Bob Reese is a candidate for the School Board in ISD 197. He has provided the following answers to our standard 10 questions for candidates.
1. What should be the overall goal of a public school education? Knowing that children have different gifts and needs, how should student achievement be evaluated?
The goal of public school education should be to inspire every student to possess a deep desire and natural interest in lifelong learning. This is accomplished by instilling in every student a deep foundation from which they can build their life's goals and dreams upon. As such, public education must return to placing its emphasis on the fundamentals of learning; reading, reading comprehension, mathematics, science, American history, and civics.
Individual students possess different learning styles, with some being well suited to computer learning, and others best suited to learn from a textbook, paper, and pencil. Evaluations of student proficiency should be completed based upon what best suits that individuals learning style, be it via computer, paper, written, and/or verbal examinations.
With only 50% of current ISD-197 students, "meeting or exceeding", grade level proficiency, a scenario that even Superintendent Olson-Skog stated was unacceptable at the August 4, 2021 School Board Candidate Information Meeting, it is past time to reassess the processes, policies, systems, and curriculum that currently exist in ISD-197 that, in more recent times, have been predicated upon.
ISD-197's current budget is 90 million dollars to educate 5,000 students, or, $18,000.00 annually per student. As such, I do not agree that suboptimal student achievement is related to a primary funding issue.
Rather, suboptimal student achievement in ISD-197 represents a structural issue where school processes, policies, systems, and curriculums have deviated from the true Mission Statement of why public education exists; To inspire every student to possess a desire for lifelong learning.
As Superintendent Olson-Skog stated at the August 4, 2021 meeting, "It is well known that if a student is not reading at grade level by the 3rd grade there is little hope for them to achieve academically at grade level for the remainder of their education".
What else needs to be said? Without returning to an emphasis on the pursuit of mastery of the foundations of education and learning, 50% of current ISD-197 students futures, goals, hopes and dreams are doomed to fail. And that is an unacceptable position for any educational system to support.
2. How should teacher performance be evaluated? What can be done to improve underachieving teachers ’performance or encourage teachers to continue their own education?
I've never believed that teacher evaluations should be based solely on the teacher alone for the academic performance of his/her students. Teachers only exist as one arm of the educational team. In many instances teacher performance could be wrongly judged based upon unmotivated students and/or parents who are not involved in their child's education.
With that said, in recent years parents have been largely excluded from participating in their children's education. It is difficult, if not impossible, for parents to be available to assist with daily assignments when they are only accessible via password protected personal computers. Since schools instituted the computer based learning model, student achievement has persistently declined to a point where this model of learning is no longer justifiable. I believe this is why public schools have finally decided to return to a textbook and paper handout model of education. If parents had been included in the decision-making process the failure of the computer based model would likely never have been initiated in the first place. Parents have also been excluded from the development of school curriculums. The exclusion of parents from routinely participating in all aspects of their child's education has contributed to the unacceptable proficiency rates we see today.
Teacher performance should be based upon their individual efforts to present information in a fashion that is understandable to the student, but also should be based on the accessibility of the student to find help, be it from the teacher, tutor, or parent. The teacher should not be penalized if the teacher is not properly supported by parents or students. Together, working as an educational team that includes parents, each student will be provided with their best chance at achieving academic proficiency and develop a love for lifelong learning.
BUT......Teacher performance should be heavily evaluated on the following;
Teachers must commit to educate students in an apolitical fashion, that is inclusive of all viewpoints, even if they differ from those that they personally hold.
Teachers must eliminate all political symbols from all classrooms, except for the Flag of the United States of America.
Teachers must mandate that all students start each day standing and pledging allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America.
Cellphones should not be allowed in any classroom for any student during school hours.
3. Do you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or as a representative of the school system? How?
I am fully a representative of the community because I believe we have an obligation to educate our youth such that they have a legitimate chance of succeeding in our ever more competitive world.
Based upon the unacceptable, and persistently declining, student achievement levels seen in ISD-197, the school system cannot, with any legitimacy, claim any level of measurable success that their policies have led to. Policies enacted by the school system that have directly led education in the State of Minnesota from a top ranking in the nation, to a #17 national ranking in 2019.
4. What would your priorities be for your first year as a board member? Why and how did you choose these issues?
My first goal is the establishment of an ISD-197 Mission Statement. A Mission Statement is a one to two sentence document that describes why an organization exists, and is worthy of supporting. A Mission Statement acts like a rudder on a ship to assist the vessel in travelling effectively and efficiently toward its desired destination. A Mission Statement holds individuals in positions of authority accountable. Currently, ISD-197 does not possess a Mission Statement, so it should not be surprising that academic achievement has disappointed. In the absence of a Mission Statement ISD-197 is a rudderless ship, floating along, but unlikely to ever reach its destination.
Secondarily, all policies, procedures, systems, and resources must be reviewed. Any policy, procedure, or system currently in effect that has not led to measurable improvement in student academic achievement must be eliminated immediately. 100% of all policies, procedures, systems, resources, and efforts must be placed into improving student academic achievement because existing strategies have led to dismal student achievement results in ISD-197.
