J.R. McPhate’s love for the Van Buren School District is one of the reasons he is seeking the Position 6 seat on the Board of Education during the Sept. 15 school election.
"Having worked in the schools as a math teacher and a head boys basketball coach, I have seen first-hand some of the challenges our district faces," McPhate said "In fact, despite my appreciation for what our students have achieved, I would be dishonest if I said there were not many changes that can improve the quality of education we offer our students."
One of the biggest issues facing Van Buren teachers is a salary schedule that does not make the district competitive with others in this area of the state, he said.
While the starting salary for teachers in the Van Buren School District is very competitive, he said the steps in the salary schedule are unattractive to tenured teachers.
"Why teach here when with a few years experience a teacher can take a raise of $10,000 just by moving to a neighboring district?" McPhate questioned.
"Without a financial incentive for top teachers to stay within our schools, few will do so over their career," he said. "If there is no money in the budget to adjust the salary schedule, then there should be an explanation as to why there is not. Questionable spending practices, like spending over $10,000 to have a firm assist with the hiring of Dr. (Harold) Jeffcoat as our new superintendent or having two athletic directors, has not gone unnoticed by those inside the district, especially when there is a core teacher shortage at some schools."
The teachers in the district deserve a school board that will explore every option to pay them what they are worth, McPhate said.
He said another hurdle facing teachers is the lack of input they have in the curricular models that are chosen for local students.
"Teachers are often left wondering what new curriculum will they be forced to teach after an administrator flies across the country to hear a sales pitch," he said. "Teachers themselves have little to no say in what they teach, when they teach it, and how they teach it. Nor are they guaranteed that they will have any consistency in certain core subjects from one year to the next, which leaves little room for improvement."
McPhate said the biggest asset the district has is the teachers.
"Yet we are too dismissive of their voice," he said. "A culture has been created that makes teachers unwilling to voice their opinions in fear of being seen as someone who isn’t a team player. If we are going to create an even better district, we must free teachers to share their voices, gifts, and passions."
Additionally, he said the district is providing students with one of the bigger disservices possible by not holding them accountable or allowing them to experience failure.
"Too many schools allow students to turn in classwork weeks after it is due," he said. "Teachers are essentially told not to give homework to students at certain grade levels, or if they do are questioned regarding the worth of every assignment. We continuously push students down the line when they are not prepared which causes them to fall further behind. All because we do not want them to experience failure. The only failure is the false sense of hope we give our students that the real world is remotely similar to this culture we have created."
McPhate said there are many things he was privileged enough to be a part of as a teacher and coach in the district, and he is excited about the possibilities ahead of the Van Buren School District.
"It is very encouraging to see how enthusiastic Dr. Jeffcoat is about being in Van Buren and how well the district and community has embraced him," McPhate said. "I look forward to having the opportunity to work with him and the school board, to share my firsthand experiences as a teacher and coach, and to utilize the educational administrative training I received in graduate school. I look forward to being the voice that teachers and students desperately need. I look forward to an even better Van Buren School District. This is why I am running for a position on the Van Buren School Board."