Sandy Dixon and Brittney Hall are vying for the Fort Smith Public School Board Zone 2 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 Dixon and Hall.
• What do you believe should be the top three priorities for the Fort Smith Public School Board in the next few years?
Dixon: Advocate for families and teachers. After graduation, students should be well prepared to contribute to society. A community college, a university, technical school, Peak Innovation Center, the military, and the workforce are all excellent avenues to success in the 21st century, including building workforce skills and honing cultural/societal competency.
Teachers need to know that their opinions and experiences matter. They should be involved in establishing and guiding students throughout all curriculums. Parents should also be involved. Curriculums should be transparent and available to all parents. Open dialogue between families and teachers should also encouraged.
Set and follow budgets, and whenever possible, spend monies with local businesses. However, the priority to meet students’ needs requires us to be wise as we utilize the available funds to drive and support both student and teacher development. Connected to this, is understanding the use of data, test scores, or other parameters, which may or may not tell the whole story.
Listen. Listen to the parents, students, teachers and community and we will be able to develop environments that everyone can support, or at least understand the “why.”
Hall: 1. Curriculum across all subjects and all grades
2. Develop a collaborative working relationship with all staff and administrators so that, as a district, we can better serve and represent our students, parents, and community as a whole.
3. Ensuring that all of our district funds are spent appropriately. (Mileage funds, grants, state funds, COVID/ESSER FUNDS etc)
• 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?
Dixon: Every community seems to be facing their own current hot topic issues. By engaging with parents, the community, and teachers, it should not come down to the Board having to make such decisions. However, it is the Board that sets the policies and goals, by understanding the community’s values and wishes. No decision should be made in a vacuum or be a knee jerk reaction. Only once all who are impacted: parents, students, teachers, and community have provided input, can such decisions be made.
Hall: I believe the school board should work WITH administration and teachers to moderate literature available to our students. We also need to make sure that the literature provided to all our students both in the classroom & in the library is age and grade level appropriate and aligns with our state standards.
• 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?
Dixon: Fort Smith Public Schools must continue to improve in every arena; academics, arts, athletics, non-traditional, facilities etc. so that there is no question about the best place to obtain an education. At the core of this belief, is to continually strive to teach every student in a manner that allows them to learn to their fullest abilities. Additionally, Fort Smith Public Schools needs to do all it can to attract and maintain the best teachers possible. Students gravitate toward teachers who excite them. With today’s social media, students know who those teachers are and where they are teaching. This honest, quick-spreading show of support for the best of the best teachers, is something that Fort Smith Public Schools should use to our advantage, placing a high priority on budget for teacher resources and, while letting our community know about the quality teachers who are at each school.
Hall: Offer elite curriculum programs & opportunities that allow growth outside of the classroom. State of the art facilities, which we are on our way to having top to bottom! Create an inviting environment among students, teachers, parents and administration so that all community members feel involved.
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.