Listen: A Q&A With Nashville’s School Board Candidates
The Aug. 7 election features races in the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th districts. Credit:

Listen: A Q&A With Nashville’s School Board Candidates

The Aug. 7 election features races in the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th districts. Credit:
The Aug. 7 election features races in the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th districts. Credit:

This year, the school board seats in even-numbered districts are up for election, so we asked the school board candidates 10 questions about their views on education in Nashville and Tennessee. The election is Aug. 7, and early voting begins July 18. Find your district here.

The Candidates

Listed in alphabetical order by district. (I) designates an incumbent. 

District 2:

  • Edward Arnold: Adjunct faculty at Nashville State Technical Institute, IT employee for the state*
  • JoAnn Brannon (I): Retired MNPS teacher and principal, 8 years on MNPS board
  • Bernie DriscollLexmark IT consultant

District 4:

  • Rhonda Dixon: Hospital Corporation of America software tester and consultant 
  • Anna Shepherd (I): Payroll manager, 4 years on MNPS board
  • Pam Swoner: Nashville Cameras owner

District 6:

  • Tyese Hunter: Clinical supervisor of speech pathology at Tennessee State University
  • Cheryl Mayes (I): Accountant, 4 years on MNPS board

District 8:

*Note: We were not able to reach Arnold (District 2) for response.

The Questions

We asked each candidate the exact same questions. Click the play button below each candidate’s name to hear his or her full response. 

1. As long as they’re performing at a high level, do you see any need to limit the growth of charter schools in Nashville?

Brannon (District 2): “We want them to be able to succeed. … The question is whether or not we will be able to support all of the charters financially as well as our own schools.”

Driscoll (District 2): “I just don’t want to limit the growth of any good program, whether they’re charters or something kind of homegrown inside.”

Dixon (District 4): “I don’t see a need to limit it, but what I really want to see us concentrate on is making sure all our schools are really good quality schools.”

Shepherd (District 4): “We really need to take a keen eye to the charter school to make sure that they are performing well and to make sure that we can afford them financially.”

Swoner (District 4): “I still see a need to limit the number. … If a corporation is managing a charter school in Nashville, then they can take that money and move it to other states.”

Hunter (District 6): “No, not if they’re performing at a high level. … If student outcomes are where they need to be, I don’t see a reason to limit them.”

Mayes (District 6): “Yes. … So while I think it’s a fantastic idea that charters are performing at a high level, we really need to be mindful and considerate of how it is affecting our budget longterm.”

Pierce (District 8): “I want Nashville to have great schools, whether they’re charter, magnet or zoned. So if the charter application has been approved … then yes, I would approve the charter school.”

Sharpe (District 8): “Yes. I feel like they have to also be a part of a strong fiscal policy, so I would want to see that charter schools could be supported financially before we expanded.”


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2. Do you agree with the district’s efforts to proceed to the new standardized test related to Common Core, even though the state has delayed implementation?

Brannon (District 2): “It is important that the standards be aligned with the testing tool. Presently, we’re using a tool that is designed for the Tennessee state standards to measure … Common Core standards.”

Driscoll (District 2): “I think we have to test on something. I don’t know necessarily if it’s this test or another.”

Dixon (District 4): “We don’t really have a way of measuring the outcomes of Common Core. … But I still think that because it is state-adopted, we still really need to be in alignment with that.”

Shepherd (District 4): “I would support proceeding with the Common Core assessments, because we are teaching to that curriculum.”

Swoner (District 4): “Now that we’re going to technology-based testing, they can take all of that information and they can put it into storage databases … I don’t see that is where we need to be spending our money.”

Hunter (District 6): “No, I don’t agree. … I think we need to first figure out where we are going with Common Core before we proceed with an assessment that’s related to it.”

Mayes (District 6): “Yes, I do. … Until the state catches up to us and gives us a tool that is going to work as far as testing is concerned, it’s creating an issue for all of our students.”

Pierce (District 8): “I want to understand behind Dr. Register’s suggestion for that. … I know that teachers are feeling like maybe the kids’ test results are not reflective of what they’ve taught.”

Sharpe (District 8): “My understanding and experience in the schools is that … we are slowing down our implementation of assessments, and I think that’s very important.”


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3. Do you believe it’s fair to judge teachers on their value-added scores and base their pay on those outcomes?

Brannon (District 2): “A student’s score alone … should not be the only tool used to evaluate a teacher.”

Driscoll (District 2): “Value-added scores are only one indicator. … It’s not the be-all, end-all.”

Dixon (District 4): “I’m not exactly sure if that is the correct tool, but I don’t know if there’s another tool right now in place.”

Shepherd (District 4): “We have to look at what rubric we can use to assess teachers, in addition to using some test scores.”

Swoner (District 4): “From year to year, their classes could be totally different … To attach all of those scores to their pay or any type of incentives, I just do not see the fairness in that.”

Hunter (District 6): “I don’t believe it is fair. … The assessments need to be based upon the functioning of the teacher … to implement their program or their curriculum based upon their abilities.”

