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Politics

2019 Election Voter Guide: CMS Board Of Education

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The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education has 13 candidates.

Bio information in italics is from WFAE's education reporter, Ann Doss Helms.

ANNETTE ALBRIGHT

Annette Albright, who has worked for CMS and a charter school, is making her second run for school board.  She is unaffiliated.

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Annette Albright

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

I believe what distinguishes me as a school board candidate is the fact that I am prepared to have the critical conversations needed to improve the leadership challenges facing the district. The need for integrity, transparency and open dialogue with the community must be at the forefront of any and all district improvement plans. 

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

The first priority I would bring is to ask my colleagues that we listen to the needs and concerns of our community. I would also ask that we work on building more collaborative relationships with the members of the City Council and the Board of County Commissioners in order that we can work as partners in planning for the needs of our residents. I would also ensure that student assignments decisions are made without prejudgments or biases. 

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership?

In order to ensure the right person is leading the district and the district has stable leadership the board should monitor the Superintendent's and district's progress towards set goals closely relying upon data based results. The BOE should also communicate frequently with the Superintendent to ensure he has the support and resources his needs to met the mission of the district. Lastly, the BOE needs to provide evaluations to the Superintendent based upon personal observations and data. If the Superintendent is not meeting set work performance criteria, the BOE must inform the Superintendent and communicate expectations moving forward. 

ELYSE DASHEW (incumbent)

Elyse Dashew was elected to the school board in 2015 and is currently vice chair. She also chairs the board’s Municipal Education Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of the county’s municipal governments. She is a Democrat.

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Elyse Dashew

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

I am the only incumbent running for re-election. Serving on the school board is an immensely challenging job. I have been through the steep learning curve. I am battle-tested. I have spent four years as an at-large school board representative (vice chair for three years) building deep, collaborative relationships. I’ve fought to make schools more equitable; improve the conditions of school buildings; raise teacher pay to top in NC; connect students to careers; provide a more rigorous, relevant curriculum; and collaborate with county and city to better serve our children. Supporting student success requires long-term commitment. There is more work to do and I want to see it through.

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

We need to evaluate the outcomes of the current student assignment plan. We are still implementing the plan that was voted upon in 2017 and gathering lessons learned. (In fact, I had to chuckle at this question, because it the previous review feels very fresh!) A key lesson learned from the previous process is that we must make it a top priority to have a strong communications and community engagement plan in any future student assignment process.

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership?

I and the rest of my board unanimously voted to promote Earnest Winston as the Superintendent of CMS. Here is why: He has deep knowledge of our district, our community, and our political environment. He is well versed in the CMS academic and equity initiatives guided by our Strategic Plan 2024. He was a trusted advisor to numerous superintendents. His experience ranges from classroom teaching to operations to communications. He is trusted by our cabinet, principals, teachers, and community partners based on relationships developed over many years. As ombudsman, he has worked with families to solve difficult problems involving their children. He is down-to-earth and self-aware. Most importantly, he is fiercely loyal to this district and all of our students, including his own two young daughters who attend CMS schools.

With clear guidance, support, and collaboration from the Board of Education, Superintendent Winston will lead our district successfully for years to come. I have personally told him that I pledge to provide this, using all the lessons that I have learned in my first four years on the board – and I make this pledge to my constituents as well.

[RELATED: 13 VIE FOR 3 SEATS ON SCHOOL BOARD. THE RESULTS WILL SHAPE BIG ISSUES]

JENNIFER DE LA JARA

Jennifer De La Jara, director of education for International House, is a CMS parent making her first run for office. She is a Democrat.

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Jennifer De La Jara

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

I have a clear understanding of what the At-Large role entails. I have worked primarily with Title I schools across the county, plus I recently moved to the North Meck area, which has given me a broader view of the needs of county. I have been working hard to build relationships throughout which will lay the groundwork for better collaboration. I also have a unique background in working with our immigrant communities. Their voices also need to be part of the greater CMS conversation.

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

We need to incorporate the new strategic plan, along with input from our equity committee that will be establised soon, together with intentional conversations with other stakeholders representing all four corners of our county to achieve the best results. I believe communication and seeking input from the community is the best approach. I intend to work on building trust and providing more transparency about our processes. 

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership?

Helping Mr. Winston be successful will be one of my number one goals. I believe he already brings many talents and a great understanding of the inner-workings of CMS. I will pledge to him and his staff to be approachable so we can help support the goals of the District while also providing oversight and accountability.

