Torin Sanders has a simple platform to get him elected to the Orleans Parish School Board District 7. Its centered on children having their educational and social needs met and fulfilled.
“It’s time to speak for the children” is his campaign motto.
“The best people to reform the educational system are the children because they know what they need,” Sanders said. “However, they can’t speak for themselves, so we have to be their voices.”
As a child advocate, Sanders chose to run for the board after researching data for District 7 public schools.
“Seventy-five percent [of children] are failing and are below the warning level on the schools rating system,” he said. “A poor educational system impacts everything else – jails, businesses, tourism, and a low-wage economy.”
Sanders also decided to run because of his educational background. “Education is fundamental,” he said. “It has had a profound impact on my life.”
Before getting his master’s degree in social work at Tulane University, Sanders graduated at age 16 from a New York public school. He then went to Howard University, where he graduated magna cum laude. There, he became a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic fraternity.
Recently, he completed coursework for a doctorate in social work at Tulane University. “I realized the importance of education early on. My mother continually re-enforced excellence in school,” he said. “I remember an incident when I came home and told my mother that I made a 95 percent on a test. She asked me where the other five points were.”
Because of this upbringing, Sanders feels that people should attempt to surpass minimum expectations, especially in terms of education.
“The issue is an indictment of current leadership. The value of excelling in school gave me the desire to excel in every aspect of my life. If people had the mentality that mediocrity is unacceptable, then all involved would strive for providing excellence,” he said.
Sanders said that sometimes, things need to change. Unfortunately, he said, the only change being made, in terms of public school education, is enrollment. “Persistent academic failure and poor quality have led to a serious decline. No parent wants to send a child to a failing school,” he said.
First, Sanders plans to investigate who is providing the instruction. “Student – teacher relationships can be compared to a wood – hammer relationship. If the hammer is broken, there will be little to no success of accomplishing the goal,” he said.
Teachers are the primary caregivers when students are at school, he said, so they need to be certified, as well as highly qualified in their specific areas.
He also wants to assure that there is effective communication and support for educators. “We should recruit and retain exceptional teachers. This would include increasing pay.”
Sanders’ next attempt at raising student achievement is aligning the curriculum with the exit exam.
“The students can learn a lot of information, but if that material is not on the test that determines if the student will progress to the next grade or not, it is almost irrelevant,” Sanders said.
Then thirdly, Sanders intends on assuring that students are getting the social services they need.
“Most of the children in District 7 are extremely poor. With poverty comes other problems including hunger, restlessness, tiredness, and anxiety,” he said. Resources in the community need to match with a child’s needs, he said.
“We could have certified, highly-qualified teachers and an appropriate curriculum for the LEAP test, but if a child comes to class hungry, none of that matters.”
Sanders has developed a seven point action plan that he feels will give children the best opportunity to reach their educational goals.
Along with assuring that students are prepared to learn and teachers are efficient, he wants to bridge the gap between parents and schools; evaluate the impact of high stakes testing; help failing schools succeed; and support efforts to root out waste and corruption.
Sanders also believes that there needs to also be fiscal accountability. “I am definitely an advocate for adequate, not minimum, funding for our schools.”
Sanders, who has been the pastor of the Sixth Baptist Church for seven years, has direct experience with children and their issues. Currently, he is a child mental health specialist and a board certified social worker.
He has been an adjunct faculty member at both SUNO and Tulane University. He is the founder of the New Orleans Family Empowerment, as well as a supervisor of Kingsley House, Parent-Child Center. Sanders is also a former vice – president of Volunteers of America.
An active member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Sanders is very involved in community service. He is a board member of Crimestoppers and Each One Save One. He was the recipient of the FBI Community Leader Award, Victims and Citizens Against Crime Award, and Gospel Music Workshop of America Award. As a student at Tulane University, Sanders was the student government association president.
The husband and father of two sons, he believes that he has the skills and traits necessary to improve the school system.
“Patience, empathy, and honesty are all extremely important for this, and practically all jobs. But humility is a specific trait that is unique and special,” Sanders said.
“To lead is to serve, and not many people possess that.”
Sanders, a political newcomer, said he is determined to improve the New Orleans public schools by being the voice for the children.
“At the end of my term, if there isn’t a substantial change, I don’t want to run again,” he said.
“All children need the tools and skills to compete in today’s job market. A quality education is the foundation for that.”