Candidate Questionnaire | Nashville Now
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Candidate Questionnaire

District 1: Robert Taylor

https://www.taylorforschools.com

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

As a parent, an active community member, and former employee, I want to make sure that MNPS provides the best quality education to our children every day. Unfortunately, over the past decade, District 1 schools in general have seen a decline in academic achievement. Currently every school in the Whites Creek Cluster, except one, is on the state’s priority list, which means they have performed in the bottom 5% of schools in the state of Tennessee. Eight of the Twenty-one MNPS priority schools are in District 1. This is unacceptable to me and many others in our community, especially given the rich history of academic excellence that we have. I cannot sit comfortably on the sidelines while my community suffers from a lack of equitable educational opportunities. I believe that by utilizing my unique skill set in the role of Metro School Board Member, I will improve collaboration within the community while increasing School Board level responsiveness to our community schools, teacher, student and addressing all stakeholder concerns. My goal is to foster the development of an environment that will create the changes necessary to achieve the academic outcomes we all desire.

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

There are four roles that a school board member is responsible according the the MNPS Board Policy Manual. Those four roles include A. Policy Oversight, B. Educational Planning, C. Fiscal Planning, D. Promotion of MNPS.

 

I believe that the primary role during the next four years needs to be the Promotion of MNPS. This is the one role that has fallen to the wayside over the years. This role has led to the lack of trust parents in District 1 have for MNPS traditional zoned schools. This is what has led to the low enrollment numbers in District 1 schools. This role requires the board member to keep the local community informed about the school system, its accomplishments, and its actions and build public support for the schools by involving the public in the planning process. We have not involved the parents of District 1 in the planning process as true partners. Often times parents in District 1 are only notified after decisions have already been made. As a board member, I hope to reverse this trend and renew our parents’ trust in our local traditional public 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?

My top priority is to improve family, parental and community partner engagement. As a former MNPS employee, I understand the importance of Family Engagement and the roles parents play in our students’ success. I will continue to work with parents as partners to make the changes necessary to achieve the educational outcomes we all desire. I will lead the efforts to rewrite the Family and Community Engagement Policy to ensure that we are tapping into all of the resources, financial and human, available to our schools. I believe these efforts will lead to a higher level of accountability and buy-in from all stakeholders. We will also improve equity by having a better understanding of the needs of parents and students so that we can adequately meet those needs and provide access to a high quality education for all regardless of their race or socioeconomic status.

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

A highly effective and functioning school board is one that truly focuses on the needs and desires of our students and their families. This focus will allow the board members to collaborate more effectively to accomplish the goals set forth by the Director of Schools. The school board will also strengthen our policy and procedure manual to help facilitate the healthy dialogue that is needed to solve the complex problems MNPS faces every day.

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

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?

The school board members must better self manage and hold one another accountable for adhering to the policies that are spelled out in the board policy manual. We have seen over the past five years we have seen numerous violations of the Boardmanship Code of Ethics, specifically Article 2, 4, and 6. By adhering to the policies as stated in the aforementioned articles, our School Board can operate more effectively in their role as the manager of the Director of Schools. The School Board must also work to support the Director and her vision for the district as a whole. It will also be necessary for the School Board to promote the good work of the Director and other MNPS staff to make sure our stakeholders know about the amazing job they are doing and to increase the overall morale in the district.

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?

I believe that all efficiencies within MNPS have been found. We will need to look at other departments through out metro government for additional efficiencies. I would like for MNPS to use any additional funds to provide pay increases for any employee who has direct contact with children every day including our para-pros, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other support staff.

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?

I do not believe that we need more charter schools. However, I do believe there needs to be more collaboration between our traditional schools and the charter schools we currently have. I know that traditional zoned MNPS schools can also provide excellent educational opportunities for our entire community. I have a thorough understanding of the cost associated with funding charter schools and how that impacts our ability to fund our traditional schools. That’s why we need to focus on securing the non financial supports necessary to ensure all of our schools are in a position to provide the highest quality education to all of our students, regardless of their background. There are also other sources of revenue that need to be more aggressively advocated for that will produce the funding necessary to pay our teachers in a way that shows we truly value their effort.

 

No child should become the collateral damage of the ideological wars regarding charter vs. traditional schools. I plan to focus on building a more positive framework for the board discussions regarding charter schools with the goal of making sure our traditional schools are the best options for all parents.

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?

School Board members must operate as if they are governed by a policy and procedure manual. I think that board members need to be more succinct in their discussions on the board floor. I also know that the board needs to revise some of their operating procedures to ensure that each member has the ability to review and discuss every issue that is to be voted on in committee meetings prior to the item being brought to the board floor for vote. It has been sad to watch the board meetings devolve into non productive conversations that do not lead us towards our goal of providing a high quality education to every student. I would also like to revisit having a student board member join the board at every public meeting. I think the student presence will serve as a constant reminder of what we need to remain focused on. As a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 Mediator, I have handled many child support cases over the years. At the beginning of each mediation, I ask each parent to pull out a picture of their child. When things become contentious, all I have to do is point to the picture of their child to help refocus each parent on our purpose for being their.

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

In District 1 specifically, we need to have at least one place we can go to for accurate and consistent information. I believe that it is the board members responsibility to be accessible to the community. The board members must develop a process to regularly respond to constituent questions related to educational planning and facility usage. The board member should also utilize all methods available to disseminate information to their entire district. I find it interesting that some board members find a way to communicate with the community during election season but are absent from the community when it is time for the real work to take place. We must do a better job of communicating with the public on a monthly basis at a minimum.

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

The annual assessment should play a role in the way we evaluate our successes. First, we need to develop an assessment that will actually give us the information we need to actually measure our successes and areas for improvement. We must review and possibly make adjustments to the weight we give the assessments in the evaluation process, especially since the assessments have not been administered with any fidelity over the past several years and the fact that we are dealing with a pandemic that has impeded our ability to provide the education our children needed this past school year.

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?

We need to continue working the plan that Dr. Battle has put in place. All teachers need to reach out to their students to conduct a “check in” with each student. It would be helpful to begin the process of finding a way to engage parents in the process of conducting self assessments that will allow parents to recognize where their students are academically and where gaps may exist. This will help the teachers in partnering with the family to immediately put measures in place to remediate any learning loss that has taken place while dealing with this pandemic.