Candidate: Chad T. Courtney
Occupation: Partner, attorney at Courtney & Mills, LLC
Education: Graduated from high school in Stewartsville; bachelor’s degree, juris doctor from University of Missouri-Columbia
Campaign funds raised as of Feb. 22: $3,237
Q: What about your life and work experience lends itself to being a successful member of the school board?
A: I am the most qualified candidate running this year as I am a parent, an attorney, homeowner, business owner and a citizen with a desire to put in the work necessary to see our schools succeed. In addition to meeting all the statutory requirements to run as a candidate for school board, my family has made Springfield our home for over two decades. I love the city of Springfield. It has everything a family with young children could desire for their children to experience while growing up and attending school here. My family made the conscious decision to remain in Springfield right before my oldest started kindergarten specifically because of the Springfield public school system and the quality of education we expected all three of our children to receive. We have not been disappointed. The educational experience all three of my children have had has exceeded our expectations. Further, across the experiences of my three children, I have interacted with nine different programs/buildings in the SPS system: Disney Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, Cherokee Middle School, WINGS program at Phelps, Central Scholars, WOLF at Bass Pro, Health Sciences Academy, Kickapoo and Central. These experiences provide me with a diverse, first-hand understanding of varying approaches to learning on the program, staff and administrative levels.
I serve/have served on several boards involving programming for children which has provided me with the opportunity to gain the board-level experience I feel is necessary to guide the largest school district in Missouri.
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: As I am writing the answer to this question in mid-February, it occurs to me that the answer to this question is really an unknown. The amount of fluctuations with regard to instructions and protocols to deal with this pandemic and its mitigation present a constant challenge. Mask mandates and other protocols are being removed at present. I will look to the CDC and medical professionals for guidance on how to best mitigate COVID-19 next fall. My reasoning is that in-person learning is paramount. Virtual learning has served its purpose and allowed for our schools to return, but it has come with a cost of a decrease in the amount of learning our children are able to achieve.
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: I think Dr. Lathan’s plan is the path to turning around these scores. I am also not a believer that standardized testing is the only way to assess student learning and achievement. Standardized testing and MAP testing specifically create a scenario and temptation to teach to the test. I understand that standardized testing is necessary to create a baseline evaluation of students and teachers, but it is one point of the process.
A bigger hurdle will be the deficits created by the learning environment over the last two years. COVID and virtual learning have created an even more uneven playing field with regard to the education of our kids. Those with parents who have the means to be more supportive of the education experience of their children have a significant advantage over those whose parents are unable to be present during the school day to ensure the children are engaged. Even then the disconnect created by attempting to learn virtually presents problems for educators and students alike that is difficult if not impossible to overcome.
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: I think a compromise must be achieved to alter the start times back to a two-tiered approach as has been discussed during recent board meetings. I think everyone understands the issues and problems presented by the three-tier system. The board is addressing this issue this spring and I think, based on statements made at the meetings, a return to a two-tiered start time with the second start time not being later than 8:30 a.m. for the high school students is achievable.
I think the cooperation and work with the bus drivers to increase pay and benefits will entice the number of drivers needed to operate a two-tier system more efficiently.
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 would work toward creating an environment for the recruitment and retention of teachers focused on the following:
- Financial incentives through increase in pay, benefits and retirement support.
- A reduction of student/teacher ratio through the implementation and creation of additional staff positions.
- Working to improve the morale of teachers through improvements in responses to school disciplinary problems.
- Quality teaching materials available for use by staff
- Administrators who are responsive to teacher concerns and proactive in anticipating ways to improve the teaching experience.
- A board who listens and demonstrates caring to what our teachers have to say.
I think the recently announced cooperatives with the local colleges and universities to hire their graduates will create a pipeline of new and talented teachers who are familiar with all that Springfield has to offer and are excited to remain here and build their futures in our community. We need to continue to foster these relationships so that these programs succeed.
We also, as a district, need to continue to work with our legislature to increase starting teacher compensation and elevate our average out of the basement of the state rankings. I believe it is atrocious that Missouri is dead last in starting teacher pay and 20% below the average for starting teacher pay. Gov. (Mike) Parson has asked for a starting minimum salary of $38,000, which is a step in the right direction towards compensating our teachers in a manner commensurate with their expertise.
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: No. Public Schools are a societal organization designed to benefit everyone. The district is allotted tax dollars and those dollars do need to be placed efficiently into a budget that maximizes the potential for creation of an outstanding learning environment. Balancing budgets is a necessity and tough decisions come along with a limited monetary supply, but applying standard business principles to educational decisions does not compute.
The purpose and role of the school board is to set policy for the superintendent and her staff to implement and handle on a daily basis. The role of the board is not to micro-manage the daily operations of the district within its many buildings. The sole employee of the board is the superintendent, and it is the responsibility of the superintendent to manage daily operations within the district.
Q: If you have school-age children, are they enrolled in the SPS system or are they enrolled in private schools, and why?
A: As I mentioned in response to question 1, the SPS school system was the reason we remained in Springfield immediately prior to my oldest daughter starting kindergarten. All three of my children attend/attended school in the Springfield R-12 system. Maggie graduated from Central in 2020. Luke is a senior at Kickapoo. Eli is a sophomore at Central.
As you can tell, open enrollment and the choice programs are big reasons for our decision to enroll our children in SPS schools. Each child was able to find their niche to allow them to reach their full potential as a result of open enrollment. All three of my children have different interests and talents. Open enrollment rather than our mailing address allowed them to choose which high school program fit them best.