By Erika Webb
For Hometown News
Ida "Lucy Duncan" Wright said she's a mother first. And that's why she's challenging incumbent Dr. Al Williams for his long-held Volusia County School Board District 2 seat on Aug. 14.
"I'm running because I'm a parent," Ms. Wright said in a telephone interview. "Members of the school board are parents, but none of their children are currently in the school system. It's really hard for them to relate to the issues we face today. I have a son in the system."
Ms. Wright, 45, has a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Business Administration from Stetson University.
She is a business administration instructor and academic assessment coordinator at Bethune-Cookman University College of Business.
"Because of my position at BC, I am well connected with issues facing education. I work primarily with freshmen and I see firsthand many of the deficits students bring with them to college."
Paramount among those deficits, she said, is lack of critical thinking skills. She faults excessive standardized, or "high-stakes", testing. The New York Times Company's website, about.com, defines high-stakes testing as "a single assessment that is given with the knowledge that important decisions or consequences are riding on the result."
Important decisions like funding, and Ms. Wright said she feels strongly about this type of testing's impact on Volusia County schools.
She said freedom in teaching and in learning, as it pertains to creativity and critical thinking skills, has disappeared from today's classrooms due to the use of testing as a "punitive measure" which promotes "regimented thinking" for students and teachers.
"Standardized testing should tell you where you have deficits in curriculum. I am not in favor of testing unless the information from its assessment is used properly," she said. "The purpose of assessment is to determine how to allocate funds and human resources. It should not be used in a punitive manner toward children, teachers and schools; that is your budget driving your curriculum when the curriculum should drive the budget."
In the final analysis, Ms. Wright said, any standardized test should be used as a diagnostic tool to gauge where there is room for improvement.
Ms. Wright said she has found that even high school students who are "college- ready per our current standards" such as those in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs, do not have critical thinking skills necessary to move to the next level and beyond.
"We make sure they learn what they need to learn for the exam and then they dump the information," she said. "They have not been taught the skill of transferred learning. They need to have education as well as practical experience."
Ms. Wright said she'd like to see partnerships with community businesses for students who are not college-bound.
"I would ask them, 'What are some of the basic skills you see students lacking?' Then we may be able to implement apprenticeships so when they do leave high school they are ready, trained with an understanding of a particular industry and can make a decent living," she said.
As the parent of two sons, one who graduated high school in 2005 and one who is set to graduate in 2017, Ms. Wright said she's been involved as both parent-active in the Parent-Teacher-Student Association and Student Advisory Council-- and educator long enough to understand the problems she sees are not just local. She said action must be taken at the local level first with the ultimate goal in mind: change at state and federal levels.
And the only way to bring about that change, she said, is to vote.
"You need a school board member who is well-rounded and versed, not just in policy," Ms. Wright said. "What type of citizens are we going to have in 10 or 15 years? If we don't fix education, it will impact our quality of life, and that concerns me."