Live from Music Row Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Metro Nashville Public School Board candidate for District Four, Kelli Phillips to the newsmaker line to discuss her background, why she’s running, and top priority of student morale.
Leahy: We are joined now on the newsmaker line by Kelli Phillips, who’s a candidate for the Nashville school board representing the fourth district in Metro Nashville, Davidson County. Good morning, Kelli.
Phillips: Good morning. How are you, sir?
Leahy: I’m great. So tell us about yourself, Kelli, and tell us why you’re running for school board and when the elections will be.
Phillips: Well, I’m a Nashville native. I’m a mother of three. I have an almost 20-year-old who graduated from the Metro school system, and I have a high schooler currently in the school system. And then I have an almost-three-year-old that is not in the school system yet.
And this year, with everything going on and seeing the challenges that our children have been facing, as well as the teachers, staff, and everybody, I just felt compelled as a parent to try to make a difference. And this is what I chose to do.
Leahy: Let me ask you this. In Davidson County, if you can refresh my memory here, the school districts have the option of having school board elections being partisan as Republican or Democrat. Before, did Davidson County opt to go partisan, or is it a nonpartisan election?
Phillips: It is a partisan election this year. This will be a first.
Leahy: So when is the primary?
Phillips: The primary is at the beginning of May I believe. I don’t know the exact date, but I know it’s the beginning of May and the actual election will be in August.
Leahy: Do you have any primary opposition?
Phillips: I believe there is one other person possibly running in my district. I don’t know if they pulled their papers yet. We’re not going to really know that I believe until February. The deadline is mid-February to have all your paperwork turned in.
Leahy: And which primary are you participating in?
Phillips: I will be in the Republican primary.
Leahy: Okay, good. Do you have to have, like, a whole bunch of signatures in to qualify for the ballot?
Phillips: Yes, sir. You have to have 25 signatures from registered voters in your district, so, fortunately, I have a strong team behind me, and I’ve got my signatures, and I’ll be turning in my paperwork this week.
Leahy: And what’s the deadline for getting those signatures in?
Phillips: I want to say it’s February 17.
Leahy: So you got plenty of time.
Phillips: Yes, sir. But I was ready to go before I ever got my paperwork pulled. I’m excited and ready to hit the ground running for this campaign season.
Leahy: What is the number one thing you want to accomplish if you are elected to the board?
Phillips: I want to give parents and students a voice again. I want to make sure they know they’re heard. I want families to have the option to do what they think is best for their families. I think that is a decision that is most importantly left to families, not a school board.
Leahy: So are we talking masks here?
Phillips: Yes, sir. Very much so.
Leahy: If the school board were to vote on having mask mandates again, because I guess now they have voted mask mandates after the litigation, mask mandates are in effect currently in Metro Nashville schools. Am I correct?
Phillips: They are, and they are basing it off of like you said, the litigation. But Davidson County isn’t even involved in that lawsuit. So to back a mask mandate based on a lawsuit that we aren’t directly involved in isn’t something that I really agree with.
Leahy: So you would vote to end the mask mandate for kids. Do I have that right?
Phillips: Yes, sir. I would vote to end it and make it a personal choice for family members and for faculty as well. Teachers are affected by all this also.
Leahy: What do you think ought to be done to improve the educational performance of Metro Nashville public schools? Because if you look at there were, like, 140 local education agencies around the state, I don’t know which is worse. Shelby County is at the very bottom.
It’s either Shelby County or Madison County in Jackson or Davidson County. I think those are the three bottom dwellers when it comes to educational performance. What can be done to improve that?
Phillips: I think right now we are faced overall with burnout. I really think a lot of people are tired and students are tired. Teachers are tired. And I think that’s the first thing we have to address is how to get the morale back up with everyone. They’re worn out. It’s been a long two years at this point, and we’ve really got to help these students.
Leahy: How do you do that?
Phillips: You start by giving them an environment where they can see each other smile again.
Leahy: That’s a good point. That’s a very good point. Have you been to the school board to make that argument? And how did the current school board respond to that argument?
Phillips: Yes, sir. I’ve spoken to the school board several times since August. The first time I actually spoke was in August. And I’ve got that online where people can see my three minutes. There are a few times in your life where you can say this is something that really represents who I am. And I will say those three minutes in August pretty much sum up everything I feel as a mother first and a candidate second.
Leahy: And that you argued get rid of the masks so kids can see each other and develop normally. I’m guessing.
Phillips: Right. Because I have children that range from like I said, my oldest will be 20 in two weeks, and my youngest will be three in March. And my youngest has a sensory processing issue that he actually goes to therapy for and we work with him on that.
And these masks for him in particular would be quite a problem for his speech development. He’s in speech therapy right now, and it’s very hard to teach a child to speak when you have a mask over your face.
Leahy: When you made that pitch, that statement to the school board, how did they respond?
Phillips: I did not get any responses anytime I’ve spoken at the school board minus one, Fran Bush. She has been an advocate for these children and teachers and staff since the beginning of this, trying to make sure they stayed in school and had the option for masks. But I really don’t get any feedback from the school board.
Leahy: Now, if people want to learn about your campaign, I know I can go to Facebook/Kelliphillips4schoolboard. Is that the best place to reach you or are there other places to reach you?
Phillips: They can go to Facebook for now. I’m working on getting a website up with the campaign getting into high gear. We are getting the website up and running here in the next week or two. And when that is live and ready to go for people to see about me and make donations if they want to. That’ll be posted on my Facebook page.
Leahy: Great. Kelli Phillips, a candidate for the school board here in Metro Nashville Public Schools. Come back again, if you will. Thank you for joining us today.
Phillips: Thank you. Have a great day.