Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Response from Charli Cooksey - School Board Candidate

1. What education (schools attended, degrees attained), experience, and attributes do you have that qualify you for a position on the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) Board of Education?

As a St. Louis city native and current resident, a former student and teacher and currently executive director of a nonprofit which partners with the city public schools, I'm able to provide broad and diverse perspective, fresh ideas and energy, along with a history of results-based leadership. I will be collaborative, innovative and maintain high expectations to ensure that ALL our youth access a quality education.


2. What do you view as the key role(s) of this position? What do you view as the important attributes needed for this position?

A board member’s first and only commitment should be to ensure the quality education of all students. In order to follow through on this commitment, I believe there are four top responsibilities of a school board member:
  1. Lead the initiative of hiring of an amazing superintendent and empowering him or her to serve the district’s students in a transformative way. 
  2. Establish vision and a set of guiding recommendations and/or principles that align to realizing the vision 
  3. Align resources, budgets, contracts, major partnerships, policies, and procedures to the established vision 
  4. Build a bridge of collaboration, communication, and accountability between the district and the community 
I think a board member should have context and an understanding of public education. They should be focused, vision-oriented, collaborative, open-minded, accountable, and transparent.


3. Why do you think you are the best person for SLPS Board of Education? What differentiates you from your opponents?

I have a broad perspective and I currently work in the education field. Professionally, I run an education nonprofit and understand the complex and dynamic nature of educating our kids, being fiscal responsible, committed to a rigorous curriculum, collaborative with external agencies, and driving towards meaningful outcomes. It takes competencies in all of these areas to ensure that we are educating our youth and accountable to our constituents. I also attended and taught in SLPS.


4. What do you feel are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the SLPS? What do you feel are the most pressing issues currently facing the SLPS system, and what plans do you have to address these issues?

SLPS and Dr. Adams are building strength through building a strong team of leaders within the district. There has been a focus on bringing administrators to the district that have a history of good results and demonstrate a commitment to innovation. SLPS is also steadily increasing its high school graduation rate. More than any other district in the St. Louis region, SLPS has experience with educating a diverse population of students—racially, socioeconomically, and academically. While these are strong attributes of the district, there is also vast potential for improvement. We need a greater focus on being committed to true collaboration and stronger outcomes. Over 80% of the students who attend SLPS live in poverty. This demands a purposeful focus on ensuring students have access to effective social services. Also, while the graduation rate continues to increase, the number of students who journey down productive post-secondary paths has not increased. I propose we commit to the following:
  1. Create a collective vision and plan with the other board members, the superintendent, and community stakeholders (SAB, parents, students, business and civic leaders, social service agencies, elected officials) 
  2. Improve transparency and accountability so that the community is abreast of the district’s successes and challenges have a platform to voice their ideas and concerns, and have easier access to important information (data, meeting dates, opportunities, etc.) 
  3. Achieve transformative results that put all students of a path of living a productive life. If we get this right, we can create students who are:
    • Academically prepared 
    • Financially prepared 
    • Socially-emotionally prepared 
    • Civically prepared 
    • Healthily prepared

5. What do you believe is important about public education?

A quality public education should be a right of EVERY child. A family should be able to live in a community where they can send their child to school and feel confident that the education received puts their child on a path towards a productive and promising future. Public education is one of the most important responsibilities of our city, state, and nation. 


6. What do you believe is the current role of the SLPS Board of Education given the existence of a Special Administrative Board and the provisionally accredited school system? 

The St. Louis Board of Education must restore its own credibility, build bridges to the Special Administrative Board, regain parental trust, and re-engage business and civic leaders to return the people’s voices to the debate about a long-term, big, bold path for our young people. I would work relentlessly with the other board members to make this happen. I would also learn as much as possible so that when power returns to the local elected board, I was insightful and prepared to hit the ground running, fighting for our children.


7. What do you see as the role of charter schools in relation to and within the SLPS system? 

I believe good charter schools who produce transformative results have a positive effect on the people who matter most—our youth. However, I am deeply committed to protecting and preserving the sustainability of SLPS as long as it continues to improve and educate students. I believe more quality schools should open and more existing schools should continue to improve. Ideally, that would be through SLPS, but good charter schools are not the enemy, but instead, partners.


8. What do you think are the positives and negatives of the current Missouri school accountability system (MSIP 5)?

MSIP 5 is positive because it holds school districts and leaders accountable. The challenge is that it is easy for a school district to limit its vision for youth to statistics and performance standards instead of providing the holistic support that will transform a student’s life and empower them to a become leader and engaged citizen post-high school graduation.


9. Are you in favor of or opposed to accrediting schools and not districts? Why?

I have not developed a solid idea around this concept.


10. SLPS is currently provisionally accredited. The school system could become accredited or unaccredited. If the system doesn’t become accredited, what is your opinion of the Missouri DESE plan for student transfers from unaccredited to accredited school systems?

DESE will need to develop a new plan regarding school transfers. It is obvious that what happened regarding Normandy is not good for kids or the community.


11. What are your opinions about the current form of teacher tenure in SLPS? What do you think are its strengths and weaknesses? Would you support a strong teacher tenure system within the SLPS?

I believe teachers are the most important professionals in our city, nation, and world. They deserve to be treated like royalty. Teachers are the true agents of change and progress for our society. We must value, honor, and uplift them. If a teacher has demonstrated a proven track record of results; if data shows that they are positively educating our youth; if they are committed to ongoing growth and innovation, then I am not opposed to tenure. I do oppose tenure sustaining a teacher who does more harm to students than good. When tenure makes it okay for a teacher who is not producing results or demonstrating care and compassion for our youth to continue in the classroom, then I believe we need to reevaluate whether a teacher should be tenured. 


12. The U.S. Congress needs to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) this year. What changes would you advocate for in the next iteration of the legislation?

The No Child Left Behind Act needs to be humanized. It focuses too heavily on standardized test results. Educating a child requires a holistic approach. Educating a child should of course involve math, science, and reading, but it should also involve the arts, health, and the development of life skills.


13. Population loss in the City of St. Louis is often attributed to residents’ hesitation to send their children to St. Louis Public Schools. As a school board member, what tools are available to you to promote SLPS as a viable choice for parents? 

The best tool to promote SLPS as a viable choice for parents is results.


14. SLPS has spent resources to provide an expanded pre-K program. What do you think about pre-K programs and, if you believe pre-K programs are important, how would you provide additional funding?

Pre-k programs are incredibly important. We have to ensure that the pre-k programs being offered are quality, rigorous, and holistic. I don’t have a specific strategy around funding but I do believe that pre-k is only as valuable as the education they receive post-pre-k. There must be a continuum of quality educational opportunities for our youth from pre-k-12th.


15. What do you feel is the appropriate role of community/neighborhood input in determining which schools the SLPS must close? How should the SLPS determine which schools to close? What criteria should be used?

Community and neighborhood input should be the foundation for all decisions made regarding SLPS.


 

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