Thursday, March 17, 2016
Some thoughts about tonight's Joplin R-8 Board of Education forum
The questioners did their best, varying some of the questions by asking them of candidates for the two-year seat, or the one-year seat, with some questions to going to all of the candidates, but after an hour, we really didn't learn all that much.
The most memorable line went to retired teacher Mary Gaarder, a candidate for the three-year term, who said, "I'll be a mama bear for Joplin kids." Whether that will make her a better school board member or not, I have no idea, but it was genuine and enabled her to stamp her personality on the debate.
Some other thoughts:
Most thought-provoking comment- Former Columbia Elementary Principal Lori Musser, a candidate for the two-year seat, suggested that Joplin needs an alternative school, something it had before it was shut down during the Jim Simpson administration. Musser noted that an alternative school for students with severe behavior problems, would benefit the other students and would also keep those with behavioral problems in the classroom, rather than being suspended.
Least thought-provoking comment- In his impassioned defense of the Bright Futures program, Joe Brown, the other candidate for the two-year seat, felt obliged to repeat the Bright Futures mantra of "time, talent, and treasure." It was a great line the first two thousand times the Bright Futures people used it, but the shine has worn off.
Comments that most needed to be said- Incumbent Jennifer Martucci, a candidate for the three-year position, while not belittling the job Bright Futures has done, noted the truth that the organization's proponents never acknowledge. "The services have always been provided." While Bright Futures supporters always talk about the work they have done to feed and clothe children, the idea that the schools were allowing these children to go hungry and naked before BF was formed is insulting.
Another comment that needed to be said- Chris Sloan, a candidate for the one-year position, questioned the amount of Bright Futures money that goes to salaries. Sloan also pointed out that the schools did these services before.
Comment that didn't need to be said- Empire District Electric Company lawyer Sharrock Dermott, answering a question on removing bad teachers asked, "Is it all right to say I don;t know?" No, it isn't. To be fair, Dermott then answered the question, but after the response, the I don't know seemed more accurate.
A good idea- Lori Musser hit it out of the park when she suggested that we need a superintendent who has more than just a sprinkling of classroom experience. She did not say it, but part of the problem during the Huff-Besendorfer administration, was that neither had spent more than three years as a classroom teacher.
Most unnecessary statement- Again from Joe Brown, who thought it was important to say "I do not have an agenda." While obviously, you do not want to elect someone who is only running so he can get back to the coach who wouldn't put his son on the starting five- I want the people to run for school board to have an agenda- it can be something as simple as wanting to bring back an emphasis on books over technology, or something as grand as developing a plan to make Joplin the top school in the state. Give me a candidate who has an agenda over one who wants to pad his or her resume.
Final thoughts- As soon as it is available, I will post the video of tonight's forum. I appreciate all eight candidates, all of whom appear to have a sincere desire to do their part to improve education for Joplin children.
That being said, there were some things that stood out. On a question about safety, Dermott's answer was that he would talk to other people and find out what they know. Nothing wrong with that, but he was followed by Mary Gaarder, who not only offered specifics, but also brought another dimension to the safety subject by bringing up the safe rooms that have been built. Gaarder was followed by Martucci, who clearly had done her homework and was able to rattle off a number of steps that could be explored to improve safety.
Probably the best presentation was made by Carlos Haley, a candidate for the one-year post, but while his presentation was smooth, I am not sure he was ever specific about anything. While his background at Freeman offers him some advantages as a potential school board member, I wanted to hear some concrete examples of how he was going to put that experience to good use.
Melissa Rodgers, a candidate for the three-year term, came on strong early in the debate with a knowledgeable response on the district's five-year plan and the direction in which the district is headed.