Mayes (District 6): “No I don’t. … If we’re going to hold teachers accountable, we need to be very smart about how we do it and look at the big picture, not just a snapshot.”

Pierce (District 8): “I think they should be a component of the evaluation, but not the sole part of the evaluation.”

Sharpe (District 8): “I don’t think that simply a value-added score should influence a teacher’s pay.”


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4. If Jesse Register would like to continue as director of schools, would you renew his contract?

Brannon (District 2): “He has brought great success to our system. … I’m impressed with the way he relates to all stakeholders.”

Driscoll (District 2): “I’d like to see why he’d like to renew on his contract, and what are the expectations we are going to put on that renewal.”

Dixon (District 4): “Dr. Register is very controversial, so it would be very difficult for me to sit here and say yes or no to that.”

Shepherd (District 4): “Yes, I would. … He came when we needed him the most. He absolutely turned this big ship around in the right direction.”

Swoner (District 4): “Jesse Register has done many, many great things, but … I really think we need a new person.”

Hunter (District 6): “There are nine people on the board, and it would need to be one consensus voice.”

Mayes (District 6): “Yes. I think he’s doing a fantastic job. … Our district is performing better than most districts in the state of Tennessee, hands down.”

Pierce (District 8): “I’d want to see the parameters of his request. At this time, I don’t know if Nashville is in a place to recruit and hire the best candidates out there.”

Sharpe (District 8): “Yes. I think it’s very important right now that we maintain consistency in the school system at the leadership level.”


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5. What’s your general perception of Kevin Huffman?

Brannon (District 2): “While we don’t always agree with his decisions, we feel that he probably is working to the best of his ability to manage the educational programming for the entire state.”

Driscoll (District 2): “I don’t really have much of an opinion of him, but I know in that position it really takes some think skin, and you really need to get along with a lot of different people.”

Dixon (District 4): “I know he too is often controversial, but I think he has done an excellent job. … It’s a very difficult job to be in charge of an entire state’s education.”

Shepherd (District 4): “I’m not convinced that he has a keen eye toward the larger systems like Metro Nashville Public School system. I think that some of his tactics might work better in a small system.”

Swoner (District 4): “In Kevin Huffman’s position, we need a true educator, not an administrator. I don’t think that Kevin has the vision that we need to take our children into the 21st century.”

Hunter (District 6): “I think he is passionate about education … and of course there are people who have political reasons to state otherwise.”

Mayes (District 6): “I think that there could be some improvement in that office. I think that for Metro schools in general, we were unfortunately dealt a bad hand a few years.”

Pierce (District 8): “Kevin came in as a change agent, and it’s often hard for someone to be both really effective and really popular.”

Sharpe (District 8): “There clearly is some animosity around him, but it’s not something that I’ve experience personally.”


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6. What part of the MNPS budget would you cut in order to fund more computers for students?

Brannon (District 2): “We have just recently purchased more computers for students … so that we can implement the Common Core.”

Driscoll (District 2): “We have to say, ‘Why do we need it?’ … As a board member that’s the way I’m going to approach them, very kind of in a pragmatic way.”

Dixon (District 4): “There’s a lot of administrative costs in central office that I don’t know what they are or what they’re for. I really think that we need to … look at that budget.”

Shepherd (District 4): “I’m not sure that we need to cut anywhere. I think that we need to allocate money for technology, and we have done so in the past. … Every year, the council is very generous and they fund most of what we need.”

Swoner (District 4): “I would not cut the budget for more computers. We have gone to a technology-based learning model, and that model is not the model that Bill Gates uses for his children. … They do not even have computers in those schools.”

Hunter (District 6): “I would need to look at the entire budget before I could make a decision such as that.”

Mayes (District 6): “That would be a tough one. … I would work with our CFO and our director of schools and find out how we can afford to adjust the budget so that we can get the technology that is needed for our students.”

Pierce (District 8): “I would have to look at the whole budget. … I think there’s a lot of areas of the budget that need to be examined.”

Sharpe (District 8): “That’s a tough question. I’d have to spend more time looking at the budget to have a really educated answer to that.”


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7. Do you have any reservations about Common Core State Standards?

Brannon (District 2): “Not at this time. We’ve been implementing the Common Core for three years now. … We will be looking at the assessment tool very carefully.”

Driscoll (District 2): “For Common Core, I think the standards are higher than they were in the past, but I think they need to be higher in the future.”

Dixon (District 4): “I love the concept of Common Core, because I do believe that we need to set expectations high for our children. … I am concerned that we don’t have a way to truly assess Common Core.”

Shepherd (District 4): “No, I don’t … because it offers a more holistic approach to learning, instead of memorization or learning by rote. You have to truly understand the subject matter.”

Swoner (District 4): “I do not agree with Common Core. … I know that they’re asking the children to analyze and think on their own, but there were tutors and college students that were tutoring third graders … [who] could not help those students learning any longer.”

Hunter (District 6): “I’m extremely disappointed in its implementation. Teachers are confused, parents are confused. Parents don’t know what’s going on at all, and they are the primary stakeholders.”

Mayes (District 6): “No, I don’t. There are a lot of people who may question Common Core because they don’t really understand it, but … there’s a lot of critical thinking going on with these children using these Common Core standards.”

