By Rebecca Gaunt
Dr. Catherine Pozniak announced her run for Cobb County School Board Post 4 on Thursday.
Pozniak graduated from Sprayberry High School. She earned first class honors from the University of Sydney, a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge and a doctorate in educational leadership from Harvard University. She is a certified K-8 teacher and holds a superintendent endorsement.
She began her teaching career on the Lakota Sioux Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota and served as executive director of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Pozniak then became deputy superintendent of fiscal operations and federal support at the Louisiana Department of Education, where she managed the finances of six state agencies with a total annual budget of $5.5 billion.
She returned to her home near Sprayberry in 2020 and is currently working for Watershed Advisors as an advisor on curriculum, assessment, college and career paths, and accountability.
Pozniak is running as a Democrat, but said: ‘I am running first and foremost to offer an alternative to the current failure of our board leadership, as someone willing to put in place a plan that moves forward. all of our students, regardless of how their parents vote.During my career, I have worked in red states, blue states, and purple states.
Board of Trustees Chairman David Chastain currently holds seat 4, which includes Sprayberry and Kell High Schools.
The primary election takes place on May 24. For more information on the Cobb Elections, click here.
Pozniak spoke by telephone with the Courier.
Why are you running for position 4?
“I have a background in education and education finance in particular. I continue to work with states and districts on strategic funding…and making sure they can execute on their academic plans. Because of this interest, I wanted to learn more about what was happening locally with our schools here in Cobb County. I was quite shocked to see what was happening, especially with our board,” she said.
Pozniak said it was a critical time and the focus should be on what it would take to help students recover academically from all the educational disruption caused by the pandemic. The district also needs to focus on raising federal funds to get teaching and learning back on track.
“I just didn’t see that… happening in my own backyard,” she said.
What will you bring from your Louisiana experience to Cobb?
“Before being in Louisiana, I taught in South Dakota, so I come to my job with a background in teaching and as an educator. But my job and my experience is really about making the connection between ‘what is the learning plan‘ and then ‘what is the spending plan aligned with that learning plan’,” she said.
“How do you move the resources you have and the funding you have to deal with it? How to ensure that there is a high quality study program? How do you ensure that teachers are trained in the areas for which they need to be trained? How do you ensure that students get the services they deserve? »
Pozniak said she has spoken to people at schools who rely on school foundations to fund training and staff. Although she thinks foundations are great resources for schools, she wondered if federal funds were being used in the best way.
“There are unique investments that need to be made due to the pandemic and to ensure that we have a healthy and safe learning environment for students, but when I look at the scant documentation available on how this district is postulating on $250 million in federal aid that has come to Cobb County alone. This does not correspond to a coherent plan. It’s not really clear from there, what’s going to be true for students, what’s going to happen with teaching and learning, what training do teachers get,” she said. declared.
She also said it was unclear where community input had been factored in with regards to these investments.
“You have these hand-rinse sinks that cost $14,000 each, meanwhile, I spoke to someone at a school who is preparing a proposal for their school foundation to pay $28,000 for teacher training in reading. It feels really disconnected,” Pozniak said.
“This whole process has been rather opaque. The board has really suppressed public comment and public discussion, so I think that contributes to the feeling of mistrust about how decisions are made and how those dollars are spent.
By the time Pozniak was teaching in a classroom, the whole linguistic approach to teaching literacy was in favor, but support for a return to a phonetics-based approach is growing.
“The role of the district and the board is to take a system-level look at what our philosophy or approach to learning is, drawing on the latest and greatest research on this. We know what works. It is a high quality program, explicit in teaching the fundamentals of reading around decoding. Also, making sure teachers have the training they need to support students,” she said.
Cobb County School District has undergone a special review by its accrediting agency in 2021. He was given a year to make changes. Despite demands to put it on the agenda for Democrat talksI members, who constitute a minority of the board, he did not have enough support from the Republican majority to be added.
“I think it’s unfortunate the way the board leadership has approached this, which is not to talk about it at all. These are not unsolvable problems and problems, and while they avoid the topic, they also fail to come to a solution, which also contributes to this district not having a clear plan for teaching. and learning,” she said.
“This board hasn’t had a plan since the 2018-19 school year, before the pandemic. It’s amazing to me.
Addressing Learning Loss Due to the Pandemic
“We need to know where the children are,” Pozniak said. “When you think about how third grade is a really critical pivotal year, especially in reading for students. If you’re not fluent in third grade, it’s a lot harder to get there…also…if you’re not fluent, it starts to hamper your other subjects because you need to read to learn.
The kids who will be in third grade this fall “were kindergartners when this pandemic started. Their entire school career has been disrupted by this pandemic. We need to know, not just for third graders, we need to know where each child is in the system. We need to have very good diagnoses to understand where the children are on these reading bases? »
“Is Cobb going to have a set of programs or let it happen at the school level? These are newsworthy discussions for the board,” she said.
Pozniak also stressed the importance of having a strategic plan for learning loss. For example, not just by offering tutoring and summer schools, but a coordinated effort to train staff and ensure that these efforts support classroom learning.
How can the board/district address disciplinary data that shows black and disabled students are disproportionately referred exclusion discipline and law enforcement?
“There must be strong practices around transparency and accountability. The first step is to discuss the data – what do we know, and only then can we begin to determine what the root causes are, what trends are we seeing, is it concentrated in certain schools , do we need to do focused training and practice, is this something that is true across the district… I think it’s hard to say exactly what the cure will be if we don’t have an honest conversation about what the current state is,” Pozniak said.
What did you think of the district’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic?
“I think the frustration is that people didn’t know what the plan was. It was hard calls everywhere. I was leading at the state level in the beginning. I continued to work with states and districts across the country and tried to determine what was the best decision. There were no easy answers, but it starts with a discussion. I think watching things unfold here, the frustration was that people didn’t know what the plan was. It was confusing for people to be asked to take a [COVID testing] investigation and then I never heard of the results,” she said.
“You’re not always going to get everyone’s consensus, but there’s always the possibility that people will understand what the plan is, even if they don’t agree with it. It was the lack of understanding of what was going on and the fact that people weren’t getting any information that I think increased the controversy. I would say it’s widespread on multiple fronts, whether it’s finances, learning, some of that shopping, or COVID stuff.
How can the Council support teachers and staff?
Pozniak said it’s important to make the most of the time teachers spend in meetings and training, making sure the training is aligned with the curriculum.
“The board’s responsibility is to make sure there is consistency across the whole system,” she said.
She also stressed the importance of listening to teachers.
“When I talk to educators in these schools, they have opinions, they see what’s happening in front of them, and they see what’s happening, and they don’t feel like they have a place where necessarily the take… I think we might be pleasantly surprised that there are simple things we can do to dramatically improve the teacher experience, but we have to hear them first.
You can read more about Dr. Pozniak on his website www.catherinepozniak.com/.