Four face off for open Collierville school board seat

By , Daily Memphian Updated: October 08, 2020 4:54 PM CT | Published: October 08, 2020 3:15 PM CT

As Chairman Mark Hansen leaves the Collierville Schools Board of Education, four residents want to add a new voice and fresh perspective in the suburban seat.

The race to replace Hansen is one of three school board races on the suburban ballot Nov. 3. The other two races where incumbents Wanda Gibbs in Position 1 and Wright Cox in Position 5 are seeking reelection are much less dramatic. 


Mark Hansen will not seek reelection for Collierville Schools board


Gibbs and Wright are unopposed in their races, leaving one seat to change.

Madan Birla, spent more than two decades at FedEx and teaches students across the globe. His children graduated from the Collierville schools.

<strong>Madan Birla</strong>

Madan Birla

“I have a passion for education,” said Birla, a 25-year resident of the town.

Paul Childers, Rachelle Maier and Kristina White are parents of current Collierville students.

Childers, a member of the Town Beautiful Commission, said he believes in “high quality public education” and wants to give back to the community.

“Personal and professional experience goes a long way in understanding the dynamics being involved on the school board,” he said.

<strong>Paul Childers</strong>

Paul Childers

Childers, a region manager for Goodman Corporation, attended Collierville Elementary, Middle and High schools. He moved away in 1996, but returned in 2018 so his children could go to the suburb’s schools, and his son could have access to the special-needs resources.

Maier said no other moms “in the trenches living this day-to-day” are on the board. She has two sets of twins who attended the suburb’s schools since kindergarten. Maier, a 17-year resident, said she rarely can relate to other board member.


Filings continue for Collierville school board seat as one drops out


“I look around and that’s I want to see — another mom who is in it, who is dealing with it, who is living it,” she said, noting it’s necessary in the current pandemic.

<strong>Rachelle Maier</strong>

Rachelle Maier

Her involvement in town commissions and organizations highlight her passion for serving families. She’s served in schools as a room mom, through Parent Teacher Organizations and the Collierville Education Foundation.

“You need to be somebody that understands our education system as a parent, as a citizen, as a community member and you need to understand our community,” said Maier, a community outreach coordinator with Senior Helpers.

White, a 30-year-old therapy support specialist at Medtronics, said a young voice is missing on the board. She said her job is one where she has to make quick decisions in the interest of others.

<strong>Kristina White</strong>

Kristina White

“Professionally, I’ve been prepared for a role like this where you are upholding and holding people accountable,” she said.

White grew up going to public schools outside Collierville and moved to the suburb earlier this year for the schools.

The role of a board member

Sometimes, community members express confusion as to what the board does. Board members aren’t involved in the day-to-day operations but adopt a budget, policies and guidelines as an umbrella under which the district staff operates.

“The district mission is preparing students for a lifetime of scholarship, integrity and service,” Birla said. “The role of the board is these three goals. Your job (as a board member) is to help the school administration to fulfill that mission. The school board provides the resources.”

Birla said he learned “servant leadership” from FedEx as he worked with founder Fred Smith, and he wants to make sure he can help support the people doing the job.

“Your job is to serve, not to dictate,” he said.

Childers noted the board’s only employee is the superintendent.

“The role of the school board member is policy and governance,” he said “The day-to-day operation is the responsibility of the superintendent. The school board is there to make sure schools are run properly and to create a vision for where the school is going.”

Maier said part of serving on the board is being a “conduit for families” to the district.

“The board supports and develops policy that aligns with our mission and vision for Collierville Schools,” Maier said. “We must support our administration and education experts with the responsibility to provide the highest quality of education to all of our students.”

White sees accountability as a large part of the school board’s role.

“The role of a school board member is to hold people accountable, uphold policies, represent the families,” White said. “It’s everyone being accountable to what we say we’re going to do and who we say we are going to be.”

COVID-19

The most immediate challenge the new board member will face is operating in the midst of the pandemic. All agree five days per week in-person is the best way children learn, but realize it is not possible due to county Health Department guidelines.

Birla said in-person sessions are the best method as children not only learn better but also receive needed social and emotional support. Meanwhile, the district must provide a safe environment for students and staff and ensure parents their children received quality education, according to Birla.

