Candidate Questionnaire | Nashville Now
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Candidate Questionnaire

District 9: Abigail Tylor

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

Education is the work of my life. I grew up wanting to be a teacher and all my degrees are in education. I taught in our public schools for over a decade and my children now attend the very same MNPS schools I attended. I firmly believe that education is the great equalizer. If we want to help children out of poverty, the best thing we can give them is a great education. As a School Board member, my focus will be to look out for the best interests of all our students.


What sets me apart is that I not only have the heart for educating our students, I have the knowledge of how the system works. I understand the historical and current issues that have led us to the point where we are. As a teacher, I was responsible for implementing the vision and policies our school board set forth – so I understand what these policy decisions mean for teachers and students. I’ve lived it. I can be a voice for our students and our teachers when it comes to shaping policy.

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

The role of the MNPS school board is to represent your constituents while working to set priorities, policies, and goals for the district, hire and evaluate the superintendent, adopt an annual budget, and evaluate the outcome of district operation. I also believe there is a duty of advocacy to secure what’s best for the district, be it budgetary or goal oriented.

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 provide a quality education to all our students. We can’t provide a quality education without quality teachers. We have to show our teachers how much we value them with our actions, not just our words. To that point, we need to give them the tools they need to effectively do their job by actually funding the system. Funding that in part should provide strong social and emotional learning supports and ongoing, high quality professional development. There should be frequent and clear two way communication between families and their schools to make sure the schools are meeting the needs of our students and finding out how we can do better. We must be careful with the dollars that we have and use them wisely and efficiently for the betterment of everyone, not just a select few. Finally, I believe we need to reduce and realign our standardized testing.

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

A highly effective and functioning school board always puts the students’ needs first. It knows the history of the system and has a clear vision for how to best move forward. When there are disagreements on how that should happen, the board can have a healthy, professional debate where members listen to one another and are civil. A highly effective and functioning board will work outside of meeting hours to educate themselves on the issues and stay informed about what’s going on in the schools and in their district.

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. Establishing an overarching plan and direction for the school district
  3. Hiring and managing an effective Director of Schools
  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?

There needs to be open, honest, and clear communication between the Board and our superintendent, Dr. Battle. In order to achieve that, both sides must be willing to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully. Dr. Battle clearly does that, and the Board must continue to meet her halfway.

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?

Limited dollars will be best spent on training for our teachers. They will need to fully understand how to use the new virtual system so when school starts, we don’t waste any time. In addition, we must provide ongoing and high quality trauma informed professional development on social and emotional learning supports. If there was ever a time our children needed guidance on how to deal with big emotions in a healthy way, it’s now. A student who is overwhelmed and/or traumatized cannot learn; their brain literally shuts down. If we want our schools to do the job of teaching, then we have to address social and emotional needs first. The upside to not opening schools in August is that we will save on basic costs to keep school buildings open – air conditioning, electricity, etc.

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?

We need more transparency around charter schools. The state has worked hard to override every measure of accountability the School Board voted in place as well as created a law that stipulates charter schools must be fully funded before any money goes to Metro’s schools. Because of this, I won’t vote to open any more charter schools. We simply don’t have the money to support them. When one small subset of schools who only serve 14% of the students in the district get priority to funding, that automatically puts the rest at a disadvantage. When those same schools have the ability to pick and choose their student body and even then can send them back to their zoned schools if it’s not working out, it’s hard to compare effectiveness across schools. Let’s get ALL our current schools under the same set of funding standards. Additionally, I’d like to see an end of year touchpoint as part of their accountability standards to help pinpoint the schools who release students to their zoned schools right before state testing. Despite my frustration with charter school accountability, I don’t think we should go in and shut them all down if they are doing right by their students.

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?

I think incorporating examples of student success at the beginning of every meeting helps center student achievement and remind us why we’re here. As for the turmoil and public division, it’s no different than any teacher expects from his/her classroom – practice civility with one another. You can disagree without being ugly or cruel. In discussions, the board members need to listen to one another carefully and respond thoughtfully. After all, we all have the same goal – providing the best educational experience possible.

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

All methods of contact should be readily available and easily found on the MNPS School Board page. Using social media to inform people of time sensitive items, to celebrate all the good things going on in the district and MNPS, and as a means to share general information like school events or food distributions. It’s also an effective tool for conversation. In addition, sending out a newsletter via email is a great way to further explain decisions, highlight successes, and generally keep the people informed.

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

I think we need to have annual assessments. It’s important to get feedback about what’s working and what isn’t working and set goals for how to become better teachers and better schools. However, I don’t think the annual assessment should be in the form of student achievement tests. Tests like TN Ready don’t tell us much beyond how a student is likely to perform on future standardized tests. Research has proven time and time again that out of school factors like socio-economic status or parental education levels can have a strong influence on the outcome of these tests. Between these factors and incidental fluctuations like illness or anxiety, it’s clear that standardized tests are susceptible to contaminated results. Due to these contaminating variables, they cannot be an accurate picture of how well teachers teach, the effectiveness of school leaders, or even how much students learn. Yet we base everything from school funding to teacher tenure to student retention on the outcome of these flawed tests.

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?

I’ve been researching Florida Virtual School, the online learning platform Dr. Battle decided to use for virtual learning, including seeking out information from families who have actually used it. From my research, I’ve found very positive reviews on their initial assessment process. Once we have every child’s individual learning assessment, our teachers will be able to create personalized learning experiences to address the inevitable learning loss many will have experienced. In addition, Dr. Battle has promised to assess the traumatic experiences families may have experienced due to COVID, which will also help shape how we move forward with each of our families to best meet their needs.