Columbia School Board candidates April Ferrao and James Gordon talked with the Muleskinners on Friday about gun violence, Columbia Public Schools’ latest Annual Progress Report and how voting in the April election could shake out.
Boone County’s oldest Democratic social club is conducting two more forums for board candidates over the next two Fridays. Candidates will attend in pairs and answer club members’ questions.
Incumbent Chris Horn and John Lyman will appear March 17, and Paul Harper and John Potter will appear March 24. Candidate Chuck Basye was extended an invitation but had not responded as of mid-Friday afternoon, club member Scott Cristal said.
Club member Leslie Clay moderated Friday’s forum, which was solely on Zoom.
Kristin Bowen of Moms Demand Action, which advocates for public safety measures surrounding gun violence, asked candidates what role they see board members having when it comes to addressing gun violence.
Ferrao said that when her children attended Ridgeway Elementary School, they could count on lockdowns at the beginning of the school year because of activity in the neighborhood.
She said one of the roles of a board member is to look at curriculum and try to add information about gun safety.
“We have curriculum about substance abuse, overdosing, sexually transmitted diseases,” Ferrao said. “I don’t know that we have a curriculum on safe gun storage.”
Gordon began his response with a personal story recounting his first experience walking his child to public school, a week after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed.
“I really wanted to feel proud and happy for my kid, and I couldn’t because of what’s been going on since I was a kid in high school,” Gordon said.
He said that as a School Board member, he would not back down if issues of gun safety are raised.
Herb Tillema asked Ferrao and Gordon what they are going to do regarding career programs in the district. Tillema said these programs aren’t talked about enough.
Ferrao said district students take a variety of courses at the Columbia Area Career Center.
“We might need to promote that more within our student body,” Ferrao said.
She said one of the barriers for students is reaching career courses because it can be a long drive or students need to take the bus. If there is a way to get some of these courses into the high schools, that barrier would go away, she said.
Gordon said it is important to provide students with supportive learning environments where they can pursue any career they choose. He said public education sometimes ranks students and essentially assigns them to specific fates before they have time to explore and understand what they like to do.
“It’s really important that our schools give everyone a pathway to success on their own terms, which may not require them to go to a four-year college, but it does require us to be supportive and to give them those opportunities,” Gordon said.
Alyce Turner asked the candidates what they believe the consequences are of “five good people” staying in the election when there are three openings and then possibly electing, in Turner’s opinion, “one to two very undesirable candidates.”
Ferrao said she didn’t know whether she had a great answer. “How do we not dilute the vote?” she said. “We need to encourage all of our friends and family and everyone to get out and vote.”
Ferrao said someone could drop out, but the best thing people can do right now is “drag your friends to the polls.”
Gordon said recent events he has held with the community have been well-attended, so he feels optimistic.
“The energy is just really strong and powerful,” Gordon said. “Our yard signs are going up all over town — I’m just getting really excited.”
Gordon said it is past the point to take a candidate’s name off the ballot, so if a candidate drops out, there is a risk of losing votes. He said his role now is to inspire voters to go out to the polls.
Annual Progress Report
A club member whose name on Zoom was “Al” had a question about the district’s results in the latest Annual Progress Report, which is a report card each district gets from the state. The APR is based on a wide range of data collected from the districts, including test scores, attendance rates, graduation follow-up surveys and participation in various programs.
The district’s APR showed it performed worse than average in math, science and English language arts when compared to other K-12 districts in the state and overall scored worse than 81% of the 458 other K-12 districts in Missouri.
“What do we need to do about this?” Al asked.
Ferrao said the district has schools that are performing well individually but also schools performing at low levels.
“So we need to look at that as far as where we’re placing our resources,” Ferrao said.
Some schools need more time dedicated to instruction than others, she said, and that needs to be looked into as well.
Gordon said addressing the APR requires both quantitative and qualitative perspectives. The next step, he said, is to go into schools and talk to people who are experiencing the challenges cited in the report.
Gordon said the district should focus less on managing teachers and students and refocus energy on supplying educational resources and improving issues such as transportation.