“To me it is a team decision,” he said. “Everybody brings their information and their knowledge against those objectives you have … This is an evolving situation, so you have to continue to monitor.”

Childers said the district is in “crisis learning mode.” Teachers don’t know how to prepare for teaching in the pandemic, but there are learning experiences that can prepare them for post-pandemic.


Collierville teachers urge board to find consistency in midst of pandemic


“You’ve got to look at building a stronger virtual platform for not if, but when this type of thing happens again,” he said. “(Virtual) is a long-term viable option for families and kids that can thrive in that platform.” He said while there is not a perfect answer, strong opinions exist on returning to school.

Maier said the district is still learning how to teach in the midst of many unknowns.

“We have never done this before,” she said. “We can’t compare it to another time.”

She said the district needs to better communicate at all levels as some experience frustration due to the various teaching platforms. She noted there are options, “and I want to see those options are robust.”

White believes the pandemic puts all candidates on an equal playing field. She is disappointed by the lack of transparency during the pandemic and wants to change that for Collierville families.

“I’ve really stepped up and gone to bat for our families,” she said, noting many fought back as the district put elementary students back five days per week. “We need somebody on the board who is not afraid to stand up and speak out.” 

While she disagrees with some decision, she realizes the district is under the legal requirements of the Health Department.

Supporting teachers

All candidates recognize Collierville recruits top-notch teachers and want to retain them. Teachers strive to make a difference, Birla said.

“They love to teach,” he said. “They love to hang around the children. They have to be continually told the difference they are making in the children.”

He said teachers also want adequate resources and support so they can do their jobs well.

As an employer, Childers strives to hire people who want to be there and said teachers will have an impact they don’t even realize.

“The way you retain them, you have to continue to challenge them and help them grow,” he said. “I think you have to invest in your people. … A happy employee, satisfied employee is going to be one that is not looking to make any changes.”

Maier said she wants to see teachers involved in decisions and policies. She knows they desire to teach in Collierville due to its reputation.

“The teachers love Collierville, and they brag about Collierville. We are the best,” Maier said. “We have to stay the best, and to stay the best, we have to listen to our teachers and navigate these waters together. We have to plan together, what our future is going to look like together.”

White said family engagement in the district helps create an environment that teachers desire and enjoy.

“Families of Collierville students have made the climate what it is for Collierville teachers,” she said. 

Maier said they must continue to keep families informed and comfortable so they don’t leave and Collierville doesn’t lose the positive environment families create.

Capacity

Collierville currently has 52,600 residents and could have about 56,400 by 2025, according to town officials. The suburb has tremendous potential for growth, and there is some concern regarding how the schools can absorb more students.

At FedEx, Birla studied three- and five-year projections of how the business was growing. He said he could apply similar principles as a board member.

“In any plan, you look at projections for Collierville growth and land available and develop multiple plans. We have to also think about how long it takes to build a school or expand one,” Birla said.

Childers said the school will have to take on growth that is coming.

“You have to develop a plan to deal with that growth,” he said. “Maybe we have to add on to a school or build one. That’s something that is going to have to be discussed and on the table.”

The school board must communicate their capacity needs with town leaders, he said, as more living options emerge and young families move to the town.

Both Childers and Maier are interested in pursuing a freshman academy. Maier said Collierville will have to “expand (its) approach.”

“We are going to have to assess and grow as the town grows,” she said, “This can include assessing school sizes, neighborhoods and zoning.”

She said if the virtual program is strengthened, some families may feel confident to continue using the virtual method while simultaneously allowing others to use school space and in-person learning.

White does not believe the district is set up to absorb the anticipated growth.

“You’re funneling more and more kids into less and less space,” she said, but noted it is not an urgent need this year. 

“If we can’t get our kids back, we’re not gonna have a capacity issue.”

In addition to the school board races, Mayor Stan Joyner is running unopposed, while there are contested alderman races in Positions 3, 4 and 5.

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Topics

Collierville Schools Collierville Board of Education Madan Birla Paul Childers Rachelle Maier Kristina White
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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