By Theresa D. McClellan
for the fort bend star
Three educators, a businessman and an incumbent sat before a crowd of 40 April 12 to show why they should hold the Position 7 board seat of the Fort Bend Independent School District.
The Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Bend Voters League joined forces to host the candidate forum at the chamber of commerce in preparation for the May 7 elections. There are five candidates for the single Position 7 seat, which is open to candidates living on the east side of the school district.
The Position 3 seat for the west side of the district is uncontested and will be held by incumbent Jim Rice.
The forum was moderated by Jane Clark and Daniel Menendez, who set the stage allowing the candidates to introduce themselves by explaining when they decided to run and how they prepared.
Under the direction of the moderators, the candidates tackled school issues of zoning, state mandates and why they are running. The district recently addressed zoning and state mandates call for students to spend an extra 20 minutes in school next year.
James Davidson, a project manager in financial services, is a Dulles High School graduate with degrees in communications and a master’s in public administration. He said he was impressed with the strength of his education as a “middle of the road” graduate of Dulles High School who was able to graduate from college and attain a master’s degree in public administration. He knew in his early 20s he wanted to serve on the board but decided he needed more experience, so he attained his master’s degree, worked with the Houston Urban League on leadership and brought the league to Fort Bend to work on community building.
Davidson said he wants to build bridges, get parents, teachers and students working together and engage communities.
“We do very well with our academy programs preparing students for college. I’d like to see us treat them (students and parents) as customers; it’s better for growth. We need to turn up the communication.”
All three educators, Laura Ramirez, Sonja Leonard and Shirley Rose -Gilliam said they believe having an educator on the school board could have an impact while incumbent Dave Rosenthal disagreed.
Rosenthal, a geophysicist, noted that the unpaid school board seat is “the hardest position because you’re dealing with people’s kids and it can be emotional. Over the last four years I dealt with that pressure,” said Rosenthal who came onto the board four years ago challenging efficiency after he said the board spent $20 million on a plan that was never tested.
“You don’t necessarily need an administrator or teacher point of view. Someone knows (the jargon) so I don’t have to be an expert. The point is being able to ask tough questions and make sure I’m not being hoodwinked by administration,” Rosenthal said.
That prompted Sonja Leonard to respond, “my point is that how do you know you’re being hoodwinked, if you don’t know the background?”
Laura Ramirez has been a teacher at economically disadvantaged campuses, a principal and district administrator and currently works in human resources for the neighboring Alief School District. She is one of three educators and believes it is important for the board to allow customization rather than give blanket edicts to the schools. She cited the extra 20 minutes in school mandate, which could hamper schools if they are forced to use that time only one way.
“We need to reach out to those who will giving that extra time. I would like to see educators, teachers and parents meet to see how to use that time,” said Ramirez, who believes in collaboration.
Leonard is a language therapist with 25 years public school education experience in three states. The mother of three said that even though she is not originally from the Fort Bend district, she attended a school board meeting, has read the issues and is prepared to serve.
Both Leonard and Rose-Gilliam said they want to seek programming to close education gaps.
“The district is very diverse and that is a good thing but there is a 30,000-word gap based on the student’s educational background, so you will get behaviors the teachers can’t understand. It’s not appropriate but it’s all they (students) know how to do just trying to express themselves,” Leonard said.
Rose-Gilliam has 27 years experience as an educator, 25 of those across the sprawling socially and economically diverse FBISD district. She said her father had a third grade education and her mother a ninth grade education but she had a teacher who put a college application in her hand and that changed her life.
“I know what one teacher can do for one child, for an entire family. It’s my turn to give back,” said Rose-Gilliam, who is currently a principal in the Houston ISD.
“I work with the underdog, at-risk students no one wants,” she said.
She said the FBISD district has good administrators but needs help with teacher placement because they can leave students hanging when a teacher is out on maternity or sick leave.