School board candidates field questions on school boundaries, technology, test scores

Sam Fried

Candidates for the JC School Board responded to reader-submitted questions focused on boundary line survey comments, technology and student academic achievement. The News Tribune altered the questions for clarity and length. Four candidates are running for two open seats on the school board, and the election is set for April […]

Candidates for the JC School Board responded to reader-submitted questions focused on boundary line survey comments, technology and student academic achievement.

The News Tribune altered the questions for clarity and length.

Four candidates are running for two open seats on the school board, and the election is set for April 5.

The candidates will participate in a forum hosted by the News Tribune at 6 p.m. March 16 at the City Council chambers, 320 E. McCarty St. The forum will also be livestreamed on the City of Jefferson youtube channel and at newstribune.com.

Boundary line survey comments

Every three years, the Jefferson City School District must review its attendance boundary lines, according to board policy. This year, changes were made across the district to resolve “pockets of overcrowding” and maintain similarity between schools while taking into account population, socioeconomic status, and other factors.

The process of drawing the new boundaries began in October with meetings of the boundary line committee, which was primarily composed of parents. That committee created four scenarios, which were submitted to the community for feedback. After feedback, the committee created three different scenarios, which also received feedback, and submitted them to the school board. The school board chose Scenario A, which moved the least number of students, and decided to grandfather grades 5, 8, 11 and 12, meaning those students will not have to move schools next year.

Responses to the first community feedback survey indicated that many were unhappy with the possibility of moving schools because of longer drives to a new building and the difficulty of acclimating students to a new school. Other responses, however, showed negative perceptions of certain people, areas and schools. The News Tribune covered the comments in an article here: tinyurl.com/6z875x2p.

The first reader-submitted question focused on those comments.

Q: Some of the comments in response to the boundary line survey showed a prejudiced opinion of some schools within the district. What is your response to those statements, and what would you have staff do to combat these charges?

Anne Bloemke-Warren

A: The discriminatory comments relating to the boundary line project were abhorrent. Period.

The role of the school board, beyond creating policies that promote fairness between our schools (in socio-economic status (SES), in facilities, etc.), is to advocate for and ensure all our students are provided an equal opportunity for success. It is also important for the schools in lower-SES communities to have a voice and representation on the board. As the parent of a Thorpe Gordon Pinto, I would be proud to represent the schools, students, families and educators that were the subject of the negative comments.

Adam Gresham

A: When the district has different goals and expectations for different buildings, based upon socio-economic composition, negative perceptions are inevitable. It is a shame that the district has watered down excellence to mean one thing for one building and something completely different just a short distance away. I am not prepared, nor is any teacher I know, to write-off the potential of any student through discipline, hard work and good decision-making. Set the bar high for every student, in every classroom, and students will rise to meet it. Vary expectations between students and buildings, and perceptions about quality differences will persist.

Marc Ellinger

A: The comments related to the boundary lines reflect the underlying concern that all parents have. Parents want their children to go to the best possible school. The fact that there is such deep concern about the boundary lines shows that we desperately and immediately need to improve all our schools. When every school produces the same excellent education, parents will feel secure in their neighborhood school. Busing children across town should never be the best option, and school boundaries should be geographically as close to children’s homes as possible.

Erika Leonard

A: The opinions shared in the boundary line survey were disappointing. As a mom of two boys that attend JC Schools and an alum of Jefferson City High School, I was appalled to learn how some survey participants felt about schools, particularly those on the east side of town. I have and will continue to strongly recommend anyone with a false perception of the caliber of educators, students or schools get a firsthand experience before spreading false information. As a board member, I will work within the community to connect educators, students and the district’s 18 schools to minimize false perceptions.

Technology

Q: How do you think JCPS should address the balance between the growing use and benefits of technology with the need for face-to-face learning, interactive discussions and research on different points of view?

Anne Bloemke-Warren

A: I think there is no denying that technology will be an integral part of our children’s careers, so incorporating its use into their education is imperative. And the endless access to information online will continue to be invaluable throughout their lives. However, technology cannot yet replace interpersonal communication skills that children can only learn through in-person interaction with their peers. Skills such as eye contact, active listening and how to respectfully disagree are life lessons best learned in a group setting through active participation in classroom discussions.

