Note: This is the second in a series of articles about the 19 candidates for election Nov. 3 to nine positions on a newly reestablished Little Rock School Board. The series started Tuesday with candidates from Zones 1, 2 and 3; today, the focus is on Zones 4, 5 and 6. On Thursday, the article will be about candidates seeking to represent Zones 7, 8 and 9.
Little Rock School Board members elected from Zones 4, 5 and 6 will take on the challenges of raising student achievement and right-sizing the number of campuses to shrinking student numbers -- all during a pandemic and with lingering state constraints.
Leigh Ann Wilson, a licensed social worker, is running unopposed from Zone 4 in a district that is emerging from nearly six years of state control.
Stuart Mackey, a commercial real estate executive, and Ali Noland, a school system activist and attorney, are vying for the Zone 5 seat to represent north-central Little Rock, which includes the Pulaski Heights neighborhood.
From Zone 6, the four who are running are FranSha' Anderson, a nonprofit executive; community activist parent Vicki Hatter; newly retired school principal Lou Jackson; and community activist Chris Kingsby.
Mackey is a familiar name to long-time Little Rock residents. Stuart Mackey's father was on the School Board, and his grandfather was a county judge.
"Running for the school board is something that I've waited to do for a number of years," Mackey said, noting his family's and his own public service. He added that he knows of no better investment he can make in his community than in supporting education.
Mackey, 55, previously served as the district's real estate agent but ended that account on the day he filed for the board seat.
"I have experienced every facet of the Little Rock School District," he said, "from my days as a student at Little Rock Central High School to being a parent helping kids from pre-k through their graduations at Central and even to working with the last seven superintendents on the LRSD facilities."
He said his experiences in balancing budgets, managing employees and working with a variety of professionals and volunteers enable him "to understand what it takes to be open to all viewpoints, look for answers that address a broad need, and to work as a team member toward a common goal."
Noland, 39, the mother of two young children, in 2019 led the effort to draft, build a coalition for and pass legislation that guarantees elementary children an age-appropriate amount of recess time each day.
She has also been at the forefront in advocating for the Little Rock district's return to local governance and presenting a parent voice on the matters dealing with student achievement and district operations that have come before the district's Community Advisory Board.
"For several years I have attended virtually all LRSD-related meetings of the State Board of Education, the Legislature, the Community Advisory Board and other groups," Noland said in response to questions about her candidacy. "I'm also a dedicated LRSD volunteer. I have tutored weekly at Wakefield Elementary for several years and have been a guest teacher at both Hall and Central [high schools] to discuss constitutional law and civil rights."
Her purpose in running, Noland said, is to give the residents of her zone a voice on the School Board. To that end, she said, she will listen and consider differing viewpoints when making decisions that affect students.
Noland, whose husband, Ross Noland, is an attorney in a pending legal challenge to the state's control of the Little Rock district, said she strongly disagrees that the state has the authority to retain indefinite control of the district.
"I hope that the courts will soon provide some clarity on those issues," she said. "But in the meantime, we should continue to work hard to improve in areas such as literacy and dyslexia support, which will serve our students and help us regain full local control."
Mackey said the district's efforts to exit the Level 5 category of state accountability must start with getting a clear understanding from the state on what achievements are necessary, then working diligently to surpass those benchmarks.
Until the district exits the Level 5 category, the state is barring the district from changing superintendents, recognizing the Little Rock Education Association as the employee's contract bargaining agent, and initiating lawsuits.
Both Mackey and Noland are open to retaining Superintendent Michael Poore once the state constraints are lifted. Both candidates are amenable to giving a role to the employee union, as well. And both said they are voting for a 12.4-debt service millage extension that would raise about $200 million for construction and repairs.
Mackey said the district has suffered from a number of short-term executives.
"If a superintendent is meeting the work scope of his/her employment contract, then there is no need to change superintendents," he said.
As for teachers, Mackey said: "If these voices combine to ask the LREA to represent them, then we need to strive to find a way to work together. I do not see a reason that the association should not be one of those included in the discussions."
Noland said she hopes Poore will stay with the district and that the new board will move quickly to establish goals and measurable evaluation systems for the board and superintendent.
