WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — KSN News sent a questionnaire to each Wichita candidate facing a challenger in the November general election. Voters who live anywhere in the Wichita Public Schools district will vote for the Wichita Board of Education at-large position.
We have not made any edits to the candidate’s answers.
Hello, I’m Brent T. Davis; I get students higher test scores for a living. A 60 year old educator/business owner born in Wichita, son of an English teacher/guidance counselor single mom and an engineer dad who moved to Arkansas, I attended Wichita schools (except for 5 years in Manhattan) until my junior year at Wichita State (WSU). I graduated from Wichita Southeast where I was JA Businessman of the Year and took 1’s at state in music. At WSU I ran a season of Cross Country, was active in campus ministry and had an East High Bible study.
In 1984 I moved to Florida to train for ministry, attended the University of Florida (UF) and the University of Central Florida (UCF) and took ministry classes through my church, involved in lay ministry. Awarded “most professional” and “most caring” of my CNA class, I became a Clinical Tech III at Orlando Regional Medical Center and taught in the Commitment to Excellence Program for all newly hired employees. I developed a relationship with Phil Cosby, the quality guru, and planned to implement his quality philosophy in healthcare. Shifting gears for a medical career I enrolled in Valencia College on a music scholarship/pre-nursing, then returned to UCF for pre-med and became president of the American College of Healthcare Executives student chapter.
I moved to Providence in 1997 to live with a hand surgeon friend from Wichita and do private agency nursing, then moved to Seattle for more agency nursing, taking a job at the University of Washington (UW) Medical Center. I met and married my wife Tinka, a mathematician and native Bulgarian, in Mercer Island, WA. With a child on the way, I shifted gears again and, after a few entrepreneurial endeavors, we started our own tutoring company and NWAS regionally accredited private school, American Academy. In our first year we took 4 children, 1-4 years behind grade level and got them up to grade level in one 12-month period. The 8th grade boy and I read 25 works of literature that year, and he wrote and rewrote 25 essays as part of our program. The following year he made all A’s at Mercer Island High, the state’s #2 school.
Running our Mercer Island Tutoring center remotely, we moved to Temecula, California, for the weather and for Temecula Prep, a Hillsdale Academy charter school. Our plans to relocate permanently were interrupted by my mother’s declining health, and so, after 2 years, I moved my family to Wichita to be near mom who passed in 2017.
In Wichita since 2007, our business has grown and set new achievement records every year. A growing number of students have become National Merit Scholars: 26 in the past 6 years. This summer one student increased from 16 to 33 (of 36 max) on his ACT English, 17 points, and 12 points on his composite score, 16 to 28: new and repeat best records (another student 2 years ago increased from a 23 to 35). We’ve had several students score 36 on sections and overall.
In my education, I have always studied what interested me and what helped with what I was doing at the time. I started out in engineering at WSU then switched to philosophy, and I usually took some music. I switched to communication at UF taking extra language classes: French and Russian. At UCF I finished my Organizational Communication, BA. On my own, I made a study of Crosby Quality Management. At Valencia and again at UCF I did music and pre-medical science. Starting our school in Mercer Island, in 2002, I took “Writing Northwest” from master teacher Jim Sabol, audited literature classes at UW and took some MBA classes at Keller Graduate School of Management. Thinking about a long term stay in California, I started a master’s in economics at San Jose State University and continued that for a few years at WSU, focusing on education economics and economic history. Lately I have continued to study school structure and student achievement to help Wichita students be their most competitive and Wichita its most vibrant. That is what brings me to run for school board: I want every student to have a great teacher in every class and every student to be at and above grade level for their own and Wichita’s future.
Campaign website/Facebook/Social Media:
What are the top 3 things you think deserve your immediate attention, and how do you plan to address them
Student Achievement is Priority #1.
Higher test scores lead to higher lifetime earnings that lead to a vibrant Wichita.
We have let poverty and high minority population be an excuse for low achievement, but students in DC, NYC, Florida and LA, to name a few places, have turned around school districts with lower income and greater minority populations than ours, so there is no excuse: it’s time for ALL Wichita students to rise! The key to achievement is excellent teachers, principal and system support and excellent curriculum. The keys to effective teachers are character intangibles (love of students and teaching, determination, discipline, charisma, etc.), subject knowledge, excellent planning and classroom management, principal support and properly designed accountability and incentives. Excellent teachers should be rewarded and retained: ineffective teachers should be helped to a more suitable career. All discipline seems painful at the time, but in the end, it produces the fruit of doing things right the first time.
#2. Hire, develop, retain and honor excellent teachers, principals and staff.
Studies show that teacher colleges are not very good at turning out excellent teachers. People go to school for many reasons and often tack on an education certificate thinking that they can always get a teaching job as a fall back, or that teaching offers reasonable pay, benefits, retirement, gives summers off for traveling, or their parents were teachers, and it offers a known lifestyle and security, etc. None of this guarantees that the graduate will be a good teacher. A lot depends on innate ability, knowledge mastery, a love for children and learning, discipline, resourcefulness and determination, among other things. Hiring excellent paras or teachers with experience who have already proven themselves are the best way to be confident a new hire will be excellent. Of course, new teacher graduates need a chance, and which ones turn out is often surprising. We should hire in all three of these ways, offer better up-front pay with bonuses paid out in the future based on the teacher’s effect on student achievement. We want to hire away some of the people who might feel the need to go to other professions because of salary requirements. We need to follow the practices of the very best schools of our similar demographics and spend more time training and apprenticing new teachers. Board members, administrators and principals must treat teachers with respect as professionals and we must require students treat their teachers with respect. We need to make sure the community is aware of our excellent teachers. They, of course, will make a name of their own through their students and families.
