Candidate Q&A

West Jasper 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

Valerie Duckworth


Debbie Smith

1.  What has been your involvement with 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 faithfully served as a board member for the West Jasper School District for 26 years.  During this time, I have held the positions of president, vice-president, and secretary. I am a graduate of this district, and I have two children that also graduated from the West Jasper School District.
2.  Why do you want to serve on your school board?  I have loved being able to serve our community in this capacity and look forward to continuing.  I have a wealth of experience due to my tenure that is invaluable.
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?  Our schools are all title supported schools due to the free and reduced lunch rates.  These funds are used to supplement our district budget to ensure all students are equipped to best meet the challenges and rigor of our curriculum standards, as we prepare students for life beyond the walls of public education.
4.  What strategies would you support to create a safer school environment?  What can your school district do to address cyberbullying, mental health, and physical safety?  The West Jasper School District has an SRO at each school, as well as a district level SRO, to oversee the safety and well–being of students and staff.  The district SRO serves as a liaison between our schools and our local government agencies to provide professional development training opportunities, updated information on maintaining a safe, heathy, and orderly environment that includes both physical and mental health.
5.  What do you see as the most pressing infrastructure needs facing your district?  Budgets and finances are always at the forefront.  Districts and board members are constantly having to provide ways to provide quality services with little resources while protecting community members with tax increases. This is where my experience and expertise serves the district best.
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). 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 this year by $279-million. What role will you play in advocating for full funding of MAEP for your district?  I will continue to advocate for our legislators to fully fund our public schools.  This is an unfunded formula that has existed for years.  The biggest role that anyone can take on is being aware of politicians’ stance on public education when citizens are casting votes.
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?  Federal guidelines outline the how and why of spending practices for districts.  I do not support diverting public funds to support vouchers, or charter schools; however, I do feel that Christian based education should be an allowable choice for parents to make, and that public funds should support the education of community students who opt for the Christian based education since this is an opportunity that public schools can’t promote.
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?  I completely trust and support the teachers in my district.  I trust their professional judgements and feel it is my duty to support their efforts and creativity in moving students towards mastery – academically, emotionally, and socially.
9. Mississippi is experiencing a severe teacher shortage. What strategies will you support to recruit and retain high quality educators?  I have voted to put programs in place to support and mentor new teachers in our district. New teachers participate in “Teacher 101” training throughout their first year of employment.  I have also advocated for the “New Teacher Mentor” program which pairs veteran teachers with new teachers.

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