GREGORY DENLEA

Gregory Denlea, the only Republican in the race, says he’s running to serve as a voice for the suburbs. He teaches at University of Phoenix and has grown children who went to CMS. This is his first run for office.

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Credit Gregory Denlea

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

Gregory Denlea (votedenlea.org) is a consistent and reliable vote for the suburban communities. I will not ignore any town, community, or school. I have 30 years experience in business supporting very large budgets. I have 15 years in higher education where I witnessed first-hand how underprepared students were for college math. I have a doctorate in educational leadership (the same licensure required for a CMS superintendent). I am passionate about giving the gift of education to all. I support parent choice and will commit myself to making our public school option a primary choice. In supporting our schools we will better the quality of our communities. Student success ensures our domestic, national, and global success as a nation. 

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

I am committed to ensuring that the local public school option accommodates neighborhood boundaries. My kids went to CMS and I know how traumatic it is when parents are not assigned to the closest school in their neighborhood. No student should travel for an hour on a school bus. No student should have to spend their elementary school years in a trailer. Schools with the most overcrowding should be the top priority for capital funding.

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership?

The CMS School Board is singularly responsible for the failure of the superintendent. The Board should perform governance - not leadership. The superintendent and their team are charged with leadership. The School Board continues to let down both the superintendent and the community by telling others what to do (for example #1. ordering 4 towns to not build charter schools for a period of 15 years and #2. instructing the superintendent to ignore the municipalities of Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, and Mint Hill for prioritized capital funding). When elected I will commit to establish a governance committee to perform evaluation of the performance of the school board, educate board members in their governance duties, ensure the proper rotation and assignment of board members, and establish performance measures for the board). Until the board functions as a board the superintendent will not be able to lead.

[RELATED: CHARLOTTE TALKS: THERE'S A LOT AT STAKE FOR CMS IN SCHOOL BOARD RACE]

JENNA MOOREHEAD

Jenna Moorehead, a newcomer to Charlotte, is former president of the board of the Bellefonte Area School District in Pennsylvania. She is a Democrat.

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Jenna Moorehead

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

I am a career long social worker, including school social work. I’m also a past president and former member of a school board in a high achieving school district of another state.

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

I fully believe in equitable neighborhood assignment to ensure all students have access to higher achieving schools while insisting that areas who are underachieving bring necessary intervention to accommodate every student regardless of academic performance. It is imperative to recognize the socioeconomic challenges of many of our students and understand their limitless potential.

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership?

My previous school board and business leadership experience tells me that we must gain leadership stability within CMS. As a board, we must trust the current leadership structure and decisions while providing appropriate support and supervision to ensure that CMS gains such stability.

DONNA J. PARKER-TATE

Donna Parker-Tate is a retired CMS principal who has also coached principals around the country. This is her first run for the board. She is a Democrat.

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Credit Donna Parker-Tate

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

As a candidate for School Board at Large, I come with a rich background experiences in education with documented evidence as a highly qualified instructional leader. I’m very confident I understand how important effective educational policies, open community and parental conversation and support, as well as ensuring schools are provided with the needed tools (advance classes in all high schools, students are college ready to compete in our global society and are provided a skill for the workforce at Large, if chosen.) will advance the overall students’ academic achievement.

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

Student assignment is very crucial to the overall success rate of our school district. The priories I will bring to this process are to have early deep community conversations, easy accessibly for students and families to schools assigned (parental support is crucial), and that our school’s mirror our global/diverse society.  

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership?

In facing systemic stability in our leadership, finding the perfect/right person to lead our district is ensuring we ( the school board, teachers, parents and the community at large) dive deeply into conversations with one another as we engage and are transparent at the looks fors, qualifications and indicators for our leader. Our leader must also understand the uniqueness of CMS and is highly capable and committed to the success of this district. Very difficult situation even though we may think we have follow the right pathway.

JORDAN PINEDA

Jordan Pineda is a former CMS teacher who works with Teach For America and is trying to launch a group to work with boys of color. He is a Democrat making his first run for office.

