COLUMBIA — The Columbia Public School Board will have one seat open — if not two — come April. President Michelle Gadbois said she won't run again, and Vice President Steve Calloway wonders if he'll have time to serve as president in her absence, so he's weighing the decision of another campaign.
Both Gadbois and Calloway are finishing their first terms on the board. Calloway is still deciding whether he'll run in the April election. He said closing the achievement gap — one of the board's three stated goals — is critical. Some say parents have to assume responsibility for students' success. Calloway said the board must focus on what it can do to drive achievement, including curriculum and extra help for kids who need it.
"The board and the district have to be accountable for when the kids are with us," he said.
He said developing relationships with kids is another piece of the puzzle. He recalls a popular teachers' expression: "Kids don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
Possible board candidates should consider their ability to work as a team, too, according to Calloway.
"We don't want to have everybody thinking the same way, to rubber stamp everything the administration does," Calloway said. "But (the board has) to know how to work together."
Even when board members agree with one another, they might have different reasons to support their position. Board member Karla DeSpain said a newcomer has to be ready to hear multiple perspectives, make up his or her mind and realize that others might not agree.
Calloway said many parents are passionate about their own children's education, but it takes more than that to be a good candidate.
"A board member is an advocate for all kids," he said. "Yes, we're responsible to the parents and the folks who vote, who elect us and who pay taxes, but it ought to be about what's best for all kids."
The board often elects previous vice presidents to the president position. With Gadbois gone, Calloway's re-election could mean a new post and a bigger time commitment.
Board member Ines Segert, who was elected in April, said anyone considering a seat on the board should prepare for a big responsibility.
"The whole point is to get involved, to really understand the issues you'll be asked to vote on," she said.
What's more, Segert said board membership isn't for someone who wants to approve everything that is placed before him or her.
In light of the district's recent audit, she said new members should prioritize administrative oversight. She said the district's financial situation is due in part to concerns raised by past auditors that were not publicly discussed.
"(It takes) a willingness to ask questions publicly, dig in to all the details, make sure board policies are being followed by everyone and listen to the public," Segert said.
She said Gadbois' seat will be a tough one to fill.
"Michelle throws herself into everything," Segert said. "She's listening to all different constituencies (of the public) to come to a consensus that's helpful to everyone in Columbia Public Schools."
DeSpain said Gadbois brings "an idea of digging into things very deeply," and her attention to detail is an asset to the board.
Michelle Pruitt, who formed Columbia Parents for Real Math, said she has decided whether or not to run in April, but she's not ready to share that decision with the public yet.
She has considered running since board member Don Ludwig's resignation in 2007 left an opening on the board that nine candidates applied to fill. Only two of those candidates ran for seats on the board in the following election. Board member Tom Rose, who replaced Ludwig, kept that spot in the April 2008 election, and Segert was elected to her first term in the same election.
In addition to the time commitment of board service, Pruitt said the energy that goes into a campaign deters many from running. Still, she's considering it because transparent decision making should be a board priority.
"Making sure the public can see what's happening inside the Columbia district — that's something that really needs to be done," Pruitt said.
Candidates for April's election can begin filing Tuesday. To apply, a candidate must be a Columbia taxpayer, a U.S. citizen and at least 24 years old. Those interested must file in person at the administration building, 1818 W. Worley St., before Jan. 20.