Candidate: Brandi VanAntwerp

Age: 40

Occupation: Executive director of FosterAdopt Connect

Education: Graduated from high school in El Dorado Springs; associate’s degree from Cottey College; bachelor’s degree from Belmont University

Campaign funding as of the Feb. 22 filing: $8,599

Brandi VanAntwerp

Q: What about your life and work experience lends itself to being a successful member of the school board? 

A: In addition to being a mother of SPS students and a PTA officer at both Pershing Elementary and Central Scholars, I have business experience that will be advantageous to my role on the board. I have more than thirteen years of experience in budgeting, audits, federal expenditure regulations and grant writing. I also have current and previous experience as a board member and as an employee of organizations under the guidance of board members. My experience on both sides of the board will be a valuable asset in understanding roles and the parameters in which a board should operate, and how to be empathetic and listen well when presented with new ideas for consideration. 

Q: If elected, your first full school year as a board member will begin next fall. What measures need to be in place for staff and students to return to school safely, and where will you look for guidance on any future decisions the board will have to make regarding COVID-19 mitigation? 

A: My goal is to make decisions that help our kids stay in the classroom. The last two years have shown us that virtual learning is not a replacement for the classroom setting and it is vital that we do everything within our power to keep our students in the classroom. As I am making these decisions, I will seek out and consider information from experts in the medical field, such as local hospitals and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. 

Q: ACT and MAP assessment average scores have declined in recent years, and in many cases, SPS student scores fall below state averages. Superintendent Grenita Lathan’s Entry Plan released in December listed several steps to address both college testing (improving access to test prep skills for students) and MAP assessments (monthly math collaboratives for teachers and the use of MasteryConnect to analyze students’ areas of need in advance of testing). Is the school district taking steps in the right direction, and what else do you think should be done? 

A: Dr. Lathan’s approach to improve test readiness through increased access to preparatory tests like the PSAT is a wonderful way to break down barriers that are presented to under-resourced and underrepresented students. Within her Entry Plan, the approach to provide new curriculum resources, providing intervention time with students during the school day, and the weekly D/F grade reports being reviewed by site administrators are all strong efforts to be agile, and quickly identify and intervene with students who are struggling. Test scores are important, but more important than the score is the student who sees possibility and hope in their educational future. These integrated steps show promise to help our kids receive interventions that will help them improve on test skills and grades to narrow the achievement gap. 

Q: A survey of SPS parents and teachers last year found that a majority of parents believed the district’s current staggered start times for their children’s schools were not meeting their needs. Given that the staggered starts are tied to bus driver staffing issues, what is a path forward that works for SPS and parents? 

A: First, I think the change in schedule came with a good intention, which was to expand busing to more students who need it. Unfortunately, the staggered start times have created new logistical problems for many students and parents, but I am optimistic that the next school year will be smoother. SPS’s deputy superintendent, John Mulford released the plan to revise the schedule, and he is scheduled to present it in March to the current board members. The difficulty of shifting those start times back is the impact it will have on bus eligibility for students. Transportation barriers are all too common for many families in Springfield. Going backward by reducing the reach of busing will cause hardship on our kids. I will be curious to see the options presented to the current board in March. We need to look critically at the options available, funds available and partner closely with the SPS Transportation Department to ensure all options are fully vetted and considered. 

Q: Teacher staffing is an issue of nationwide concern, at a time when many are retiring earlier in their careers or leaving the profession altogether. What would you do on the school board to encourage teachers to join the SPS system and then to stay there? 

A: I believe competitive wages, opportunity for career development, and healthy work environments are key recruitment and retention focus areas. The greatest challenges we face as a school district are sufficient funding for public education to support and retain SPS educators. I would advocate for increased funding for SPS from the state, and would advocate for improved work environments for teachers by seeking feedback from our teachers, who are front-line workers, to ensure I fully understand the needs of our district’s educators and to ensure the board is supporting the district’s needs. 

Q: Does the Springfield Public School District need to be run more like a business — why or why not? What role should Board members play in day-to-day operations? 

A: The public school system is not a business. It is a unique entity and its primary goal is to serve all of the children in the district, not turning a profit. The public school system shares many more characteristics with non-profit organizations that still have to balance a budget, supervise staff, comply with federal and state regulations, including grants, all while serving its target constituency, which in the school district’s case are the students. I have experience with all of these aspects, and I have a genuine passion for our youth that I live out every day in my role as executive director of FosterAdopt Connect. School board members govern the school district and provide advocacy for public education. They are responsible for hiring and supervising one employee — the Superintendent; they plan and approve a budget for the district to follow; and ensure the strategic plan is not only set, but is being fulfilled. They should not have a role in day-to-day operations.

Q: If you have school-age children, are they enrolled in the SPS system or are they enrolled in private schools, and why? 

A: I have three students enrolled in SPS. Two are in elementary and the other in middle school. My husband and I chose public schools for our children because we believe public schools are a vital part of our community, and SPS provides incredible opportunities for students through choice programs and summer school offerings. My husband and I were both public school students and both have family members who work in or worked in public school systems. My sister teaches in Neosho, Missouri elementary public schools, my brother-in-law teaches in Indiana public schools, and my father-in-law was a 6th-grade teacher in the Chicago suburbs for 36 years.