Starkville-Oktibbeha School District
School Board Election 2021
Our public education questionnaire was offered to school board candidates in the November 2 school board elections. Search for candidates’ questionnaire responses below. A runoff election will be held on November 23.
John S. Brown • Cassandra Palmer (Winner of Runoff) • Rev. Dr. Ronnie B. Tucker, Sr. (Runoff) • Willet Wilson-DuVall
John S. Brown
1. What is your experience with the school district? (Did you or your children attend school in the district? Have you volunteered in or been employed by the district?) Previous term on the school board. I have 3 grandchildren who have attended school. I taught one year in the district. Coached two sports and served as a Senior Sponsor. I actually gave half of my annual salary back to the district.
2. What is your previous community involvement? Been in the community for many years. Since years at MSU, I have been involved with various organizations including Special Olympics and Volunteer Fire Dept.
3. Why do you want to serve on your school board? To look out for the students, to see that they receive the best education. To further ensure the teachers get what they need in order to be able to provide that education.
4. What are your goals for your district’s preschool program? I have supported the expansion of our preschool program and will continue to do so.
5. Students from low income households often need additional resources to achieve academic success. What should the school district do to ensure that all students are successful? Provide whatever resources our budget can stand to ensure students success.
6. Mississippi school districts are funded by a mix of federal, state, and local funds. The State contributes to local school districts through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). What role will you play in advocating for full funding of MAEP for your district? I plan to continue supporting full funding so that our district can meet the needs.
7. Do you agree that tax dollars should be used for only public schools and not for non-public schools such as vouchers, private school tuition, and on-line schools? Why or why not? I do agree our tax dollars should support only public education. Parents are free to send their children to any school, public or non-public, but the intent of free public education for every child has to have the tax dollars to accomplish this goal.
8. Mississippi is experiencing a severe teacher shortage. What strategies will you support to recruit and retain high quality educators? For the critical shortage areas, we have started offering incentive bonus. I will continue to support this program.
Winner of November 23 runoff election
1. What is your experience with the school district? (Did you or your children attend school in the district? Have you volunteered in or been employed by the district?) My very first experience in our schools was 20 years ago, mentoring students at Armstrong Middle School and reading to students at East Elementary School while I was getting my undergraduate degree at Mississippi State. I have remained actively involved from that point forward, both professionally and personally as a parent of children in the SOCSD. I have 4 children in the SOCSD schools. They are currently in 3rd, 6th, 8th, and 9th grades. As a parent, I have been very involved for 10 years. I have served as co-president of Sudduth Elementary PTO for 2 years, Executive PTO Board Membership Chair for 2 years, Executive PTO President for three years, and worked in a multitude of PTO committees at the individual school level every year since my children started school. I helped get the West Elementary PTO chapter started while serving as executive president. Other committees I have served on for the district include the Stakeholders Committee to elect the current superintendent, the Health Council at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary, the Superintendent’s Advisory Council for Re-entry following COVID-19, and the Superintendent’s Strategic Planning Committee. I also participated in a training on increasing parental involvement. In 2017, I was humbled to be selected as our district’s Parent of the Year. As a licensed professional counselor, I have been active professionally in every school in our county in multiple roles for the past 18 years. Those roles include work as a crisis therapist working in community mental health, as a gifted education teacher for the SOCSD, and as an advocate as a therapist/interventionist for students with emotional disabilities and their parents. My greatest joy has been my involvement in my children’s classrooms helping students have opportunities they wouldn’t ordinarily get and supporting teachers. I deeply enjoy interacting with teachers and hearing what they love and find challenging about their job and doing everything I can to advocate for them and their students.
2. What is your previous community involvement? As a professional counselor, I frequently am invited to speak on topics about counseling, parenting and child development by various groups and organizations in our community. Since 1997, I have been an active member of the Starkville Church of Christ including several ministry roles: campus ministry, education ministry, teaching children’s and ladies’ classes, organizing community clothing giveaways – to name a few. Before having children, I was a volunteer for the American Red Cross as a first aid and CPR instructor. I have volunteered with Girl Scouts for Troop 20320 for the past nine years and currently serve as a patrol leader. I have also coached soccer with Starkville Soccer Association for at least 5 years. In addition, I have participated in statewide legislative education forums and have been to Jackson to advocate for public education. In April 2020, I was invited to participate as a panel member in a teleconference call hosted by the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus discussing public school districts’ response to COVID-19. I’ve also presented seminars to education students at Mississippi State addressing ways to practice self-care to prevent burnout while in school and as future teachers.