Adam Gresham

A: To the extent that technology facilitates learning, great. Far more important to me is students’ ability to read and write, mastery of math and science fundamentals, and comprehension of history and civics. If this is best accomplished through books, paper and pencil, then bring them back. I am very interested in integrating technology into learning, I am not at all interested in trying to integrate learning into expanded technology. As a practical matter, I know I am more prone to distraction on a device than when holding paper or a book; I think it entirely likely students are similarly inclined.

Marc Ellinger

A: There is no substitute for in-classroom education. Our students need to be in the classroom, without masks, with teachers present, and ready to learn every day. Being in the classroom allows students to learn and to develop strong social skills. Technology provides opportunities to augment learning experiences from the classroom. We must teach our history, both the good and the bad, and allow for open discussion of different perspectives. In-person learning supported by leading edge technology in an environment that encourages all perspectives will allow students to interact with, apply and personally connect with concepts to build strong conceptual foundations.

Erika Leonard

A: JC Schools should balance utilizing opportunities for students to access a variety of technologies and in-person learning. The balance will prepare students to understand what will be expected in the work world. Keeping pace with evolving technologies in the education system can help students that prefer a virtual setting to excel. However, empowering students to discover the importance of face-to-face learning and interaction should remain a priority. Including educators in planning for technology use and upgrades is necessary, our teachers know best how to help our students learn and grow. The board must ensure resources are used to ensure achievement.

Test scores

Q: What do you think of JCPS’s recent scores (MAP, i-Ready) in math and reading? What is your goal for those scores, and how would you work to help students achieve those goals as a board member?

Anne Bloemke-Warren

A: While Jefferson City continues to improve as a district and outperform the state average in English/reading, and outpace the state average in math, I would like to see those scores continue to grow. Because I am not an educator myself, as a board member, I would like to form a listening panel to tap teachers, staff and administrators for ideas and suggestions as to how to address this issue. I believe the key lies in our willingness to adapt to the needs of individual schools and even classrooms in which testing occurs. I realize there is little flexibility on when the test is held or what is tested, but taking advantage of flexibility where we can and empowering our educators to use their judgment to do the best for their students should be job number one.

Adam Gresham

A: I find nothing meritorious about 50 percent of students being behind in ELA and science, and 60 percent plus in math. Parents, businesses and taxpayers should remain alarmed by these numbers. Teachers throughout the district are hamstrung in managing their classrooms for behavior and learning, yet they are expected to cater to students through one-on-one data-chats within effort to get student buy-in. This is ridiculous. Suggesting these numbers are good or acceptable indirectly tells more than half of all students they need not or cannot learn and achieve. I will not do so, nor do I know any teacher who will.

Marc Ellinger

A: While there has been modest improvement in the scores, it is imperative that we work harder. The goal must be for our district to have the best scores in Mid-Missouri. Jefferson City schools offer tremendous opportunities for AP courses, extracurricular activities, business and technology resources, and a diverse student body. We have a lot of potential and need to focus on the big picture. Our focus must remain on the students, discipline and excellence in learning. If we do that, test scores will improve and our students will be equipped to succeed, whatever the future holds.

Erika Leonard

A: JC Schools are performing near the state average academic scores, but average is not enough, more is necessary. If elected, I would like to see a greater emphasis put on learning how our students best absorb information. Not everyone learns in the same manner. Our teachers need adequate planning time to allow them to adapt the curriculum to better meet the needs of their students, which will lead to greater performance. As a board member, I will expect a thorough explanation of district scores and a specific improvement plan as well as routine follow up to ensure student growth.

    Submitted photo Adam Gresham
 
 
  photo  Submitted photo Marc Ellinger
 
 
  photo  Submitted photo Erika Leonard
 
 
  photo    

https://www.newstribune.com/news/2022/feb/20/school-board-candidates-field-questions-on-school/

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