School issues focus of forum

School board candidates address achievement gaps and minority hiring.
Friday, March 18, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:49 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

School board candidates for the April 5 elections met on Thursday night at a public forum to express their greatest concerns with education and answer questions from the community regarding staff diversity and preparing children for the workforce.

The Columbia League of Women Voters and the Columbia Public Library sponsored the forum, which was held at the library. There are six candidates this year and three will be elected.

Candidates began with opening remarks and brief introductions before answering a question from the league and a question from the audience.

Darin Preis, 10-year director of Missouri’s Head Start Program, began the opening remarks. Preis — who is a first-time candidate — said he is dedicated to public service in both his career and personal life and grew up in a family of educators. He’s most interested in improving early childhood education and nutrition in schools.

“I’m really impressed with Columbia Public Schools’ effort to meet the achievement gap,” he said.

Don Ludwig, who has served on the board for three years, said it’s important to continue programs that offer alternative teaching methods, such as this year’s model school program at West Boulevard Elementary. The school emphasizes more one-on-one attention, home-to-school communication and innovative technology.

“The school board is very serious about the achievement of our kids and closing the gap,” he said.

Born and raised in Columbia, David Ballenger has served on the board for 10 years. He is particularly concerned with using technology in the classroom and analyzing data to help teachers and administrators to further benefit the children. Ballenger also recognized the fact that there are areas for improvement on the board.

“I will be a voice in the community,” he said. “I want to make sure the students are educated to their full potential.”

School: Minority relations discussed by board candidates

Another first-time candidate, Mike Martin, a full-time science and technology journalist, said he has a different perspective on educational issues.

“There were 62 complex issues that I could focus my time on,” Martin said.

He wants to enhance communication within the community, which he believes will transfer a message of hope to parents, teachers, students and administrators.

A lobbyist at the state capitol, Rhonda Garland said she is a parent first and wants to see accountability in the schools, including quality education and an effort to close the achievement gap.

“We all want change and someone to fight for us,” she said. “I will make sure our children have the best.”

Arch Brooks, who has run for school board but never been elected, said his focus would be on improving minority relations within the district. He said the administration does not make an effort to recruit or maintain minority staff. The achievement gap between black and white children is also an issue he said needs to be addressed.

“We need a policy for minorities,” he said.

The league’s question for the candidates addressed how schools can prepare students for the shifting needs of the workforce.

Ludwig said schools need to focus on the fundamentals of writing, reading and math and that students should be prepared for the classroom through early education.

Ballenger had a different idea. He said schools need to adapt to and interact with the business community.

“We need to make sure the curriculum is flexible enough to change,” Ballenger said.

Martin said to ensure student success in the workforce the administration must focus on things they can change in students’ lives.

“We can’t change race, but we can change economics,” he said. “We need to get (students) out of disadvantaged environments.”

An audience member asked how minority students could find an identity in a district without a multicultural program.

Garland said creativity is the key when relating to students of different ethnicities and a greater effort must be made to recruit minority teachers.

Brooks said if he were elected, he would attempt to do just that.

“No one in this district is interested in hiring minorities,” Brooks said.

Preis said it’s a problem that teachers don’t reflect the diversity of students in the district, but said there are projects in place to decrease this problem and that minority internship programs are available to give teaching experience to young black students.

The forum ended with closing remarks from the candidates. The next forum will be at 11:30 a.m. today in Stamper Commons at Stephens College.

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