3. Why do you want to serve on your school board? My website can elaborate on this answer – www.cassandrapalmer4education.com. There you can read about my passion, experience, knowledge, and relationships as well as the qualities I believe make me the best candidate for this position. I hope you will, but my heart’s answer to this question is that I want to serve, because I care deeply about our students and teachers! To unpack that a bit: I love our community. I believe that a strong and healthy public education system is vital to building a strong community. I believe that school boards must be committed to understanding and representing ALL students and must support policies and decisions that give every child what they uniquely need to have the best education they can. In today’s climate, there are many challenges facing our students and our educators. It requires hard work and good relationships to navigate these challenges. I want to serve on the board to strengthen relationships and bridge the gap between the big picture of policy and the impact of its implementation. One of my campaign slogans is “Together we are stronger.” It is not just a slogan for me. Building and strengthening relationships is my professional expertise and will be foundational for me in serving as a board member. Over the last 18 years, I have developed numerous and varied kinds of relationships in our district. I say OUR district, because I believe in all of us taking ownership of whatever role we hold— student, teacher, administrator, parent, or community member. It takes all of us working together to accomplish great things and give our students what they need in this often-challenging world. As a board member, I will use my expertise in building relationships and understanding things from individual perspectives to identify what we have in common, get clear about what we are wanting to accomplish through policy and work to keep two-way lines of communication open to get feedback regarding the impact and effectiveness of policy. I will also work to ensure that the perspectives of those who are most affected by policies (most often students and teachers) are understood and represented when developing and approving policies. I specifically want to highlight being an advocate for teachers, because teachers are best qualified and best positioned to understand the impact of the policy we enact. If we listen to and take care of teachers, then they will be better equipped to take care of our children. Overall, I will strive to foster two-way communication between the school board and students, teachers, parents, and community members. Finally, I am running for school board because everyone who knows my skills, talents, passions and even my shortcomings have said that I would be a good school board member. They know I have a desire to serve. They know that I will be supportive of the schools, but I will also ask the hard questions when they need to be asked. They know I understand both the strengths and challenges of our district. They know I have the background & understanding required to know what questions to ask. They know I can see the big picture while examining the details of a system or policy and problem solve to find solutions that help everyone involved. They know I will advocate for our students and teachers. They know that I believe student outcome and success is measured by many factors, not just a score on an end of year test. They know I value teachers and want others to value them. They know I’m a leader who listens. All of these things are a part of who I am and underpin my strong desire to serve in this important role.
4. What are your goals for your district’s preschool program? Early education is very important to academic success. Many of our students enter kindergarten without the basic knowledge and skills research shows us are required for success in kindergarten. My goal for the district’s preschool program is to support its expansion so that it is available for all students.
5. Students from low income households often need additional resources to achieve academic success. What should the school district do to ensure that all students are successful? The school board should absolutely examine policies that are put in place to ensure that they are in the best interests of all students – including those from low-income households. This is tremendously important to our district specifically, because we have such a large percentage of students from this demographic. The school board must evaluate these policies regularly. Additionally, the school board must intentionally and consistently pursue feedback from constituents within this group to be sure that we are providing the resources needed. In my role as PTO President, I would often ask others if the decisions we were making considered the needs of low-income students. I will continue to do that as a school board member. As a counselor, I have helped many parents advocate successfully for their student’s needs based on an understanding of what resources the school has and how to ask for it. I would also support community partnerships to help provide needed resources for students when there are gaps.
6. Mississippi school districts are funded by a mix of federal, state, and local funds. The State contributes to local school districts through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). What role will you play in advocating for full funding of MAEP for your district? I have already played a role in advocating for full funding of MAEP in our district as I believe it is very important. I have taken my children to Jackson during spring break to advocate for full MAEP funding. I have built relationships with our locally elected state legislators and talk with them regularly – not only about the importance of fully funding MAEP, but also about other legislative decisions that impact funding such as the average daily attendance (ADA) funding policy versus the average daily membership policy (ADM). Good school board members are willing to advocate for policies that are important for schools and must build active relationships with our lawmakers to advocate effectively. In addition, I believe school board leaders should educate our stakeholders on these issues and encourage them in easy, accessible ways to communicate with their lawmakers about current district needs and issues. When serving as PTO Executive President, we created a legislative liaison position whose role it was to keep the PTO informed about potential legislative laws that could impact education so that parents and teachers helps students and public education.
