Candidate Q&A

Vicksburg Warren Public School District

School Board Election 2022

Our public education questionnaire was offered to school board candidates in the November 8 school board elections. Search below for responses from board districts that have opposing candidates. Unopposed candidates are not included.

District 1

Bill Jeffers

NO RESPONSE

Bryan Pratt

Advanced to runoff

 1. What has been your involvement in the community and School District? Describe your leadership and volunteerism in the community. Did you or your children attend school in the district? Have you volunteered in or been employed by the school District?  I have been serving on the Vicksburg Warren School District Board for the last 12 years. Before being elected to the board, I served 6 years as Chairman of the Vicksburg Warren Chamber of Commerce education committee. My wife and I and all three of my children attended the Vicksburg Warren School district. 

2. Why do you want to serve on the board?  I understood early on that for our community to be successful we had to ensure that our schools were providing a quality education for our children. It was very apparent that not all children are coming prepared to start school. That is why I worked to ensure that the Leader In Me was implemented in our district. This program was a tool that the community funded to help our students be more prepared for their educational journey. Once I was on the board it became even more apparent that the disparities between our students was even greater than imagined. 

When I first joined the Board our Graduation rate was around 60% and we were rated a “D”. We have just posted our highest graduation rate in 30 years of 89% and with the most recent Accountability Rating we have been rated a “B”. 

3. Students from low-income households often need additional resources to achieve academic success. What should your school district do to ensure that all students are successful?  The VWSD is a district of poverty because 86% of our students are living in poverty. Poverty has a significant impact on the ability of children to be successful. A lot of our children live in single parent households. In addition, some also live where they have few household members who can assist them with their studies. Some of these family members may not have been successful in their own education. That is why I have supported adding Pre-k and adult education programs in our district. Each year we have continuously added as many Pre-k classroom as the demand required. We have not turned away any students who wish to enroll. Our testing has shown that these students are significantly more prepared to start Kindergarten than those students who did not attend Pre-k. We have received no additional funding from the state for these Pre-k students and they are not counted in Average Daily Attendance for calculating our MAEP funding. Since I have a strong background in Information Technology, I pushed our district to ensure every student had access to a computer to aid in their education. Having access to a device early on has been instrumental in the development of our students. It is also important to note that because we had implemented our One to One initiative 2 years before the pandemic, we were far more prepared for going virtual during COVID than most districts in the State. I support doing what is right for children regardless of it being funded by the state or being included in the State Accountability Model. 

4. What Strategies would you support to create a safer school environment? What can your district do to address cyberbullying, mental health, and physical safety?  I support our Cyber Security initiatives to monitor student activity on district devices. This monitoring is configured to alert an administrator if a student is engaged in anything identified as harmful to themselves or to other students and staff. I also support educating all students on “Internet Citizenship”. In regards physical security, while I am a supporter of the 2nd amendment, for our district arming teachers would not be my first choice. I am a strong supporter of our plan to ensure that we have an armed School Resource Offers at everyone of our schools. This allows for a dedicated SRO to monitor that our security policies are being followed and to be a first responder if the need arises. In addition, the success of our security plans include partnering and training with our local sheriff’s department and Vicksburg Police Department. 

5. What is the most pressing infrastructure need facing your district?  With the recent passage of our bond initiative, we have been able to address the major district infrastructure needs. This does not mean we still don’t have outstanding needs. The bond and additional district funding allowed us to address the major issues at every building, building a New Academy of Innovation, building new Career Academy buildings at each High School, and substantial upgrades to all our sports facilities. These improvements will now free up more of our general fund maintenance to address the remaining smaller projects. 

6. Mississippi school districts are funded by a mix of federal, state, and local funds. The stat contributes to the local school districts through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). MAEP is intended to fund teacher salaries, retirement and benefits, transportation costs, facility maintenance and utilities, special education, and other programs, but it is underfunded statewide by 279 billion. What role will you play in advocating for full funding of MAEP for your district?  It is very frustrating to see how our state has failed to fully fund education through MAEP. The formula is based on averaging school expenditures for several “c” districts to determine what is the “adequate” amount of money to spend on a child’s education. In FY 2020 the VWSD was underfunded by MAEP by 3.4 million and from 2009-2020 it has been underfunded 41.2 million. In just that one year the district could have hired an additional 57 teachers. I understand that the state must balance their budget, but they have had many opportunities to adequately fund MAEP. If the state is not going to fund education at a “C” level, then why are they upset that so many districts fall below that mark. I also feel that we need to address the issue of reimbursing districts based on average daily attendance vs actual enrollment. Districts must hire staff based on enrollment. I have and will continue to discuss these issues with our state representatives to help them see the true impact of their decisions. 

7. Vouchers for private school tuition and online schools divert public funds away from public schools. Do you agree that tax dollars should be used for only public schools and not for non-public schools? Why or Why not?  I do not support Vouchers, or any attempt to divert public funds from public schools while MAEP is not fully funded. They are taking away money that could be spent improving education in our public schools. Public schools welcome all children, and we assume responsibility for educating them no matter what challenges these students bring. 

