District 8 BESE candidates speak with members of the Louisiana Education Coalition

Logan Ridenour
Vereta Tanner Lee, one of the four BESE District 8 candidates, who is endorsed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

Candidates for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), District 8 participated in a forum at Capitol Elementary School in Baton Rouge.

The candidates running in this election are, Preston Castille, Vereta Tanner Lee, Jonathon Loveall and Chakesha Webb Scott.

Each candidate was given time for an opening statement and then responded to timed questions. The first question involved reform and the actions they would take if elected.

"We need to understand for accountability that there needs to be reform, and standardized testing isn't cutting it," Loveall said.

The need for reform seemed to be on the forefront of every candidate's mind.

"This is not a business – educating our children," Lee said. Immediately following her statement, there was a round of applause from the room of educators.

In a later question regarding the current status of BESE and changes to be made, each candidate had their own vision to make Louisiana students excel.

Castille spoke about balancing the rich and poor communities. Lee had the same concerns. "They need the funding," she said.

Loveall addressed his desire to focus on changing classroom dynamics. He spoke of empowering teachers and moving from a model of compliance to a model of professionalism.

Scott seemed to be the only candidate to provide positive feedback for BESE as it currently stands. She applauded BESE for focusing on early childhood education, and would like to see that program expanded to allow for more seats. However, Scott also expressed her desire to maintain consistent curriculum.

Scott also provided an interesting perspective on looking toward the future for educator pay. She would like to see teachers' pay based on their performance and individual career track.

The candidates were then asked to address the poor ranking Louisiana received nationally. Castille took this opportunity to address the socio-economic factors that may influence a child's performance in school.

"These children come to class everyday with a whole host of problems," he said. This is a reflection on Castille's holistic approach to education – where varied resources will have an impact on childrens' education.

Perhaps the most charged question of the evening, asked the candidates how they would fix the issue that nearly 50 percent of teachers surveyed in Louisiana would not recommend teaching in this state.

"If you love what you're doing, you're going to stick with it," said Lee. She used her personal experience of taking the test to become an educator 13 times before passing. She also touched on increasing pay for teachers in hard to fill and critical areas.

Scott believes that many of the 50 percent may come from people who have lost their passion, and some may feel limited in the classroom.

"We have created policies . . . that have tied the hands of teachers," said Castille.

"We're not empowering them to do the creative, thoughtful work," said Loeveall. He then went back to one of his previous statements saying that they need to give educators more time to be professionals.

Members then asked the candidates their questions and were left with the closing remarks.