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MASD School Board Candidate: Jeffrey Anderson
By Staff Reports
The Tube City Almanac
May 13, 2023
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News, Politics & Elections
Name: Jeffery Anderson
Address: Washington St., McKeesport
Filed as: Democratic
Almanac: Why are you running for school board, and what are your qualifications?
Anderson: I’m running for school board because I believe the district needs a change and new direction. I believe the current board is failing our children. I am very well known for the community work that I do such as my non-profit, the Mentoring Village. I run a weekly food pantry. I am also known for the Buddy Benches I made for the school district last school year.
Almanac: One constant question at board meetings has been about gun violence. Prior to this election, how have you addressed gun-related violence within the community?
Anderson: The recent gun violence is very sad and unfortunate. It’s mainly kids killing kids, but I feel like if these kids had something to keep their minds occupied — keep them off the streets — it would at least eliminate (not take away all of it) but eliminate a lot of the gun violence that is occurring throughout the community.
I also believe holding the parents accountable for the actions of their children would help eliminate some of the violence through the community.
I think that’s why it’s very important to know “if you see something, say something.” It’s not considered snitching when you're protecting the lives of others.
And it also leads back to the safety of our schools — so that what happened in Tennessee a few weeks back, and what’s been happening throughout the country, does not happen in our school district. Upgrading the security in our schools, coming up with new active shooter guidelines, I think is very important. Hopefully with me on the school board we can get a chance to make the changes that need to be made for the safety of our kids, and our staff and our school buildings.
Almanac: How do you rate the relationship between the school board, educators, students and families regarding incidents occurring outside of school?
Anderson: I don’t believe the school district, educators, and school board members are listening to the concerns from the parents and from the citizens in this community.
One thing that I have been mentioning to people that I meet throughout the community — with me being on school board, I will make sure I am listening to their concerns and addressing them immediately, and not letting them get swept under the rug like how it has been.
I think it’s very important for parents to have great relationships with the school board members — “you give respect, you earn respect,” is what I say.
As a school board member, I will make sure that I am present inside of each of our school buildings several times a week, listening to the concerns of the children and the staff, to make sure that I know what’s going on at all times and if there's anything that needs to be addressed.
Almanac: What steps can the school board take to ensure safety within schools?
Anderson: First things first — when it comes to the safety of our school buildings, our children and our staff is upgrading security systems. I know the school board just recently spent a lot of money on updated security cameras that are used to watch what is going on as it’s happening — but how are we supposed to stop someone coming into our buildings?
I am considering looking into having campus police or maybe even trying to partner with Penn State Greater Allegheny to see if they can patrol our school buildings throughout the day and our parking lots.
I think a police presence at our schools will make someone hesitate on entering one of our buildings.
That's just one thing that I have in mind to keep the safety of our children as our top priority.
There’s a nice little system out at other school districts called license plate readers I think that is very important to have in place and make sure they are being utilized properly.
And then also hiring qualified security officers to patrol our halls in the outside of our school buildings. I also have a lot of other ideas about what we can do to keep our children and our teachers safe. I’ve been working in the security field for the last several years in other school districts, and I see different ways that they serve and protect our students and our staff. So I would love to bring some of those great ideas into our district and hopefully continue on keeping our buildings safe.
Almanac: McKeesport Area has many students whose families are struggling economically and a large percentage of students who are from minority groups. How will you work to understand and meet their diverse needs?
Anderson: With me running a non-profit in the City of McKeesport called the Mentoring Village, ideally with these situations on a daily basis, something that is very important to me is helping families that are in need anything I can do to help their needs or put a smile on the children’s faces around the holidays — I am all for that.
I know we currently have washers and dryers for the public to use. We also have showers and our school building for the public to use for families that may be struggling in those areas. I think those are great ideas.
I think we can have an anonymous tip line for families that may be embarrassed to reach out to the school districts for help with clothes and food and set it up to where they can pick up anonymously. So I am looking forward to helping families and these situations that are in need with a lot of experience in that field I think it's something important and something that I can bring to the table.
Almanac: What literacy challenges do McKeesport Area students face, and how would you address them?
Anderson: This is also very important to me. I’ve done a lot of research on this within the past few months and been following it pretty heavily.
Our PSSA test scores are the lowest in the state of Pennsylvania at 38 percent in math, reading and language. This is very disturbing to me. These children are in school to learn, these teachers are in school to teach, these kids in the subjects to get them to succeed in life, and having test scores that low, and being the lowest scoring test scores in the state of Pennsylvania is unacceptable.
