Mayor Palazzolo went over the ground rules. The candidates were to be asked the same set of questions and each one was given approximately 30 minutes for their interview. Patrick Lawton served as moderator by asking the questions but told the candidates to direct their answers to the aldermen who would be making the final decision at the next meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen on Monday, September 12th. Only the aldermen will vote in the selection process. Mayor Palazzolo will vote as a tie-breaker, if necessary. The mayor said that, unlike the aldermen vacancy where he would be selecting his successor, this time, he would be willing to cast a tie breaking vote.
Essentially, the candidates were asked to answer 8 questions. Some of the questions contained multiple parts and others were more of an invitation to give remarks. Since the questions were not always asked in the same manner, here's a generalized list:
- Tell us about yourself and why you applied for the vacant position on the school board?
- Do you have any scheduling conflicts that would prevent your attendance at meetings?
- How do you view GMSD's relationship with SCS and the other municipal districts?
- If there was an issue that you disagreed with parents and teachers, how would you vote and why?
- What are the greatest attributes of GMSD?
- What are the most pressing issues faced by our district?
- What would be your goals as a new school board member?
- Why are you the best candidate for the vacancy?
The mayor and aldermen were able to ask questions as well. Two questions were consistently asked of all the candidates. Mayor Palazollo asked if they would seek election to the school board after the appointed term ended. Most candidates were also all asked how they felt about career path education for students who did not plan to attend college.
None of the candidates had any scheduling conflicts that would prevent them from attending school board meetings. All candidates asked, said that they favored looking into educational tracks that were not geared towards traditional college. And only two candidates gave definitive answers regarding running for office. Lyle Muller said he would not seek office after the appointment ended. Dan Roberts said he was already planning to run for school board in two years so he would seek office after the appointment ended.
The Candidate Interviews
Mr. Fleming is a dynamic speaker who had no problems breaking the ice with the aldermen and giving a smooth interview. Fleming is a banking consultant strategic planner with five children ranging from ages 11 to 29. His daughter is a teacher at Dogwood. He has two sons in GMSD schools: a senior at Houston High and his youngest son, a student at Houston Middle. He has been involved in school activities through his children as well as scouts. He attends Grace Evangelical Church where he teaches Sunday school on occasion and is involved in their children's ministry. It was not his idea to apply for the vacancy, he was asked to do it by several others. He agreed to submit an application because he is a big fan of the district and would like its success to continue. When asked about GMSD's relationships with other school districts, Fleming said we must raise the level of education everywhere and help Memphis schools. He mentioned that he was impressed with the work of the Walton Foundation in education reform.
Fleming told the board that if he had differing opinions than parents and teachers, he promised to listen them and a wide variety of other opinions before rendering a decision. He believes GMSD's greatest attribute is its good teachers and great environment for teachers. His goals for the district are to build consensus among constituencies by finding common ground; address infrastructure issues such as capacity and aging equipment; carefully introduce technology into schools; and value all career paths equally by encouraging students to explore educational alternatives to traditional four year colleges. At the end of the interview when the aldermen were allowed to ask questions, Alderman Janda pointed out GMSD's lack of anti-neoptism policy and asked how having a daughter working for the system would affect his decision-making, Fleming said it would not be a factor.
Ralph Gabb (Palazzolo, Gibson, Klevan, Owens, Janda)
Mr. Gabb who seemed a little uncomfortable in the spotlight, answered interview questions in a succinct, soft spoken manner, often referring to his notes. When asked why he applied for the position, Gabb said he wanted to be useful to his community. His son went through the schools in Germantown and he will have a grandson in school next year. Gabb is a recent retiree of the City of Germantown who served as the City's Finance Director for 24 years. When the aldermen were given an opportunity to ask questions, Mary Ann Gibson prompted Gabb to speak to his role in the formation of GMSD. Gabb then outlined the history of GMSD and noted he was involved in the negotiation to acquire the 5 schools from SCS. Gabb feels he is the best candidate because he understands financial matters and how school funding works.
When asked about GMSD's greatest attribute, Gabb said it was the superintendent. He also mentioned the school board's good working relationship with the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. His goal moving forward would be to follow the strategic plan of the superintendent. He would also like to see GMSD continue its working relationship with the other municipal school districts as he feels GMSD's co-operative agreements for shared services are working well for the district. When asked how he would vote if his personal opinion was contrary to the wishes of parents and teachers, Gabb said he would vote based on his opinion but would first explain how the decision affected everyone and get buy-in from the community. Gabb declined to make any closing remarks saying he was not prepared but he just wanted to thank everyone for the opportunity and emphasized the need for education and our duty to prepare kids for the future.
Elizabeth"Betsy" Landers (Palazzolo, Gibson, Klevan, Owens)
Ms. Landers presented herself as a well polished candidate who has lived in Germantown for 20 years, moving here from Arkansas where she worked in former Governor Bill Clinton's administration. She joined PTA as a young mother making her way up the ranks becoming PTA president at the county, state, and national level. At the state level, Landers was instrumental in bringing about parental engagement legislation. While president of National PTA, Landers had the opportunity to travel the country and the world on behalf of PTA. She also personally worked with former Education Secretary Arne Duncan on a variety of issues. She did not elaborate on which issues but a quick google search reveals Landers partnered with Duncan in advocating for a ban on semi-automatic weapons and as a proponent for common core state standards speaking locally on the issue to the Germantown Council of Neighborhood Associations in 2013.
