In a letter to the Second District, BOE candidate Jennifer Owen said, “My excitement for the new year includes the potential for positive change for the community and students in Knox County Schools. I hope you will join me in driving that change by electing me to represent the Second District on the Board of Education.”
She outlines the three main goals of her candidacy: “It is important that the Board focus on making decisions in the best interests of our students. We must work to attract and retain great educators, and give them the autonomy to make instructional decisions in their classrooms. At the same time, the Board must repair relationships with our community by being representative, accountable, and transparent.”
Jennifer and her husband Robert have lived in the Second District for 18 years. She is a native of East Tennessee, and taught in Knox County Schools for 18 years. She resigned in 2014 to focus her efforts on helping the school board, legislators and the community to understand the complex needs of students and public schools. She has made many trips to Nashville to meet with legislators from across the state, always advocating for students and public education.
Because she has such a clear understanding of education issues, it was a natural step for Owen to decide to run for the BOE. “Knox County School system has the potential to be an education leader in our state and region,” she said. “However, the district has become mired in a culture of distrust that hampers the ability to make real progress. I want to help the school district rebuild trust with students, parents, staff, and the community to enable us to begin to be the great district we can be.”
But that means more than just test scores and graduation rates. “The emphasis on collecting data, testing, and funneling funds to private entities [the Broad Center and consulting firms] has left KCS with a top-heavy administration, more technology than the staff can reasonably support, and too many people pushing paper rather than having direct contact with students.”
She is very positive about the schools in the Second District (including Belle Morris, Christenberry, Fountain City, Inskip, Shannondale, and Sterchi Elementary; Gresham and Whittle Springs Middle, Fulton and Central High; and the Adult High School, Kelley Volunteer Academy, and Richard Yoakley School). She adds, “Our schools have great teachers, support staff, and administrators, as well as involved parents, all working toward the best possible outcomes for our students.”
As the legislative session gears up, one highly controversial topic is vouchers. Owen is not shy about her opinion of using public tax dollars to pay for students to attend private school. “When I see my Representatives supporting and voting for vouchers, I see them abandoning public education.”
She explains, “The claims that costs will decrease due to decreased student enrollment make no sense. Removing a few students from a building does not reduce the heat/air costs, maintenance costs, or the cost of staffing. Taking millions of dollars from public schools is not in the best interests of students.
She cites evidence from other states, including Louisiana and Wisconsin that have had voucher programs for many years, “Again and again, students remaining in their public school overwhelmingly perform better than those in voucher programs.”
But Owen DOES support Community Schools, including Christenberry Elementary and Inskip Elementary, which are in the second district. She said, “I believe Knox County is using the Community School Model very authentically and effectively. Community schools are places where the entire community can grow and prosper.”
She adds, “Community schools have programs after school which allow for tutoring, enrichment, and family engagement. Parents can take courses or work on completing their GED. Students, parents, and community members can participate in community gardening and join together for evening meals.”
When asked about Dr. McIntyre’s resignation, Owen replied, “The circumstances surrounding the resignation are unfortunate. Whether the decision to step down was right cannot be considered without including the fact that he backed the Board into a corner, from which they could not come out unscathed. That isn’t the way great leaders perform.”
One thing that frustrated Owen was the media focus on what the “new board” will do in the future without ever asking potential Board members whether any of the speculation was true. “As a result,” Owen said, “this very unfair and unfounded soothsaying has cost the taxpayers a great deal of money that could have been used much more responsibly.”
Jennifer Owen has given a great deal of thought about the qualities and experience she believes the new superintendent should possess. “I believe a successful academic leader must have appropriate experiences and qualifications that exceed those of the people he/she manages. As the instructional leader for the community, he/she must be fully qualified to lead at all levels.”
Of utmost importance, according to Owen, the new director of schools must:
- Have extensive experience in public schools (including a minimum of 5 years teaching and 5 years as a principal);
- Be able to understand and relate to the community with skills to enhance, rather than impede the flow of information; and
- Have a child-centered philosophy which puts the emotional and academic well-being of students above all else.
Owen also has a very clear understanding of who sets the educational policy and direction for Knox County, explaining, “This is already laid out in Tennessee state law: School Boards should be responsible for setting policy and the board-appointed Director of Schools should be in charge of the day-to-day administration of the schools as laid out in TCA 49-2-301. In other word, the School Board should govern the school system, and the superintendent should administer it.”
Voters in the Second District will have the opportunity to meet Jennifer Owen and learn more about her vision for Knox County Schools and District 2 at one of her upcoming Meet-and-Greet events, which will be posted on her website: at www.owen4schools.com/