I believe making the class sizes smaller in the amount of students that are in the class would help the teachers have one-on-one teaching with students that are struggling in the classes. I believe that could be very helpful.
I think taking some of the fun activities out of the schools and give the children more time to learn, such as the Dick's Sporting Goods program — they take two hours a day away from our students to participate in their programs. These are two hours a day taken away from our children's education. Yes, these special activities that Dick's Sporting Goods do with our children are important, and it‘s a great thing that they do, but with our test scores being as low as they are, obviously these kids need more time learning than they do having downtime.
Our children are only in school for about six hours a day. Take two hours out of that six for the Dick’s Sporting Goods activities that they do — that leaves them with four hours a day of learning. Now, you take another half an hour away for lunch, and another half an hour away for special classes such as music, art, gym, things like that, which are still very important things for them to learn, but after you already take two hours out of their day with the Dick’s Sporting Goods program, another half an hour for lunch, and another half an hour for a special class, these kids are really only learning for about three hours a day. How do you teach these kids in three hours? It’s impossible, and it's showing with our test scores.
So I am on top of this and I’m looking forward to being able to sit down with my fellow school board members and figuring out ways to help these students get back on a successful and winning track.
Almanac: What is your opinion of the current math education curriculum, especially at the middle and high school level?
Anderson: I agree with the new math system that they are using in our school districts, but only if it’s something that they need to use in their future lives. Once they get out of school (or even as they’re in school) a lot of students get jobs. Throughout high school, if this math is something that they need to know, then I’m all for it — but a lot of this math that they are teaching the kids these days in school is not math that they need to know to be successful.
I say go back to basic learning — adding, subtracting, multiplying, division — that’s the kind of stuff that these children need to know when they get out of school and go on to great jobs in their future.
And with our math scores being at 27 percent, it’s obviously showing that our children are having trouble learning this new math. So maybe it’s a good idea to go back to the old math learning system.
Almanac: What is the role of music, arts and social-studies education?
Anderson: These are very important — a lot of students go on to be musicians, or a career that has to do with music or arts, and I don't believe with social studies that our children are learning proper history. I really don’t want to go into too much detail on the social studies because I don't want it to be misinterpreted, but I think it is very important for them to teach history just the way generations before them have learned.
Almanac: Why do some parents choose not to send their children to McKeesport Area schools — and how can the district get them back?
Anderson: A lot parents choose to send their children to other schools but I feel like it’s because they don’t think their children are getting the proper education that they deserve; and I believe this goes back to classroom size. When you have 20 to 25 children in the classroom, it’s hard for the teacher to have one-on-one with students that need extra learning.
So I believe limiting the class size to roughly 15 students per class would help students out a lot. I believe that’s one of the reasons that parents are taking their children out of our district and taking them to other school districts. That’s one of the reasons.
The other reason I believe is because of violence that happens in the schools, and I believe that goes back to better security. I believe if we get better security, these children and parents would feel a lot safer, and would want their students to attend McKeesport Area School District.
I also believe it’s because the lack of teacher support that we have in our school district — we’re losing tons of teachers every year, because they are going on to different school districts because of the pay rate. I believe we have to be competitive when it comes to pay. Why would a teacher want to not make more, or be competitive with another teacher, and another district that’s making twice as much as they are?
So I think those three reasons would help get students back into our school district and help keep students in our school district in the future.
Almanac: As a board member, where would you look to make budget cuts? Are there any areas you would not consider cutting?
Anderson: I absolutely believe that there need to be budget cuts. I think all the budgets that are set in place right now to need to be re-evaluated, and we need to figure out ways that we could get them lowered to where it's not hurting our students or our community.
I believe one of the areas that need to be lowered is school taxes. They base those taxes off the property value of the person’s home. I don’t believe it's the right way of doing it and I would love to look at the budget for that reason and see if we could get that lowered.
There’s a lot of senior citizens that own their home in this community that just cannot afford school taxes.
I would also love to look at the budget for our sports. I believe that there is way too much being spent in that area and if I had the opportunity, I would look over that budget and see. If there’s any cuts that could be made without hurting the students and hurting the programs, but have a way to save money, I would love to do so. There’s a few other areas that I think need to be looked at but I rather not discuss here.
Originally published May 13, 2023.
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