Talking with Don Coleman

08/12/2008 4:33 PM by

I sat down on July 23rd with Don Coleman, candidate for the 7th District School Board seat, and Brandon Jaycox, Coleman’s campaign manager, for an interview at Buzzy’s.

Coleman is clearly an amiable man. In talking with him, potentially divisive issues become opportunities for collaboration, for “getting people excited at the opportunity to work together”. He describes this as a personal strength and it comes across in conversation. In our governance and in our schools he says that “we need to demonstrate a leadership culture of unity and mutual respect”, and this more than any specific set of solutions comes across as fundamental to his platform.

Coleman ran for the 7th district school board seat 2 years ago and missed by only 41 votes. He says that, if elected, he is “determined to be public servant” and that he will will work to hear parents, that “he will hear your perspective”. When asked which of the current school board he most respected, he paused for a moment and named 2nd District representative Lisa Dawson and 4th District representative George Braxton.

With a daughter at Martin Luther King Jr Middle School who is president of her class and a wife that is VP of PTA at MLK, Coleman says that he has strong connections to RPS. Coleman, his wife, and oldest daughter are all graduates of RPS; and he volunteers at Richmond Hill’s Armstrong Leadership Program.

Coleman has lofty goals, such as to “focus on raising our schools above and beyond the standard, and on closing any achievement gaps”, and to make it such that children “have the same great educational experience no matter where their school is located”. He does not, however, offer much in the way of specifics at this time. The two proposals that he describes, though, both work to build connections between the parents in the community and the schools.

One of Coleman’s ideas is to put together a group of parent advisors. He sees the new 4 year term as a great opportunity to forge strong relationships that will last. Another of his proposals is that the school system or the schools have a recorded information line for parents, much like the city’s recent 311 initiative.

It is a fact that percentage of parents in the East End choose to send their children to out-of-zone or private schools. Coleman says that “there needs to be an intentional effort to draw people back in”, and the “best people to do so are the parents that have stayed”. It is important, he says, to get the message out that you can get a good education for your child out of RPS.

Coleman takes on some of the structural issues concerning RPS in saying that “we should not just measure schools simply by SOL scores, but look at ‘Complete Health of Schools’ including teacher retention, graduation rates, and PTA involvement. When asked to elaborate, Coleman responded that, “We need SOLS, there is no question that need standards, but teachers need to have freedom to teach without being boxed on focussing on the SOL test. We need to not squelch the creativity of the teachers.” Acknowledging that teaching can be a hard job, he calls for incentives to encourage the teachers, teacher appreciation teams, to let them know that they are supported and that the community is invested. He went on to say that RPS need to work on recruitment, again with possible incentives, reasons to come into RPS.

When asked about a few of the local hot-button issues, Coleman was deferential. The potential closing of Bellevue prompted Coleman to say that this is an issue that needs to be “talked through”, that it would be “another opportunity to hear from parents”. His take on the megazone policy was the same: he would “want to hear from parents”. He says that is comes down to that he wants to represent constituent concerns: his door will be open, and people need to be engaged.

More info: the Don Coleman campaign has a website and has put out two info sheets: A City Wide Vision for Educational Excellence and Don Coleman’s Community Connection Strategy.

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