COLUMBIA — Public questions focused on closing the achievement gap and increasing overall student achievement at Tuesday's School Board candidate forum.
The forum was hosted at the Activity and Recreation Center by the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association, Columbia Council PTA and Columbia Parents for Public Schools.
Candidates answered community questions at random by pulling index cards out of a bag. Several candidates drew questions about closing the achievement gap.
Candidates Helen Wade and Tom Rose both said early childhood education is the best way to address the issue and work toward prevention.
"I think quality early childhood education — a universal program that's both a private and public venture — is going to be needed to close the achievement gap," Rose said.
Jonathan Sessions pointed out there is a gap before children even start school, but he brought up a different strategy to address the issue.
"There are things we can do as a district, and I think small autonomous schools would provide us some opportunities," Sessions said.
One of the questions Wade picked asked if teachers deserved pay raises in spite of the gap. She said she felt teacher salaries are not the area to target.
"We have an achievement gap, and failing to pay our teachers won't close it," Wade said.
Sara Dickson had a question about teacher salaries, but it was based on overall student achievement instead of the achievement gap. She said she thought there was a correlation between pay and achievement and that the district should use salaries to reward successful teachers.
"I believe it is very important for us to do what works and reward teachers who work hard," Dickson said.
Educational development and district curriculum were two other issues brought up at the forum.
Liz Peterson addressed early childhood education as a priority in educational development but also said connecting families to their children's education is something she would like to see in the district.
"I believe that I'm a partner with my child in education," Peterson said. "I think we should work to bridge the gap between families and education."
Dave Raithel said the board should listen to district faculty and administrators when it comes to choosing materials for the curriculum. The board also should look at the effectiveness of these materials, he added, and make its decisions with the combined information.
"The board is the ultimate monitor of curriculum choices," Raithel said.
The next candidate forum is 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the district's administration building, 1818 W. Worley St.