Candidate Questionnaire | Nashville Now
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Candidate Questionnaire

District 1: Dr. Sharon Gentry

What motivated you to run for the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) board of education?

After serving for 12 years, I thought I’d seen it all. However, at the risk of using a term that is bordering on overused, these are unprecedented times for our country and our district. Given the fiscal and operational challenges facing our system, it is critical that the Director has thought partners at the table that are capable of making strategic and, I suspect, some very difficult decisions in the near future. Our new normal will have to be managed with skill, expertise, historical knowledge, and an eye for a future that will be navigated with far less funding, resources, and margin for error than we have ever seen. I bring a perspective that we do not have at the table: 23 years of corporate experience that has allowed me to develop deep expertise in strategic planning, program management, leadership development and crisis management.

What do you believe are the primary and most critical roles and responsibilities of a school board member?

The board :

a) is responsible for the hiring and evaluation of the director of schools
b) ensures accountability for the district
c) provides operational guidance through policy and budget


The other responsibility that is critical to being able to carry out the above responsibilities is governance readiness. The board must accept full responsibility, orient itself to the role, and have a systemic approach to doing the work of the board.

What are your top priorities and suggested reforms for improving education in MNPS overall, and specifically in improving equity, excellence, and access for all students?

  1. Continue to assess our use of Title I dollars to ensure that schools with the highest levels of poverty get the benefits of those resources
  2. Ensure equitable access to advanced academic opportunities – Encoure, IB, Cambridge, AP Courses
  3. Assess academic pathways from elementary through high school for consistency in academic focus, rigor and quality
  4. Access to a highly qualified teach for ALL STUDENTS regardless of zip code or the label on the school
  5. Awareness of the opportunities and programming available to students and families in all of our schools and pathways
  6. What does a highly effective and functioning school board look like to you?

What does a highly effective and functioning school board look like to you?

During my second term as board chair, I shared the following at the State of Schools address:
Effective school boards:


  • commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision
  • have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn, and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels
  • are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement
  • have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals
  • are data savvy: they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement
  • align and sustain resources to meet district goals
  • lead as a united team with the superintendent with strong collaboration and mutual trust
  • take part in team development and training, building shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts

Please rank the following school board responsibilities in order of priority, with the first being the most important and last being the least important.

  1. Hiring and managing an effective Director of Schools
  2. Promoting continuous improvement and holding the system accountable
  3. Transparently informing and engaging the public
  4. Establishing an overarching plan and direction for the school district
  5. Allocating resources appropriately and encouraging fiscal responsibility

A key responsibility of the school board is to hire and manage the director of schools. Over the past five years, MNPS has cycled through three directors and two interim directors. What do you think is the School Board’s role to ensure effective and stable leadership going forward?

Each member of the board needs to lean into his/her role in the managerial relationship with the Director. A manager, a good manager, is clear in the goals of the organization and the resources and supports the employee (the Director) needs to accomplish the goals. Once those goals are agreed upon the manager should always seek to eliminate barriers to success for the Director. We have, as a board, failed to do that consistently as a board. This has often been as a result of delving too deeply and attempting to assert undue influence at the operational and tactical levels of the organization and the work it is charged to do.

Board members are responsible for adopting the annual budget to provide the necessary funding to enable the school system to carry out its functions. In this time of extremely tight resources, what are your thoughts on where efficiencies can be found and where limited dollars must be invested to produce the best results for ALL students?

The Director has done an amazing job in making some difficult decisions, with the full board support: school consolidations, cutting positions at the central office and forgoing some contracts in order to meet a large portion of the budget shortfall.


The limited dollars we have available have to be applied at the greatest point of need for our students – the classroom.

There has been some controversy around the role of public charter schools, yet many of MNPS’s best performing schools are charters. What is your opinion of charter schools and what role should they play in the MNPS system?

It is unfortunate that legislation around charters have created an adversarial relationship between the board and charter operators. Ideally, charters become a lever of change to improve outcomes for students by allowing to pull charters into areas of need versus having them pushed upon us. Being forced into long term contracts, and not having a source of funding that eliminates the negative fiscal impact makes it difficult to view charters as the partners that the original model intended them to be.

Past MPNS school boards have been criticized for internal turmoil and public division. What do school board members need to do to ensure the board stays focused on student achievement?

Well, the answer lies in the question: stay focused on student achievement. Specifically, lean into the role of being a partner with the district in accomplishing the goals set forth in the strategic plan. Ensure that board agenda topics and discussions center on how well we are progressing towards our established KPIs and be clear on what the board should do, how it should respond, when it is evident that we are not trending toward success. If we practice good governance, stay out of attempts to apply inappropriate levels of influence at the operational and tactical levels, the conversations can be on the issues and at the level that allow us to be our most effective.

How can school board members improve transparency and keep families and community members better informed and engaged?

One of the great things that has arisen from the pandemic and the need for social distancing is the leveraging of technology to more readily engage communities and families. The district has hosted several town hall and cluster meetings and have been intentional in engaging board members in those conversations. Additionally, partnering with community organizations to host meetings around specific topics of interest can be an opportunity to keep the district informed.

What is the role of annual assessments related to system accountability, and in evaluating the progress of schools, classrooms, and teachers?

Unfortunately, the state’s annual assessment have been conducted inconsistently and unsuccessfully for several years in a row. And in years when they were administered and results made available, they served to be more punitive that informative. Annual assessments should be able to inform a teacher, school, and district on specific areas and opportunities for improvement – and our current state assessment is not designed to do that. The results on an assessment of any kind should be actionable and made available in a timely manner.

With early school closings this past spring due to COVID-19 and the uncertainties heading into fall – what ideas do you have to urgently and immediately assess and address the likely learning loss that students have experienced and may continue to experience as we wrestle with this pandemic?

The District’s decision to expand the use of FLVS will provide the tools needed to assess the amount of learning loss our students have experience since closure in March of this year. We also planning to spend the first month heavily focusing on the social and emotional needs of our students due to the trauma of a disrupted school year exacerbated by the uncertainties that have resulted. The FLVS system will also allow for individual learning plans to be developed for our students so that both teachers and parents have a clear understanding of the academic gaps that need to be addressed.