A couple of Mobile’s own are challenging for two seats on the Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County in the June 3 primary elections.
Dr. Henry W. Roberts II is running against the current board president, Dr. Reginald Crenshaw, in District 3; while newly appointed incumbent Tracie Roberson will face Robert Edward Battles Sr. in District 4.
All four have entered the race as members of the Democratic Party, so the winners of each primary will almost definitely make it on to the board in November.
However, each will appear on the general election ballot against a section for write-in votes.
Crenshaw, who spent several decades as an administrator at Bishop State Community College, was elected in 2008 and currently serves as the board’s president.
“We’ve been able to decrease the drop-out rate about 27 percent and increase the graduation rate from 56 to 75 percent,” Crenshaw said. “We’ve spent right at $75 million on new faculties and renovations. We want to continue those efforts.”
Roberts, a former educator and administrator with experience in the MCPSS, said he would support many of the board’s ongoing efforts if elected.
In fact, his Leadership Mobile team worked to produce a video for the MCPSS’ 80-20 initiative, which set a goal of an 80 percent graduation rate by 2020.
“The overall goal for the system is being accomplished, but in District 3 particularly, we still need some improvement,” Roberts said. “We can improve those rates through taking advantage of the programs that already exist in the system, but we could also use more parental involvement and different avenues students to learn. We all learn differently.”
District 3 includes Mattie T. Blount High School, which had a four-year graduation rate of 59 percent in 2012, and C.F. Vigor High School, at 75 percent in 2012.
Crenshaw said the current board is continuing efforts to improve rates in all districts through after school programs, individual assistance and an emphasis on critical thinking skills in the classroom.
One of the larger issues in education today is the implementation of Common Core State Standards, which were adopted by Alabama in 2010 and have been implemented over the past few years. Both District 3 candidates support Common Core.
Crenshaw, who signed a proclamation opposing an opt-out bill in the Alabama Senate in March, said the standards make sure students in Mobile County are able to complete globally.
“We’ve always been in agreement with common core,” he said. “This is the 21st century movement of education and teaching. When students leave Mobile County they’ll be on the same standardized curriculum throughout the state.”
Roberts agrees with the concept of shared standards, but said board members should rethink how students are grouped for instruction.
“As board members, we can help rethink these patterns,” he said. “We should break the classrooms down again to make sure that everyone is learning at their own pace. If you’re exceptionally gifted, you should be in class with other exceptionally gifted students so you don’t have to slow down for the (children) that can’t keep up.”
If elected, Roberts said he would also work to expand the technology offerings available to MCPSS students. Partnering with corporations and the computer industry is one way Roberts suggested financing such an effort.
“We definitely need to upgrade our technology,” he said. “That’s the way the world is going. We need to be pugged into it.”
Crenshaw said it isn’t fiscally possible for the MCPSS, which has more than 60,000 students, to purchase individual laptops.
However, he did say the board is currently trying to utilize technology in the classroom as much as possible and make sure every campus has computer labs available for students.
Overall, Crenshaw said his re-election would extend the life of board that has worked together to make improvements in school facilities and student achievement.
Roberts said he’s a visionary with a global perspective and wants to bring about an education revival in Mobile County.
“I’m solution orientated,” he said. “Most people site problems. I’m into producing and getting results.”
Roberson was appointed to board last November to fill the vacancy left by City Councilor Levon Manzie, and is now getting ready to run for her first election. She says her experience as a lawyer makes her a prime candidate to handle any issue the board might face.
Battles, a community activist for more than 50 years, graduated from the University of South Alabama with a degree in phycology.
“The next six years are so pivotal because we have some serious problems in the Mobile County Public School System,” Battles said. “Most schools in the inner city are in danger of declining enrollment. We need a board member who want be afraid to make critical decisions.”
He went on to criticize Roberson because of her decision to abstain from a vote on the Blue Creek Coal Terminal as a member of the Mobile Planning Commission. The commission eventually approved the operation of the terminal less than two miles from Council Middle School.
“I recused myself because these are two different positions,” Roberson said. “Ethically, I don’t believe one board should influence my decision on the other.”
Roberson said she has no plans to step down from the planning commission if she’s re-elected to the school board.
Battles said he decided to run for a position on the board because of what he considers to be a lack of public input on key decisions. He referenced two recommendations from Superintendent Martha Peek to close or repurpose schools, which he claims didn’t include any input of the affected communities.
“If you’re a public entity, you should include the community and parents in these decisions,” Battles said.
Like Roberts in District 3, Battles thinks parental involvement is the key raising graduation rates in Mobile County. He said he was dedicated to serving the system as a whole, but was deeply concerned with the rates of student success in the inner city schools in District 4.
Of the high schools in the district, Lillie B. Williamson has the lowest graduation rate at 59 percent. However, other schools have some of the highest in the MCPSS, like Murphy High School, 81 percent; John L. Leflore Magnet School, 87 percent; and Ben C. Rain High School, 70 percent.
Roberson said the system is well on its way to achieving the 80-20 goal.
“Each school now offers after school tutoring,” she said. “We also have a credit recovery program, which helps students who’re behind to catch up and graduate on time.”
Both candidates share board’s support for Common Core, but Battles said he would like to develop more workshops and training sessions to help teachers better understand and teach the new curriculum.
As for technology in the classroom, Battles suggested finding additional funds and partnerships to create a program similar to Baldwin County, which offers laptops and tablets to all of its students.
Roberson, like Crenshaw, said that feat isn’t possible on the system’s current budget. “We’re doing the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program in a lot of our schools, and we’re working to expand it to others,” she said. “This is the technology our students are already using.”
Roberson did say the board was looking for additional resources to provide Internet access and technology offerings in every classroom.
As his slogan suggests, Battles said he is prepared to stand his ground for the children and teachers of Mobile County.
“I will make the faculty feel as though they’re a part of education in Mobile, unlike some cases where we’re seeing allegations of dictatorial principals who have no concern about their relationship with teachers,” Battles said. “I’m not the Lone Ranger. If elected, I will work in conjunction with my fellow board members so we can make it the best system for our students.”
Roberson said her professional experience in accounting and public administration and a love for education qualify her to remain on the board.
“It’s a common sense approach,” she said. “A public school system is not a business. It’s about giving the students what they need and not shorting them because we’re slightly over budget. However, where there is waste, I’m willing to make the tough decisions necessary to keep the school system running successfully.”
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