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Jordan Pineda

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

Proximity to the issue. I have committed my career to pursuing equity in education. No other candidate can say that. As a sociologist, I specifically studied the theories, policies and practices that go into creating effective and equitable school systems for students of color and/or from low income communities. I taught at a Title I school where I saw the reality of the disparities within CMS and not just the data points, but the real faces of our kids. I earned my teaching license and for the last two years I have been recruiting and coaching teachers into CMS Title I schools. I coach 20 teachers across 11 different schools in our system. I am in the work every day and I know that ‘this work’ is more than just a 30 second soundbite. It’s more than buzz phrases. It’s about utilizing my professional career that is centered on synthesizing education-centric data and objectively analyzing policy and theory that is derived from hard sociological fact. It’s about being the person who can speak for teachers because I taught or represent the kids who we have committed to providing a more equitable education because I have lived their lives.

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

We have the most segregated school system in the state and one of the most segregated systems in the country. My priority is ensure that the next phrase of student assignment is focused on the intentional integration of our schools. But, it is difficult to integrate schools that are not performing at the same level, so we need to concentrate on bolstering up our failing, low income schools in CMS (which are predominantly Schools of Color). That, I believe is the true intent of the board’s decision to prioritize the pursuit of equity and why I am so committed to effectively implementing ‘equity’ while we prepare for another ‘reassignment conversation’. Successfully implementing equitable policies will make clear that there are still gaps to close between these schools and the only remaining solution is ‘integration’. There will be many challenges in our pursuit of a more integrated CMS and we need to make it clear that this is impacting our city, as a whole. The funding disparities between affluent schools and low-income schools directly correlate to race and housing and contribute to Charlotte’s ranking 50th out of 50 in terms of upward mobility. School reassignment needs to impact us all.

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership?

I believe that the school board is at fault when it comes to the perpetual leadership turnover. The lack of transparency, failure to communicate effectively, to accept responsibility or be open to an audit is what is expected from our board. To undo this reality the board needs to work with the community to clearly articulate the functioning role of school board; what their responsibilities are and what they are not. It also needs to be much more clear and vocal in the objectives and goals that it brings to the superintendent as he can only be as good as his board. Our board needs to accept that CMS is one of the largest school districts in the country and it needs to operate like a well-functioning government entity, not as a private club that makes decisions behind closed doors. Lastly, school board members need to understand how to make personnel decisions that are best for students and teachers. This means implementing clearly defined hiring practices that focus on diversity, equity and inclusivity. These hiring decisions need to be made by professional educators who have experience in hiring and selecting leaders to teach/lead in our schools, like myself.

OLIVIA SCOTT

Olivia Scott is on the ballot but says she is not actively campaigning. She is a Democrat making her second run for the board.

Olivia Scott did not respond to this questionnaire.

LENORA SHIPP

Lenora Shipp is a CMS graduate and retired principal making her second run for the board. She is a Democrat.

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Lenora Shipp

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

I have history of the past and a focus on the present that will lead my work moving the school system forward into the future. I was a student in the school system before integration and during integration. A Teacher at the Elementary and Secondary level, Professional Development Specialist , Assistant Principal, Principal for 15 years/over 33 years of service in CMS working with students, teachers, parents and communities throughout the county. I clearly understand what the work of educating all students with a sound quality education to compete in the global society looks like. I have seen the successes and
failures - what worked, what didn't work in CMS. I have been trained in the Broad Foundation process of strategic schools/ strategic staffing to turn around schools. An accomplished leader with a proven track record of advancing academic achievement for all students. A parent that has seen the challenges of educating a child in CMS Pre-K-12. These experiences along with my strong commitment to this district, and a public school advocate distinguishes me as a school board candidates.  

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

My priorities are to increase the level of equity and diversity throughout the school system. We must do so by looking at facilities in the neighborhoods to ensure that they are brought up to standards with a focus on matching magnets program throughout the district, higher level course offering, and a wide array of CTE courses in all schools. We must ensure quality materials and human resources( highly qualified , teachers, staff, strong instructional leadership) that will even the playing field. I would also look at rezoning to widen the zones for transportation to provide more choice options to all families. Then, parents would have real choice in student assignment.

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership?
 
As a former Administrator, with experience working under 10 different superintendents, here are some of my recommendations for hiring the right person in the position for stability of leadership in this district: The board should have clear goals and objectives for the superintendent that aligns with the school systems mission and vision. There must be a match between the district and superintendent; The board and the prospective superintendent should have a joint set of agreements ; Along with having a search firm, the board should also conduct a comprehensive review of the superintendent candidates to understand handling of successes and failures, management style, hiring practices and treatment of employees and the community. This should be a critical part of the superintendent screening process; An oversight committee must be effectively in place to govern the work and performance of the superintendent on a quarterly bases with a neutral training partner to reach mutual understanding and stronger accountability.
 
