Candidate Questionnaire | Nashville Now
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Candidate Questionnaire

District 3: Emily Masters

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

I am passionate about encouraging students, empowering teachers, and supporting schools. I sincerely want to advocate for our schools to have fair access to the funding and resources necessary for success. I love Nashville and want to be a part of making our public schools the best they can be – not just for my kids, but for all kids. I have been volunteering in our schools since before I even had children of my own, and I ran a dance school of my own (with more than 500 students and a staff of a dozen teachers – and programs in place for scholarships and outreach programs to help ensure as many kids as possible could have access to dance education) for ten years. I’ve witnessed the effects of social inequalities on all aspects of kids’ lives and believe our schools are the best avenue for working to alleviate those effects. The issue of equity in our schools is extremely important to me, and I want to make a difference for the generation that includes my children and the many children I’ve taught, tutored, and mentored over the course of the past 18 years.

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

It is the responsibility of the school board to monitor spending and oversee the work of the Director of Schools. School board members advocate for the funding needed to ensure all school system needs are met. While boards of education in Tennessee do not have the authority to raise taxes, they do have a unique opportunity to influence those who exercise that authority. That influence should always be applied with a focus on ensuring schools have everything they need to succeed and all resources are equitably distributed. The school board also has the responsibility to ensure public transparency while advocating for resources, financial and otherwise. It is vital for board members to keep the needs of constituents in mind when promoting excellence in our schools. If elected, I will apply the skills I have gained in my nearly 20 years of advocating for MNPS as I communicate with public officials, teachers, administrators, and families regarding the need to fully and equitably fund our schools.

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?

Equity and ensuring fair access to resources is a priority. Our children and our schools have unique needs. Some may require more resources than others, and I am committed to making sure the necessary programs and resources are in place for the benefit of every child in every school.


I will focus on fully-funding MNPS. Our school funding mechanism is broken, and MNPS is underfunded as a result. We must stop the TN School Voucher Program from taking more dollars away from our public schools and keep the funds intended for our schools in our schools.


Our schools, teachers, and staff play a critical role in promoting the health and well-being of our students. Disparities illuminated by the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate the need for full-time nurses, more counselors, supplemental meal programs, funded transportation plans, and connections to resources in schools. Finally, given the fact that our schools will begin virtually this fall, we must make sure that our families and teachers have the necessary technological resources and training to navigate this ever-changing, challenging time.

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

An effective, high-functioning board is accessible to all constituents and operates with full transparency. Positive and productive working relationships with the Director of Schools, administrators, teachers, and staff are critical to success. The board bases decisions and policies on research and best practices, rather than on special interests or political gain. The board engages in setting specific, measurable objectives and works collaboratively toward those objectives. The board genuinely knows and cares about the schools, employees, students, and families in their districts and in the system as a whole.

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

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?

We are so fortunate to have a new Director of Schools who has overwhelming support from across the county. Dr. Battle has proven to be a steady and resolute leader under these unprecedented circumstances. It is the role of the School Board to work collaboratively with the Director, not around her. The Board and Director should establish a shared set of values and goals and then move forward with confidence that the Director will fulfill her responsibilities without the need for micromanagement. The Director of Schools should not feel as though she has nine “bosses.” In reality, she should be held to the standards agreed upon by the majority of the nine-member board and know she can confidently turn to that board for guidance. Having worked with a large number of not-for-profit organizations throughout my career, I have seen firsthand how the relationships between board members and organization directors can be the deciding factor in the successful (or unsuccessful) realization of goals. The stakes are incredibly high when considering this relationship dynamic between the MNPS board members and director, so prudent planning and engagement will be essential to ensure success.

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?

Resources are strained because of current circumstances, but that does not excuse the mis-allocation of our limited resources. Board members do not adopt the budget to provide funding; they adopt the budget based upon the funding allocated by the state’s antiquated funding system and by Metro Council. That funding has been consistently inadequate, even when Nashville was in the midst of an economic boom and providing a wealth of revenues for the state. I would work with Dr. Battle and the other members of the board to find solutions, first taking a very close look at the costs that are not associated with direct service-to-student or person-to-student connections. I would also look at further connecting the generosity of philanthropic partners to the needs within our schools.

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?

The number of charter schools in MNPS should remain static or decrease. I personally know some families in MNPS who happily have their children enrolled in charter schools, and I don’t fault them for choosing what they believe is best for their children, but evidence demonstrates that charter schools divert funding to the detriment of traditional public schools. They are not governed by elected officials, face no specific curriculum requirements or restrictions on class size, create their own academic calendars, have greater leniency to hire non-licensed teachers, and are not specifically required to offer professional development for their teachers and staff. Charters should be held to the same standards as other public schools and face additional oversight, as well.

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?

As with any professional position, board members will face working with different personalities, and it is important to approach that challenge with open mindedness, self-reflection, and empathy. There are studies to demonstrate that school boards who engage in professional development opportunities together are positively correlated with lower dropout rates and a higher percentage of college-bound students than districts with boards who do not seek improvement through learning opportunities and training. Board stability and synergy can be improved through meaningful engagement in collaborative learning and application of newfound knowledge and skills. By valuing stability, communication, and ongoing learning, the board can overcome the difficulties of the past and move forward with the best interests of all students in mind.

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

I would like to see us establish highly accessible mechanisms for family and community involvement. The board can request input prior to making big decisions through surveys and town-hall style meetings and then use those same tools to gather community response and questions even after policies have been implemented. Transparency can be better achieved by sharing all meetings virtually and through ample correspondence provided after. Board members also need to be thoroughly educated about sunshine laws and how to avoid violating best practices around transparency. By institutionalizing parent involvement – much as is done by the most successful Parent Teacher Organizations throughout MNPS and in many other communities – the board could gain valuable policy-making input and assistance in establishing and honing the best possible vision for the school district.

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

Standardized achievement tests can help determine areas in which a student may need additional instruction, serve as a helpful check of the ongoing progress of a student over the course of multiple school years, and provide actionable insight into how a student may perform on the aptitude tests required for college entrance. They cannot measure a student’s potential for learning; provide useful insight into the effectiveness of the test-taker’s teachers; or measure how good or bad teachers, schools, or school systems are. Standardized assessments give control of the curriculum to testing companies and undermine school leaders. They encourage the use of artificial incentives over the natural rewards of a job well done, and they emphasize the importance of minimal achievement over graduated progress. Furthermore, our teachers deserve to be treated like the professionals they are and be paid accordingly. Any form of “merit pay” based upon assessment results is an effort to avoid the need and cost of raising salaries for all teachers. It’s a ploy to avoid paying teachers what they are truly worth, and there is little, if any, real connection to the quality of instruction.

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?

First, we must make sure students have access to the internet and devices they need to learn and that teachers and parents are fully-supported as they tackle the challenges associated with virtual learning. By acknowledging the disparities exacerbated by this pandemic, we can use this time as an opportunity to address the areas of our system that were not fair or sustainable to begin with. Focus on getting connected as a community and embracing student-centered education will be essential. This is our opportunity to shift to qualitative assessments that consider each student as a unique learner and turn away from quantitative assessments that have not been serving our students well in the first place.