When Shelby County School Board member Teresa Jones was unanimously voted as the new chairwoman on September 30, she promised to be a hard worker and listen to the views of the newly expanded nine-member board.

Jones initially received an appointment to the 23-member board in 2011 and was elected to serve on the seven-member board in 2012. She represents District 2 and is an attorney for the city of Memphis.

During her year-long appointment as chair, Jones will lead the board’s meetings and navigate decisions that will impact the district’s 7,000 teachers and roughly 113,000 students. In the coming months the board will review the district’s strategic plan, which includes boosting its graduation rate and number of students entering college.

As the district works to retain and recruit quality teachers, the board may also need to weigh in on the district’s new hiring process – mutual consent, which sparked frequent teacher protests at board meetings this year.

Jones answered Chalkbeat TN’s questions about teacher recruitment, the role of the board and her goals moving forward.

Question:  Across the country, many school boards walk the line between being policy focused versus managing the day-to-day operations alongside their employee, the superintendent.  As board chair, how would you advise the board to deal with the challenges facing Shelby County Schools such as improving literacy, the impact and focus of a new Chief Academic Officer and expanding programs that are successful such as the Innovation Zone (iZone)?

Jones:  The superintendent is charged with improving student achievement.  The Board guides and gives input through its evaluation instrument.  Goals and priorities are set within that process that guides the decisions made by Supt. Hopson. Enhancing student achievement and the hiring of a new Chief Academic Officer are priorities.  iZone expansion is primarily driven by funding.  The Board and Supt. will certainly focus on this during the upcoming budget process.

Question:  How can SCS continue to recruit teachers and keep the quality teachers that it currently has?  Are there recommendations or changes that you would advocate?

Jones:  Improving student scores and offering competitive benefits will help maintain and recruit quality teachers.  We are in the process of issuing a RFP with hopes of realizing a reduction in health care costs.  We are also being aggressive in offering support and professional development to all teachers.

Question: What are some recommendations that you’ve given to the superintendent in regards to presentations that require board approval? During previous board meetings, many of your questions regarding outsourcing and other budgeting issues required further research. Have you recommended a change to the presentation process that allows more time for board members to review, research and question what they’re being asked to approve?

Jones: I have asked that presentations include more details, financial breakdown, more solutions/recommendations to the problem.  The Supt. is always responsive and makes every effort to provide answers to all board members’ questions.  Some presentations tend to be informative, but offer very little in terms of solutions.  I have asked him to think outside the box.  Look at legacy (Shelby County Schools) and legacy (Memphis City Schools) and then craft a recommendation that is the best fit for our new district.

Question: What is your position about the expansion of the iZone, should it be expanded or sustained?  If it is sustained only, where are the funds likely to come from?  Would board members play any part in seeking funds for sustaining or expanding the iZone?

Jones: Expansion is crucial to increased student achievement.  Paying for it will take strategic planning and focus use of available funds.  I support iZone expansion, however, we have a number of schools that were not iZone that we saw substantial gains.  I have asked Mr. Leon to do research into best practices at those schools.  How were they able to make considerable gains without the extra financial investment.  The answer could be the basis for formulating a more cost-neutral solution to increased student achievement.  Board members routinely advocate to increased funding when we think appropriate.  iZone advocacy would be no different.  Board members talk to legislators about the BEP (Basic Education Program) and the fact it is not fully funded.  We hope to address that as well as other issues in our upcoming legislative agenda.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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