Regarding teachers, Noland said, she would want to get as much feedback from the community as possible.
"That said, I think that teachers should have a place at the table whenever and wherever education decisions are being made. We would be foolish to ignore their expertise," she said.
Noland said she doesn't like the timing of the request for a millage extension -- extending the expiration date of the existing tax levy from 2033 to 2051. But she said she will vote for the measure, which won't raise taxes annually but will allow the district to take advantage of low interest rates and provide funds to fulfill a "moral and legal obligation" of rebuilding the McClellan campus for kindergarten through eighth grade as well as other improvements, including the revitalization of Hall High and the updating of school ventilation systems.
Mackey said there are long-promised building improvements that need to be addressed sooner rather than later, and additional funding is needed.
"We need more than just paint and new signs to provide equity across the district," Mackey said, adding that the tax extension is an investment in the schools and in the community.
His priorities, he said, are investing in the physical plan districtwide, rewarding exemplary efforts of teachers and staffs, and acquiring more teaching equipment.
As for a new high school in west Little Rock?
"If patrons of the district are asking for expansion of services, then we need to consider how we can meet their requests," Mackey said. "One way to do that may be to consolidate the Little Rock district with the Pulaski County Special district that is south of the Arkansas River. Or make use of the land adjacent to Pinnacle View Middle School to expand the new Pinnacle View School of Innovation."
Noland said the challenge of establishing a new high school will be balancing the needs of west Little Rock with the "urgent needs of the other areas of our city. I'm not opposed to expanding our offerings in one of the fastest growing areas of town."
One of the four candidates from Zone 6, which encompasses the central part of the district, must win more than 50% of the Nov. 3 vote to avoid a runoff election in early December between the top two voter-getters.
Anderson, 54, is the chief executive officer of the Arkansas State Independent Living Council, a nonprofit organization, and is the immediate past president of the Little Rock Parent Teacher Association Council that is made up of the PTA presidents from each school.
She has two adult daughters who attended the Arkansas School for the Deaf and two elementary school-age children, her cousins whom she fostered and has adopted, in a district school.
Anderson, who had some misdemeanor convictions over hot checks and use of a public agency credit card in the past, said those court cases have been sealed and that she is eligible to run for and hold office.
She said her more recent years of experience with budget management, audits, personnel training and work with a board of directors will be an asset to School Board membership. She also said her experiences in advocating for children, especially those with disabilities and who are part of homeless families, give her a perspective she can bring to School Board service.
Hatter, 41, is a mother of two and works in the accounting section for a fleet management company. She has been at the forefront of advocating for local control of the Little Rock School District since the 2015 state takeover of the district, as well as an opponent to school closures in the district. Most recently, she has been on a committee helping to plan for the Ford Next Generation Learning model of high schools that offer academic programs tied directly to business and industry careers.
"I will continue amplifying our voices and concerns around inclusiveness, laser focus on direct services to our children, district budget, and creating an intergenerational parent network," Hatter said in a social media post about her board candidacy.
Jackson, 64, a parent of adult children and a grandparent, said that as she's newly retired from a school system, she wants to continue to work for students and for teaching and learning. She said she has experience to offer from multiple levels of education and that she will promote safe and healthy schools along with equitable services.
"I want to be ... the catalyst for improvement within schools and within our communities," Jackson said. "It is a chance for a new start for the Little Rock School District and I want to work as a member of the team facilitating that new start."
Kingsby, 20, who is taking a break as a college student and who has become a speaker at events on social issues, said he can bring to the School Board the perspective of students that is often overlooked.
"Above all, I bring my enthusiasm and passion for wanting to improve the quality of education for young people like myself, in Zone 6," he said.
On how best the district can exit the state's accountability system, Anderson said the matter will take care of itself if the district quits "constantly lamenting and resisting" and focuses on improving student achievement. She also called for closing the racial achievement gap, particularly in reading; for training teachers to be trauma-informed; and for leading the state in teacher salaries as a way to attract and retain employees.
Hatter said the exit question can be better answered once the new board is able to review reports and research as well as confer with educators.