7. Do you agree that tax dollars should be used for only public schools and not for non-public schools such as vouchers, private school tuition, and on-line schools? Why or why not? I believe that public tax dollars should be used only for public schools. There are many reasons that I believe this. First, I believe that the purpose of using public dollars for education is to support a free and public education. My tax dollars aren’t used to pave my driveway but are used to pave public roads. Education should be the same. Secondly, in spite of positive intentions, vouchers add to underfunding school districts and often create more segregated school systems. Mississippi’s voucher system, which I advocated against, has significant problems. Currently vouchers in Mississippi that are are used for private schools and other on-line schools are only for students in special education. This was a well-meaning idea to offer these students options if their parents felt they weren’t getting the education they needed in their specific school district. However, there have been several major problems with this. 1) Many who received vouchers could not find schools who would accept them. 2) Because of this many vouchers went unused. 3) Schools that accepted vouchers were still using public schools to provide special education services to these students. Therefore, they were double dipping from the tax money used and cutting funds available to provide services for current public school students. 4) Many students used vouchers and then left the school they chose and went back to public school, but the money stayed at the private schools. 5) Private and charter schools are not held to the same accountability standards that are placed on public schools. Finally, the school board administers funds in public education and should do so transparently. Taxpayers deserve to know how their funds are being used. Again, there is not the same accountability with vouchers, charter schools, and on-line schools.
8. Mississippi is experiencing a severe teacher shortage. What strategies will you support to recruit and retain high quality educators? I believe we can all agree that teachers need to be valued more. This includes greater pay and incentives, which almost everyone says they support. Obviously, I will support better pay and incentives for teachers including opportunities to teach enrichment programs or opportunities for other jobs within the district as opposed to hiring outside contractors. I will also support continued partnerships with the College of Education and am already active in supporting seminars to help new teachers understand the importance of self-care in a profession that demands so much. However, I believe the most important thing we need to do to support teachers and improve retention is to LISTEN to teachers. We need to find ways to alleviate the stressors they face and streamline or decrease the endless demands, many of which are determined at the state level. I will encourage that we get more feedback from our teachers and bring them to the table more to find solutions to problems. I will support policies of the superintendent that take into account the needs of teachers, because, as I said earlier and will continue to say if I am elected, if we take care of our teachers, they will take care of our students.
Rev. Dr. Ronnie B. Tucker, Sr.
Advanced to November 23 runoff election
1. What is your experience with the school district? (Did you or your children attend school in the district? Have you volunteered in or been employed by the district?) My son attended Starkville Public Schools. I have been actively engaged in supporting the school district. I have been selected several times as a key note speaker for the school. As a Pastor, I am actively engaged in monitoring the academic success of all young people in the congregation that attend Starkville Public Schools. I have been given the authority by parents to speak with their children should there develop academic or behavioral concerns.
2. What is your previous community involvement? My community involvement begins with serving as the Pastor of the Mt. Peiler Missionary Baptist Church, and being actively engaged in community events. It is my quest to attend all activities that members of the congregation are engaged in. I am currently the Vice President of the Oktibbeha County Branch of the NAACP. During the previous year, there developed an increase in juvenile crimes and killings. In response to these events, I was blessed to organize a Prayer Walk in an area where crime increased. I organized “Gospel In The Park,” which was held in the West Side Park; and was designed to bring the community of Starkville together, and enhance the spiritual development of our community. I am a part of a group of men that meet every Wednesday at 7:45 A.M. at various schools and Mississippi State to pray for the educational process, the protection of the schools, the administrators, teachers, students, staff, and anyone involved in the school system. Currently I serve as a Chaplain for the Starkville Police Department; and I am a Board Member for the Starkville Public Library Board of Trustees. In an effort to enhance the parental skills of our community, I was blessed to organize a Community Parenting Support Group that meets every second and fourth Saturday from 11-1P.M. This group has developed community wide support and has definitely impacted the parenting skills and concepts regarding parenting by those in attendance.
