Election 2016: Fairview mom wants to become advocate for parents in District One

Election 2016: Fairview mom wants to become advocate for parents in District One

Fairview mom Angela Durham said she wants to listen and learn if she were elected to District One seat, which will have a new member elected in August.

Fairview mom Angela Durham said she wants to become an ear for parent opinion and an instrument to help the school system grow in a positive way if she is elected to the District One seat of the Williamson County School Board.

Growing up in Memphis, Durham moved to Nashville to attend Lipscomb University. She has her bachelor’s degree in management and her master’s degree in business administration. She currently works for Amsurg as vice president of anesthesia service, and has worked there for the last six years. She and her husband moved their two kids from Bellevue to Williamson for the school system.

“We didn’t want to send our kids to school there, and that’s why we moved out to Williamson,” she said. “Fairview was the middle ground, and it’s been wonderful.”

She said she’s enjoyed living in Fairview because of the mix of people and the cluster of schools that still consist of a clean feeder pattern. She’s worked in both the elementary and middle school PTOs while her fourth- and six-graders attend school. She said serving on the PTO gave her a sense of the inner workings of the schools in Fairview.

“People are coming for the schools,” she said. “It’s important we continue to meet expectations, and it’s important for people who do have concerns to have a voice.”

Durham will face off against Richard Davis. No incumbent will run for the seat, as current board member Ken Peterson moved to Hawaii with his family on a job transfer. He will continue to serve his term remotely.

Rezoning is one of the first issues the new board will deal with together as the Nolensville schools open and Thompson’s Station being on the horizon. What’s your philosophy on school rezoning, grandfathering and the anticipation of future growth for rezoning?

Rezoning is a non-negotiable. If we desire to continue seeing growth in our county, we must project the growth and adequately plan for the impact the new families will have on our schools.

We have an excellent group of individuals focused on building new schools and renovating existing schools to accommodate the incoming students. A natural result of this growth is going to be the need to rezone students in the most logical way. Nonetheless, we can do our best to be empathetic to those families who are more adversely impacted than others due to the rezoning.

We can make it as painless for those families as possible by offering grandfathering in certain situations such as those where a student may be in his/her last year in that school or where he/she have siblings. There will be some families who will not mind the rezoning and some who welcome it. For those who need or want an exception, we simply need to continue our current process of accepting applications for an open-zoned school in order to be as flexible as reasonably possible.

What is your position on standardized testing – is there too much, too little?

I grew up in Tennessee and can remember looking forward to that one week near the end of the school year where we had no homework and got to bring games and snacks like Moon Pies and cheese crackers to school to have between tests.

While it was stressful to know I would be scored and evaluated, I knew it wasn’t an option, and I did my best. We have to have a way to measure performance of teachers and students, and the standardized tests are as good of a way to do so as any, as they offer unbiased, cross-cutting shapshots into the students’ level of understanding in key areas. If given my preference, I would structure the testing where it occurs over a shorter period of time on a more regular basis (say, every 9 weeks over a 2-day period, focused only on the content the students are expected to learn for that period).

Coming from the business world where we set goals and key performance indicators in the beginning of each year, I think that if the leaders held an in-depth, annual teacher orientation of the year’s expectations for teaching and learning metrics, and then gave the teachers adequate time to submit their plans for achievement of those metrics, then the teachers would have a very clear-cut series of goals to accomplish with the students.

I believe we need to take into consideration retention of information learned and conduct our assessments while the information is fresh in their minds.

All in all, the tests are important because at the end of day, we need to understand our strengths and weaknesses in order to make course corrections and impact change. These standardized tests allow for that evaluation and subsequent change.

Having said that, I also recognize that there is more than one way to skin a cat, and I am always open to hearing alternative ways of accomplishing the end goal of high achievement in our schools. Additionally, I recognize that it adds a lot of stress to some students to be subject to the scrutiny our tests impose. It puts us at a disadvantage to put those kids in a situation where we know they won’t perform well. I would be interested in having someone evaluate whether we could possibility implement some type of alternative testing for those students whose families request an exception to the typical testing methods.

What is your position on Common Core and the state working to phase it out?

Kudos to the experts who acknowledged something wasn’t going well. Our leaders and educators recognized a gap in learning and gave it a valiant effort to try Common Core as a solution. If the experts agree that perhaps we aren’t getting the results we had hoped for, then let’s get rid of it.

