Q&A: Meet your candidates for Metro schools in District 8

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Posted at 3:00 AM, Jul 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-10 22:36:44-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — With the current school board member stepping down, residents in District 8 will have two new people to pick from on the ballot for the Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education.

Early voting started July 15. The general election day for the seat is Aug. 4.

NewsChannel 5 sent out a questionnaire for both candidates in this race. Only O'Hara-Block responded and her answers are below. These answers are directly from the candidates and have not been edited for any length or clarity.

What made you want to get involved in public education?

I’ve spent my career in education because I know that education has the power to change lives, and I want that for all Nashville kids. I’ve seen firsthand the impact that education can have in my own family.

My father’s parents immigrated from Ireland with no more than a middle school education. My father was one of nine kids, and the first in his family to go away to college. His experience as a first-generation college student inspired my first job in Tennessee education – working in college access for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. I’m proof that education can create generational change and I want to use my background and knowledge to improve MNPS schools.

How do you anticipate Tennessee’s Education Savings Accounts will impact MNPS? Do you support such an effort?

I believe that public funds should be used to support students in public schools. I also believe that the number one job of the school district is to provide a great public school in every neighborhood. I am concerned that the efforts of the state to divert public funds from MNPS schools will distract from and undermine our ability to improve outcomes for all kids.

Considering recent school violence nationwide, do you feel that improvements need to be made to secure Metro Schools?

As someone who experienced the loss of a sibling at age 10, I grieve for the children, educators, and communities that experience loss due to unimaginable acts of violence. As a school board candidate, I keep going back to an issue I’ve been talking about throughout this campaign – our kids and educators need more from us to support their mental health.

MNPS needs school counselors with the time and resources to work with students who are struggling. We need more school social workers and school psychologists to work with those students who are in crisis. And we need better coordination among our schools, social service agencies, and non-profit providers. In short, we need a citywide approach to mental health and the associated violence.

We also must act to secure our school buildings. Despite recent efforts to ensure secure entryways, we have some schools that do not yet have vestibules and controlled entryways to ensure safety every day. We need to correct these problems immediately and I’m grateful for the additional funding that the Metro Council recently put toward these efforts.

The issue of how race and racial issues should be taught in schools has been controversial. What are your thoughts on the subject?

My family and I were discussing the banning of certain concepts in Tennessee classrooms at the dinner table recently, and my daughter remarked, “if we don’t understand our history, aren’t we just doomed to repeat it?” It is critical that our students know and understand their history – the good, the bad, and the ugly. The primary purpose of public education is to create an informed citizenry that is prepared for college, career, and life. That requires understanding the great things about this country, as well as its flaws. It means understanding — both through reading books and robust classroom discussion and debate — how history has impacted the past and the present, so that, as my daughter said, we don’t repeat it in the future.

Personally, I have been so grateful for the excellent educators and librarians at my kids’ schools, who have suggested books and held classroom discussions that have transported them into different worlds and cultures and helped them to understand more of their own. These educators and librarians have helped my kids navigate the world around them and have always created space for the perspectives of all students. We should trust the expertise of our educators and librarians. As a school board member, I will stand up for our need to teach openly about our country’s past and our present, and I will support our educators in doing just that.

What role should parents play in setting school policy?

Parents and students are MNPS’ most important constituents. The district must be responsive to the needs and desires of families and students. Based on my own experience as an active parent, I know that families can and should be invited to help craft policy by engaging with their school PTO and Parent Advisory Councils, serving on school improvement teams, and advocating with school leaders, district leaders, and school board members. It is also critical that school board members are open to family feedback and seek the perspectives of all constituents.

As a school board member, I pledge to listen, learn, and act. I will seek advice from families, students, educators, and all constituents and I will consult available data when weighing key decisions. I will attend District 8 schools’ PTO meetings quarterly, hold monthly office hours for all constituents to attend, meet regularly with District 8 students and educators, and be in schools as frequently as possible. I will also use my extensive background in education policy and research to seek expert advice and use data, research, and evidence to guide my decisions.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing MNPS?

Our biggest challenge in MNPS is improving academic achievement for all students. Even though we’ve seen improvement in the district’s 2021-22 state test scores, far too many MNPS students are not on grade level in reading or math – especially in early grades literacy and middle and high school math. Though this was the case before the pandemic, COVID-19 and school disruptions have only set students further back. Improving academic achievement in early literacy, middle grades math, and college and career readiness is our top priority every day.

We are also facing major funding and enrollment challenges that will require us to rethink how we maximize the impact of existing and future funding. We must address gaps in state funding and enrollment impacts on local funding in order to see sustainable improvements across our schools.

Finally, we must agree as a city that the education of our future generations is our top priority and create a clear path to growth and improvement in MNPS for our city to truly thrive. Creating a clear long-term improvement plan agreed upon across elected officials, business leaders, educators, and families is imperative for a sustainable future for Nashville.

Tell our viewers why they should vote for you.

My superpower is that I’m not just a mom, and I’m not just an education policy and research expert, I’m both. I’m a proven parent leader with a passion for student success and the expertise to make it happen.

As a school board member, I will be student-focused and solutions-oriented. I’ll look to build consensus while holding the district accountable. With my background and skills, I’ll be ready to serve on day one.