by Holly Penta
Right now, a lot of the public’s focus is on the Midterm Election. Congress, the House, it’s all incredibly important, but people seem to be overlooking the race for school board representative. In St. Tammany Parish, Selah’s home, there are three candidates running for office. There is a plethora of yard signs and Facebook posts, but very little information about the candidates’ platform. I’ve asked all three candidates to answer a few short questions and will post their responses if/when they become available. I’m not here to take sides or to endorse any specific person, just to get the information out there and to encourage people to VOTE.
This race, though seemingly small, is incredibly important. So much of a person’s views, ideas, and knowledge comes from their childhood and so much of childhood is spent inside the classroom. Though the kids may rarely, if ever, meet their representatives, their decision affect the daily lives of all the students in the parish. These students, with the exception of a few high school students, cannot vote, so it’s up to us to make the best decision for them. The best vote is always educated.
An Interview with St. Tammany Parish School Board Candidate Robert Broome
1. What role would you like the arts to play in children’s education? I know there is not always funding for art and music classes, but through Selah Youth I see that the interest and excitement is still there. Is there anyway you can think of to increase the kids’ exposure to the arts? How can the arts and sports coexist?
Arts in our schools play an important role in every student’s education. For some talented students, the opportunity to receive specialized education in specific kinds of art such as music, fine arts, or theater, is a tremendous benefit to the student and their families. Our existing talented art programs deserve our support and I will continue to support those programs. Arts education is a valuable part of a complete education for ALL our students. Every student deserves exposure to and an understanding of the arts. It is part of a well-rounded education for every student and I support that idea.
2. What is your opinion on school uniforms? Some schools in St. Tammany require them while others do not. Do you think they promote safety and minimize differences, and therefore distractions, among students or do they limit individuality?
I was instrumental in the original adoption of the current school uniform policy in St. Tammany. When I first heard about the idea I was skeptical, but researching the pros and cons of uniforms in schools convinced me that the idea should be an option for our schools. I participated in and for some of the time headed up the parent committee that lobbied the school board and the administration to give it a try here. I fully support the idea that the decision about uniforms should be decided with a vote of the parents at each school. I well remember talking to then Superintendent Monteleone about the policy. When we had secured the votes on the board, he decided to support the idea because we had included a school vote to implement the policy at each school. He was convinced that none of the schools would agree to uniforms and so it didn’t hurt to support the idea. When uniforms passed on the first try in the overwhelming number of our schools, he was the first to say what a great idea it was. I agree it limits the student’s individuality. That is a cost. Yes, the kids can’t express themselves as much as they like and I am sorry for that. But that is a price worth paying considering all the positive things that come from uniforms. Just ask any parent, teacher, or school administrator. I don’t agree that it is a significant contributor to safety in the school-that was not an original reason to support uniforms. A good reason for uniforms is it reduces the cost of schooling to the parent. For those parents who need help providing uniforms for their children, the schools all have formal or informal assistance available. The purpose of uniforms is to simplify the student environment and allow them to concentrate on education. For this purpose, it works. On free dress day, the kids are more distracted and their behavior suffers. The school principals love uniforms. So much that recently the administration tried to force uniforms on to every school in the parish. This violated the original plan and I am glad that the board saw fit to own up to their mistake and leave the decision in the hands of the parents of each school currently without uniforms-as it should be. Our current policy works and I support it-I helped write it.
3. Through the grapevine I’ve heard that local schools have been experiencing some minor threats. How do you propose we best protect our children? How will you keep the parents informed without causing a panic?
Every school receives threats and there are rumors in every school about dangerous things. Every school has a well-organized procedure to handle such rumors and reports. In today’s climate there is simply no longer any such thing as a minor threat. All reports are investigated and when the source is identified the police take action. There is always room for improvement, but unfortunately the schools and the school district get lots of practice. In the current climate threats in school are always taken quite seriously and law enforcement does not cut anyone any slack. They can’t and won’t. It is no longer ever considered a joke or a prank-it is a serious crime and students are arrested for threats that in the past might have been handled informally. Students need to realize that times have changed. The consequences won’t be a trip to the principal’s office; they may well end up in jail charged with felonies. And that has happened even to students in lower grades.
Keeping the parents informed is a very difficult matter. Unfortunately, when threats are made it is no longer a school matter. Law enforcement is in charge and they are dealing with the issue. They have legal considerations limiting what information they can provide. Informing the parents is important, but the school administration has little control over the matter. When any information becomes publicly available, then that information must be immediately shared with the parents-through the school. The rumor mill or social media is rarely a good way to get the truth out. I support transparency and immediate communication while working with law enforcement.
4. St. Tammany Parish frequently boast high levels of college acceptance, but there is always room for improvement. How will you increase students’ interest in college from an early age? Also, do you think trade school or apprenticeships should be more stressed as they can be a much better option for some students?
This is a critical issue for our schools. The focus and purpose of school is to give students a well-rounded education so that every student can clearly see and understand the options available to them. We have work ahead of us to achieve this. Our schools all try to provide a variety of educational options to our students. For example, Northshore HS has one of the largest agriculture programs in the entire state, but there is no denying that our schools are focused on the college track. And for many of our students that is appropriate. But all our schools must do better at teaching our students that the future is in the hands of the student and their parents-not with the guidance counselor or with rules handed down by BESE. Each student needs to be provided with the self-confidence and knowledge necessary to make the right choice for themselves. And when those choices are made, the schools in all grades need to have opportunities available for every student, including trade schools and apprenticeships when appropriate.
5. What are you most excited to accomplish if/when you get elected to the St. Tammany Parish School Board?
I am most excited about learning how to assist our school system in becoming the best in the state and one of the best in the country. I have served on the board before. I know the challenges a new board member faces-both from the demands of concerned parents and the attention a board member receives from the administration. Both are powerful forces that every board member must learn to handle. We are elected to represent our constituents to the administration, not to represent the administration to our constituents. That is a challenging lesson for anyone elected to this position. I am excited at the opportunity to hit the ground running and immediately go to work to provide our residents with the highest quality educational system possible. I know we can do it-we have done it before. The challenges from the state level are significant, but a sophisticated and knowledgeable board and administration can deal with the challenges and provide a high quality school system. That excites me!