Terri Breeden, a candidate for superintendent of the Charleston County School District, says she’s seen “what works and what doesn’t work” in education. Now she wants to bring that knowledge to Charleston.
Breeden is the last of three candidates to formally interview this week for the position and meet with the community. The school board has made each candidate available for public interviews: Gerrita Postlewait was interviewed on Monday and Lisa Herring on Tuesday. The Post and Courier has interviewed each candidate as they’ve become available.
Before earning her doctorate in school administration at Vanderbilt University, Breeden taught for more than a decade in elementary and middle school classrooms. She was a mathematics program specialist for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and later assistant principal and then principal of two Nashville, Tenn., public schools.
From 2002 to 2006, she was the executive director of learning support services for grades 5-12 in Nashville. She then moved to Virginia, where she was an assistant superintendent at Fairfax County Schools. She is currently the assistant superintendent of instruction for Loudoun County Public Schools in Northern Virginia.
Breeden believes her experience in large school districts in Nashville and Fairfax makes CCSD a perfect fit.
“As I look at the district, I see a lot of really good things,” she said. “I don’t see this as a district that needs to start all over. I think we just need to keep moving forward and address the achievement gap.”
Breeden talked about her support for school choice and dislike of mandatory, high-stakes testing. (Answers have been edited for length.)
Q: What about your past experience do you feel prepares you to helm the second-largest school district in the state?
A: I’ve never worked in a small district. Nashville was about 70,000. Fairfax County was about 160,000. The district that I work in now is over 70,000. My personal budget in my division right now is $564 million. I know about big schools systems. I know how to go to scale in big school systems. I know how to communicate in big schools systems. My life has been spent in big school systems.
Q: The previous superintendent had a somewhat contentious relationship with the members of the school board. What would you do to cultivate a cooperative relationship with the school board?
A: I think it’s very important that I spend a lot of energy on making sure I build trust and transparency and improve communication, not just with the school board, but with parents and families and community members. Their work is very important. There are very important issues and there are differences of opinion. But I think building trust and strengthening the relationship is the key to success and that’s usually done through very strong communication.
Q: Many of CCSD’s schools are heavily segregated by racial and socio-economic lines. What would you do to improve diversity across the district?
A: I see diversity as a strength. It has enriched my life and I think it enriches our children’s life and prepares them for the future.
I think you’ve got some things that are really great — the magnet program, the choice programs that you have. I think children no matter what their background, they tend to have certain interests. Like today, I visited a school where arts is the emphasis. So I think those things help. Choice and voice in education is very, very critical and I think that’s the successful way to diversify in our schools.
Q: In recent years, CCSD has expanded school choice by opening more magnet, Montessori, charter and other nontraditional schools. What’s your position on school choice?
A: I think school choice helps with student engagement; I think it helps with parent engagement and community engagement. I think that school choice is a good thing. I think though all schools have to be high quality schools no matter if they’re choice, magnet or neighbor-zoned schools. They need to be of high quality.
Q: Here and across the country, more parents are opting their children out of high stakes tests. What role do you think standardized testing should have in the classroom?
A: When I was in Fairfax County and also Loudoun County, I have been responsible for all the state assessment and accountability. We’re doing far too much testing. Personally, one of the things I have advocated for is sampling. I work very closely with the PISA test that samples students. I don’t think we need to test every child every year in almost every subject. ...I also believe that teachers through formative assessments in their classroom already understand what their students know and are able to do. I would like us to decrease the number of tests our students take.
Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.