Friday, September 04, 2015

TOP STORY >> Q&A with Lonoke School Board candidates

Leader staff writer

Ahead of the Lonoke School Board election, The Leader asked the candidates about their goals and vision for the school district.

Early voting is from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Monday, Sept. 14. Election Day is Tuesday, Sept. 15, with polls set to be open from 7:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. at the Lonoke County Courthouse Annex, 210 N. Center St.

Candidates for Zone 4, Position 5 are Melissa Swint and Matt Boyles. He now represents Zone 2, Position 7, but is running for a new seat because he and his family recently moved.

Boyles, 36, is a lifelong resident of the Lonoke School District.

Boyles was elected to the school board in 2011. He is a GenWealth financial advisor with offices in Lonoke and Stuttgart. Boyles has been in the finance and accounting field for 14 years.

Boyles and his wife, Janette, have been married 13 years. They have three children, Matthew, 9, a third grader at Lonoke Elementary School; Caroline, 6, a first grader at Lonoke Primary School; and Andrew, a 3-year-old.

Swint is 38 and has lived in Zone 4 of the Lonoke School District for more than nine years. She is a stay-at-home mom but works part-time at M and M Florist in Lonoke.

Swint earned an education degree in 2001 from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. After graduation, she began working at Marvell Public Schools (Phillips County) as a librarian and teacher. She then began working as a family support specialist for the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

What do you think the job of the school board is, and are they doing that?

Boyles: The job of the Lonoke School District school board, in my eyes, is to review the financials of the district to the best of the board’s ability to make sure they are in line with current policy, review the policies of the school district to make sure they are being followed and in line with current laws, review and monitor the strategic plan of the school district to make sure the district is going in the right direction for the education of our community’s children and review the superintendent’s job performance on an annual basis.

Swint: I believe the job of the school board is to use available public funds to ensure that the best public education possible is being provided to all of its students, regardless of their ability or socioeconomic background.

As elected representatives of the community, the school board members should always be accessible and accountable to the public.

What do you bring to the school board and to the district?

Boyles: I believe I bring a passion to the school board for the community of Lonoke. I want to see the children of Lonoke School District strive to be the very best that they can be. I don’t want to ever see them settle for less than their dreams and goals.

I want to equip the students with the resources that they need to have the opportunity to succeed on the highest level. I also believe that, with my education and work background, I bring experience in finance and accounting to the board. This helps bring insight to the board meetings when discussing the monthly financials, future plans, legislative audit, etc.

Swint: I bring a unique point of view. It was developed through interaction with students, parents and school administration during my time as a public school educator, while working with Lonoke County families from all backgrounds during my time at DHS and as I’ve raised my daughter.

Special education is very important to my family and me. Raising a special needs child presents its own challenges. Navigating our district’s special education department shouldn’t be one of them.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the district?

Boyles: I feel that we have a dedicated and determined administrative team at Lonoke School District to take us to places of the highest achievement with our students in all areas of the district.

I have personally seen the current administration team begin to bond together better than I have in the last four years I have been on the board. I see a desire to educate our children so that they can compete in college or the workplace, whichever they chose upon graduation.

I also believe that we as a board and a community have built the infrastructure of a school that we can be proud of and call a great strength of our community.

I believe our weakness could be that sometimes we don’t communicate with the public as best as we could. I want to encourage the parents and community members of our district to attend the town hall meetings that we will continue to have over this school year and the coming years.

Come out to these meetings and meet your school district’s administration team and get the right information so that you can help inform.

Swint: One of the strengths of our district is our size. We are small enough that students in our classrooms aren’t just a number, but big enough to offer a variety of educational opportunities for our children. Another strength is the district’s strong presence in our community.

However, both of these strengths can present challenges, especially for new or less well-known families in our district. I would like to see these families actively recruited to become involved in our district community.

Our school district needs to focus on what’s best for our students — not the bottom line. Children first!

On a larger scale, what is right and/or wrong with education today?

I believe that there is a disconnect with the communities and the local school boards on what can and can’t be done by the school board. I have so often had people comment to me “you can fix that” when the answer is “no, I cannot.” I am no one without the other six members of the board, and, even then, the school board is limited to (its) functions.

Beyond the disconnect between the school board and the community is the disconnect between the federal and state government in what is actually needed in the local school districts to help kids with their education. I believe this to be a major problem with public education today.

Swint: Education standards and practices change frequently. While not always a negative thing, parents and families can sometimes feel lost because they aren’t educated on the changes.

What do you think about Common Core?

Boyles: Common Core in itself is just a way to teach our children. I don’t think there has been enough time to say if it’s wrong or if it’s right, but I can tell you a story about doing homework with my third grader.

Matthew came home with math problems and I expected to go over in repetition with him and get him through his math facts the way I learned it.

He proceeded to tell me that, “Dad, we don’t do it that way.” I thought OK, I have a degree in finance in accounting and you’re telling me I don’t know how to teach you math. The real deal is that they are teaching them to be critical thinkers, not regurgitators. He got the right answer, but he had to reason out how he got the answer.

This is just one example of how Common Core is a little different than the old style of teaching. The real issue seems to be in how we test the kids at the end of the year. If we are teaching critical thinking and the students are behind in factoids, then maybe our test scores suffer.

Again, there is a disconnect with the government on how they decide that we should teach and test. This is where the local school board can inform the public and be their voice.

Swint: I believe it is a good thing to have a set of standards for our educational system to follow.

However, I also believe parts of Common Core need to be re-addressed and better explained in order to be more effective and beneficial to students, teachers and parents.