8. In Mississippi, academic standards are set by the Mississippi Department of Education and local districts choose curricula from an MDE approved list. Do you trust educators in your district to teach using their professional judgement and training or should teaching be further regulated by school board policy or law? If you believe teaching should be further regulated, how so?  In our state we are already required to teach from the MDE approved curricula. During my 12 years on the board no issues have been brought to my attention where we should take any further action to regulate the teacher. If a parent has an issue with the style or content being taught, then I feel that it should first be discussed with the teacher and principal. If the issue is not addressed adequately then the parent has the right to escalate further. We have already put so much on our teachers. This is why so many of them are leaving the profession. 

9. Mississippi is experiencing a severe teacher shortage. What strategies will you support to recruit and retain high quality educators?  My mother, mother-in-law, wife, and sister in laws were all teachers. My son started teaching this year. I have seen firsthand how difficult it has become to be a teacher. This in my opinion is one of the most critical issues facing our districts, our state and our nation. We need the state to support more highly qualified students going into education with tuition reimbursement and other programs to certify professionals in specific fields to more easily obtain teaching certifications. In our district we have implemented mentor programs to assist new teachers to ensure they feel supported and can learn from one of their veteran peers. We also must have highly qualified administrators who are in the buildings supporting our teachers. While increasing pay and providing scholarships are the obvious first steps, I feel that we are not going to truly solve this problem until we stop vilifying the field of education. In my opinion this vilification has come from the state and all its requirements. 

Kevin "Shane" Quimby

Advanced to runoff

NO RESPONSE

District 5

Joseph Loviza

WINNER

NO RESPONSE

Orlon Derrick Smith

1. What has been your involvement in the community and School District? Describe your leadership and volunteerism in the community. Did you or your children attend school in the district? Have you volunteered in or been employed by the school District?  I have been a law enforcement officer in the community for 16 years. I have worked with the youth, as a mentor and youth coach. I have volunteered in many youth programs in the community and attended functions at our schools. I have collaborated with students, teachers, staff and community leaders to help educate and empower our youth. My child did attend Vicksburg Warren School District.

2. Why do you want to serve on the board?  Love for the community.

3. Students from low-income households often need additional resources to achieve academic success. What should your school district do to ensure that all students are successful?  Funding according to need, not based per school or per student. Increase the number of counselors and increase SPED department. Easier path to IEPs for students and partner with the community for mentors for students.

4. What Strategies would you support to create a safer school environment? What can your district do to address cyberbullying, mental health, and physical safety?  Making sure the schools are reporting suspicious behavior properly. My relationship with the Vicksburg Police Department, to ensure proper training with School Resource Officers. Educate and conduct more training with our teachers and staff to ensure safety for all students.

5. What is the most pressing infrastructure need facing your district?  Recent passage of the bond has provided a path for all major improvements. Continue to improve legacy facilities. Improve Jr. Highs through improved science labs and technology infusion. Better technology in hands of teachers.

6. Mississippi school districts are funded by a mix of federal, state, and local funds. The stat contributes to the local school districts through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). MAEP is intended to fund teacher salaries, retirement and benefits, transportation costs, facility maintenance and utilities, special education, and other programs, but it is underfunded statewide by 279 billion. What role will you play in advocating for full funding of MAEP for your district?  Mississippi Adequate Education Program should be funding properly to public schools. I will collaborate with legislative leaders in my community.

7. Vouchers for private school tuition and online schools divert public funds away from public schools. Do you agree that tax dollars should be used for only public schools and not for non-public schools? Why or Why not?  I am an advocate of supporting all students and their individual needs in the community; therefore, I support funding non-traditional environments for students who may have special needs. Traditional educational settings may not meet the needs of all students. This preparation may not come from the traditional setting.

8. In Mississippi, academic standards are set by the Mississippi Department of Education and local districts choose curricula from an MDE approved list. Do you trust educators in your district to teach using their professional judgement and training or should teaching be further regulated by school board policy or law? If you believe teaching should be further regulated, how so?  Schools have to abide by MDE approved curricula. Our teachers have too much on their plates with current requirements and I have no intentions of adding more unfunded mandates on educators. Let the teachers teach.

9. Mississippi is experiencing a severe teacher shortage. What strategies will you support to recruit and retain high quality educators?  Mississippi Legislature needs to pass a second round of teacher pay increases to prevent good teachers from leaving to other states and industry. Mississippi needs to expand scholarships to students majoring in education to teach in Mississippi. Improve teacher onboarding and development early on. Teachers are more likely to stay if they receive strong orientation, onboarding, mentoring, to add other forms of support to their career. Mentor new teachers with funding onboarding mentorship programs. Seek funding to offer housing incentives for areas and locations that are hard for staff and where housing may be limited. Fund and assist teachers who want to get their advanced degrees. 

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