The Knoxville Focus for January 11, 2016

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Susan Horn Kicks off School Board Campaign

By Sally Absher

sallyabsher@knoxfocus.com

Susan Horn hosted a well-attended campaign kick-off last Friday evening at the Milestones Event Center in Farragut.  Over 75 supporters and several elected officials attended the event.

Susan and her husband Brad have lived in the 5th District for 14 years. They have two daughters, Madeline and Reagan, who attend Farragut High School and Farragut Middle School.

Horn has been active in her children’s schools since her older daughter started kindergarten, holding various positions in PTAs and PTSOs over the years.  She served as PTA President at Farragut Primary and Intermediate Schools, and is currently on the PTSO Board of Managers at Farragut Middle and High Schools. She also served on the KCS District Advisory Council from 2011-2013.

“Having served in these positions,” Horn told us, “parents often come to me when school policies or situations arise that concern them.” Over the past several months, a number of these same parents encouraged her to run for the School Board. “Like them, I want to see the viewpoints of students, teachers, and taxpayers in the 5th District represented on the board.   My desire has always been to support teachers and administrators so that they have the needed resources to provide the high quality education our children deserve.”

She believes that the greatest asset of KCS is the quality of our teachers, describing them as “a hard-working, dedicated group of professionals who desire to positively impact children and prepare them for college and the work force.” She adds, “I believe the highest priority of anyone associated with Knox County Schools should be the academic and emotional well-being of students. We must support teachers to nurture an environment that makes children excited about learning.”

“A healthy teaching environment is the first step toward student success. Teachers must be given the tools needed and have autonomy in their classrooms. We must also empower parents to have an active role in the education of their children,” Horn said.

She told The Focus that one of the biggest challenges she sees for KCS is the perception that the Superintendent, the School Board and the community are not united in their approach to achieving “excellence for every child.” While the local district has little control over standardized tests mandated by the state, there is still too much quality instructional time being lost to test prep, test practice, and changes to student schedules during the testing window.

Horn explained, “In high schools with block scheduling, student schedules are being adjusted to accommodate students who are taking TNReady tests during at least two weeks of each semester. Rather than a ninety minute class, students not taking a test may be in one class for two and a half to three hours.” Sydney Gabrielson, the Student Representative to the Board, voiced a similar concern during a recent BOE meeting.

Susan Horn is a relative newcomer to politics, although she worked on Jason Zachary’s successful campaign to fill Ryan Haynes’ House District 14 seat in the Tennessee Legislature last fall.  Because of this, and because Horn and Zachary’s wife are cousins, some have tried to tie Horn to Zachary.

Horn told us, “I credit Jason’s willingness to serve our community with inspiring me to get out of my comfort zone and serve in an area that I am passionate about. But that does not mean we will agree on every issue. I am running on the merits of my own background. I have been involved in education as a parent, a PTA/PTSO leader, and through my work in Children’s Ministry for the past 10 years.

Because they may be a topic in this year’s legislative session, we asked Horn for her opinion of charter schools and vouchers. She said that she has spoken with many parents and teachers in Knox County about charters and vouchers, and the support for these is not as strong in Knox County as in other parts of Tennessee. She said, “We have great public schools in Knox County. And we have more school choice already in Knox County than in any other district in the state, through our Magnet School network.”

She added, “I don’t think vouchers would be accepted by our private schools here because of the rules that come with them. And I do not think Knox County can afford to spread our limited public school funding beyond the public schools we already support, especially with the addition of two new middle schools over the next five years. Our one charter school, Emerald Academy, has been open for less than one year. I think the Board of Education made the right decision in voting not to increase Emerald’s enrollment beyond the initial plan at this time. We need to see how Emerald Academy does over the next few years before we have any votes on expansion or future charter schools.”

Horn also mentioned Community Schools, which she said are a “wonderful alternative to vouchers and charter schools.” She explained, “What I have learned is that students are exposed to an array of activities they may not experience otherwise, and the services and classes offered to families are invaluable. This type of program is essential to increasing student performance in struggling schools.”

Regarding the superintendent’s recent announcement of his intent to resign, Horn said, “I’m sure it was difficult, but I do think Dr. McIntyre made the right decision by stepping down. Our focus needs to be on educational excellence for every student. My hope is that a new board and new Superintendent will bring about an atmosphere of harmony and partnership that has been missing for some time now.”

In addition to strong leadership skills and the ability to collaborate with and satisfy the demands of the School Board, central office staff, administrators, teachers, parents, and community stakeholders, Horn said, “I believe we need someone with vast classroom as well as administrative experience, who has a vision of providing students with a stimulating, engaging education that encompasses all areas of a child’s learning experience from academics to art, music, and athletics.”

She told The Focus, “I believe it is the responsibility of a BOE member to continually seek feedback from school administrators, teachers, parents, and taxpayers.  As their elected representative it will be my job to represent their views on the board.  I will encourage open lines of communication so that concerns and suggestions can be freely shared.”

 

 

 

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