Candidate Responses

District 4

Below are questions community members submitted during the school board candidate debates. See what the candidates in your district have to say.

1. District four has a high percentage of priority schools that are subject to takeover by the state. What strategies do you advocate for improving test scores to avert state takeover of these priority schools?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

Many of the schools in District 4 are concentrated in poverty, and research has shown that students under-perform in schools where the vast majority of students are low-income. That is because the emotional, mental, and physical needs of students are not being fully met, which prevents them from meeting their educational goals. In addition, these schools often struggle to give students the full support they need due to lack of discretionary funds and other factors.

To avert state-takeover, I would implement a universal pre-k program, ensuring every student enters school prepared to learn regardless of their background. I would also make use of student based budgeting to allow principals to allocate funds based on the specific needs of students, and establish the community schools model to meet the needs of students in and out of the classroom.

Lastly, I would ensure our teachers are fully supported through improved professional development, continuing education, and the establishment of increased teacher autonomy. All of this would be coupled with improved recruitment and retention of teachers.

2. Why was Howard middle school closed, and what would it take to get it back?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

In 2009, the School Board voted to close Howard Middle School and 21st Century Academy in an attempt to balance the budget. Howard Middle School was closed despite improving test scores, which were likely to take it off the state’s high-priority list.

The School Board argued that Howard Middle School made the most sense to close because it was under-capacity and in poor condition. However, that isn’t an excuse to close a school that is monumentally important to the community that surrounds it, especially as new schools are built.

It closed because the school system failed to budget properly, which they have continued to do to this day. The School Board votes to close old schools and build entirely new ones, rather than attempt to repair and continuing using pre-existing buildings.
As a School Board member, I will investigate using the Howard Middle School building that sits on the Howard School’s campus to benefit our students once again.

3. So much of a child’s education happens at home and outside of the classroom around teachers and other positive mentors. What partnerships would you pursue on behalf of HCDE in order to improve after school opportunities for our kids? What do you bring to the table to help bring more partners to the table?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

As a local business leader and board member of many nonprofits in Chattanooga, I’ve spent my entire career networking. There are countless churches, nonprofits, and businesses that want to get involved in our school system, but they have either been told that they can’t or they simply don’t know how to do it.
We simply need a School Board member who is proactive about building these partnerships. In addition, we should consider creating staff positions centered around community and parent engagement. These positions are necessary if we’re going to implement the community schools model, which provides these resources through the partnerships discussed.

4. What are some concrete ways you think greater community or public-private engagement can make the biggest difference for students?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

Schools that are centered around community involvement are shown to have increased student success across the board. When a community invests in its schools, the needs of every student are met. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an entire community to support a school.
Through building partnerships with doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals, we could offer our students and families health services. When needed, the school system could also bring in mental health professionals whom we have built partnerships with. Local churches and businesses could sponsor community dinners, or after-school life skills workshops. Community volunteers could work with students one on one to improve reading skills. The possibilities are endless.

5. What are you going to do to improve parent participation and get better educators for the inner city schools?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

The lack of parent engagement in our school system is one of the primary reasons I decided to run. Children whose parents are able to be involved in their education are more likely to succeed. Engaging our families in our schools is of the utmost importance.

I would host school board meetings in schools rather than central office, create programs to educate parents on school board procedures, strengthen Parent Teacher Associations, and establish parent advisory councils in the district. In addition, the community schools model would also bring more families into our school buildings.
Secondly, to ensure we have the best teachers in our schools with the most need, I would hire teachers earlier in the year and offer a higher base salary in order to make Hamilton County a competitive option for educators. I would also further incentivize working in District 4 schools, support teachers through continued education, and investigate how other districts are retaining their teachers at high rates.

6. What qualifications for superintendent are you looking for?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

Our school system is an organization with a budget of over 400 million dollars. In addition, it is currently a failing organization and ranks among the lowest performing schools systems in the entire state of Tennessee.
Our next superintendent must have a proven track record of being a change agent, and turning a failing organization into an extremely successful one. They must also have a history of actively engaging the community, managing large budgets, and building a strong team that eliminates any deficits the superintendent may have.

7. Facebook - What can our school system do to encourage parents to support their children in school to ensure they are ready to learn?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

Refer to Question 5.

8. What are your thoughts on the reduction of the Community Eligibility Provision?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

I am extremely upset that the Community Eligibility Provision has been reduced. In the past, schools that were concentrated in poverty were able to offer free meals to all students through federal funds. However, with the recent changes many schools have lost this opportunity.

Some argue that this doesn’t affect low income students, because they are still eligible for free and reduced lunch. However, that assumes that the parents of every low income student fill out the paperwork to obtain free and reduced lunch, which simply does not happen. Our schools must meet the needs of our students in and out of the classroom, and that includes ensuring they do not go hungry.

