Longtime Fort Worth school trustee T.A. Sims is being challenged for the District 4 post by community organizer Johnny Cook-Muhammad, who says engaging young parents is the key to improving struggling schools.
Sims, 79, a retired pharmacist and investor, was first elected to the school board in 1983. He said he is seeking to be re-elected to District 4 so he can see through pending school bond projects. The district includes the historic I.M Terrell High School in the north and O.D. Wyatt High School to the south.
The contest is one of four Fort Worth school board races on May 6.
Sims said constituents want him to remain trustee — a move that would allow him to continue on the board as I.M. Terrell High School is converted into a special interest campus that includes visual and performing arts and science, technology, engineering and math academies. The building is expected to open to students in August.
“I was asked to run and complete these projects we have going,” Sims said, adding that he also wants to be on the board as renovation of Van Zandt-Guinn Elementary is completed.
Early voting for the May 6 municipal and school board elections continues through May 2.
Cook-Muhammad, 51, a youth advocate and pastor who offers support to young fathers said he wants to help improve schools by helping more students see the value of an education as they juggle work with parenting. The community organizer, who contracts with district, said he would relinquish any contract work if elected.
Cook-Muhammad said he wants to push more programs, such as Doughnuts with Dads, where educators can stress the importance of homework, reading and graduating.
“It felt like there was a need for change,” Cook-Muhammad said, adding his reason for running. “I wanted to see a change and more of a commitment and an active board member.”
Value of education
Both candidates say they support Superintendent Kent Scribner’s efforts to improve literacy and struggling schools, including a plan that will turn five campuses into leadership academies.
Sims said the leadership academy plan is similar to an elementary school initiative the district had in the late 1990s.
“These programs cost a lot of money,” Sims said. “We have to keep everything going.”
Trustee T.A. Sims raised $2,400 in contributions but had zero dollars maintained on April 7, according to a campaign finance report filed with the Fort Worth school district.
Cook-Muhammad said he sees a need to stress to young people the importance of school success — especially as some opt to drop out. He said he has worked with young parents who have quit school to take care of children.
“We have to get back in District 4 working … on the value of an education,” Cook-Muhammad said.
Cook-Muhammad said he supports finding programs that fit the unique needs of the children they serve. He said the district’s Young Men’s Leadership Academy is an example of a program that brings strong teachers to urban communities.
The role of trustee
The campaigns for school board have touched on the role of trustee and how much room to give a superintendent. The term, “micromanage” has surfaced as candidates in all four races criticize past boards for being too involved in decisions that should be guided by policy, not politics.
“I don’t micromanage,” Sims said. “If you are doing your job, you don’t have to worry about it.”
Sims said he expects strong administrators and educators to be vetted for district jobs. He said if he hears of strong candidates, he believes he can alert the district to look at that potential hire.
“If I know of a good prospect, there is nothing wrong with calling human resources and calling the superintendent and asking them to take a look at this person,” Sims said, adding: “If they don’t measure up, then I don’t want them hired.”
Cook-Muhammad said too much trustee politics hurts children.
Challenger Johnny Cook-Muhammad maintained $536 in political contributions on April 7, according to a campaign finance report filed with the Fort Worth school district.
“We have to work as board for all the children and support the superintendent,” Cook-Muhammad said, adding that he wants to work with fellow trustees to follow student issues by pyramid instead of by trustee district. For example, students who attend Versia Williams Elementary eventually attend Carter-Riverside High School, but the two schools sit in different trustee districts.
Cook-Muhammad said the board needs to give the superintendent room to get things done.
“The board needs to make sure he is accountable, but if the board has his hands tied he can’t do his job to be accountable to the community and the board. … We didn’t hire him to micromanage,” Cook-Muhammad said.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.