Q&A with James

Want to know more about where I stand? Much about where I stand is included in my answers to various questionnaires; those are linked below. A few questions that I’ve been repeatedly that aren’t addressed in those questionnaires are below. If you have other questions you’d like considered for posting here, email them. And feel free, of course, to contact me directly.

  1. You work for IBM. Do you have NEW ideas about how to use technology to improve education in our community?
    • My training as a software engineer always focuses on what you’re going to accomplish with technology before implementing something. Too often schools seem to buy the latest trendy technology without having a clear idea of how it will support great instruction, then get mixed results as teachers use it in various ways. Here’s an example. My wife has complained about the lack of laptops in some classes she’s seen. But we can’t just look at that and say the answer is more laptops: The question is, what’s the problem, and then what’s the overall solution, which may require some piece of technology that we should invest in? So—what if we could have more consistent and comprehensive pre- and post-unit tests than what teachers use now if we use certain software, which would also then give us easily trackable data. Then we might say that to the solution to the problem of consistency across the schools–and the need for quality, easy-to-use tests to help teachers understand where their students are–would include access to a laptop for every child.
    • Other ways to use technology might include more use of video for certain lectures/hard-to-staff positions; if done carefully and thoughtfully, we can extend the reach of our best teachers through technology.
    • My son has a teacher using the “flipped classroom” model this year in a science class–meaning he tapes his lectures for students to watch as “homework,” then uses class time for work and labs. A teacher could also use the lectures of other great teachers who excel at explaining difficult concepts. Flipped classrooms can be really great especially for science and math, giving students the chance to replay something they didn’t catch or understand the first time a teacher said it–and in the case of science, opening up significantly more class time for labs. There’s nothing fancy about that use of technology–it’s just a solid example of how technology can support good teaching.
    • Here’s what it comes down to: School board members should expect that anyone coming with proposals for new technology won’t just talk to them about technology. Rather, they should insist that they be told what schools will actually accomplish with it—how will it change the educational experience for better results for our students?
  2.  How can schools–especially high schools–improve the cutthroat, high-pressure climate around grades?
    • I brought up getting rid of class rank on transcripts in the last campaign, and I feel strongly about following through on that; we hope to get a “local bill” introduced in the next state legislative session to allow us to do this. This would take some of the comparison pressure off students and remove the zero-sum nature of grades.
  3. The school district still isn’t very good at communication. How do you communicate with parents about issues that concern them?
    • As an individual board member, I post items of interest on this website and other social media, and of course people stop me often to talk about their concerns. I have tried for the past two years to continue to make it known that I am always available and willing to talk by phone or meet for coffee to hear parents’ concerns. I believe strongly that my one voice on the board needs to be informed by many in our community, and I remain committed to keeping up the great relationships I have across the district. On the wider level, I remain concerned about district communication, and it’s something I intend to focus on in the next four years (see also question 8 on the Indy questionnaire).
  4. What can the school board do to ensure that the district is making progress on published goals and objectives?
    • At IBM, most executives have a dashboard—a collection of charts they examine regularly that give the “vital signs” of the health of their business. The school board shouldn’t be any different: It needs a report card. Whether that’s a web-based update or five minutes at the start of every school board meeting, we should be looking at the measures of our goals to ensure progress on a very regular basis. (Chapel Hill’s town council has something similar, which members get monthly and discuss quarterly as needed. See this for an example–and note the “goal keeper” column–accountability the schools deserve.