When asked why she would be the best candidate to fill the vacancy, Landers pointed to her six month stint as the school board parliamentarian. She said that school boards rarely have parliamentarians but she agreed to serve after her "PTA friends" asked her to volunteer. She also noted her past experiences with PTA and her work as a child advocate. When asked about her goals as a board member, Landers said she wanted to bring a different point of view to the school board and provide a new set of eyes. She went on to say that she would work toward building a consensus and emphasized the importance of being a good listener. After a question from Alderman Gibson, Landers answered that if she had a disagreement with the superintendent, she would handle it in a private meeting, keeping in mind, her role is to make policy, not micromanage the superintendent. Landers would not give a definitive answer on whether or not, she would run for school board after her appointed term ended.
Lyle Muller (Owens, Janda)
Dr. Muller, a local orthodontist, gave a thoughtful, philosophical, and at times, loquacious interview. He moved to Germantown in 1973 and remembers when the aldermen all gathered in the morning over 25 cent cups of coffee. He is well versed in Germantown's history and attributes high quality education for making Germantown the go-to place in the suburbs. After quoting John Dewey, Muller told the Aldermen that schools are vital to the future success of Germantown. He emphasized the importance of the educational component of the city's 2030 strategic plan. Noting that most of the initiatives can be completed within one to two years, he felt no need to seek office beyond the two year appointment. Alderman Gibson then interrupted him with a reminder that there were additional questions that would cover that topic in the interview.
When asked about GMSD's relationship with other districts, Muller said he is involved with Germantown High School's arts program and would like to see support for Shelby County Schools because lots of Germantown residents attend the 3 G's. It is his opinion that SCS is a shrinking district which could lead to future instability for their district so it is important we all work together to help everybody. Muller stated that GMSD's greatest attribute is its small size and its greatest challenge will be competition from Collierville's new high school. He also noted education is changing like crazy but we must still make the system work and find ways to fund those changes. Speaking of changes, Muller mentioned the construction at Riverdale School and said that after talking to some of his patients, he wants the district to make sure the kids don't have to walk through mud to get around the construction site. He believes he is the best candidate for school board because he can be trusted, he went on to say that in his orthodontic practice, parents have trusted him for years with their kids.
Dan Roberts (Palazzolo, Gibson, Klevan)
Mr. Roberts, the only candidate who interviewed without notes, conducted himself in an open, thoughtful, and reflective manner, often pausing before answering questions. Roberts grew up in Germantown attending Houston Middle and High School before graduating from Northwestern University. He is a former teacher at Rossville Christian School, married to a teacher, and the child of two teachers. He says education is the family business. He currently operates a tutoring business which he describes as basically a small private school for homeschool students. He participated in developing the City's 2030 strategic plan for education, is a member of LG Class of 2016, and is planning to run for school board in two year. His connections to other school districts include the Memphis students he tutors, his wife's former position at Kingsbury, his dad's former position in SCS schools, and his family's personal relationship with Collierville Superintendent John Aitken who was Robert's principal at HHS. Roberts would like to see GMSD be an exemplary school district and he would like GMSD to host an area summit for the other districts.
When asked how he would vote when parents and teachers disagreed with him, Roberts said it depended on the situation. He believes school board members must do what they think is best for students but should listen to all parties, keep open the lines of communications, and be thoughtful and reflective in their decision making. The most pressing issues for the district are competition, portrayal on social media, being a new system, trying to stay at the forefront of innovation, and not becoming complacent. His goal is to move the district from getting the doors open to long term planning. He feels he is the best candidate because of his family connections, his experience as a teacher, his engineering degree, and interest in STEM. When questioned by Alderman Barzizza about his homeschooling business, Roberts said he did and would continue to push parents to enroll their children in public schools when in the child's best interest.
Adam Underwood (Palazzolo, Gibson, Klevan, Owens, Janda)
Mr. Underwood gave an incredibly well prepared, energetic, fast paced interview with three pages of notes laid out in front of him. When asked why he applied for the vacancy, Underwood stated he was actively solicited by GMSD Superintendent Jason Manuel for the position. He and Manuel are LG 2015 classmates. Underwood's oldest child recently transferred to Riverdale from St. George's Independent School where his wife, Kalyn Underwood is the Dean of Students. Underwood grew up in Germantown attending Riverdale and Germantown High and is part of a large family that is active in the community. He owns a software development business in Germantown that builds apps and performs internet marketing.
When asked about the issues facing GMSD, he stated that he had identified six. With barely a pause, he listed with rapid fire succession: growth, facilities, foreign language curriculum, cafeteria services, long term planning, and transportation as pressing issues. He believes GMSD's greatest attribute is affluence and stated his goals so quickly that we didn't have time to write them down. Underwood refused to say he was the best candidate instead saying every applicant was qualified and the aldermen would need to decide who is the right person. He did; however, want them to consider his skill set which he listed so quickly that one mom broke her pencil trying to take notes. Among his skills are administrative experience, educational planning, fiscal understanding, business making abilities, ability to promote GMSD as a young parent, family ties, wife's connection to St. George's, business ownership, and his ability to represent on the board a currently unrepresented group: families of young children. When asked if he would seek election, his answer was "tbd" waiting to see what he was getting himself into and not being wildly excited about political fundraising. When asked about career paths for students who were not heading to college, Underwood said he would definitely consider alternate educational tracks but more like coding instead of shop class.