Taylor Fretheim Chase and Davin Chitwood are candidates in the Fort Smith Public School District’s At-large Zone 1 position. The school board approved a new zone map with five single-membered and two at-large positions for school board members based on 2020 census data.
The school board elections will be held May 24 with Arkansas’ primary election. (Link here for the Talk Business & Politics story about the candidates who filed in each zone.)
Though all school board seats will eventually have a five-year term, as opposed to the three-year terms they had before, a straw vote will be held after the election results are certified to determine how long each seat’s term (one, three or five years) in order for elections of the positions to be staggered.
Each of the new zones have approximately 18,200 residents. Along with voting a person in their zones, voters will also select two at-large positions, so even if their board zone is not contested, they will vote for a candidate in the at-large positions. School Board member Talicia Richardson, in Zone 4, is the only candidate running unopposed.
Talk Business & Politics sent questions – with answers to each question limited to 200 words – to all candidates and will post the responses in a series by zone. Following are the responses from Chase and Chitwood.
• What do you believe should be the top three priorities for the Fort Smith Public School Board in the next few years?
1. Continue and evaluate school security needs
2. Evaluate curriculum consistency
3. Create a culture and programs that appeal to new and veteran educators to retain and attract.
Chitwood: I believe the top three priorities for the Fort Smith Public School Board in the next few years should be Student Achievement and Excellence, Growth & Future Thinking, and Community Engagement & Involvement. Our students come first and we need to create the best environment possible for them to have the best opportunity to be successful in the classroom and out of the classroom. We have to plan for the growth of Fort Smith and what our city will need from our schools. Fort Smith is changing, and change is good if we prepare and take advantage of the opportunities coming. Education & opportunities are changing every day for our students and we have to make sure our students are equipped with everything they need to be successful. Fort Smith is a strong, loving, and supportive community and we have to make sure our students and schools know that community members of Fort Smith are here to serve and support our Future Leaders and their teachers/mentors.
• Do you believe the school board has a responsibility to moderate literature available to students, or do you believe that is best left to experienced administrators and faculty?
Chase: I believe there should be no books pushing an agenda on either side. In terms of required reading, the parents should receive all the required reading up front so they can look into each piece of literature to make the best choices for their children. If there is a large enough percentage of parents with an issue, the book should be reevaluated. I know there have been instances where teachers have taken the liberties of having students read books that are not appropriate and that was addressed accordingly. I believe that if a parent has an issue with a book there should be an open and transparent conversation with a resolution that appeals to both sides. While I appreciate and value the experience of administrators and faculty I think that the parents should be well informed and should feel their voices are being heard if they have issues or questions. I think all books should be chosen from an approved list of required reading and not just 100% up to the teacher’s discretion.
Chitwood: I believe if/when moderating of our students’ literature is needed it should not be the School Board’s sole responsibility/decision because most of us are not experienced administrators or faculty involved in the teaching of the questioned literature. I do believe we should have the ability to form a committee to review the literature in depth with experienced administrators and faculty to make an informed & educated decision on the questioned literature case by case. This would be the best route to meet all needs in an efficient manner.
• There are several new charter schools in the area. What do you believe the Fort Smith Public School District should do to be an attractive option for students who now have more options?
Chase: Be more transparent. Unify the curriculum. Bring back parent involvement, appreciate and respect parents voices and input. Star Academy is a wonderful asset that is available at Southside for students. Providing flexible, self-paced learning and an opportunity to accelerate in their core classes. For some students the traditional school setting is not ideal for their style of learning and Star Academy can cater to those students. Charter schools give freedom and different styles of learning, if we can incorporate that more into our schools we can have an advantage at keeping the students who do not fit in the typical school setting mold. I think this should be available at Northside as well as the middle schools. Personally I believe the charter schools will be a great asset to Fort Smith and I think other area schools will take advantage of them coming to Fort Smith. They might take a small percentage of students, but overall I don’t think FSPS will be majorly affected by the charter schools. The competition these charter schools could potentially bring should be looked at as a positive to help better and bring new programs to Fort Smith Public Schools.
Chitwood: The Fort Smith Public School District must focus on the 3 priorities of Student Achievement, Growth & Future Thinking, and Community Engagement & Involvement to stay the most attractive option with new charter schools in the area. We have amazing faculty and facilities that support our students’ achievements but we can not become stagnant. A large goal of mine is to strive for our schools to receive statewide and national awards and recognition for all of the hard work our students and faculty put in every day. Fort Smith deserves the best of the best, and that’s what Fort Smith Public Schools will deliver. The support from our community for students and faculty is something that can not be matched, and with a whole city backing our youth and faculty the Fort Smith School District will flourish.
Editor’s note: Link here for the Q&A response from Fort Smith School Board member Troy Ecklehoff and Phillip Whiteaker who are running for the district’s Zone 1 position. Link here for the Q&A response from candidates Sandy Dixon and Brittney Hall for Zone 2. Link here for the Q&A response from candidates Dee Blackwell and Ryan Goodwin for Zone 3. Link here for the Q&A response from candidates Tara Mendoza and Dalton Person for Zone 5. Link here for the Q&A response from candidates Matt Blaylock and Madeline Marquette At-large Zone 1.