Six candidates seeking three open seats on the Fort Worth school board acknowledged Thursday night that something needs to be shaken up in a school district with more than two dozen low-performing schools.
At times, several candidates spoke of excessive power concentrated among top central administrators and advocated allowing key decisions to be made at the campus level by principals and teachers. Others also talked about poor choices regarding the spending of district dollars.
“I’m going to be short and sweet,’’ said District 5 candidate Linda LaBeau. “I don’t like the way the district spends money on $400-an-hour attorneys when those resources can go into classroom. Education happens in the classroom, not in a courtroom, to correct under-performing schools.”
LaBeau, a professional mediator, is running against 19-year incumbent Judy Needham, who was not present because of illness. Needham is a former restaurant owner and professional fundraiser.
In District 6, incumbent Ann Sutherland, who is seeking a second term, told the public that she would continue her commitment to serving teachers, students and parents. She pointed to an active blog she manages as a board member in which she provides information to the public and answers questions.
“I promised to work for you, that I would be in your schools, answer your phone calls and attend your celebrations,’’ Sutherland said. “Using my experience as a budget analyst, I [said] I would place as many dollars in the classroom, rather than building up central administration.”
Her challenger, Cecelia Speer, said she was the better candidate because of her background as a former district parent, teacher and top administrator. Speer worked for the district for 39 years.
“I will advocate for and represent parents,’’ Speer said. “As a former teacher … I will advocate and represent parents and teachers. As a former FWISD chief of operations, I will advocate for the efficiency of student safety. … I’m ready to sit at the other side of the table and I’m ready to work.”
It’s a three-way race for Place 2.
Incumbent Tobi Jackson, a longtime educator, urged voters to look at her track record. When she was first elected, multiple schools in her district were low-performing; today, the majority are meeting state requirements, she said.
“I thank you for your support of public schools,’’ Jackson told an audience of more than 60 in the board conference room on Shotts Street.
“When I ran five years ago in 2010, what I found were schools that were in failure and what we’ve done in the last five years has converted those schools.”
She said she encouraged the expression of differences of opinion among trustees while treating each other with respect.
“The No. 1 thing I do is teamwork,’’ she said. “You can meet in the middle.”
Challenger Joel Aguilar, the principal of a Dallas school, said the answer to improving academic performance is to make some serious policy changes.
“We’ve had more of a top-down approach from central administration, and decisions need to go back to local community,” Aguilar said, calling for “a policy change where we turn central administration into [having] a support role.
“We have taken the creativity of the teacher away … it’s time that we move that back in to have a different mindset.”
Jackson’s other challenger, Sultan Cole, an engineer and Fort Worth minister, said he believed the district may need to look at “individualized” curriculum for those students who aren’t performing well on standardized tests.
“I do believe an individualized curriculum would allow for that creativity for the teacher to meet the pressing educational needs of our students. Supporting teachers in the classroom, allowing their voices to be heard, is one of my top priorities.”
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705