2018 School Board Candidate Questionnaire Responses

Jenny Hill


Candidate, School Board District 6

Responses submitted May 3, 2018 to UnifiEd via email. Responses are published here exactly as submitted without editing.

Question 1 – Racial & Socioeconomic Desegregation
As a school board member, I commit to working together with the Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE) to develop a plan to end socioeconomic and racial segregation. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

(Note: I submit the following answer assuming you mean racial and socioeconomic segregation in schools.)

Yes.  As a mother of two children who attend Hamilton County public schools, I expect my children to receive a high-quality education that prepares them for success. I believe every parent and every student in our community has the right to expect this. Unfortunately, year after year, when we look at the struggling schools in our county, they are consistently ones where the vast majority of students are economically disadvantaged. Maintaining schools where nearly all of the students are low-income is not effective – it hurts the students in those buildings, it hurts teachers, it hurts schools, it hurts our district – and it hurts our community.

The first ethical responsibility of a school board member is to at “all times think of ‘children first’ always determining other important things according to how they affect education and training of children.” The second individual duty of a school board member is to “seek to provide equal educational opportunities for all children regardless of ability, race, color, sex, creed, or location of residence.” As a school board member, I will do my duty for our children and for our community.

There’s no good reason for the current segregation of our schools and we need to do the heavy lifting to fix it. Hamilton County is incredibly diverse – both racially and economically. I would like to see this diversity embraced as a strength in educating our kids. It’s no secret that CSAS and Battle are two schools that are thriving – and a big part of that is because of the diversity in those schools. I think we can create more examples of great diverse schools, while deconcentrating the poverty within our most challenged schools.

At the same time, I’m a pragmatist and I realize that our segregation is complicated by geography and the housing patterns of neighborhoods across our district. In many ways our schools are a reflection of the segregation of our community. Given the complexity of the issue, I realize there will be no easy or one-size-fits all answer. I think exploring how we can create more schools of choice for families – as opposed to forcing school attendance – should be the priority.

Question 2 – Racial & Socioeconomic Desegregation
As a school board member, I commit to actively partnering with community members to demand the end of socioeconomic and racial segregation in our schools. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

See answer above. I look forward to working with community members to develop a viable plan for ending segregated schools – a plan that makes sense for our students, the district, and our community. While the Superintendent and School Board can help to lead this process, ultimately it must be embraced by the community to be successful.

Question 3 – Supporting the People in Our Schools
As a school board member, I commit to supporting better relationships and engagement by working together with the schools in my district to ensure students and teachers have a voice in issues that matter to them. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

Yes. We absolutely have to do a better job of engaging and listening to teachers and students as we develop plans and policies that impact them. I have toured every school in District 6, and have been inspired by the dedication and leadership from both teachers and students. Our school system will be strengthened by better engaging students and teachers and elevating them as leaders within their classrooms, schools, and community.

As the school board representative for District 6, I commit to forming a D6 teacher advisory council that can help to inform my decisions on school board and drive new ideas forward. I also will connect with current teacher leadership efforts like Teacherpreneur and Teacher Policy Fellows.

For students, the school board currently has one student that serves as a representative, but I would like to see an expansion, so that more students from a variety of schools are able to participate. Biannual student leadership summits aligned with district priorities would bring students from across the county together to address issues and bring new ideas to the table.

Question 4 – Supporting the People in Our Schools
As a school board member, I commit to working with central office to ensure teaching and student programs provide personalized support, especially to those with special needs and minority identities (like English-language learners and LGBTQ+ students). Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

Yes. I believe that every child matters and that providing the individual supports that every student needs to be successful should be at the core of an equitable school system. This question is broad and addresses two different topics – academic supports for learners with a variety of needs and the culture of our schools.

Regarding academics: There is no question that one size doesn’t fit all and every child should have the supports they need to be successful. As a parent, I expect that my children will be challenged to reach their full potential and that they’ll never fall through the cracks or be falsely labeled. Every parent I know expects those same things for their children.

As a school board member, I will support additional resources and professional development to help ensure that we have inclusive and supportive environments for students of all abilities and backgrounds so they have the opportunities to be what they want to be – and are pushed to get there.

Regarding the culture of our schools: School should be a safe place conducive to learning for every student. Being a kid is hard – being a teenager is even harder. Hamilton County students need to know that school is a safe place that’s free from bullying no matter who they are.

Question 5 – Community Engagement & Empowerment
As a school board member, I commit to working with school leadership to provide creative, accessible avenues for parents and community members to support schools and children. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

Meaningful parent and community engagement is critical to the success of our schools and our district. As a school board member, I will focus my efforts on ensuring that community engagement is a key strategic priority and I will support the efforts of school leaders, parents, and community members to develop strong partnerships that improve outcomes for students.

In addition, as the representative for District 6, I will provide a bimonthly email update and annual progress report to my constituents as well as posting these updates on my website, www.votejennyhill.com and linking to them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/votejennyhill. I encourage everyone in District 6 to add their email address to the list by subscribing at www.votejennyhill.org/get-involved.

Question 6 – Community Engagement & Empowerment
As a school board member, I commit to partnering with local organizations and businesses to support and provide resources in our schools. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

See answer above. While I support schools partnering with local organizations and businesses, I don’t believe the primary role of School Board is to develop those partnerships. I will commit to supporting the work of school leaders and ensuring that they are able to develop meaningful partnerships with organizations and businesses.