#3. Maintain a board that ensures excellence efficiently by focusing on student results, proven best practices, eliminating waste and by training up new board members in advance, setting up proper policies with incentives and protections to keep the system from degrading: the price of excellence is constant vigilance.
The board needs to stay in touch with the stakeholders in the district and set up policies to do things right the first time. The board should engage in constant training and should bring in experts to help them understand and evaluate issues. We cannot and should not rely on only
the administration for these things: the board must give independent oversight. This includes the board obeying the law and conducting building needs assessments and approving budget items as they benefit student achievement. The board needs to stay out of the weeds and make sure the school system is staying focused on the main priorities by looking at the right indicators, measuring the correct results and implementing the correct policies to get the desired results. This will take time and analysis, but I will certainly bring years of experience and research to bear.
What do you think is the largest obstacle to student success/graduation, and how do you plan to address it?
The biggest obstacle to student success is the shortage of excellent teachers. This is not to discount poverty and family and community problems, but the best teachers and schools regularly help students overcome them all. Even the very best schools have problems, though. I want to bring in some of the best to do trainings with our teachers and staff. We need to do more “pre-school” parent and child education to avoid problems before they become ingrained: before age 4, and, talking with superintendent Bielefeld, he is committed to this. And we need to implement available financial literacy k-12 so that students start taking the long view early to avoid problems that result in poverty and social problems. It takes time to find excellent teachers: research shows it takes about 3 years to know if a teacher is going to be good or not. We develop excellent paras though the Teacher Apprenticeship Program; great substitutes should be helped to get certified; we can recruit professionals looking for a mid-career switch, and we can hire proven teachers from other districts, but they need to be properly compensated, supported by principals and the system and honored. If a teacher is ineffective, we need to help them transition to a different role or career. This is exactly what they are doing in the best school systems and what has been done in the best Wichita and Kansas schools in the past. It is by effectively handling teacher resources that the best schools have consistently maximized achievement.
Graduation is not success if the student is remedial: graduation needs to mean that a student has achieved the 12th grade level, or, if we decide so, that they have received a trade certificate with whatever grade level they have obtained, and we should note the difference. Excellent teachers find ways to engage students and maintain classroom discipline. Principals need to be able to help their teachers with this. Ineffective principals need to be reassigned roles. There are difficult discipline situations: having a security officer friend, I hear about them all. Here’s the policy: Anything that interferes with teaching and learning will not be tolerated. Teachers must be quickly, effectively and strongly supported.
What is your vision for USD 259?
USD 259 is the best public school district in Kansas by 1. achievement scores, 2. variety of offerings, 3. sports and club championships, 4. graduation rate, 5. family and community involvement, 6. number of children achieving their life success goals: going on to college, getting
a high paying jobs, entering a trade, starting successful entrepreneurial endeavors, or following in their chosen life path (motherhood, public service, ministry), and 7. efficiency: highest return on investment of any school in America (we can start the list and recognition right here in Wichita). Of course, simultaneously we need to educate our special needs students and set them on a path to life success. In general: “All students will be at grade level or above with an excellent teacher in every classroom and an excellent principal in every school.”
What can schools do to promote culturally responsive and racially-inclusive education?
We need to promote an attitude of respect for EVERY student while celebrating their ethnic and cultural diversity. The American cultural credos of “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Treat others as you would want to be treated” have long served us and should continue to do so. America has been known as the great melting pot: e pluribus unum: from many, one. Students should be encouraged to share about their family’s culture and heritage: all students. Students should be encouraged to participate in club activities by interest without racial segregation so that all clubs have a mix of students. All students should be equally respected and have equal expectations for excellence. Our problem is that we have not demanded excellence of all students and don’t always recognize excellence when it is culturally different. That must end in USD 259. I’ve seen it happening in classrooms I’ve been in here in USD 259 and I am determined to stop it. All students should study American history k-12 so that we instill a sense of common heritage and culture that supersedes our individual heritages and cultures, but we should have cultural fairs, like the Wichita Asian Festival, and other events that our community would like to promote, where we share and celebrate our unique, individual cultures.
What resources do you think Wichita schools need that they currently don’t have?
USD259 has abundant resources; I will work to manage them better. Human resources are the most important and I have heard stories about these being squandered. We’ll listen and get the whole story and then shape policies that will help the superintendent be his maximally effective. The board fully performing its building needs assessment role, which has not been done by any other board, will be a big step toward proper management. All spending must demonstrate a connection with student achievement in all their endeavors, not just test scores, and we have a duty to do this efficiently. We must develop a feedback loop for teachers, principals, administration, parents, students and the community to independently and confidentially communicate with the board. We must listen, support each group and win each stake holder’s trust. Only after careful deliberation should we make decisions to redistribute or acquire new resources, but we will make these decisions expeditiously and not as many as have been by “consent agenda item,” i.e., without potential deliberation by the entire board and public.
Would you change how much the school district budgets on its different departments (teachers, safety, special education, etc.)? If so, how?
USD 259 has a large budget, mostly, roughly 52%, spent on teacher salaries, as should be the case. Recently Kansas school districts were audited on how they spent high risk student funding, which could have included a lot of help for students who are being our worst discipline problems and they bought Sam’s club memberships, T.V’s and food in the process of misallocating over 80% of the money, according the audit reported here on KSN. We also recently RAISED our USD 259 mill levy even though home appraisals were way up this year, and that was very inconsiderate of the poor and fixed income homeowners in the Wichita area who will be paying significantly more in taxes this year. We spend more money in the US than any industrialized country, yet we get mediocre results comparatively worldwide. We cannot keep doing this and keep our competitive advantage. Florida spends around $12,000 per student and gets better achievement than we do spending over $20,000 per student, so we want to look at how spending is being made more efficient. Holding our costs down for education means more money for personal households and businesses and a more prosperous city and state!