Kingsby said the district should fight back against the guardrails set by the state, but he also said he has found that the district "is hard at work" on exiting and that the new board must build on the groundwork already done.
Jackson said the district has an action plan for exiting Level 5, adding that the School Board's role will be to ensure resources and policies are there to implement the plan.
"The school board will need to monitor, evaluate and hold accountable those key players and key components with the plan," Jackson said.
In regard to their preferences on retaining Poore as the district's leader, Anderson said that she wants to be fair and equitable and follow the law. Hatter said the matter is premature and that it would be inappropriate for her to answer.
Kingsby said he doesn't have an opinion but will await a job performance evaluation of Poore on the efforts to lead the district.
Jackson said it is too early to establish a preference.
"I do know that consistency and stability are essential for improvements," Jackson said.
Kingsby said giving teachers a voice "has to be the number one priority for the incoming board."
"I share the belief that one of the first actions the board must make is recognizing the voice of our educators, whether this takes place after the guardrails are lifted or after a judicial opinion. When we uplift our educators and value their voices, we uplift our entire education system."
Hatter also was adamant: "Every employee should have representation, protections and workers' rights. Collective bargaining has shaped our country and given Americans rights that would not [otherwise] be in place today. "
Jackson said: "I am in support of [the] teachers' voice."
Anderson didn't respond directly to the question of whether the association should be recognized, saying that "all individuals should be treated fairly and receive fair and equitable pay," and that she wants to make sure "our teachers are healthy and safe."
On the millage extension and school building priorities, Hatter didn't exactly say yea or nay, only that "the timing is off" and that the far-off expiration date is "concerning."
She said Cloverdale is the district school most in need for improving. As for a new traditional high school in west Little Rock, Hatter said that the Little Rock West High School of Innovation has already been established and has space for additional students.
Jackson said she approaches all issues with the question of whether the impact will be good for students, and so intends to support the proposal to benefit facilities and operations -- particularly facilities already identified.
Jackson doesn't see a new high school as a necessity as "facilities are already there" on which district money has been spent. She questioned whether the student population is there for the school and how such a school would affect others such as Central High and Parkview High.
Kingsby and Anderson said they are voting for the 12.4-mill tax extension. Kingsby said he is doing that as a prospective board member whose job will be to see that the district has adequate funding. He said he won't attempt to influence others who use their votes as a check on government entities.
"I believe voters and tax-payers have a responsibility to send a message to our leaders that voters are decision makers and their voices matter and they shouldn't be ignored or brushed aside," he said.
Kingsby said his building priorities are addressing the Cloverdale and McClellan campuses. He noted that when he was a student at Dunbar, many of his classes were in portable buildings.
He said he didn't have a position on a new high school in the northwest part of the district.
"I believe the district has more pressing matters," he said.
Anderson said a new west Little Rock high school is needed to shorten commutes, to eliminate overcrowding at existing schools and to promote student achievement.
Wilson, 35, the mother of a district student and the wife of a teacher, said she is passionate about public education and making decisions that benefit all students.
"I want to do my part to ensure that we are able to gain full local control and maintain it," she said. A complete exit from state intervention in the district will mean making sure that the district finances stay in order and that community trust is rebuilt in the school system, she said.
Wilson said she sees no change in the role of Poore once the guardrails are lifted. He does a good job, she said, but he will have to be "truly accountable to the board and not the [Arkansas] Secretary of Education."
She said she would support the recognition of the Little Rock Education Association union to do collective bargaining but would also want to consider the input of the district's Personnel Policies Committee, the members of which are elected by their school colleagues to advise the board on personnel matters.
The proposed tax extension will get her vote despite what she considers to be bad timing, Wilson said. The construction of a replacement building for Cloverdale Middle at the McClellan site is a previous commitment that must be met, she said. As for a new high school, she said, it's needed in the northwest part of the city but will have to find a place among all the district building needs.
School Board terms are unpaid and have a three-year duration. The new board, once seated, has some authority to alter the term lengths.
Early voting for the Nov. 3 election starts Monday.
Print Headline: Little Rock School Board's hopefuls weigh in