Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet school hosted a candidate forum for the first-ever Richardson ISD single-member district election for board of trustees. The forum was sponsored by The League of Women Voters of Richardson and RISD Council of PTAs. Elizabeth McNamara, immediate past national president of the LWV, moderated the forum. About 45 members of the public were in attendance.
Beginning in 2019, RISD has five single-member districts and two at-large positions. District 4, a single-member district, is an open position, trustee Katie Patterson having resigned earlier this year. The candidates for RISD District 4 are Taler BK Jefferson, Patricia Price Hicks, Regina Harris, and Sakennia Reed.
Right from the start, Taler BK Jefferson noted the slim attendance in a neighborhood elementary school. "This room should be flooded," she said. She is running for school board to engage the community. Her priorities are:
1. resources for teaching students with different languages
2. improved student outcomes
3. more equity and inclusion training
Patricia Price Hicks said she is running to ensure equitable funding for all in RISD. Her priorities are:
1. getting high school graduates fully ready for life after RISD
2. an equity and diversity program
3. adequate salaries to retain experienced teachers
Regina Harris says she has been giving back to the district through PTA and as a band mom and is ready to take it to the next level. Her priorities are:
1. diverse representation across RISD
2. diverse commmunity participation
3. fair and adequate funding in each district
Sakennia Reed is running to close the "belief gap" and opportunity gap in RISD. Her priorities are:
1. improving student outcomes
2. a standing racial equity council
3. more career paths for teachers and administrators
All four candidates support the ACE program (Accelerating Campus Excellence) used in four low-performing RISD schools. All understand that ACE is expensive but would like to see parts expanded across RISD. Jefferson suggests training all teachers the way it's done in ACE schools. Hicks suggests using the reading portion of ACE everywhere and seeking TEA grant money to do that. Harris wants RISD to better identify great teachers and recruit great teachers for all of RISD.
There were differences on the need for improved security on RISD campuses. Jefferson would be willing to explore use of metal detectors but is not a fan. She would like to see better teacher training. Harris also emphasizes training. Hicks wants to hire full-time security officers in all schools. Reed is against adding metal detectors and extra security officers in schools, especially in communities of color.
All candidates have similar suggestions for improving teacher retention over and above higher salaries. Jefferson suggests more appreciation, incentives and resources. Hicks suggests perks, recognition, celebrations. Harris wants to show that teachers are valued and improve training for career paths. Reed suggests appreciation, training, and career development pathways.
All four candidates are in favor of exploring merit-based pay plans for teachers. Jefferson warns that it should not just look at standardized test results. Harris says merit pay should be based on success in the classroom. Hicks says the funding implications would be a challenge. Reed says merit pay should focus on student growth.
RISD has asked for waivers for classroom sizes above the state-mandated student:teacher ratio of 22:1. Alternatives are hiring more teachers and/or transferring students to schools with openings. Jefferson, Harris, and Reed are against asking for waivers. Hicks recognizes the value of keeping small classroom sizes but is in agreement with RISD's requests for waivers.
Candidates offer various ideas for increasing parent engagement. Jefferson suggests more use of social media and the "remind" app. Hicks suggests starting parenting classes especially for immigrants with young students. Harris believes we should focus more on parent engagement as there are so many opportunities for parents to be involved. Reed says we should reach out to parents more for reasons other than discipline.
All candidates support programs that allow students to learn at their own pace.
You can learn more about these candidates at the League of Women Voters website Vote411.org.
Early voting begins October 21. Election day is November 5.
Round One with these candidates was October 14 at Hamilton Park United Methodist Church.