding they need to operate high-quality schools and offer the opportunities students need to achieve academic and social-emotional success. SLPS should increase efforts to reach out to the community and potential students’ families through mailings, open houses, townhalls, meet and greets, etc.  Currently, these opportunities are held sporadically, not well advertised, and/or don’t reach the intended audience.  In a market, like St. Louis, that is oversaturated with school choice, SLPS must always be in the forefront of residents' minds.  Obviously, budgetary limitations exist, so free and low-cost options must be explored and implemented.  Current SLPS district and school websites are out-of-date, cluttered, and difficult to navigate.  Since a website is often a parent’s first destination when exploring education options, SLPS must put forth the most accurate information on the web.  In addition, SLPS policies and procedures for enrollment and magnet school applications must be clearly outlined and explained on the website along with easy-to-navigate contact information for district employees.

The expansion of community education centers in SLPS schools would also improve public confidence in the district.  Community education centers would give more people the opportunity to visit SLPS schools and see firsthand how SLPS serves the community.  Using SLPS schools and buildings to host workshops, clinics, meetings, and classes would build relationships with all community stakeholders and develop stronger community bonds within neighborhoods all across the city.  In addition, more segments of the population would have access to crucial services like education and healthcare if we made SLPS buildings available to community organizations during non-school hours.

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?
In order to fight back against the policies of the Trump administration, we must stay active and vigilant as advocates for our students.  Our schools are already underfunded and many schools in SLPS go without resources that are commonplace in other districts.  We cannot afford to lose the funding that is so  important to providing a free and public education to all students. SLPS can respond by staying on the forefront of educational policy development.  If funding models are changed, SLPS will need to actively search for grants and alternative sources of income to offset the loss of funds.  In order to attract and retain students, SLPS should improve communications with prospective families and the community to emphasize the strengths of the district and encourage enrollment.

What are your thoughts regarding the magnet schools?
Magnet schools provide options for students looking for a specialized or specific educational experience.  The magnet programs in SLPS are unique, creative, and an asset to the district.  The magnet programs help improve a student’s personal investment in their education and provide opportunities that may not be present in a neighborhood school.  Magnet school programs should continue to be supported in SLPS. However, it should not be assumed that the magnet schools are “better” than the neighborhood schools, nor should magnet schools be given priority funding or publicity.  Magnet schools are a option for SLPS families but they are not and should not be a replacement for neighborhood schools.

What are your thoughts on neighborhood schools?
Neighborhood schools are a wonderful asset to the neighborhood and larger community.  They provide a central gathering place for students and families which leads to community engagement and investment. Neighborhood schools bring communities together, making them stronger.  Instead of continuing to close neighborhood schools, SLPS should be expanding opportunities at neighborhood schools.

What ideas do you have to help students learn?
In order for students to learn, they must be engaged and invested in their schools.  This starts with creating a school culture that celebrates students as individuals and provides them with a safe, welcoming place to learn.  Since many students in SLPS come from low-income or otherwise disadvantaged families, SLPS should make sure a students' basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) are met, and when they're not, schools should utilize community resources to provide students with the things they need. SLPS schools should also implement additional trauma-sensitive policies to improve student mental health.

Classroom learning should incorporate teaching strategies that lead to high student engagement and high academic achievement such as project-based learning, cross-curricular experiences, and incorporating student choice into activities.  In addition, students should participate in authentic learning experiences to truly integrate knowledge with practical applications.  Curricular decisions should be based on educational research and best practices yet teachers should be able to modify content to reach their students while still meeting learning standards.  The district should adopt and maintain consistent approaches to teaching and learning so that teachers are not required to learn a new approach or program every year. Teachers should have the time and opportunity to hone their skills and teaching methods in order to provide the best possible experience for students.  Teachers also need time to learn from and collaborate with other teachers through effective mentor programs and professional learning communities.

We also need to ensure that schools and classrooms have the resources they need to be effective. Teachers need access to supplies, books, and essentials like paper and pencils for their students, in order to do their job well.  As a district, we must find a way to provide more of those things to all schools and all classrooms to take the burden of the classroom teachers.

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

Standardized tests are a necessary evil in today’s world.  Since federal and state funding is tied to student performance on standardized tests, schools are required to administer them.  Tying student performance to funding creates a culture of teaching to the test and emphasizes the collection of data over internal student growth.  While schools are required to administer tests and should encourage students to perform as well as they are able, we should not be fooled into thinking they are a complete measure of student achievement and school accomplishments. Student growth towards mastery should also be tracked since it better demonstrates what students are learning over the course of a school year.  Schools should also incorporate more student-centered alternative assessments, such as portfolios, to engage students in the process and make learning meaningful for each student as an individual.

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?

I will absolutely accept the decisions of the majority of the board.  The school board is a team and the decisions of the majority should be accepted by all board members.  Public disagreements and infighting between board members only perpetuates the perception that the elected board should not have power over SLPS.  I will support the decisions of the board once the final decision has been made, but I will also be a strong advocate for students throughout the decision making process.  I will stand up for what is best for students and their education at all times.

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

I believe that many of my ideas for teaching and learning explained in an earlier response will go a long way toward promoting academic achievement for students.  However, the results will not be instantaneous.  In the meantime, the school district should modify and improve their policies for credit recovery.  While graduation rates should remain a high priority, students should not receive course credit for merely completing simple assignments or attending summer school.  We need to increase expectations for struggling students to ensure that we are not only helping them to graduate high school but also preparing them for future education and career opportunities.  Summer school should be restructured to ensure a quality learning experience while also utilizing non-traditional or supplemental teaching methods that may be more beneficial to underperforming students.  Virtual school options should be analyzed and evaluated to ensure that providers are offering students options that lead to content mastery and not just busy work.

In addition to their high school grades, students are often placed into remedial courses based on their ACT scores.  We must ensure that all SLPS students who want to go to college have access to quality ACT preparation programs and materials as well as opportunities to take practice tests.  SLPS should also consider district-wide policies for assisting students with transportation to testing sites and/or providing breakfast and snack on test days so that students can perform to their best abilities.

Is it important that SLPS parents be represented on the school board?
Yes.  Students and their families are the biggest stakeholders in the district.  Their concerns and goals should be amplified through a parent’s representation on the Elected School Board.  An effective school board should be comprised of members of diverse backgrounds so that there are many voices in the decision making process.  In addition to other professionals, experts, and community members, parents should be well represented on the board.

Correction :
In the previous issue of the Watch there was a typo. The correct bill number is SB 32.

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