Five candidates seeking seats on the Pine Bluff School Board talked about teacher retention, improving student performance and more during a second public forum.
Hosted by the Parents and Patrons of the Pine Bluff School District, the event Thursday was held in the Donald W. Reynolds Community Services Center and moderated by Judge Waymond Brown of the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
Early voting will begin Tuesday at the Jefferson County Courthouse and continue through Sept. 17. The
school board election is Sept. 18.
No incumbents participated in the forum. Those in attendance were:
• Zone 2 candidate Mark Essex Smith who is facing incumbent Ellen Nichol and Phyllis A. Wilkins;
• Zone 3 candidate Piccola Washington who is seeking the seat of incumbent Herman Horace;
• Zone 4 candidate Lee Meadows who is challenging incumbent Freddie M. Johnson and Henry Dabner Jr.;
• Zone 6 candidate Leon Jones Jr. who is facing incumbent Donna Barnes and Carvis J. Campbell;
• Zone 7 candidate Andrea Roaf-Little who is going up against incumbent Chandra Griffin and the Rev. Johnny Smith.
During the forum, Brown asked each candidate to respond to questions, including some submitted by audience members.
Improving Student Performance
When asked what ideas they had for improving student performance, the candidates responded with a variety of suggestions.
Jones said he would encourage more attention from parents.
Roaf-Little said she would like to see a focus on junior high to help “bridge the gap and have them ready for college.”
Meadows said he would like to see an effort to help better prepare students for tests.
Mark Smith said he would instill in students the importance of education and change the mindset of the community.
Choosing a New Superintendent
Asked what role the community has in helping to choose a new superintendent, Mark Smith said that his goal is to make sure children receive a quality education and that the most qualified people are put into positions.
Jones said residents need to voice what they want out of a superintendent.
Meadows said the community must have input and parents, teachers and staff need to work collaboratively as a team.
Washington encouraged residents to vote on Sept. 18 to choose their school board members to work in their best interest. “We can’t hear you if you don’t speak,” she said.
Ideas for Hiring and Retaining Best Qualified Teachers
When it comes to hiring and retaining the best teachers, Washington said pay needs to be a consideration as well as teacher morale in the district. “Those are areas we need to look at very closely,” she said.
Mark Smith said that recruitment and retention are very important. “If you want the best, you have to pay for it,” he said. “People want to come to a district where they feel appreciated.”
Roaf-Little said that teachers aren’t paid what they should be paid. She also said teachers’ concerns need to be heard and that a secure environment is important.
Jones said there has to be a culture of education and learning. While money is an important part of keeping good teachers, it’s also important to make them feel that they belong.
Meadows said it is tough to keep employees who don’t feel safe and valued. There has to be a teacher-friendly environment and one where they feel comfortable coming to those in leadership with ideas.
Do Students Have a Voice?
A question from the audience suggested that students often feel they don’t have a voice.
Mark Smith said students do have a voice and he encourages them to speak out. He also said that he would go to where young people gather to hear what they have to say.
Meadows said that student councils work. “If they have an issue, they have a right to be placed on the agenda and heard,” he said.
Washington said opportunities should be provided for student councils to come to talk to board members and that she is available to talk to students in the schools.
Jones said board members need to go to the schools to find out how students are doing, ask them to come to board meetings and teachers’ meetings.
Roaf-Little said she favors having school forums so students can be heard.
Effort to Bring Diversity Back
Another question from the audience asked if there should be an effort made to bring white parents and students back into the district.
Meadows said that “Pine Bluff is one city and racial conciliation is important.”
Jones suggested establishing a community-based committee to work on diversity.
Washington said that low graduation rates concern her. “The district needs to go back and be that good, strong district.”
Roaf-Little said there needs to be a plan in place to retain more white students.
Mark Smith said officials need to create a district that will be attractive to all.