Question 7 – Supporting the Whole Child
As a school board member, I commit to working with schools to ensure students’ mental and emotional health needs are supported.  Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

I believe that mental and emotional health supports for students are a necessity for student success. I also recognize that all too often, schools are constrained by the costs of providing the additional supports. I would support exploring ways to increase funding and support for mental and emotional health needs, if that emerges as a priority for school leadership within my district.

Question 8 – Supporting the Whole Child
As a school board member, I commit to partnering with and supporting community organizations to ensure children can access mentoring, field trips, and early childhood education. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

As noted in my answers above, I want to be realistic about the role of a School Board member and respectful of the role of school leaders. There are great community organizations that are providing vital support to our schools in all three of these areas. I would support schools continuing to partner with these organizations.

Question 9 – Funding & Budgeting
As a school board member, I commit to prioritizing funds for capital expenses to make sure all school facilities are safe and healthy learning spaces, and ensuring there is a long-term plan to keep them that way. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

I believe that our district needs to develop a more strategic approach to funding capital improvements while keeping our focus on HCDE’s published mission: to ensure that ALL students succeed. A multi-year budget plan as recommended by the Hamilton County Schools Budget Working Group will help HCDE project costs and recognize savings, which can be used in part for capital expenses. This should be preceded by an independent audit of all facilities. The cost/benefit analysis from the audit should be shared with the community, as we may have challenging decisions to make to stay in alignment with our mission.

Question 10 – Funding & Budgeting
As a school board member, I commit to prioritizing funding to recruit, support, and keep the best teachers. Yes or NoIf yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

Yes. I believe that great teachers and principals are the key to the success of our schools and our district must prioritize recruiting, supporting, and retaining the best teachers and administrators. I support work to ensure that our teacher pay scale is competitive with surrounding and comparable districts. I would also like to see increased opportunities for teachers to broaden their impact and leadership in schools, while still being able to remain in the classroom. The more we can elevate the teaching profession in this community – as a key driver of educational and economic success – the better off we will be.

Question 11- Supporting the Whole Child
As a school board member, I commit to ensuring all students have access to early childhood education programs so every child enters kindergarten ready to learn. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

I believe that quality early childhood education is vital to the future success of students. I would like to see increased funding and support of preK programs (that serve 3- and 4-year olds) so that more students are prepared for Kindergarten. However, it isn’t realistic to assert that a school board member could ensure access to early childhood education programs from birth for every student in Hamilton County. This would present a significant cost for our community, and financial support would need to come from other sources besides the school district – including the state, county, and municipalities. In general, I support exploring ways to expand options for preK education within Hamilton County and applaud the City of Chattanooga for its commitment to expanding early learning opportunities for Chattanooga families.

Question 12 – UnifiEd PACT for Public Education
As a school board member, I commit to working with community partners and HCDE to expand community schools throughout the county to provide holistic support to neighborhoods and communities. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

I support the model of community schools and am excited about the District’s current efforts to develop and expand this model. I would like to see support for expansion of the community schools model indicated in the strategic plan and budget for the school district.

Question 13 – UnifiEd PACT for Public Education
As a school board member, I commit to setting standards for our board and actively participating in a transparent self-assessment process. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

Yes. As I have traveled around my district and talked with voters, parents, teachers, and students I recognize a sense of frustration with the leadership and lack of transparency from the school board. Many people do not feel there is a clear strategic vision from the school board, they don’t know what the school board does, and they have little trust for the decisions the school board makes.

Just as we need an easy-to-understand school budget report, the community deserves to have easy insight into the job description of a school board member and know how the board is measuring its effectiveness as the fiscal supervisor and governance leader of the entire system.

Further, it would benefit Hamilton County for the school board to be out in the community regularly. School board meetings are often standing-room only and traffic and parking can be grueling. When on school board I will make a motion to move school board meetings to a different school each month. This will allow for increased community participation and inform board members about schools outside their districts.

Question 14 – UnifiEd PACT for Public Education
As a school board member, I commit to ensuring current school system funds are efficiently spent. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

Yes. The school board is charged with ensuring school funding is efficiently spent – and it also has an ethical responsibility to the community to keep them informed on future needs, necessary improvements, and progress. Our budget should align with and help to clearly communicate the district’s priorities and how funding is being used to attain those priorities. I have great respect for the findings of the Hamilton County Schools Budget Working Group and would advocate implementing its recommendations in an effort to make our system as efficient as possible for the benefit of all our students.

Question 15 – UnifiEd PACT for Public Education
As a school board member, I commit to working with HCDE to create a 5-year budget and strategic plan connecting money to improved student outcomes. Yes or No. If yes, how do you plan to accomplish this goal? If no, why not?

Yes. A the owner of a small business, I recognize that our county leadership needs a common vision for our schools and plan for the future. And the way we manage our schools and our budget should align with that vision. From understanding facilities and staffing needs to creating a culture where our schools – and the students and teachers within them – are celebrated, our central office, school board, county commission, and county mayor need to unite in support of equitable, excellent education for our children.

Creating a strategic plan and budget with community input is the primary role of the school board. I am supportive of the recommendations put forth by the Hamilton County Schools Budget Working Group to develop a projected 5-year budget that is clearly connected to student outcomes. Doing so will help us think long-term and make informed decisions about how to align our budget with our agreed-upon priorities.