District 5 Memphis City Schools board commissioner Lora Jobe is not going quietly. Her recent bid to reopen discussion on the district's corporal-punishment policy has set off a debate that has become a key point of the school board election, not only for the two candidates in her district but for the 14 candidates vying in the other four races as well. The Flyer spoke with Jobe about corporal punishment, her tenure, and the prospects for the upcoming election.
Flyer: Why are you leaving the board?
Lara Jobe: I feel like nine years is a good number of years to serve the community in that capacity. Two of my three kids have graduated from Memphis City Schools during this time, and the last one graduates in May. I feel that it's important for some of the board members to have children in the district, and I feel like it's time to pass the baton.
What do you hope to pass on to your successor?
I voted every time we had an opportunity to vote and tried to be prepared. I hope that the person who comes after me will do the same. I've tried to be a person of integrity. I've been careful not to be involved with developers, to take money from contractors, and to do things that would show that my sole purpose was to serve the children.
What should voters be looking for in a school board member?
The community has a good opportunity to watch the candidates this year because of the televised debates. It's important to see the candidates conduct themselves in a professional manner. Voters should ask themselves, "Do [the candidates] have the interest of children first and foremost in their minds?" and "What is their motivation for serving?"
How is the current board different from the board nine years ago?
I do feel like there has been a shift in the board. In my first term, we would frequently have differences of opinion, but there was a level of professionalism to our debates. I had a level of confidence that even when we disagreed we had the best interests of children in mind. It was good to work in that environment because even if the vote didn't go your way, I almostalways felt like the votes were coming from an informed and good place.
Now, there has been a lot more political-type stuff, with board members trying to form coalitions and voting for other reasons.
To what do you attribute that shift?
The personalities of some of the members. When some people begin to behave that way, you are put in a position to have to react to it.
Which board accomplishments are you most proud of?
The uniform policy. That was an example of the board really working well together. We sat there and we haggled it, we changed it, we amended it ... and when we walked away that night, we had adopted a uniform policy for the entire district, K-12. I think that has been a good thing for MCS.
You have long championed ending corporal punishment. Debate and a vote on that issue had been postponed. What was your reason for reigniting the debate?
I try to do what I think is right, and the evidence is there that we don't need to be using corporal punishment at school. Systems that use corporal punishment have lower student achievement, higher dropout rates, higher truancy. I just don't think we can ignore those facts when we suffer from all of those things. We need to embrace the research that is out there. It's time for us to stop hitting children at school.
Is this something that should be addressed now or left up to the newly elected board?
My response is: "When is the time to do the right thing? Right now." Children suffer every moment we don't do the right thing.
What will be some of the issues facing the new board?
Student achievement is always a challenge in Memphis. With the current directives of No Child Left Behind, there is continued pressure to increase student achievement. What I think we've seen too painfully in the last few weeks is violence in the schools. That issue is going to need some strong and direct action.
What's next for you?
Spend some family time, rest for a while. But I will probably go back to tutoring in the schools and one-on-one things like that. I would never say never about bids for future elected positions, but it's not in my near future.