The primary election is slated for Aug. 2. (Image: MGNOnline)

Editor’s note: This Q&A is one in a series that aims to allow voters to get to know candidates who are running in the Aug. 2 primary. sent questionnaires to candidates on the ballotWe will post responses as we get them.

Hixson resident and current school board member Joe Smith is seeking re-election for District 3.

Smith, 64, is retired from the YMCA but continues to work as a youth counselor, coach and mentor, he said.

The Red Bank High School graduate has been married to his wife, Paula, for 43 years and they have two children, 19 foster children and eight grandchildren.

He’s involved in a number of church and civic organizations.

If elected, what are your top priorities as a school board member?

A school board member has two jobs. The first is to set policy for the entire school system, which includes the annual budget. The second is to supervise and evaluate one employee, the superintendent.

There has been a lot of discussion about equity in schools, do you think it’s an issue? Why or why not? What do you want to see happen to address it?

The discussion about equity is a well thought out and well-executed strategy that defined “equity” in a way that does not reflect the views of the majority of Hamilton County residents.

Unifi-Ed brought this issue forward in the fall of 2017 and its APEX Report was presented to the School Board in March.

The document used poor language and “demanded” things from the board and county commission that residents of District 3, and I believe countywide, do not agree with it.

Chattanooga 2.0, its executive director and its funders, including the Chamber of Commerce, supported the idea of the “socioeconomic desegregation.”

It is not the job of the school system to be the vehicle to break up “areas of concentrated poverty.”

Dr. Johnson hired Dr. Marsha Drake as the first chief equity officer ever in Hamilton County, and Dr. Drake formed an Equity Task Force in the spring to study the issue. With Dr. Drake as an equity expert, this large task force included the strongest voices for equity in the county.

At the June Board meeting, Dr. Johnson rightly recommended that the push to hire national consultants for the task force needed to slow down a bit.

He also said that the push for “equity” had been framed in the wrong way for regular citizens and taxpayers.

It should be discussed in terms of “closing the opportunity gap” that exists here, and likely in most public systems in the country. I agree with that.

There are things like making sure all high school students have access to AP courses that need addressing. There are many more issues like that to be discussed in the right way at the right time.

As one of nine people whose job it is to supervise and evaluate Dr. Johnson, I believe I can support the basic steps he first wants to take.

I cannot support the contents of Unifi-Ed’s APEX Report.

What specific improvements or changes would you push for if elected?

We are all striving for the same improvements:

  •  Raising the achievement levels of all students, not just those in the Opportunity Zone
  •  Being able to tell taxpayers we are spending their money efficiently
  •  Doing more, bolder things on public safety
  • Being a good policymaker for more than 6,000 people who work for the school system, not just the professional staff

As a wise man once said, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.”

I want to see us focus on the main, plain things that make a difference now, not 10 years from now.

How do you believe a leader should handle people they don’t get along or agree with? 

I have spent my whole life bringing people together by treating folks with respect. I believe that works for any leader.

Why should residents vote for you and not one of your opponents?

I have school board experience, life experience and a documented record of service that my opponent does not have. People in District 3 trust me.

What is your personal motivation for running for this office and wanting to lead?

I spent my entire adult life turning the lives of inner-city middle school boys. I did this through the Y-CAP boxing program, which is a model for how to help struggling students.

I know the difference it makes when have a full belly at night and clean clothes in the morning.

As a board member, I can bring that experience to the school system and Dr. Johnson in a way that only I can do.