Columbia Public Schools swears in new board members

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COLUMBIA - The newest members of Columbia’s Public School Board were sworn in Monday night.

Blake Willbougbhy and Della Strety-Wilhoit were elected for the boards' two open positions last Tuesday. 

Willougbhy, who is still a graduate student at the University of Missouri, will be youngest member of the board. 

He said he hopes conversations with students, parents and school faculty can improve the district.

"Every decision is made for the benefit of our kids," Willbougbhy said. "We need to make sure that we are actually hearing their voice and listening to them."

The board also elected a Helen Wade as new board president and Jonathan Sessions as board vice-president.

Those positions act as the public face of the board and set the agenda for public and working meetings.

Mary Ratliff, a graduate of Columbia Public Schools, said she hopes the school board addresses education disparities between white and minority students.

She said she wants the district to hire more diverse faculty to serve as role models for minority students as well.

"We got to work closer with the district and the community to ensure we change," she said.

According to ProPublica, minority students in Columbia are almost five times as likely to be suspended and are academically about three grades behind white students. The organization said white students in the district are about twice as likely enrolled in AP class.

"It's unacceptable," Ratliff said. "We spend a lot of time on community policing, we got to spend more time at the school level."

Outgoing School Board President Jan Mess acknowledged disparities exist and said the district has implemented programs to fix them.

She said the district has programs to curb more serve punishments, teach faculty about unintended biases and encourage minority students to take more advanced classes.