We should always have measures and evaluations in place to track our success in initiatives. If an initiative fails, let’s move on to the next potential solution. There is never just one way to achieve success, and I believe it is our job as leaders to explore and research and identify those alternatives.

What do you think of current state education standards?

My perception based on what I see with my own children in their homework and ongoing testing is that the standards are reasonable and straightforward. I am perhaps overly practical in my views about education, but I believe that we have a few key responsibilities: (1) ensure that the students are exposed to as much as possible in the various subjects, because only exposure can help them find themselves and learn their passions and interests – without the exposure, they won’t have the opportunity to determine what they are good at and where they want to go with their lives; (2) ensure that the content we are teaching them is reasonable for their levels of education; (3) ensure that we have special programs in place to help those children who have different learning styles, special needs or who simply need extra attention to succeed.

Do you think world religions should be part of history or social studies curricula?

Let’s face it. World religion is a vital part of our history. It should be acknowledged at a high level, in an unbiased and factual manner. Period. I personally find all of the various religions fascinating and believe that we should take an interest in understanding others’ religious histories in order to empathize with and support others with different beliefs. However, the reality is that religion is one of those areas where people can be passionate and emotionally charged, and in the public school system, we should avoid encouraging open discussion in the learning environment about matters that, for some, contain a lot of sensitivity and personal agendas.

Given the sensitivity and personal belief systems at play, we should limit the teaching to specific facts, limited discussion and with no bias by the teachers conducting the lesson. Having attended a Christian school, I have seen religion taught in a classroom setting with individuals of varying beliefs. It can be done if presented the right way.

The bottom line is that, as with any history subject, it needs to be taught. We can’t deny that religious groups and beliefs have had major impact on our country and world. Would I prefer, due to the sensitivity and emotional charge related to religion, that I be the one teaching my own children? By all means.

Perhaps a compromise might be to allow parents to review the specific content associated with the class and provide written consent for the student to be part of the class. Or perhaps the teaching should only occur at the high school level as an elective, allowing other parts of history to be addressed in the younger years. I don’t have the answer, but I am open-minded enough to hear other perspectives and have open dialogue about the pros, cons and arguments for or against.

What is your opinion of the current state of WCS and the current leadership?

I think it’s great. I love the way Dr. [Mike] Looney communicates openly and shares his vision. He leads with passion and conviction and is open to hearing the ideas and opinions of others.

He makes decisions in what I believe to be a thoughtful and conscientious way and has our school system’s best interest at heart. He has great ideas and thinks strategically and outside the box, which is important for any leader.

We cannot grow without vision, and he has it. Additionally, I believe we have excellent school leaders in the Fairview system. Our principals clearly have a passion and commitment for our schools. We have the right people in the right spots.

What is the best thing about WCS?

The parental involvement, engagement and investment in our schools is amazing.

I have never seen so many generous and engaged families, from donating money, resources and time, to promoting school events, sports activities, etc. People come to this county for the excellent schools, and their involvement and support of the schools is evident. Additionally, the community support is amazing. In Fairview alone, our local businesses and large businesses provide an incredible amount of donations to our schools. The teachers, staff and school personnel are also heavily engaged and committed.

I love it when we attend a school-related event and we see our school personnel at the events, participating, smiling and supporting the initiatives at hand.

What needs attention and what aspect of it could need adjustment?

I want to give myself time to hear what the opinions and experiences are from those who have been in this for a while and who have lived through generations of children flowing through the school system.

I am the first person to admit that there is plenty I don’t know yet, but I am also extremely open-minded, unbiased and interested in supporting this county to continue growing and thriving.

Sitting on the board of my church, I have learned that my job isn’t to dictate or force my own agenda, but rather to represent the voices of those in the community and to ensure that the vision, mission, values, goals and objectives are adhered to and accomplished. The only way an individual can be effective is to seek to understand by listening.

We are here to support those who carry out the day to day operational matters related to education. I view the board as the business arm of the school system. If given an issue to address, I will dedicate the time to investigating and understanding the issue in order to offer an educated opinion.

Emily West covers Franklin and Williamson County government and schools for Home Page Media Group. Contact her at emily@franklinhomepage.com. Follow her on Twitter via @emwest22.

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