5. What do you think is the greatest challenge in District 197? What are your ideas for addressing this challenge?
For most organizations that encounter disappointing performance issues the natural tendency is to, "wait it out and try a little bit harder". Change is hard after all. Change can be disruptive. People don't like change. People like to protect their turf and their existing employment situations. But when an organization involved in an area as important as the education of our children is concerned, change is mandatory if results fall on the, "underwhelming to dismal" scale. It takes great courage and leadership to change. But for the futures of ISD-197 students, change we must.
Therefore, the greatest challenge that exists in ISD-197 is a lack of leadership at all levels of the organization. The obvious lack of student academic achievement is compounded by a lack of leadership among teachers, the teachers union, the Superintendent, the school board, the parents, AND the students. It is simply unacceptable to support and prolong existing policies that have led to such dismal results. No matter how it's spun, no one can legitimately be pleased with current student academic results. I fully support the notion that teachers deserve to be well compensated for their efforts and expertise. What I find unacceptable is to ask taxpayers to pay $20,000.00 per student annually to achieve a 50%, "Partially Meets or Does Not Meet", academic proficiency level among students. This academic outcome is simply unacceptable. It is time for the leadership of ISD-197 to accept responsibility for the current academic outcomes, that are based upon the enactment of their own policies, and exhibit the courage to enact the changes that are needed to improve.
My ideas for addressing these issues is described in my answer to question #4 above.
6. What motivates you to want to become a school board member for district 197?
I'm concerned about the future of our country if our educational system produces graduates that are hopelessly deficient academically. Previously I held the title, Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery at SUNY-Buffalo School of Medicine because I participated in the education of medical students, interns, and residents. Many of my students were apprehensive about being on my service because they knew I demanded their very best at all times. They were expected to exceed what they felt was even possible for the sole benefit of the patients we served. One of my greatest professional rewards was when some of my former students wrote me notes to thank me for pushing them so hard to improve and excel. Their summary of their messages was that after spending time on my service they became "superstars" on other services. And because of this they went on to achieve tremendous residency positions in very prestigious medical institutions. Students can achieve so much more than they believe they are capable of, if they encounter teachers and administrators who demand nothing less.
7. What do you think about vouchers? Tuition tax credits? Charter schools? School choice?
My bottom line is academic results, period. I fully support the use of vouchers, tuition tax credits, Charter Schools, and school choice. Whatever works best to assist the individual student achieve is best.
8. What is your opinion of District 197’s policies toward students with behavior problems and school discipline in general?
Behavioral issues among students usually have their origin inside the home. These concerns should be identified and investigated at the earliest possible time and a strategy developed to provide the educational assistance that the student requires to succeed. If a student is struggling academically they should start working with a tutor on a scheduled basis. In many instances, with proper support and praise, these students will regain their confidence in believing that they are capable of learning. If tutors are not immediately available I would support the establishment of a volunteer parent organization to assist. This will provide benefits to both the student and the volunteer.
Students who reject the discipline required to learn and remain disruptive in the school environment should be removed from the school and attend a learning center environment that offers a more personalized educational experience.
9. What is your understanding of Critical Race Theory and how does it fit within District 197’s current teacher development program?
Critical Race Theory, (CRT), developed in the 1980's as a concept that proponents claim is rarely used outside of Law School, when in fact national teachers unions have recommended it's wide integration into the curriculums of K-12 grade education nationwide, and have even filed lawsuits against parents who request information about it.
CRT attempts to "reframe" American history suggesting that all traditional norms, organizations, and laws were crafted in a fashion specifically to disenfranchise Americans of African descent.
In the 1995 textbook, "Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed The Movement", Dr. Cornell West writes that CRT is not just an academic approach but a, "politically committed movement", that promotes "race consciousness". Therefore, CRT tenets are in direct opposition to the teachings espoused by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who peacefully supported the concepts of color blindness, integration, and assimilation.
I do not believe this textbook included a chapter on Mr. Anthony Johnson who was a black slaveowner in America during the time of the Civil War, or other black slaveowners who existed in America. But, why would CRT proponents discuss this issue when CRT actually represents a, "politically committed movement", over a historically accurate movement?
I believe that CRT proponents started with a known endpoint, (systemic racism), and backfilled "facts" that they felt were supportive of their thesis. In other words, CRT represents the worst kind of pseudo-science and is damaging to children who are more interested in developing friendships and feeling the personal accomplishment of learning as opposed to attending school to primarily identify as belonging to a certain racial group.
Many believe that CRT is based on Marxist Theory which represents the antithesis of the American experiment. And the fact that public education has integrated CRT into the academic environment without disclosing it to parents and legal guardians is an egregious offense that has created enormous distrust between parents and the educational system.
In no uncertain terms, I do not support the teaching of CRT in ISD-197 schools on any level. I am not supportive of any ideology or course of thought that has been integrated into public education curricula without the full support of parents and legal guardians of students. With the current dismal level of student achievement that exists in ISD-197, the least beneficial concept the district needs to incorporate is the indoctrinating politically infused pseudo-science called CRT.
10. In what areas are District 197 residents getting value for their money? Are there any in which they are not? What would be an idea for saving the district money?
Currently I am not able to accurately discuss the value proposition provided by ISD-197 because I have not been able to assess the existing systems, policies, and procedures that exist within the District.