adam tucker 

for franklin county school board, district 5

Educational standards and assessment

Some of the most hotly debated issues in education right now surround the Common Core State Standards and the assessments to be used in determining whether a student is performing up to these standards.  The Common Core State Standards, which were created by a state-led initiative supported by the National Governors Association and the Council on Chief State School Officers, establish expectations for student learning by stating what students should know at the conclusion of a course of study.  They do not directly dictate curriculum (e.g., specific textbooks and reading lists) or prescribe a method of instruction, choices that continue to reside largely within the discretion of local schools and individual teachers.  Regardless of your position on the development and substantive merits of the Common Core State Standards, it is important to recognize that local school systems cannot choose whether to implement or not to implement the standards.  What they can do is see that they are implemented in ways that foster parents' confidence and pride in the school system, nurture and challenge students, and honor the professionalism, integrity, creativity, and skills of teachers.

In Tennessee, the Common Core State Standards were adopted unanimously by the State Board of Education in July 2010.  Since then, the vast majority of the decisions regarding the customization and the implementation of these standards, including how to assess whether students are meeting these standards, have been made at the state level.  These decisions are binding on the Franklin County School System, and neither the School Board nor the Director of Schools can override these decisions.  What both the School Board and the Director of Schools can do is work together to support appropriate professional development opportunities for teachers and establish related administrative support structures; provide resources—both academic and other student support services—to assist students who are at risk of not meeting the standards; evaluate curriculum and making smart adjustments where necessary and appropriate; and advocate and pursue funding for teacher training and for the technology necessary to conduct computerized assessments.  Whatever weaknesses or shortcomings the Common Core State Standards may have, such efforts should help ensure that students reap the maximum benefits possible from these reforms. 

Poverty, Economic Development, and Education

The effects of poverty on learning and student achievement are profound.  Children start each school day at a significant disadvantage, when they arrive at school hungry, when they are not receiving the medical services they need, and when they experience chronic stress due to economic insecurity.  Moreover, children living in poverty are less likely to have the support at home that helps ensure they are engaged and prepared to learn when they are in school.  Consequently, students from low-income families are more likely to have lower tests scores, fall behind in school, and drop out, and, thus, less likely to attend college than higher-income peers. (Source:  Southern Education Foundation, A New Majority:  Low Income Students in the South and Nation, October 2013.)


Such evidence has led some to argue that in the U.S. the cause of the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers is not indicative of an education crisis but a poverty crisis.  Indeed, recent research by the Program for International Assessment shows that American schools with fewer than 25 percent of their students living in poverty have higher average test scores than any other advanced industrial nation.  This research also shows, however, that when the test scores of students from schools with higher poverty rates are included the U.S. average was not measurably different from the average of all the other countries that participated in the study. (Source: Michael Rebell and Jessica R. Wolff, “We Can Overcome Poverty’s Impact on School Success,” Education Week, January 18, 2012.)


This perspective, however, creates a false dichotomy and a false choice.  It is not an either-or proposition.  To the contrary, poverty and educational reform must be addressed simultaneously.  Addressing the obstacles to learning created by poverty without investing in public education will only treat the symptoms without ever curing the problem of chronic poverty itself, while focusing on education without also mitigating the obstacles to learning created by poverty will leave the current achievement gap between children from lower-income families and children from higher-income families intact.

  

Schools must take the lead in implementing reforms to improve student learning and achievement.  Finding ways to overcome the obstacles to learning created by poverty, however, requires participation of the broader community.  Because these problems originate outside the classroom, the broader community must accept responsibility for these problems, and engage collaboratively with the public school system to support our community’s poorest children and help them succeed in school.


If elected to the Franklin County School Board, Adam would advocate strongly for adequate funding for our public schools and pursue the implementation of policies and programs focused on increasing student achievement; promoting the social, physical, and emotional development of children; and creating a climate of shared responsibility for the success of these programs among teachers, administrators, board members, and parents that respects teachers and provides them with the supports they need to perform their jobs effectively.  At the same time, Adam would promote collaborative efforts involving our County’s public schools, social service agencies, local businesses, and local and national social welfare and philanthropic organizations to address the effects of poverty in our community, particularly those that make it difficult for a child to arrive at school each day focused and ready to learn.


We all share a common interest in the education, physical health, and social and emotional well-being of every child in our community.  Through adequate investment in our schools, strategic reforms and interventions in instruction and support services, and school-community partnerships aimed at helping the most vulnerable children in our community, we can weave together resources necessary to make equal access to a quality education a reality for all children in our community.  Working together we can combat the obstacles to learning created by poverty and at the same time prepare children to participate effectively and intelligently in our political system, provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary to be self-reliant and economically productive, and contribute the economic growth and development in our community and region.  




Selecting an Effective Director of Schools

Perhaps the most important responsibility of a school board is hiring a director of schools, the person who will serve as the school system's leader and chief representative, the person with ultimate responsibility for implementing board policy, and the person who is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the system.  Since 2009, Dr. Rebecca Sharber has led the Franklin County School System as its Director of Schools; however, Dr. Sharber’s current contract expires in 2015, and she has indicated to the current School Board that she will likely choose to step down as Director at that time, rather than enter into a new contract .  Consequently, one of the most significant decisions that the School Board will face in the next year will be the recruitment and selection of a new Director of Schools.  As a member of the School Board, Adam would be your representative in this process.  If elected, Adam promises to listen to your concerns regarding this important decision and to give them honest and thoughtful consideration.  Moreover, if elected, he would work to ensure that person selected for the position is not only someone who has the professional training and experience to perform the job effectively but is someone who :


●   Places significant value on personal integrity and accountability;


●   Is straightforward and honest, a good listener, and respectfully considers differing viewpoints before making a decision;


●   Is bold and principled, yet, when necessary, is able to be flexible without compromising the mission and goals of the school system;


●   Recognizes the positive contributions of all employees and promotes and supports their professional development;


●   Takes and promotes a collaborative approach to problem-solving; and


●   Approaches decisions with a “children-first” mentality and evaluates all school matters according to how they affect the education and development of children, socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively.


Whether or not a person has these characteristics will determine whether the next director of schools is an effective leader or merely a competent administrator.  

Promoting a Culture of Shared Responsibility

To be effective, public schools must embrace the principles of trust, teamwork, and shared responsibility.  If elected, Adam promises to promote—through his own actions and through Board policies—a culture of shared responsibility that emphasizes personal accountability but that also lends support where support is needed and that promotes collaborative efforts to improve academic achievement.  More specifically, Adam would advocate in favor of policies and practices that 


Seek to attract and retain high-quality teachers by offering them a competitive compensation structure and opportunities for promotion, by providing adequate support to new teachers, and by investing in professional development;

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Encourage collaboration among teachers and administrators, promote the effective use of technology, and offer students the support services they need to succeed in the classroom, such as adequate guidance and counseling services;

Call for the evaluation of students in ways that move beyond mere quantitative assessment and that can help guide the development of personalized educational plans for individual students; and


● Ensure teacher assessments and evaluations are performed in ways that respect teachers' professionalism and are used to strengthen the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and classroom practices of professional educators.