Pierce (District 8): “I do have reservations. … It’s very polarizing, I’m finding. I think it’s one of those things that Tennessee absolutely needs high standards, but we need to have the stakeholders supportive and excited about them.

Sharpe (District 8): “My biggest reservation is that it seems to be a very divisive issue. … The verbage around Common Core tends to put people on one side or the other, which is my biggest concern.”


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8. How do you evaluate schools that are very different economically and socially? How can you make decisions that will affect such different schools?

Brannon (District 2): “We try to look at the academic framework and see what the students’ achievement looks like, and that will indicate some of the new strategies that might be needed for those students.”

Driscoll (District 2): “It’s really important for us to measure all our schools against those standards. Some schools will need more attention to others.”

Dixon (District 4): “It’s very difficult to say that there’s one way to look at schools that are so very different, because there’s just too many inequalities within our system.”

Shepherd (District 4): “We are a very diverse school system, … and we have to take that into account when we are assessing schools and how well they’re doing.”

Swoner (District 4): “The basic learning is the same, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a rich school or a poor school or a diverse school. … We need to get back to basics, so that we know how to teach the children wherever they are.”

Hunter (District 6): “You have to have a solid foundation of teachers to teach the children. It really doesn’t matter what economic background or status they come from.”

Mayes (District 6): “I think you start with the leadership at those schools to understand what children you have in each school. No two schools are alike. … You can’t evaluate a school using a one-size-fits-all method.”

Pierce (District 8): “I don’t believe that a child’s economic background is the deciding factor on how they’re going to perform in school. … MNPS has actually developed an academic performance framework that is very comprehensive.”

Sharpe (District 8): “The culture at each of the schools are wonderfully special and unique, and to me what’s important is that we don’t have a cookie-cutter approach to success.”


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9. A high number of teachers leave within the first few years. Is there anything the board can do to better support teachers and retain them?

Brannon (District 2): “I’ve always that a good mentoring program set in place with input from what the new teachers might need is always helpful in retaining teachers.”

Driscoll (District 2): “Attrition rates for young teachers are high in general. As long as we’re accepting of that, it’s probably for us to retain the best and the brightest.”

Dixon (District 4): “Part of the problem is that we aren’t supporting our teachers enough. … I’ve spoken to some teachers who said they have gone out and, out of their own pocket, have purchased materials or supplies that they need to teach the children.”

Shepherd (District 4): “We are having that conversation currently. … Two years ago, we raised the starting salary of beginning teachers to $40,000, which is significantly higher than teachers in surrounding counties.”

Swoner (District 4): “One of the things that we need to do is just give them the pay, the respect and the appreciation that that they deserve. There are so many good teachers right now that feel that they are being ignored.”

Hunter (District 6): “There is a tremendous amount of money that is being spent at the upper levels, administration, whereas schoolteachers who are actually directly involved … aren’t getting the necessary resources they need.”

Mayes (District 6): “The board can make sure that we have the right policies in place that allow the director of schools and his staff to hire the best quality teachers that we can possibly afford.”

Pierce (District 8): “A lot of teachers don’t feel supported. … [One teacher] felt like a lot of the professional development that teachers are sent to are not relevant to their field.”

Sharpe (District 8): “We are wearing our teachers out with yet another program to implement, and we have to get back to letting them to being career educators and be creative in the classroom.”


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10. To what extent, if at all, should the school board intentionally create diversity within its school zones?

Brannon (District 2): “We don’t intentionally do that. It’s based really on neighborhoods. We want students to glean from each other some of the differences that are in place for different families.”

Driscoll (District 2): “We need to have quality programs across the district. … I think we can’t lead with diversity. I think quality trumps diversity.”

Dixon (District 4): “I don’t know how you can intentionally do that except for bussing, and we don’t want to do that. … When you have good quality schools, you attract all types of families.”

Shepherd (District 4): “We already have a diversity plan. … We are no longer a majority district, we are a plurality district.”

Swoner (District 4): “You lose your friendships, your community when you start bussing people from here to there for diversity, but if it is feasible within a certain geographic area … and then give people choice.”

Hunter (District 6): “I think diversity in schools is extremely important. … I just think that some of it we’re not going to be able to control, and it’s mainly because of where people live.”

Mayes (District 6): “We’ve got a diversity management task force. … The board of education should not be charged with going out and intentionally making changes to diversity levels in schools.

Pierce (District 8): “Your hope is that you can have schools that reflect the neighborhood, and that those neighborhoods would be diverse… It’s a bigger issue than just the school board.”

Sharpe (District 8): “I think it’s a very complex issue, and it’s one that we’ve got to involve the local community in to discuss, so that it’s resolved listening to what’s important in every neighborhood.”


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Micah Bradley and Leah Johnson contributed to this report.

Emily Siner

Emily Siner is an enterprise reporter at WPLN. She has worked at the Los Angeles Times and NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and her written work was recently published in Slices Of Life, an anthology of literary feature writing. Born and raised in the Chicago area, she is a graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On Twitter: @SinerSays
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