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Lawrence school board candidates agree on need for more openness, differ on charter schools

Lawrence school board candidate Gretchen Lister answers a question while three other candidates (from left), Ronald "G.R." Gordon-Ross, James Alan Hollinger and Kelly Jones listen during a two-hour forum the Voter Education Coalition sponsored Sunday at Lawrence City Hall.

In answering a question at a Sunday school board candidate forum about how to build community consensus, James Alan Hollinger said widespread support would be achieved through transparency on the part of the board and through building the public's trust.

“I would make sure all the decisions the school board made were open,” he said. “There are a list of things that have to be discussed (in executive session). Everything else should be done publicly with the students’ input, the parents’ input and community’s input. I believe as a school board member, you make sure everything is done openly and honestly and with as much input as possible. If that means pushing an issue to the next meeting, so be it.”

Hollinger was among four of the candidates running for the three open board seats to be contested on the Nov. 7 ballot at the forum the Voter Education Coalition sponsored Sunday at Lawrence City Hall. Joining him at the forum were Ronald “G.R.” Gordan-Ross, Kelly Jones and Gretchen Lister. Melissa Johnson, the only incumbent in the race, missed the forum to be with a child recovering from surgery.

To build community support, board members needed to be accessible, Hollinger said. As a Douglas County Public Works employee, he was expected to be accessible to constituents at all times. He'd make the same commitment as a board member, he said.

Now the associate director of field education in the KU School of Social Welfare, Jones said as a social worker, she had experience in organizing town hall meetings and other forms of community engagement. The board’s goal of scheduling town hall meetings would be helpful in encouraging openness and dialogue, she said. Another positive step, she said, would be the hiring of a superintendent committed to community engagement.

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The three board members elected in November will be on the board in February when the new district superintendent is hired. Gordon-Ross, a health care IT consultant, said he would question candidates in January about their experience in addressing equity and achievement gap issues.

“The big thing I said in the superintendent search is I don’t want someone who has just said they have done things, but I want them to validate they have actually done things to address equity,” Gordon-Ross said.

He, too, wanted a superintendent with experience in making equity improvements, but he also wanted someone with a classroom background, Hollinger said.

“The other question I would probably ask is if they had teaching experience,” he said. “I would prefer a superintendent who came from the teaching field, rather than a profession field, so they can relate to their employees.”

Lister said teaching experience mattered less to her than someone who had a passion for improving the educational achievement of all students.

“We’re all teachers in some regard,” she said. “I want them to have a rich life experience, to be creative, be outgoing, to care about people, particularly young people.”

In one of the few points of disagreement, Lister said she would consider supporting creation of a Lawrence charter school, or a publicly funded, independently managed school. Gordon-Ross and Jones rejected charter schools out of concern they would divert resources away from other pressing district needs and the goal of improving all schools. Hollinger said he hadn’t researched the topic.

Lister, an outpatient therapist for KVC Behavioral Health Management, worked for five years as a paraprofessional and transitional specialist in the Lawrence school district. She would consider charter schools as a way of addressing the disparities she witnessed firsthand, she said.

“I’m not opposed to anything that brings about positive results,” she said. “I want to bring back the alternative high school. I'm very big on video education on our schools.”

Three of the candidates endorsed the district’s practice of working with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department to provide free condoms to high school students.

“I absolutely would support as a board member … making condoms available,” Jones said. “What we know from the data is the rates of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies go down.”

Lister and Gordon-Ross also supported the practice, but added it was a discussion parents should have with their children.

“I would also support the means by which the district could provide the same education and tools to parents who might not be comfortable having that conversation,” Gordon-Ross said.

Hollinger passed on answering the question, saying he didn’t know enough about the district’s sex-education curriculum to answer.

Comments

Cheryl Nelsen

I am especially concerned about anyone being on a public school board who supports charter schools.
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/featur...

3 weeks, 6 days ago

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Paul Beyer

Glad I didn't pick Lister for my ballot. Especially since she supports charter school, charter schools are a taxpayer ripoff. Look at trumps pick of DeVoss as a prime example.

3 weeks, 6 days ago

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Theodore Calvin

Charter schools aren't necessarily a bad thing. I would be all for them if they agreed to adhere to the same rules as public schools (including admittance of anyone, including requirement for least restrictive environment, including requirement for testing). My fear is that they will be used as a back door to siphon off funds to religious based schools, who already enjoy a tax-exempt status. We already have an education system, let's work to make it better. Let's not destroy it in the name of "freedom of choice," which has been perverted and bastardized to allow for discrimination.

3 weeks, 6 days ago

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Theodore Calvin

I have never received an answer from people who are for vouchers, whether they foresee these schools having the same restrictions and rules that we require of public schools? I feel like they are being dishonest in the conversation if they are going to subvert all the restrictions and rules public schools adhere to, but I can't ever get any of them to say one way or the other what they support? They just support "freedom of choice" which basically means "freedom of inadequate services and education" for those unable to pay for it, unable to afford legal representation, or who have lack of access to their representatives or legislators.

3 weeks, 6 days ago

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Sam Crow

Beyer, why not look at Arne Duncan, Obamas Secretary of Education for six years as a prime example? He is an advocate for charter schools. In fact, he ran one in Chicago before becoming CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

In the August 2016 issue of The Atlantic magazine, there was a piece by Duncan lauding charter schools. Actually, it was a reprint of what he wrote as a forward to a book that supported the concept of charter schools.

He wrote, “what stands out for me is that high-performing charter schools have convincingly demonstrated that low-income children can and do achieve at high levels—and can do so at scale.”

Additionally, “Sadly, much of the current debate in Washington, in education schools, and in the blogosphere about high-performing charter schools is driven by ideology, not by facts on the ground. Far too often, the chief beneficiaries of high-performing charter schools—low-income families and children—are forgotten amid controversies over funding and the hiring of nonunion teachers in charter schools. Too often, the parents and children who are desperately seeking better schools are an afterthought.”

From a story on NBC News about Duncan, “While some liberals dislike charter schools, Duncan has been a strong supporter of them and presided over a huge growth in students attending charters in cities like Washington, D.C. and New Orleans.”

Further, “The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union and a powerful force in Democratic politics, called for Duncan’s resignation (at the time), arguing he was too supportive of standardized testing.”

The views of DeVos and Duncan are quite similar.

3 weeks, 5 days ago

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Richard Heckler

Charter schools are a means by which to funnel public education dollars away from public education.

USD 497 district has plenty of private schools which do most likely offer financial assistance.

ALEC Meets to Map Out Anti-Education Strategy

The Guardian reports that the documents show that:

http://neanh.org/2013/12/04/alec-meet...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dennis-...

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012...

3 weeks, 6 days ago

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Richard Heckler

Mainstreet Coalition FYI - a source of interest backing voter rights, public education, sensible taxation, women’s rights and moderate candidates.

Offers up suggestions from both sides of the aisle based on best candidate.

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3 weeks, 6 days ago

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