On April 5, voters will choose two members to fill spots on the Springfield Public Schools’ board. The candidates — Chad Courtney, Kelly Byrne, Steve Makoski, Brandi VanAntwerp and current board member Charles Taylor — shared their thoughts on several Daily Citizen questions sent to each of them about challenges that lie ahead.
They expressed views on topics such as staffing, standardized testing and operating the district. Spoiler alert: Their opinions on the path forward for the school district differ.
What do school board members do?
Generally speaking, a local board of education oversees the education of the students enrolled in the district, but not at a day-to-day level. Board members, who are not paid for their service, vote on key decisions about contracts, budgets, tax levies, district property and student welfare.
Arguably the most important decision a board will make is who it employs as the district’s superintendent, as many responsibilities will be delegated to her and her administration.
The candidates seek to join the board at a pivotal time to be a school district decision maker. SPS is graduating more students than ever, and building, rebuilding or expanding a number of facilities. The Agricultural Sciences Magnet School is coming online in August. Three schools and two gymnasiums funded by the 2019 bond are on schedule to be built by the end of the year. The biggest district in the state is, in many ways, growing.
And in other ways, it is facing major challenges. As new SPS superintendent Grenita Lathan stated in her December 2020 entry plan, achievement gaps exist at elementary, middle and high school levels and in some cases have widened during a period in which students have spent portions of the school year learning virtually whether they signed up for it or not. MAP assessment scores remain below state standards in many categories. And teacher development and retention — along with staffing issues as a whole — have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Daily Citizen asked the candidates what the district and its board members should do to help address some of these issues, and what they bring to the table to address them. Compare their answers to each question in the Q&A series below:
What about your life and work experience lends itself to being a successful member of the school board?
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?
ACT and MAP assessment average scores have declined in recent years, and in many cases, SPS student scores fall below state averages. Is the school district taking steps in the right direction, and what else do you think should be done?
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?
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?
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?
If you have school-age children, are they enrolled in the SPS system or are they enrolled in private schools, and why?