 
 

STEPHANIE SNEED
 
Stephanie Sneed is a lawyer who is active in education advocacy groups in east and west Charlotte. She is a Democrat making her second run for the board.
 

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Stephanie Sneed

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

As a former trial attorney for child protective services, I have experience advocating for the health, safety and welfare of children. With prior employment law experience, I am well versed in policies/practices that make for successful organizations and the practices that are pitfalls to large organizations. This is unique from any candidate or board member and will allow me to have an immediate impact on moving CMS forward. Examples include: human resources practices (recruitment, retention, training), execution/revision of employment policies, and providing distinct guidance on setting quantifiable standards/objectives for the superintendent and staff, which would coincide with quantifiable goals to be established for each school year. I also uniquely discuss short and long term goals, as evidenced above, while most other candidates focus on slow moving plans. As project lead for Westside Education Think Tank and founding member of Eastside Education Think Tank, I have had significant opportunities to engage directly with vulnerable communities, resulting in increased parent/community school engagement. I am a Girl Scout and CMS volunteer, member of numerous PTAs and CMS parent of two children, one at a low performing school. I want to evolve these experiences into effective policies to make CMS a premiere district. 

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

The first priority is always to look through the lens of what are the best steps that will advance ALL students to be college and career ready. Secondly, the process must be transparent, and input must be received from all interested parties no matter their socioeconomic status. The process should also be collaborative and include dialogue from other governmental bodies including county commission and city council in that the city and county is highly segregated because of issues of lack of economic mobility and affordable housing. Most importantly, at the implementation of any reassignment, measures must already be in place to provide the appropriate support to those students that need it most. Reassignment is not a magic wand for success of all students. 

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership? 

First, the Board needs to set forth quantifiable goals (i.e. increase 3rd grade reading levels; 20% improvement in the recruitment and retention of teachers, including male teachers of color; 20% increase in parent engagement, 25% increase of students graduating college or career ready, etc.) that must be accomplished within a 4 year period. The Board must consider candidates that have experience that is in the line with the predetermined goals of the Board. The Board must then be diligent in its selection of a candidate that can provide a specific, unique and fresh approach to accomplishing these predetermined goals. Moreover, once the superintendent is in place, s/he must be provided clear and measurable goals to accomplish for each academic year, so that there is clear notification of what must be accomplished on a yearly basis. Often overlooked, but critical, the Board must consider leadership style of any Superintendent, including his ability to interact and engage with all levels of CMS staff and has the ability to meet all parents where they are.  

DUNCAN ST. CLAIR
Duncan St. Clair is a first-time candidate and unaffiliated voter. He is a CMS graduate who owns a coffee business.

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Credit Duncan St. Clair

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

In 1996, I graduated from West Charlotte Senior High with a homegrown K-12 CMS education. In 2000, I earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to becoming a business owner, I worked for extremely large corporations, the federal government, non-profits, a family-owned company, and was self-employed. I see enormous challenges ahead, but I also envision incredible opportunities for success. In many ways, I am excited about what I hear from other candidates and surprised by what I don’t hear as well. I want to emulate the County’s Adopt-A-Stream clean-up program for our schools so they look good from the very outset for students, parents, and teachers. Additionally, the School Board has not significantly acted on the issue of climate change and adopted its role in mitigating the effects. Investigating efficiency, promoting renewable energy, and enhancing optimization of all aspects within CMS may distinguish me as a candidate for now, but a grasp on the urgency of these issues from any Board Member will ultimately improve our school system and have far reaching benefits for both our area and world.

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

Prioritizing every student education is the ultimate remedy for assignment. While it seems obvious geography will always remain the most vital factor to consider, education in the 21st century is changing. But when parents view neighborhood assignments as unappealing and either enter the magnet lottery, select a private school, or search for a charter, addressing the fundamental issue – that CMS has limited ability to provide access to excellent education – is the critical component for parental support and student success. Increasing CMS magnet options within neighborhood schools scales up the unique and advanced learning these programs bring to multiple locales and families. Likewise, expanding magnet subject studies to create unique and diverse educational offerings magnifies the value of our community as a whole. Further, ask every parent: Where do you want your child to attend school? Because ultimately it should be the parents’ decision where their child goes – and access to quality education should be regarded as a right, not a gamble. Prioritize students — instead of assignments. Maintain and gain the confidence of parents. And increase teacher compensation in all ways – from finance to pure respect. Student assignment is definitely more about providing choice schools than choosing boundaries.

