COLUMBIA - The Boone County Retired Teachers Association alongside school personnel held a forum Tuesday for candidates running for the Columbia School Board. There are currently seven candidates running for three open positions.
The purpose of the forum, as stated by moderator Jan Mees, was to acquaint the community with the candidates. The candidates were asked six, in-depth questions that allowed for up to two minutes of response time. Candidates were given general topics in advance, and the forum did not allow for audience questioning.
The candidates were arranged in ballot order, from left to right: Paul Harper, John Potter, Chris Horn, James Edward Gordon, John Lyman, April Ferrao, and Chuck Basye. Horn is the only candidate running for re-election.
Here were some of the questions and candidates' responses:
1. If elected to the school board, you'll be working alongside the other members and won't be able to take any official actions as an individual. How would you work with your fellow school board members to make positive change in the area of academic achievement?
John Potter: "Education is top priority in the district. We need to make an environment for education. We need to get back to the basics."
Chris Horn: "We need to get more out of our reactive phase, and get into our proactive phase. There's a lot that happens in our district, and there are going to be things that will happen that we have to respond to."
James Edward Gordon: "When you get to that real experience that we all have and the stakes for all of us, it's much easier for us to find a way to work together for everyone's benefit."
John Lyman: "We've been focusing a lot on the negative lately, and the problems within the district, whether it be discipline, curriculum audits, reports, scores, things like that. I want to shift that. We need to be talking about the solutions to these issues."
April Ferrao: "I may have a strength in policy or procedure, and someone else could have a strength in finance, and we can come together and bring those strengths to the table in order to work together and advance our academic achievement."
2. Teachers are becoming more and more stressed because of increases in students' needs, behavior issues, lack of work ethic, parent demands, ever-changing technology and administration demands over curriculum. How can a board member begin to address this issue?
Potter and Horn discussed Standards Reference Grading, something that Columbia Public Schools implemented back in 2016. The grading system ranks students between 1-4 and eliminates the percentage system.
John Potter: "We are taking out an ABCDEF system that's been in place forever, and we're replacing it with something that doesn't have enough data to back it up."
Chris Horn: "Standards Reference Grading lets you know as a parent, you as an educator, you as a student know how you're grasping concepts so that we can hold you to those high level expectations."
3. As a board member, you receive a call from a patron who has discovered by reviewing the courses on the CPS website that an elective course at the high school is entitled "Diversity and Race in America." They are concerned about this course. What would be your response to the patron, and what action would you take, if any?
Chuck Basye: "Something happened in an AP class that was very upsetting; they were showed a Childish Gambino video. It highlighted gun violence and showed a very graphic depiction of the main character shooting a man with a hood over his head. If you have to have an opt-out option for an assignment, it probably shouldn't be an assignment."
Paul Harper: "We have a multi-cultural community. We have a multi-cultural workforce. We need to be learning how to live with each other. We need to be learning the differences."
John Potter: "The common denominator with these situations is that the district is not being transparent, and therefore, it hurts trust with the community. Even if we don't agree with what's being taught and or what's being shown, there should be a level of transparency with parents and community before these controversial issues are in the classroom."
Chris Horn: "As a board member, we have to make sure that we get information to that parent that these are the board policies and these are our procedures that are best for you to follow in regard to your concern."
James Edward Gordon: "I want us to recognize that it's important for us to trust the educator, the person who is in the academic relationship with the student to be making these kinds of choices about the content and materials that are going to be most resonant for the kids that are currently in their classroom."
John Lyman: "I think our students are ready for a lot of things that some of us might be fearful of them taking. They're ready. They want to learn these things. Let's let them learn these things. Trust the teachers."
April Ferrao: "We need to make sure that we're getting information out to families and addressing their concerns. You sit down with them, you find out what their concerns are, and you find the best process and options and lay it all out on the table for them to see what's best for their family and their child."
4. Society in general is struggling with the needs of the LGBTQ community. Do you think CPS does too much, just the right amount, or not enough to support LGBTQ lifestyles? What are your thoughts on this issue?
Paul Harper: "We've got 27 bills going on right now going on, and last night there was a filibuster that went on until 6 a.m. about these very issues. We've got bullying policies, our kids aren't bullying each other. The Missouri legislature is bullying them."
John Potter: "I think they've gone overboard on some issues, like having the pride flag around the classrooms. I also think changing the language regarding reproduction systems is an issue, and it was done without them being transparent about it."
Chris Horn: "I think the district is doing exactly right by our LGBTQ+ students and making sure that we see their value and their work ethic because at the end of the day, we have an obligation and duty to educate every single kid that walks through those doors."
James Edward Gordon: "I am a white, cis, male, dude who grew up in an upper-middle class household. This is not my question to answer. This is the question that our LGBTQ+ community should be asked, and we should listen to what they say."
John Lyman: "These are the folks that everyone needs to stand up for. This is a cycle that's going to happen. I hope in 20 years, there isn't a new group being pulled to the side and being told that they're different.
Chuck Basye: "Every child deserves a spot in our school system no matter their background or beliefs are, but I think this political agenda is being pushed on our kids.
The last question asked before the next round asked candidates how they could ensure that the school board elections remained nonpartisan.
The candidates then entered into a lightning round. They were asked 11 quick questions and could only answer with 'yes' or 'no' signs.
The candidates were then able to sit with retired teachers and community members for a lunch afterwards. Jan Mees, the moderator for the event, served for 12 years on the Columbia School Board before retiring. Mees estimated that over 100 people attended the forum Tuesday.
"The fact that we had this forum gave them an opportunity to form their own opinions for the election on April 4," Mees said.
Mees encouraged people to seek out more forums and interpersonal interviews with the media.
"I think you can read a lot of words on a piece of paper, but hearing a person in person and seeing their reactions gives you a good indication for what kind of leader they will be on the school board," Mees said.
Early voting for the school board elections began Tuesday morning. The election is on April 4.