As the April 6 Kansas City, Missouri, School Board election approaches, we're profiling all of the candidates.
Linwood Tauheed isn't a mechanic. But in his bid for the Kansas City, Missouri, School Board, the economics professor offers a car analogy.
"Your car is broken and you need someone to fix it," he says, drawing a comparison to the district's struggling schools. "You have two choices: one person who's never seen the car working and someone who's seen the car working. Who do you ask?"
Option two, of course.
"Well, I've seen cars working," Tauheed adds. "I've been there during that process. I know what works."
If he's elected from Subdistrict Four, he aims to bring that know-how to the school board.
Tauheed isn't a new face in education or business. More than 30 years ago, when his oldest son started kindergarten in the district, he got involved in the Parent Teacher Association. In 1987, he founded Computer Systems Engineering, a company that grew to employ more than 30 people and contract business worth $2 million annually. After a decade as a CEO, Tauheed closed his business and hit the books. With educational issues his focus, he pursed master's and doctorate degrees in economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
While he was studying, Tauheed was a candidate for two jobs with the school district. In 1998, the district had an opening in its IT department, and it was searching for a new superintendent, too. Tauheed applied for the computer position and also interviewed for the top spot. He was passed over for both positions.
A couple of years later, in 2001, Tauheed landed a job as a special assistant to then-superintendent Bernard Taylor. An outcry erupted from the school board, which hadn't approved the $89,000-per-year position. When the board voted to eliminate his post, Taylor rehired him as a researcher with a much lower salary. That ended in controversy as well; after Tauheed penned a newspaper column criticizing the internal politics of the district, he abruptly departed from the payroll. Tauheed says he retired; district officials at the time told The Kansas City Star he was fired.
"One of the things it taught me was the level of politics that's involved in the process and obstructing the education of children," he says. "It's one thing to see it from the outside. It's another thing to see it from the inside."
Tauheed's involvement extends beyond district headquarters. A member of the Black United Front, a civil rights group, Tauheed has been part of the movement for African-centered education since the 1980s. In 1992, the Afrikan-Centered Education Collegium Campus was established. Tauheed now sits on its board of directors.
The effort has been an educational success. Students must apply to enroll at ACE, but Tauheed says approximately 98 percent of those who interview are accepted. According to state statistics for the 2007-08 school year, students at all three ACE buildings were performing at or above the district average in reading and math. Last year, Tauheed says, the ACE schools brought back 68 students to the district from private or charter schools.
Remember Tauheed's car analogy? Well, ACE is the car that works. And he's the guy who knows how the engine runs. "I'm not advocating that every school become an African-centered school," he says of the district. "But there are lessons to be learned."
For instance, when their children are enrolled, parents make a pledge to provide 20 hours of service to the school. The staff at ACE includes social workers, so teachers can focus solely on students' educational needs inside the classroom. "If a student is not learning, it's because they're not being taught," Tauheed says. "There's nothing wrong with these students. African American, Latino, poor students are as smart as any student -- if we teach them."
Over the past two decades, the district hasn't done that, Tauheed suggests. For nearly 20 years, the administration and school board were hamstrung by the court order of the desegregation lawsuit, something Tauheed says he saw firsthand. "We had a board that was basically impotent," he says.
Now, the board has regained its proper authority, Tauheed says, and started moving in the right direction under the leadership of current president Marilyn Simmons. Tauheed is running with a team of candidates that includes Simmons, Cokethea Hill and Kenneth Hughlon. Their objective, if they're elected to the board, is to ensure all students in the district graduate among the top ten percent of scholars in the nation. It's not an insurmountable task, Tauheed says, if more citizens are engaged.
"These issues are political, not educational," he says. "And part of the way you deal with these political issues is to bring community into the process."
On that topic, Tauheed has sharp criticism of the new superintendent, John Covington. He says Covington's plan to close nearly half of the district's schools (narrowly approved by the school board this month) has caused chaos for area families, because Covington didn't provide adequate input from community members. "The reason I am not in favor of the plan is the way the plan was produced," Tauheed says.
But he also says closing schools is the wrong reaction to the drastic decline in enrollment. If the administration shutters buildings to keep up with the exodus, he says, there will be no district in 10 years. Instead, the focus has to be on bringing students back. "We don't want to right-size," he says of his team. "We want to supersize. We want the district to grow."
That means expanding the board's role, too. "I think it's important that we realize that there is an intrinsic link between the socioeconomic status of the parents and other adults in this district and the academic achievement of their children," he says.
In Tauheed's opinion, the school board must branch into workforce development. While the superintendent focuses on students, he says, the board can address adult education by, perhaps, expanding vocational training. Instead of selling the district headquarters at 1211 McGee (as indicated in the school closings plan), Tauheed has a vision of turning that structure into a business incubator, where district parents would have space for entrepreneurial efforts.
Ambitious? Maybe. But Tauheed says that's what the community wants. And the board needs to get better at listening.
"That's our agenda," he says. "The accountability of this board to the public and the proper accountability of the superintendent to the board."
Upcoming candidate forums:
All candidate forum
Thursday, March 25
Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, 3700 Blue Parkway
All candidate debate
Sunday, March 28
Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, 4801 Main Street