Women seeking the southeast seat on the school board have similar perspectives
By Sarah Campbell
The two women competing for the Southeast seat on the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education have a few things in common.
Both Susan Cox and Dr. Lynn Marsh are educators who believe the school system should be more transparent and willing to find common ground with the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
"I think there is a general feeling that information is withheld," Cox said. "I think a lot could be done to show more of an attitude of being inviting, being more transparent by putting information out there and posting it in an easily understood format."
Marsh said transparency is a major concern.
"We need to be more open with our decisions while they are being made and involve stakeholders because they affect students, parents, teachers and principals," she said. "I feel like I can help with that because I'm a good at getting people to work together."
Cox said she believes increased transparency would also help foster a stronger relationship with the county commissioners.
"I would hope that if we approach the commissioners with transparency and with an attitude of inviting them to have input that we would build a bridge between the two boards," she said. "I think there is potential for attitudes to change on both sides."
Marsh said since the county provides the district with a large chunk of its funding, the school system should be very open with commissioners.
"When we go to commissioners we need to have our ducks in a row and be able to tell them what we need for our kids," she said. "We need to work together to leverage our resources."
Both women believe it is important to give teachers a voice when it comes to creating or revising policies.
"I definitely think classroom teachers should have input. They are the ones who are on the front lines working with the children every day," Cox said "They know what is needed to produce a better environment for the students."
Cox said getting feedback from teachers would also make them feel valued and respected.
Marsh agrees that teachers need to be involved in important decision-making that will affect the classroom.
"They are valuable resources in planning for our district," she said. "You have to have input from them to know what their needs are."
If elected, Marsh said she plans to spend time at schools getting to know parents.
"We need to go out in the community and hold forums, invite parents to see what we're doing and listen to their concerns," she said. "I'd like to create a parent survey and distribute it throughout the school system to get feedback."
Marsh said it's going to take a grassroots effort to earn the trust of parents throughout the county.
"Some parents might have had a bad experience when they were in school, so we've got to reach out them and see what they need," she said. "We have a lot of different backgrounds in our schools and we need to celebrate them."
Cox said she'd like to create an "attitude of invitation."
"I think sometimes parents feel like they are being handed token invitations," she said. "I think we need to be promoting sincerity and be welcoming to parents to make them feel like they are being listened to."
The candidates agree that catching students early is the best way to decrease the number of dropouts.
"We have to start with the elementary curriculum. By middle and high school, it's too late," Cox said. "I think we need a very strong and uniform phonics program for reading and a very strong math program that includes memorization of math facts."
Cox said it's important that students master skills before being promoted to the next grade, but teachers need to make sure that's possible by giving students the appropriate support and feedback.
Marsh said struggling students need to be caught before fourth-grade to ensure they get the help necessary to get back on track.
"Early literacy is the key to preventing dropouts," she said.
But attendance also goes hand-in-hand with instruction, Marsh said, because if students aren't at school, they aren't learning.
"There needs to be an attendance policy in effect that has some meat in it," she said. "We need to do whatever it takes to get these kids to school each day."
Tackling the budget
Marsh said as an assistant principal, she knows how tough dwindling budgets can be. That's why she wants to determine the effectiveness of every program.
"I want to critically look at each budget line item," she said. "You have to be conservative as far as how your dollars are spent. The ultimate goal as a school board is to increase student achievement so we need to look at the data behind programs and see if they are working."
Marsh said she only expects budgets to get tighter in the upcoming years.
"You can't take anything for granted, so you've got to know what each program is doing."
Cox said she would handle the budget constraints the same way she deals with her personal finances.
"Prioritize spending, see what you have to spend and decide what that money is going to be used for," she said. "We've got to prioritize expenditures based on what we have."
Charter school expansion
Neither woman is interested in the school board promoting the expansion of charter schools in Rowan County, but they aren't against the unique education setting.
"I'm not sure the school board should do that," Cox said. "However, if the only way to get out from under so much state control is to open up a charter school, I think perhaps the school system should consider the option of possibly forming a charter."
Marsh said although charter schools offer another option for parents, she has concerns because they aren't held to the same expectations as public schools, only requiring 60 percent of teachers to hold full licensure and not providing transportation so that any students can attend.
"I'm not totally against them, but I think we need to promote our image as the public school system and we should be just as competitive in what we provide," she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.