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership?

As growth in our area expands enormously, so do the massive responsibilities of CMS. The invariable complications arising from operating and maintaining a complex network of schools across a geographically, economically, socially, and culturally diverse area — constantly and quickly changing itself — makes the job of a superintendent hardly applicable to one person. The past decade alone at CMS clearly indicates one superintendent is "not working out." Further, the relentless search for "one superintendent" wastes time and has, unfortunately, squashed transparency and confidence in the School Board to do just that. Growth in student enrollment coupled with the head-spinning whirlwind of turnover inexorably suggests dividing CMS into smaller, more manageable zones enables problems to be identified more swiftly and remedies adopted more effectively - benefiting everyone. Optimizing management by employing a small group of superintendents – perhaps two or three – establishes the stability necessary for the system to meet its current and increasingly difficult obligations.

QUEEN THOMPSON

Queen Thompson is a former CMS employee making her fourth run for the board. She is a Democrat.

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Credit Queen Thompson

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

I am the most experienced candidate for school board, with inside information about some of the actual problems and concrete solutions to offer. Awarded CMS Ben Craig Outstanding Education Award for outstanding and innovative programs.

1. Platform Quality schools for all children under the law, I will offer a series stories and illustrations in a publications called “School House Secret,” that have resulted in problems faced in CMS. Additionly, I will offer concrete solutions on “How to Fix Public Education. The solutions must come about quickly as not to lose another generation of children.

2. My platform calls for mandated professional staff development. A large percentage of CMS staff members are not trained. Most have never had a course in Public School law.

3. Support fair and equitable personnel policies.

4. Address discipline by teaching social and behavioral skills. Everyone assumes that children are born knowing how to behave and manage conflicts. Social and behavior skills need to be taught. Children are treated like robots/machines and it is not working.

5. Fiscal Accountability and Transparency. Comprehensive oversight to address waste, mismanagement and the abuse of power is needed.

Recognized as a CMS a “strong advocate, effective advocate for all children.”

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

With the collaboration of the board and staff, I plan to bring to the board, a plan to make all schools equitable and quality schools under the law, within the next two calendar years. My plan will bring quality education to all children through mastery learning, thereby dismantling the labeling of children, schools and communities “failing and low performing schools.”

After 50 years, I have never met anyone who wanted to be a failure. School failure destroys people, children, neighborhoods and economic growth.” Who wants to work at a “failing school?” Who wants to attend a school, labeled failing or low performing? The label of failing becomes the “self fulfilling prophecy.”

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership?

There is no one person that is the right person in for the job. Decisions are made by a team of qualified individuals (staff members, board of education members and the community) committed to “equal access to a quality education under the law in Mecklenburg County. In order to solve CMS problem puzzle, all pieces of the puzzles must be at the table. The stabilization will come when as a county or a community we are find common ground, and work together, where everyone wins.

Mecklenburg County must decide if we as a schools system stay the way they are, failing and low performing. Do continue to have our residents run, across the county in search of “quality schools? Do we continue to run children to neighboring counties in search of quality schools?
Do we take a “wait and hope for the best attitude?
Or do we unite together NOW to make Mecklenburg County Public Schools Q.U.E.E. N. –
Quality schools, regardless of your address and income
Uniting the community to stand together
Experienced problem solver
Education equality, reform advocate and visionary
Now, no compromising on school failure

Where everybody wins.

MONTY WITHERSPOON

Monty Witherspoon is a pastor and CMS graduate making his first run for office. He is a Democrat.

 

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Monty Witherspoon

What distinguishes you as a school board candidate?

I am a product of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. I am a proud 1998 graduate of Olympic High School. I understand firsthand the challenges that many students face. After failing 3rd and 7th grade, I managed to graduate on time, attend college, and ultimately earn a doctoral degree. I know that all children can learn if provided with an appropriate learning environment and adequate resources. My perspective has an empirical quality which distinguishes me as a school board candidate. 

The board is likely to conduct a student assignment review in the next four years. What priorities would you bring to this?

1) Equity

2) Inclusion

3) Diversity

CMS now has its sixth superintendent in 10 years. What should the board do to ensure the right person is in the job and the district has stable leadership?

To ensure stable leadership, the Board of Education must implement measurable standards for the leadership, increase transparency, and earn the trust of the community.

 

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