The Little Rock School District's school board election is Tuesday, September 16. Joy Springer is challenging incumbent Norma Jean Johnson in the downtown area and Jim Ross is running against incumbent Jody Carreiro in West Little Rock.
KUAR spoke with school board candidates and asked why they’re running for the volunteer seats. Norma Jean Johnson has a master’s degree in adult education and is a Marine Corps veteran with a background in finance, communication and health sciences. Joy Springer has a master's in education administration and is a longtime assistant to civil rights lawyer John Walker.
Norman Jean Johnson:
Q.) Why are you running for re-election?
“I want to be on the school board because I feel I can reach more kids than I have in the past. This is an opportunity for me to go a little deeper than I’ve gone in the past. I bring a little something different to the school board. I am more, probably parent and student oriented, I am totally student focused. My goal is to make sure that all students, regardless of where they are, where they live and what community, receive the resources that they need to be successful. And so I feel like sometimes it’s kinda like that family, you always have that one. Sometimes I think I can be that one that can bring something different than what has been done in the past. I’m definitely a non-traditional person so sometimes I know for a fact that working out of the box can work to your advantage.
Q.) What would you like to see the district do to help kids who are struggling to read?
“The district has a couple of reading initiatives in the school district. But I don’t believe its only a school district problem, it’s family, community and school. There are a lot of resources in the communities that we need to tap into. For example, there’s a Religious based community around every school in every community, and I strongly send out a challenge to those individuals to please get on board and let me give you an example of what I’m speaking of. I live in a community where there are at least four churches. Are they open on Saturdays? Maybe they could start a reading initiative on Saturdays, On Wednesday nights maybe they could have a homework session there. There are a lot of things the community can do. So, I just challenge them to depend soley on the Little Rock School District. I ask families to please get involved with your children’s education, it is so crucial that you get involved with your child’s education. And there are a lot of other resources we need to tap into into the community that I strongly believe can help this district be successful when it comes to literacy.
Q.) What do you think about the possibility of a state takeover?
I don’t think a state takeover would work to anybody’s advantage. Because if you take over, what are you taking over? You are taking over the same issues that we’re dealing with. And like I always say, if there’s something they have that they feel like would help us to be successful, then I would assume they would pass that info or resource on. I really don’t believe the state wants to do that. I actually think the state wants to see us succeed. And so, this state takeover is one of those things I think something you hear in the community. But I don’t think the state wants to do that, I think the state actually wants to see us succeed.
Q.) Are there some ways the school board has faced challenges and not quite risen to the occasion in the past year? Are there ways you’d like to see the school board improve that you could see the board moving forward and working in a better way?
Well, the school board needs to be a little more aggressive and I can see that coming, we’re beginning to deal with the issues at a more aggressive pace, so yes ma’am,we need to be a little more aggressive than we have been in the past. We need to hold people more accountable for their actions. But my thing is this, I know there are a lot of people out there, I wish everybody well, I know everybody is doing the best they can. But there are a lot of people out there who need help and we need to identify who they are. I feel strongly that we need to empower our teachers, we need to empower our teachers, to be able to work outside the box and do what they need to ensure their students are successful. There’s no one size fits all, and we don’t want any of our staff and or our teachers to be feel like if you do this you will be wrote up, if you do this you will be sent home, if you do this you will be terminated. No, empower the staff to make good decisions because they’re the ones in the field. So I feel strongly about empowerment.”
Q.) Why do you think you’re the best candidate for this position?
“I am the best candidate for this position because this is a passion for Ms. Johnson. Actually, this is my season and I know strongly I have something to offer this district. You know, I’m the vice president and of course, if I’m re-elected I’d be the president. And so I want my meetings to be student focused only. Student focused only. I understand we have to deal with a lot of adult issues but I want students and I want principals and I want teachers to come down and talk to the board. I want them to come down there and let us know, what’s going on in their school. I want students to come down there and let us know, ‘what is it that you need?’ ‘How can we help you?’ So, I actually want to conduct meetings that are more student and parent focused.”
Q.) Why do you want to be on the school board and what is it you really want to do there?
I believe that with my experience I can help govern and regulate the services that have been promised to these children for all these years. For the last 20 years, the district officials have indicated that it takes time for us to be sure we can move kids. As you know, states have certain standards they require kids to meet. They refer to them as benchmarks. Certain kids are proficient, below proficient, well they’re proficient, below proficient , basic, then they’re advanced.
Many of the kids who attend the Little Rock School District, they’re not scoring proficient on these state tests. The district said years ago, and before they had the benchmarks, they had some other tests, they used the standardized tests…of basic skills in order to measure achievement. The case that was previousl before the court had to do with eliminating achievement disparities between African American children and Caucasian children in the district. In order to make sure everyone receives equal educational opportunites and everybody learns, you have to eliminate that achievement gap that’s not going to be about depriving anyone about their opportunity to learn and move forward. You want to make sure that everybody achieves the same opportunities as others. So that’s what I think that I can assist them in doing because the district set in place and that’s another one of the reasons why they were released from court supervision because they promised they would continue a process to evaluate, make assessments programs that were effective in addressing the achievement of students. So here the last year, all of a sudden without really in my opinion thinking things out, they decided to eliminate that process they had in place and that process was designed to eliminate the achievement disparities between the races. And so it was being implemented put in place, and they were working towards that and all of a sudden someone decides, they they have a better idea. And they had promised the court that process would stay in place until basically the achievement gaps would, the disparity and achievement would be eliminated. So for some reason that was one of those premises they broke with respect to educating children.