3. Why do you want to serve on your school board? I want to serve on the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School Board of Trustees, first and foremost because I am a “Servant Leader.” I firmly believe that my educational preparation from Mississippi State Doctoral Program for Public Administration has given me the necessary foundation for understanding policy implementation, policy analysis, and policy evaluation, which are core responsibilities of the School Board. It is imperative that policies implemented by the School Board are those that are for the best interest of the students. I believe that parents of the students should understand completely the decision-making process, and be included in collecting information for the formulation of policies. I want to serve because I am an educator and concerned about the educational process provided for our students. I want to serve because I bring a fresh perspective to the school board. I am ordained as a leader and believe that my skill set will add valuable assistance to the existing board. I want to serve so that I can be a voice for all the people, to be accessible to the citizens of the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District. I want to serve because I want to assist in assuring that all students of the district are provided with equal learning opportunities. I want to ensure that the administrative policies created by the School Board will allow the fruition of having a school district that produces students that have received a quality education and are now prepared for the “real world.”
4. What are your goals for your district’s preschool program? In view of the fact that an excellent foundation is needed to achieve academic success, it is my goal that the preschool programs will be expanded and made available to all preschool children. It is a documented fact that when students are given proper foundational skills in preschool, they will be prepared upon entrance into the educational system. Students who attend quality preschool programs statistically score above the targeted score of 530. Unfortunately, two-thirds of Mississippi kindergartners score below the bench mark. And this trend cannot continue; thus it is my goal to try and ensure that these programs are available to all students; so that our students will be prepared; and have the critical foundation for being successful in their academic careers.
5. Students from low income households often need additional resources to achieve academic success. What should the school district do to ensure that all students are successful? The school district must work diligently to ensure that all students are given an equal opportunity for educational success, and this is where policy formulations and implementation are vital to determining how resources are allocated. It is important that the district make every effort for the procurement of funds that will provide low income households to become academically successful. This issue is truly a relevant concern considering the impact of COVID-19 and utilization of Virtual Learning. The School District must clearly demonstrate its concern for all students; and of course this is truly important in view of the consolidation of schools here in Starkville. It is important that those in low income households have the gap bridged that was caused by the lack of resources for virtual learning created by COVID.
6. Mississippi school districts are funded by a mix of federal, state, and local funds. The State contributes to local school districts through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). What role will you play in advocating for full funding of MAEP for your district? As a member of the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, it is essential for School Board Members advocating for the full funding by MAEP. The development of opportunities to meet with State Legislators so as to impress upon them the vital need of full funding is essential. It is interesting that for the 2021-2022 school year, MAEP is underfunded by $272 million dollars. It is imperative that parents become involved in the advocation of the funding process, but cooperating with the school board and engage in letter writing campaigns to the State Legislators. Parents and students should have full assurance that the School Board Members are working dutifully to receive increased funding, and continue to work for full funding. Studies indicate that when school districts are given adequate school funding there is a direct correlation with achievement in academic success. In order for our students to achieve the academic success of our neighboring states, and to be recognized nation wide, we must have increased funding and as school board members we must engage in an advocacy effort to have our State give full funding for our district.
7. Do you agree that tax dollars should be used for only public schools and not for non-public schools such as vouchers, private school tuition, and on-line schools? Why or why not? I believe that tax dollars should be used only for public schools. In reviewing the studies for non-public schools that received vouchers, private school tuition has not provided the same quality education as public schools. There has been an indication of decrease in academic achievement. Public education is a great equalizer for the diverse student population. When public funds are used in private education, it serves to aid in racial, ethnic, economic, religious, gender, and disability segregation. Thus, I support tax dollars being used only for public schools.
8. Mississippi is experiencing a severe teacher shortage. What strategies will you support to recruit and retain high quality educators? Teachers are the heart beat of our society! It is imperative that we as a society recognize the vital status of being a teacher! In order to reduce the shortage of teachers in Mississippi, it is necessary to: (1) Ensure that current teachers feel valued and appreciated. (2) Work closely with University student programs to form partnerships. (3) Grow your own educators by encouraging and creating pathways for teacher assistants to become certified teachers.