9. What can local schools do to help ensure that our students are getting the proper nutrition needed to aid in their learning?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

The school system must implement programs to ensure that every eligible child is signed up for free and reduced lunch, and that no children slip through the cracks. We must also investigate the use of the community schools model, which addresses the needs of students and the community. If nutrition is a pressing concern, the school would be able to partner with churches, businesses, and nonprofits to provide community meals as necessary.
On a case by case basis, there are also other approaches that may be helpful. For example, students are receiving unhealthy food at home schools can offer nutritional classes to help families learn how to affordably eat healthy.

10. How will you attempt to convince the community to be more engaged outside of school board attendance and required meetings?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

As of right now, school board meetings have very low attendance. To address that issue, I would host school board meetings in schools, at more appropriate times to match the schedules of working parents, and livestream all meetings on the internet.
In addition, I believe that many community members want to be involved, but the school board hasn’t done the necessary work to engage those individuals. We must provide opportunities for involvement and open the doors of our schools to the community.

11. What is your perception of the difference between a “failing school” versus a “struggling school?”

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

From my perspective, a failing school is failing by state standards and a struggling school is on the verge of becoming a failing school. Sadly, the vast majority of District 4 schools fall in these categories, and I want to work to change that. After my four year term, I hope to never hear those words again.

12. What would you do to reinstate great vocational education within our school district (specifically Howard) to regain what we lost from Kirkman?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

Students need a well rounded education, and deserve access to any path they wish to pursue. We must offer full vocational programs and full college-prep programs in District 4. In addition, we must ensure that these programs are among the best in the state, and focus on postgraduate success.
First and foremost, I would bring the community into the conversation. There are many paths that the school board can take, and no path is more right or wrong than another. We could build strong programs inside our current schools, or we could investigate the creation of a school focussed on vocational education like Sequoyah High School.

13. How will you bridge the gap between the schools, small businesses, and organizations that want to support schools but do not know exactly how?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

As a business leader and engaged community member, I have spent my career networking throughout all of Chattanooga. My job currently entails working with other businesses and organizations, and ensuring that we all come together to build a stronger Chattanooga.
After implementing the community schools model, our schools will be designed to be supported by businesses, nonprofits, churches, and even individuals. If a school decides that it would like an after-school dance program to keep students engaged, that school’s principal or its school board member could request those services from local dance instructors and studios.

14. How do you feel about the opening of new charter schools and how will you support them?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

Currently, we have thirteen public schools in District 4, many of which are not performing at the level they need to in order to ensure success for our students. Before we even begin to think of the building of new schools, I believe that we should fully invest in and turn around our public schools.
However, I do encourage continued support of Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and the work it does for girls in District 4. If charter schools seek to expand in Chattanooga, I only support locally-grown and community-focussed models. Ideally, our public schools will be so great that we don’t need alternative models.

15. At this point, we have students that are involved in gangs and other potentially dangerous activities. What do you plan on doing to address this issue?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

We have to improve our schools so students see opportunity for future success, and aspire for more than being involved in illegally activities. We also have to address the needs of students in and out of the classroom, and bring the community into our schools to support our students. Our students don’t join gangs because they’re bad people—they join gangs because they see no other option and often come from difficult backgrounds.

16. What can be done to better address struggling students who come from families where the parents may be functionally illiterate?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

I support student-based budgeting which allows principals to allocate funds based on the needs of individual students. If this model was introduced, a principal would be able to allocate extra funding for reading coaches and other services to students coming from a more difficult family background.
In addition, we have to creatively engage and communicate with parents. If a child’s parents can’t read, they will likely be insecure when it comes to becoming engaged in a school, as reading is practically a requirement to be involved. We have to think about the unique needs of every family when working with students.

17. Special Education students are viewed as extra funds for some schools but often the students in these programs are neglected when it comes to preparing them for college or the workforce. What would you do to improve the percentage of special needs students being prepared and successfully entered into the workforce or college?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

I believe that we should:

      1. Ensure that special needs students can attend their zoned schools
      2. Increase special-needs focussed professional development for all personnel
      3. Fund multiple professionals in classrooms to act as support for special needs students
      4. Establish universal Pre-K to level the playing field
      5. Move towards a full inclusion model
      6. Develop programs for high school age students regarding workforce/college prep
      7. Educate families on the rights of special needs students and how to engage their school
18. What do you believe the school board can do to motivate teachers to teach most effectively (other than financial compensation)? This year, Hamilton County will hire 300 teachers with over 50% being brand new teachers. Aside from increased salary how can we increase teacher retention and assure our most talented teachers stay in Hamilton County.

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

We certainly need to increase salaries to be competitive and ensure our teachers are offered a living wage, but salary increased will never be enough on their own. We must create focused and quality professional development for teachers, offer opportunities for continued education, build support and mentorship networks, and give teachers classroom autonomy as they gain experience.

