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Posted: August 8, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Board of Education, District 3 Democrat Q&A

For Shakila Henderson-Baker and James Johnson, Jr., Tuesday’s run-off will determine which of them will run for the Newton County Board of Education District 3 seat as the Democratic candidate against Republican Kevin Wade. Both candidates answered five questions from The News;  some of Henderson-Baker’s responses were cut for length.

1.  In your opinion, what is the biggest problem facing the Newton County School System as a whole and in District 3 specifically?

Henderson-Baker: “Locally, I believe that one of the biggest problems facing the NCSS is lack of data driven competitiveness and programs. Newton County is neighbored by a high-performing county, so when the average person sees or hears data about AYP, graduation rates, and student achievement in this county and compares them to Newton, it instantaneously paints a picture that we are not meeting standards.  Looking at recent AYP results, even though we are not where we should be, our new superintendent reassured us at his first Board of Education meeting that that is not where we are going to be in years to come. There are a lot of factors that go into deriving scores for those tests, and at least three of the eight schools that did not meet AYP in our county reside in District 3, so that is a concern of mine. Statewide, I believe budgetary concern is the biggest problem.

Johnson: The biggest problem facing the Newton County School System is how to adequately fund public education during the downturn in the economy and working to assist all schools to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Inferred in this is the commitment to make sure that everything is done to help every student reach his or her full potential. District 3 is a part of the whole. Accordingly, the major challenges faced by the Newton County School System are also applicable to District 3.

2. Do you believe our current school system fosters mediocrity in teachers and administrators?

Henderson-Baker: “No I do not and as a parent of two children who are currently being taught by NCSS teachers I most certainly hope not. Our administrators and team leaders have to continue to foster, evaluate, and work hands on with the other teachers in their schools and departments to achieve according to the old fashioned TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) approach. In addition, we have to make sure we are using assessment tools/tests throughout the year to assess ourselves and teaching strategies, not just the students.”

Johnson: No I do not believe that the school system fosters mediocrity. However, I do think that everyone (board members, administrators, teachers and support staff) must be held accountable. Clearly defined expectations along with a fair and measureable process for determining progress is needed.

3. Have you heard of any initiative programs in other counties/municipalities/school systems that could be implemented here that you think may help the NCSS?

Henderson-Baker: “I think we definitely have to focus on the current programs we have in place now and make them work effectively to meet their original goals before we venture off into something else and end up with a whole bunch of great ideas that do not produce end results, however, I absolutely love Geoffrey Canada’s “Harlem Children Zone.” Instead of just saying we need more parental involvement in schools, his school offers workshops and coaches parents how to be more involved in reading activities that promote growth in academia and language skills. His school also does a preparation session for parents on what is expected from the students during the their next grade year prior to students entering that grade so that parents and students will be prepared and know the expectations. These concepts have produced overwhelming results in math and reading improvements for their students in their grades and testing. It’s a pipeline approach that not only works with children, but it works with families because teaching starts in the home.”

Johnson: The Governor, along with the leaders of several other states, adopted in June the “Common Core State Standards.” I believe that we should carefully study this initiative and adopt whatever part is appropriate for the Newton County School System. I firmly believe that it is the job of the superintendent, his staff and school level leaders to evaluate and recommend what initiatives are best suited for our school system.
 
4. When the middle school theme school reopens, what do you believe needs to be done in order to ensure its success?

Henderson-Baker: “I would recommend having a focus group set up similar to a school council, where it consists of administrators, parents, business people and certified teaching staff and that they, prior to reopening the middle school theme school, generate a cost benefit analysis report of what worked the first time versus what did not work. This would help the focus group implement and research ideas that would help bring longevity to having a middle school theme school program in the NCSS. The focus group, also prior to the reopening, needs to have suggestions on how to bring in student enrollment, how to keep student enrollment up yearly, where to house the program if we fail to meet our student enrollment goal, and transitional goals or ideas related to where the students go from there once they have completed the middle school theme school.”

Johnson: Theme schools and charter schools are trends that are rapidly spreading across the nation but not all theme Schools and charter Schools are good schools. To be successful, any new program must have the full support of the community, parents and teachers. Adequate planning must take place and adequate financing must be provided.
5. Who is your personal leadership role model and why?

Henderson-Baker: “Basketball coach Phil Jackson. Every year Phil Jackson takes a group of competitive, driven players who all think that they are the best individually at what they do and how the team needs them and teaches them that they must work together as one strong unit, one team, and one organization in order to be considered one of the best. His team approach as a leader teaches the best and brightest that individual skills do not matter because you are not working alone, you are working with a team, and unless you are able to effectively work with everyone else around you, then it is going to be impossible to build that strong unit that gets things done.”

Johnson: My leadership style is not attributable to any one person. It represents some qualities that I have observed in a number of people. Regarding the school board, if elected, my personal leadership role would be along these lines. I would do everything possible to avoid trying to micromanage the system. I believe that the responsibility of board members is to provide fiscal oversight of the taxpayers’ money and to implement checks and balances regarding all board policies.

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