By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
Lee County Superintendent Mike Scott would like to see the school district continue to add technology to its classrooms.
Assistant Superintendent Jimmy Weeks would like to change the way the district grades its younger students in order to make those marks less confusing for parents.
School district voters will decide Tuesday whether Scott, the Democratic incumbent, or Weeks, the Republican challenger, will be Lee County’s superintendent of education for the next four years.
During a forum for the two candidates hosted last week by Parents for Public Schools, each was asked about what they would improve in the 7,100-student school district.
Scott said he would like to see the district continue to expand its technology, something he said it has already done with the purchase of interactive projectors for its classrooms and by purchasing its own Internet line to allow for faster web speeds on its campuses.
Weeks said he would like to change the standards-based grading that Lee County Schools currently use for kindergarten to second-grade students. Rather than receiving a grade that ranges from “A” to “F,” students receive a rating on their ability to perform a series of necessary skills.
For each skill, students are rated, from lowest to highest, minimal, basic, proficient or advanced. That language matches the language used to rate students on state standardized tests.
Weeks said he would like to see K-2 students receive traditional grades instead. He said the grades could be accompanied by a checklist that would show whether or not that child has mastered various skills.
Throughout his campaign, Weeks has focused his platform on four things: strong instructional programs, family and community involvement, fiscal responsibility and safe and orderly schools.
Scott cites the district’s improving scores on state tests and said his goal is to continue several existing initiatives. He said his emphasis is on reading instruction and on increasing student achievement.
In speaking of ways for the district to improve lagging achievement by economically disadvantaged and minority students, Weeks said the district needs to identify and help struggling students before they get to high school and become overwhelmed. Scott said the key is to focus on making sure students are reading before they reach third grade.
Both candidates were asked their thoughts on performance-based compensation for teachers and on recruiting more minority teachers.
Weeks said he does not favor performance-based pay, in which teachers who reach certain targets make more money.
“I think a teacher’s motivation should come from within the classroom of students. It does not need to come from a paycheck,” he said. “That fosters unhealthy competition.”
He said that the district should hire its best and brightest teacher applicants, regardless of race.
Scott said he would like to see teachers paid more money but he has not seen a workable plan for performance-based pay. He said the district has no trouble attracting teachers to Saltillo and Mooreville but it does need to find ways to recruit teachers to its higher-poverty schools like Verona and Shannon.
“We need to look at ways of attracting more teachers to those areas because those children deserve the same type of education as children in other parts of Lee County,” he said.
Both candidates also were asked about their plans to prepare students for tomorrow’s manufacturing jobs. Scott said the key is teaching students how to collaborate.
“It is not technology skills they are looking for at Toyota, it is teamwork they are looking for,” he said.
Weeks said companies are looking for three things: good communication skills, very good problem solving skills and the ability to function as part of a team and in any role on that team.
Each candidate has had to answer ethical questions. Scott had an affair with a school district employee in 2010. The incident caused a court battle between Scott and Jamie Franks, the ex-husband of the district employee.
Meanwhile, a company owned by Weeks did subcontracting work in 2010 on a school district construction project, a possible violation of Mississippi’s ethics law. Tom Hood, executive director of the Mississippi Ethics Commission, said last week that because he is bound by a confidentiality restriction, he can neither confirm nor deny whether the commission has received a complaint or is investigating.
Scott publicly apologized for the affair. Weeks says he did nothing wrong.