19. HCDE has expectations for what they want taught (pacing guides, etc.) that does not allow for much autonomy. How can you work to make sure veteran teachers have more autonomy in the classroom?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

I believe that all expectations for teachers should be made alongside teachers, and that autonomy should be given in regards to how subject matter is taught and at what pace. Teachers know their students best. We have to balance providing structure with allowing teachers to do their jobs, and I believe we can look into how other school systems are accomplishing this and implement the model here.

20. As a related arts teacher, what can be done to ensure that all teachers are given bonuses? I teach all students. All certified teachers should receive a bonus … it will boost morale.

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

The school board must perform a top to bottom review of the budget, eliminate waste, and focus on appropriate spending. The funds are currently being mismanaged. As a school board member, I would advocate for a budget that raised teacher salaries across the board and provides system-wide bonuses when appropriate.

21. Our current Board of Education has been very instrumental in consolidating and building mega schools which take resources away from other areas. How are we going to address this issue going forward?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

We need to focus on supporting our existing schools and turning them into successful schools. New schools should only be built out of necessity, and current facilities should be used to their full capacity. Our budget needs to be equitable, and focussed on the needs of our students. District 4 has some of the highest need, but the lowest funding when discretionary funds are taken into account. Implementing student based budgeting in addition to eliminating waste spending would help address this problem.

22. What will you do to ensure school board communication to the public is not censored by fancy lawyer tricks?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

Our school system must be extremely transparent in order to be successful and to be held accountable by the community. That being said, the school board must also respect the law and distribute information appropriately and legally.
However, that is no excuse for leaving the public in the dark consistently. The school board should issue regular press releases, and even creating a public relations position in central office to quickly distribute information from a central location.

23. In reference to the Times Free Press request to be given names of all applicants for the principal, assistant principal, and central office position regardless of being hired or not, what is your position on county educator privacy? More specifically, do you believe fulfilling such a request would have a chilling effect on applicants because of having the schools know they applied but didn’t get the position?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

The initial round of applicants should not be provided to the public. However, once applicants pass the first round and move onto interviews, the public should be informed of the options and a procedure should be implemented to allow the public to weigh in.

24. Our school system is not thriving as it should be. Our students and our teachers deserve the best and nothing less. What do you think has been the “weak link” in our school system and/or school board?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

I think the weak link is a lack of leadership on the part of the school board. Our school board is not transparent, has not focussed on involving the community, and avoids accountability. We haven’t been innovative in creating solutions to our problems, and aren’t adopting models used by other districts. It’s simply time for new blood and fresh faces.

25. Looking forward, what safeguards will you seek to put in place to keep from repeating the costly scenario in the termination of the superintendent.

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

I think we can avoid the scenario by ensuring that we hire a great superintendent through a transparent process. In addition, the school board should refrain from renting a superintendent’s contract prematurely, binding itself to a leader that may fail before the initial contact even ends.

26. Do you think value-added assessments are fair assessments of teacher performance? If not, do you have an alternative assessment in mind?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

I think assessments of teacher performance needs to be reevaluated. Value-added assessments are certainly better than tying teacher performance solely to raw test scores, but it is very possible that teachers are being held to expectations that ignore the needs of their students. We need to hold our teachers to high standards, but also remain cognizant of the fact that our students’ scores will not double overnight, no matter how great a teacher is.

27. How do you plan to improve Chattanooga schools TVAAS scores from last years average of 1?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

Many of the ideas discussed above, such as the community schools model, student based budgeting, and further supporting teachers will help ensure improvement in TVAAS scores. Our schools will be more successful when the needs of our students, staff, and families are fully met.

28. Walker County, Georgia schools are paying their teachers approximately $10,000 more at each level than the Hamilton County Schools. We lose not only new hires but also experienced teachers in our system. What will you do to change that situation?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

Refer to Questions 1, 5, and 19.

29. What will you do to mend the rift between the school board and the County Commissioners?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

I’ve already met with District 4’s County Commissioner, Warren Mackey, and have built a relationship with him. I think the only work required to mend the rift is intentional relationship building and cooperation, which I consistently do as a business leader.

30. How will you work with HCEA if you are elected?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

I was endorsed by the HCEA and provided with funds to support my campaign. I believe that the HCEA represents the views of many teachers, and I will work with the group to the greatest extent, in addition to forming and working with teacher advisory groups.

31. As school board representative what will you do to keep county commission tax dollars from being cut from the school budget?

Montrell Besley

The candidate did not provide a response.

George Ricks

The candidate did not provide a response.

Tiffanie Robinson

The county commission is the school system’s main investor, and the school board has not done a good job at proving to our investors that we are using funds appropriately. I believe to ensure that we receive maximum funding from the county, we should demonstrate that we are adequately using our funds—in other words, we must review our budget entirely.
In addition, it is important to note that Hamilton County ranks among the highest in the state on per-student spending but the lowest on student results.