Q.) What would you do to address this if you were on the board?
would make a motion to reinsate that policy. ILR, it’s a regulation on program assessment evalution. Comprehensive evaluations are done with respect to what’s taken place within the schools to address student learning. And It’s the process where you involve everybody, you talk to parents, you talk to students, you talk to teachers, you even talk to the administration and you find out in their opinion,what they think needs to take place with respect to student learning. So you get an idea from everybody and get their input so you can use that information, not only with the results of the testing, but with whatever is going on in the classroom, whatever strategies or processes being used by the teachers, you have that information along with the test results, along with this qualititative data, you can use focus groups of students, you can use surveys. Some people may not want to have an interview and talk to you. You can have them complete a survey and use that information, in order to address ways to eliminate the achievement dispartities. So you have not only quantitative, which are the test results, but you have qualitative data, this information from your interviews, your surveys and that sort of thing in order to make a determination if a particular program is effective in addressing student achievement. The research we had at the time indicated you are on the road to addressing student achievement and eliminating that achievement disparity.
Q.) What should be done to address issues of illiteracy in the district?
Well here we go, we had already used this ILR regulation I’m talking about and as a result of that evaluation process, that comprehensive evaluation, it was determined Reading Recovery was successful in addressing the achievement disparity with respect to reading. Well, the first thing the superintendent does, is he introduces a new program in reading that nobody has knowledge about, nobody has any research and I don’t know if you were there at those meetings when even people here at UALR, various professors very familiar with the program came down and gave data that supported the use of reading recovery, yet he decides, new superindent decides that Reading Recovery is not the way to go. That we should try something different, that there is no evidence that has been proven it will be effective in addressing student achievement. So you get rid of something that’s shown to be effective vs. something you don’t know anything about. So, that’s one example of a program that needs to be utilized in addressing student achievement, Reading Recovery. The superintendent has indicated that what he’s going to do is put a reading teacher in every school. If you’re going to do that, it may be that some schools need more than one reading teacher. Depending on the level of proficiency of the students, they may need two or three reading teachers. He made the analogy that rather than having one reading recovery teacher in some of the schools where it had been determined these Reading Recovery teachers needed to address a greater population. He decided he’s going to put a reading teacher in every school, not really knowing the ratio of who the students are that actually need the services. It may be it could have been a good idea if you knew the number of students needed specifically to address the problem, to be assigned as particular reading teachers. That’s the concern I have about that. I don’t think it really addresses the problem at hand. Whereas previously you had a program in place where you knew there was actually results and improvement.
Q.) What do you think about the superintendent’s performance over all and about the board’s working relationship with him. How would you want to work with him if you were on the board?
There are different areas that make up the evaluation, I would just tell you how I would rate him in the areas I know about. As far as student achievement, unsatisfactory, if you had to give him a grade A,B,C,D, or F, I would give him an F in student achievement. As far as communications and relations with employees, I think in my opinion, the morale of the employees at this point in time is not very good, I think it’s at an all time low. If you’re rating him satisfactory or unsatisfactory in that area he would get an unsatisfactory, if you’re rating him A,B,C,D or F, he would get an F in that area as well.
Now as far as budget, I would have to really study that and look at that so I don’t know. But the main area that he would, that I know I would give him an evaluation on would be student achievement because I know that’s what the district is all about, making sure that children learn and achieve, he would get an F. But all the other areas at this point in time I don’t think I could honestly and objectively give him a rating on that. If you’re rating him with respect to the important areas, communications and relationships he get an F and then the achievement areas he gets an F. the other areas, they’re not as important as the other two I would think, so his overall rating would turn out to be not good. At this point in time in all fairness, I’m not able to objectively state what I believe.
Q.) What do you think about the restructuring of Forest Heights and Geyer Springs?
Well, in my opinion, you don’t address student achievement by shifting things around. You go head on with the problem and address it specifically. If you have children who are not proficient in reading, you go to those children and address the problem… I think you can make drastic changes in some other way than reconstituting a building, moving kids around and having problems. Right now as a result of moving kids around in the school district, I don’t think that was really thought out, you now have parents and teachers and staff members complaining about now Henderson middle school has an influx of students that needs special services. Forest Heights has a group of students for the most part categorized as being GT. They do well on tests, seems like to me they were really hand picked so they should do well. You have Dunbar, with a whole lot of kids that don’t do as well on your tests, then you have a whole lot of kids over at Henderson that don’t do as well so basically you still, basically the same problem, you’ve just shifted the students around. A number of them are housed in the same building, you’re not really focused in on the area where they are deficient, i.e. reading, i.e. math.