This story was updated July 12, 2018, at 8 p.m. with more information.
The evening before early voting began in Hamilton County, WTCI, the local PBS affiliate, broadcast school board debates featuring the 10 candidates running for the five open seats.
The broadcast, which aired at 8 p.m. Thursday, was recorded in front of a live audience at the WTCI studio Wednesday and was moderated by WRCB anchor Greg Glover.
District 3: Joe Smith vs. Miracle Hurley
Arguably one of the most contested races, the opening debate pitted candidate Miracle Hurley against incumbent board member Joe Smith, who has taken the spotlight this summer after he and Rhonda Thurman denounced UnifiEd's Action Plan for Educational Excellence (APEX) Project report in May.
When asked by Glover what equity meant to him, Smith said he likes talking about equity "in terms of closing the achievement gap" and he is excited about actions taken by Superintendent Bryan Johnson.
"I'm excited that Dr. Johnson has hired an expert," Smith said. "Dr. Marsha Drake has put together a task force, and I'm looking forward to what comes from that."
Hurley emphasized that equity is dependent on access.
"Equity is something that does need to happen in our schools," Hurley, the director of a mental health program for adolescents, said. "The way I view equity is opening up access to opportunities for all students."
District 5: Karitsa Mosley Jones vs. Ann Pierre
The District 5 debate between incumbent Karitsa Mosley Jones and her opponent, Ann Pierre, focused on the role of the school board and its members, the district's budget, and how best to support students and prepare them for the future.
Pierre said she believes "school board members are responsible for setting policy and Central Office is responsible for carrying out that policy." Mosley Jones agreed with her on the role.
"As a board, our No. 1 priority is making sure we are setting policy and [Johnson's] cabinet is carrying it out," Mosley Jones said. She also noted that school district leaders are enthusiastic and in support of Johnson's leadership over the course of the past year.
Pierre, in response to a question about the district's Opportunity Zone launched last fall, said she wanted to see more measurable, trackable outcomes in regard to student outcomes.
"We need to make sure that we have a way to measure outcomes and that we have an objective," Pierre said.
District 6: Michael Henry vs. Jenny Hill
During the District 6 debate, the only race without an incumbent, candidate Michael Henry tried to appeal to educators, emphasizing his experience working in Hamilton County Schools while a graduate student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, as well as noting the inequities in his district, such as the lack of a Volkswagen eLab or the shrinking student population at Lookout Valley Middle/High School.
Both Henry and his opponent, local business owner Jenny Hill, agreed the district needs to do more to prepare students for life after high school, in partnering with local business and organizations, and improving how the district attracts and retains teachers.
"I think we need to consider how our intentions and goals for our schools and students align with how we are paying teachers," Hill said. She acknowledged teachers deserve higher salaries, something advocated for by the mayor's school budget working group in 2009, which Hill referenced and praised.
District 8: David Testerman vs. Tucker McClendon
Board member David Testerman and his opponent, recent UTC grad Tucker McClendon, focused on the community's role in supporting schools.
Testerman noted the support East Ridge High School has received for maintenance of its athletic facilities and urged others to step up.
McClendon echoed his thoughts.
"We have to make sure we have the funding," he said. "We have to go to businesses and organizations and churches to step in and get involved."
The candidates also talked about equity and the newly launched Future Ready Institutes but focused on how to encourage support for the district's schools by the community.
District 9: Steve Highlander vs. D'Andre Anderson
During the debate between incumbent school board Chairman Steve Highlander and his opponent, D'Andre Anderson, the two appeared to agree on a variety of issues, including the need for more school resource officers, more active community partners and different pathways for students.
"We have a lot of problems we still need to deal with, and safety should be our most important one," Highlander said. He called on the community to help provide funding and highlighted the board's efforts to include more resource officers in next year's budget for the 50 schools in the district without them.
Anderson agreed that resource officers are important as both safety measures and for building relationships with students, but added that he feels more counselors are needed in schools.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.
SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES
Incumbent Joe Smith
Incumbent Karitsa Mosley Jones
Incumbent David Testerman
Incumbent Steve Highlander