DeKalb School District 428 School Board candidate Tracy Williams submitted this questionnaire, answering the Daily Chronicle's questions in the 2017 DeKalb District 428 School Board race.
Name: Tracy Williams
Office sought: District 428 School Board
1) Why are you running for School Board?
I am a proud graduate of DeKalb schools, and as an adult, I have tried to give back to my community. Among other things, I served on the school board from 2011-2015. Although I found the experience to be challenging and difficult at times, it was also quite rewarding to contribute to positive changes. I did not seek re-election in 2015 due to other obligations I had, but I am once again in a position to dedicate the time necessary to be an effective member of the board. I want to help create a renewed culture of accountability and stability, while at the same time advancing opportunities for our students.
A high-quality, well-rounded education for our children is the most important responsibility our community undertakes. However, a board member must possess the ability to manage and balance the sometimes conflicting interests of three distinct groups: students, taxpayers, and district employees. I’ve demonstrated the ability to serve all three groups in a beneficial manner.
I believe that our community needs to attract growth from the outside. The best way to accomplish that is to offer a quality education, which is recognized as such outside of the district.
2) Were you satisfied with how the school board handled the controversy that led to the removal of its superintendent earlier this year?
I am satisfied that the school board members followed the letter of the law to the best of their ability. I am not satisfied that they were given the best advice by the legal counsel or interim superintendent. Although the process took a long time, I know from my past experience on the board that these processes do not move quickly. There are procedural safeguards which must be followed. By law, the school board must maintain a strict confidentiality in regard to personnel issues. What we, the general public, were privy to was based on a few newspaper stories and rumors, which was probably not enough to form a truly informed opinion.
3) What qualities would you look for in a new superintendent?
The new superintendent will have to possess all of the required attributes of an effective senior manager and, in this case, a level of trustworthiness that exceeds a more normal situation. Strong communication skills and the ability to interact with all stakeholders on an open and straight forward basis will be the first step to bringing some level of trust back to the district. I emphasize that any candidate must be willing to relocate to our district and if there is a candidate already vested in our community then I would advocate that their resume be placed on the top of the pile. This district has experienced, many times over the years, situations that brings in a superintendent who stays for 3-4 years and then moves on. It takes that long to get many initiatives started and implemented. We need a superintendent who will see things through to conclusion and wants to be a true Barb.
4) What, if anything, can the school board do to reduce the tax burden on homeowners?
In order to be prepared for a position on the board, and to have a better understanding of the district’s current financial condition, I requested a brief meeting with the district finance officer, but was denied access to her by the interim superintendent. Although I did not receive the information I sought, based on experience I think we should start by developing a plan for a tax freeze.
There are no doubt inefficiencies yet to be identified, and I would re-examine cost effectiveness at the highest levels. For example, there may be positions at the education center which can be consolidated. A complete review of the organizational chart is in order.
We currently have a very competent group of principals in the district. Each one should be asked to develop a financial plan for his/her individual building, with the help of the district finance office. It should be based on worst, most-likely and best-case scenarios of state funding.
5) Does the district do enough to respect and celebrate the racial and ethnic diversity of its students?
I believe that the district is trying to be inclusive and respectful of all its students, but we can do more to embrace the rich diversity in our community. Our student body includes many cultures and ethnicities that are not a part of our neighboring communities. At Jefferson Elementary School, there are over twenty different languages spoken amongst the students. We, as a community, must be inclusive and open to learning about other cultures. There is more we can accomplish, but I also think that we are headed in the right direction.
6) Class parties for holidays such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day were eliminated at district elementary schools this year. Do you agree with this policy. Why or why not?
Yes, I agree with the policy, even though it has not been embraced by all parents. Many parents have such fond memories of tradition, such as dressing in Halloween costumes for school, that they want similar experiences for their children. However, In light of the vast diversity and beliefs amongst our community, there are children who are unable or unwilling to celebrate Halloween. Therefore, we must find other reasons to celebrate together, which includes all of our children.
7) As a school board member, how would you approach teacher contract negotiations?
I will approach teacher negotiations the same way I did in my previous experience 4 years ago. The way the process has been run is that the board agrees on parameters and objectives for the negotiating team to reach. Those participating in the negotiations must adhere to those parameters. It really is that straight forward. There are 3 other union contracts negotiated through the school board, and those are equally as important, although they rarely attract the attention which the DCTA does. I know union representatives on all of the unions and I respect and have friendly relationships with many of them. The only way to conduct productive negotiations of any kind is to be candid, consistent and respectful.
8) Does the school district do a good enough job promoting the positive things its students achieve?
No. This is certainly an area for improvement. Ideally, the district would have a liaison or marketing person who would handle promoting the positive things in our district. However, there has never been enough funding for that. Nonetheless, I know that there is a solution to this problem which will allow the district to do a better job at promoting a positive image. We must better utilize existing talents, such as the DHS photography and graphics classes.