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Columbia Missourian

Segert pushes for school board engagement with public

By TANNER FLOWERS
March 30, 2008 | 5:08 p.m. CDT
School Board candidate Ines Segert listens as MU freshman Curtis Atkisson helps her with her campaign brochure at Lakota Coffee. Segert is a psychology professor at MU.

COLUMBIA — Every week Ines Segert’s two sons, Simon, 16, and Julian, 13, flip through the pages of their mother’s culinary magazines. They look at the recipes inside and then pick out the meals she will cook that week.

Segert, who used to sell her desserts at Trattoria Strada Nova and Cherry Street Wine Cellar, loves to cook. This weekly exercise is not only time spent with her children but also a challenge for her to cook adventurous meals.

INES SEGERT

PERSONAL: Age 49. Married to Jan Segert, MU mathematics professor. They have two children, Simon, 16, and Julian, 13. EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degrees in psychology and English from Rutgers, 1981; master’s degree in neuroscience from Princeton, 1985; doctorate in neuroscience from Princeton, 1990. CURRENTLY: MU psychology professor since 1990. PREVIOUSLY: Applied for a seat on the Columbia School Board when Don Ludwig stepped down a year ago.

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“It’s easy,” Segert said. “I don’t have to think about what to cook, and then we get to try a lot of different stuff. They’re really very adventurous eaters; they’ll try about anything.”

Segert is now trying something new. She is running for one of three open seats on the Columbia School Board in the April 8 election.

Segert, a psychology professor at MU, said she loves meeting students in class and prides herself on an open style of teaching that keeps them interested.

“I’m not afraid to let myself out a little bit,” she said.

She includes students in the class by allowing them to submit bonus questions for her exams, and it was in this way that one student reminded her why she loves teaching. Last year, one of her students submitted the question: “If you could be anyone or do anything in the world, who would you be or what would you do?”

“It stumped me,” Segert said. “I thought about it and said, ‘Actually, there’s nothing I’d rather do than this.’”

In her classes, Segert allows students to select topics of study in which they are interested as well as what they will study over the course of a semester. The students select topics from a list of relevant issues.

“In my teaching, I want to address what they are interested in. and I think that is what a school board should do,” Segert said.

She decided to seek election because of her concerns over recent decisions made by Columbia Public Schools administration, including the location of the new high school, a tax levy increase being put to voters on the April 8 ballot and curriculum selections, especially integrated math. She said the school board could have avoided controversy in these decisions by being more open to public opinions.

“Accessibility is one of my main issues,” Segert said. “I think right now the board members are not accessible to the public. They really seem very unresponsive to public concerns, and one of the things I try to do in class is understand the students’ perspective.”

Like several members of the City Council, Segert has held office hours in coffee shops across the city on Saturday afternoons.

“The first day I got about 10 to 12 people, and I average about four people, which is really good because they don’t really know me yet,” she said.

Although most of the people she meets during her office hours are district parents, also coming to speak with her are taxpayers and, perhaps even more interesting, she said, students. The students are concerned about the effect budget cuts would have on class selection, particularly small elective classes or gifted classes, she said.

Math curriculum is another issue Segert has heard about. In the early grades, Columbia Public Schools has an integrated math curriculum that focuses on research and explanation of math concepts; it de-emphasizes memorization of traditional algorithms. There is a fair amount of disagreement about which is a more effective way for students to learn math.

Segert has a personal interest in this. Her sons are students in the district: Simon is a sophomore at Rock Bridge High School, and Julian is a seventh-grader at Smithton Middle School.

Simon, Segert said, was always good at math and tested high enough to be placed in honors algebra in the seventh grade. Even though he was taking a high-level class, Simon was still required to learn the math connections material.

Jan Segert, Ines Segert’s husband and an MU mathematics professor, and Ines Segert looked over their son’s textbooks from the connections math class and issued an odd request to their son.

“My husband — who is a mathematician — and I told him to disregard that material,” Segert said. “It would actually have done him harm in his algebra to have learned it.”

Simon disregarded the material but still performed well in the class. He is now in pre-calculus and will take calculus next year.

Julian is not in an honors algebra class and is enrolled in the connections class. The Segerts tutor him at home in traditional math concepts.

Segert does not advocate completely disregarding the integrated math curriculum but said the district should offer the option of a traditional math curriculum for younger students.

“A school district should provide the very best education it can,” Segert said. “Curriculum is not the only part of education, but it is an integral part.”

Click here to read Ines Segert's response to a questionnaire from the Columbia Community Teachers Association.