The Rev. Orenthia Mason cited her more than 30 years as an educator and 40-plus years of community service among the qualities that make her the best candidate for Tyler ISD school board.
Rev. Mason, 61, is running to retain the District 2 position on the board. She is in her third term on the board and serving as president.
She recently spoke to the Tyler Morning Telegraph editorial board about her campaign.
“It’s my privilege as a citizen to serve our community, to network with citizens across the city, and that’s what it takes for our school district to be successful is that all of us in the city as well as all the communities work together,” she said.
Rev. Mason addressed some of the past and future decisions facing the district.
She said the discussion about the future of Stewart Middle School elicited a lot of community concern. She said district officials spoke with the concerned residents, heard their concerns and offered possible solutions.
In the end, she said it was her understanding that the community supported repurposing the school to serve as an early college high school and the district’s PACE campus, the latter of which serves students who need a more flexible school schedule.
“Now I’m sure there may be one or two who still may disagree,” she said. “The school will still be there. It will just be an A.T. Stewart Academy of Excellence.”
Regarding the district’s 43-year-old desegregation order, she said it was implemented and instituted when the makeup of the district’s population was black or white.
She said she wishes the district were not under the court order, “but that’s not a battle we’re fighting right now because we’re more concerned with completing the building of our schools.”
The district remains under it because some in the community believe TISD should remain under it and that the district is not doing its job, Rev. Mason said. Some residents have specific concerns about hiring practices.
She said TISD is more concerned with hiring qualified and quality personnel than hiring people of a particular race.
“I know we need to have a nice mix ethnically of personnel who are serving our students, but I’m not going to hire you just because you’re a white male or because you’re a black male or a black female or a Hispanic male,” she said.
She said she has asked the district to look into grooming its own teachers and administrators from its students and existing personnel.
When it comes to district facilities, Rev. Mason said she supports the idea of new Robert E. Lee and John Tyler high schools, but it’s the TISD voters who are going to have to support a tax increase.
She addressed diversity in the schools saying the most racially balanced school in terms of student enrollment will be the new middle school being built on Three Lakes Parkway.
Because TISD as a whole has such a high Hispanic population and the number of white and black students is decreasing, most campuses will have a high Hispanic population, she said.
“It’s just the makeup of the district, the population that we serve,” she said.
That said, the board does not favor particular neighborhoods or communities when making decisions, she said. Trustees are looking at the district as a whole.
“One thing I can say about this school board … is we’re looking out (for) what’s best for all children,” she said.
Rev. Mason said the achievement of African-American students, especially males, is of particular concern to her.
“If we believe the philosophy ‘No Child Left Behind,’ then we all need to be doing everything we can, but it just can’t be on the school,” she said. “The success of our children … begins at home. The children come to us. We take them where they are and it is our desire in the school system to move them farther than they’ve ever been and to where they should be or maybe even I like to say, exceed.”