COLUMBIA — Marc Bledsoe intended to graduate from Missouri State University with a degree in theater, but like so many undergraduates, his plans changed.
“I got to college, and I realized, well, I’m not really too good at theater,” said Bledsoe. “But I was doing really well in my math courses.”
Bledsoe is one of nine candidates running for two seats on the Columbia School Board in the April 7 election. He said he fell in love with calculus and got a bachelor's degree in mathematics. He took that passion for math on for a master's degree at MU. There, he developed a love for the Tigers.
Bledsoe appears to be approaching the election in much the same way a coach approaches a game. His three-part strategy involves building accountability, treating teachers as professionals and being more publicly transparent about the board’s decision-making processes as often as possible. Teacher appreciation tops his list.
“It is one of those thankless professions — it’s becoming that way, and it bothers me," Bledsoe said. "The way I was raised was that the teacher is always right. If you have a problem at school, the teacher is right, and we will talk with you and the teacher, but we will always assume that you are wrong.”
Bledsoe, 40,* has been married for 14 years to Ann Bledsoe, an associate professor of mathematics at Columbia College. Their children, Cayley, 10, and Isaac, 7, are named after famous mathematicians — Cayley for British mathematician Arthur Cayley and Isaac for Cayley's better known countryman, Isaac Newton.
Ann Bledsoe’s work on the STACK, or Supporting Teachers Amplifying Children’s Knowledge, grant has been brought up as a possible area of bias were Marc Bledsoe to be elected, but he said it enhances his qualifications. “I have a direct connection to my wife, and she works on the STACK grant, which is a professional development grant to help teachers reach their students better,” he said.
Knowing about STACK, he said, provides him insight into questions about what the district needs to do to really reach the children.
Dawn Ross, who worked with Bledsoe when they were academic tutors in the math department at Columbia College, said Bledsoe is a well-educated person who "reads, talks, listens and brings a lot to the table."
"He is a team player and is certainly someone who knows how to work with people," Ross said. "His relationship with Ann and the STACK grant would in no way color his decisions concerning math."
Currently, Bledsoe works as an operations coordinator* at CARFAX, a job he said has prepared him to take the leadership roles inherent in serving on a school board. He said he has the logical reasoning skills to make board decisions more understandable to the community.
“The first thing that really made me want to run," said Bledsoe, "is when I saw the interim superintendent basically saying to math teachers, 'You can only teach this way, that’s it.’ I thought, well, that is pretty strange, and it made me think, well, do they do that with other curriculums, too?”
How to teach math is probably the hottest and most public discussion about curriculum right now. At the core of the discussion is teaching traditional, step-by-step math versus teaching it more by concepts and integrating it with real-world problems. Bledsoe used a gym analogy to illustrate his point about math curriculum: If the sole purpose of gym is to get children in shape and if running accomplishes that goal, then, logically, only running would be taught in gym class.
“Students need different techniques, different ways to make them better students more educated,” said Bledsoe, “and it takes all kinds.”
He said parents are concerned about not being able to help their children with their math homework. Bledsoe said that based on his experiences as well as those of his wife, teaching math concept works.
“If you talk to our grandparents, they couldn’t help us with our math,” Bledsoe said. “They learned how to use the slide rule. They learned how to take square roots of numbers by hand. I never had to do that.”
Math teachers have done research that shows a conceptual approach works, he said. "My whole thing is really just a matter of proper implementation," Bledsoe said. "You have to build the support system for the teachers.”
Besides the math issue, about which he is clearly passionate, Ann Bledsoe said her husband recognizes that lapses in communication lead to misunderstandings in the community.
“Communication between all constituents needs to be improved,” she said. “Many times people are talking the same language but do not realize it because of the jargon and misconstrued terms that are thrown around.”
Marc Bledsoe said that by increasing transparency, the school board could regain what he sees as a decline in community trust. He said he wants to get the community more involved.
“Really it is opening up the ways of communication to the taxpayers, to the parents who are sitting in their living rooms saying, 'What the heck are we doing at school board?'" said Bledsoe. “We live in an information age — I work at an information company — and it's king. We have to get information out in ways that people will accept them.”
While transparency, communication and teacher appreciation top Bledsoe's itinerary, he said one thing must be clear: The school board is there to be a service to the public, and that means allowing the public to see the ups and downs: "(Being transparent) just says these are the decisions we are making, here’s what led us to that decision."