School board candidates participate in forum – The Republic

Posted By on September 25, 2020

Candidates seeking a seat on the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. board answered a wide range of questions about their views including how board members should engage with staff and community members, during a virtual public forum sponsored by local teachers.

Monday nights forum was hosted by the Columbus Educators Association with logistical support from the Indiana State Teachers Association. Registration to view the event live was limited to the first 1,000 attendees, but the CEA plans to upload a recording of the event on its social media accounts.

There are candidates for three BCSC school board seats on the fall election ballot, including:

District 3 James Persinger (incumbent), Todd Grimes, Mike Jamerson

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District 5 Jennifer Corsi (incumbent Pat Bryant is running for re-election but did not participate in the forum due to a family emergency.)

District 7 Nicole Wheeldon, Lacretia Ulery (School board president and District 7 incumbent Jeff Caldwell is not running for re-election and did not participate in the forum.)

During the forum, candidates answered 10 questions gathered from submissions by teachers belonging to the CEA, in addition to making opening and closing remarks.

One of the questions addressed a controversial BCSC policy which has been interpreted by school corporation teachers to mean that all communication between school employees and school board members must go through the superintendent. According to the question asked of candidates, the policy goes as far as outlining how students, school staff and school board member may speak to each other if they happen to bump into each other in public.

Candidates were asked if BCSC school employees should be allowed to communicate with school board members, and whether, as a school board member, would they support revising or eliminating the policy.

Grimes said that the board needs to examine the policy, discuss it and revise it to meet current needs. He also said that there need to be open, honest communication lines.

Jamerson said that in his experience working on local, regional and national boards, there are always policies for how employees can voice their concerns, and these policies always go through the chief administrator (in this case, the superintendent).

There are some issues that I would consider redoing, but I think its always important to welcome discussions about pedagogy, technology, new models of instruction, he said. However, those discussions cant be about personnel issues or workplace issues, because those need to follow established policies and procedures to ensure that individuals are treated fairly and that the issues are resolved.

Persinger said that he and Bryant are working on changing the policy and that he hopes to do so before the end of 2020. Persinger said that he has submitted a proposal to eliminate sections of the policy and is working on rewriting another section of it.

Corsi expressed a desire to revise the policy but also noted that staffs requests to board members should be reasonable.

Use that time to speak to the board members wisely, she said. What are the things that are going to be key to then increase the satisfaction that you have as a teacher and increase your effectiveness as a teacher?

Wheeldon said that enacting disciplinary measures as result of a mere conversation seemed harsh.

I think a revision of it makes total sense, she said. However, I do think that with a voice comes an obligation to be part of the solution.

She also said that there needs to be a structure and process in place for communication.

Ulery said that she believes in the chain of command and that, typically, individual school principals have the knowledge to address most issues that come from their staff. In the event they are not able to do so, the conversation then moves up the chain of command.

As a board member, I understand the need for me to be a part of the policy-making, as the board has no authority for administrative actions, she said. But if this policy needs to be reviewed and language be refreshed, then that should happen. I would hope that there could be more open communication agreed to in the future.

Candidates were also asked about topics in the national and local community conversation about racism and racial justice, and what BCSC should do to address the needs of students of color and to combat racism.

We need to have the hard discussions that make people uncomfortable, Grimes said, who recently attended a conference organized by the Anti-Defamation League.

Jamerson said that addressing implicit bias is important, as is using the Universal Design for Learning to examine areas of cultural responsiveness and improve the school corporation. Its unfortunate that Mr. Bryant couldnt join us tonight, as the only person of color whos on the board today, he added. And I think its important to listen and speak with them, as opposed to just trying to decide what we need to do for them.

Persinger said everyone has implicit bias and that bias needs to be recognized. He also said that its important to talk with people from other ethnic or racial groups and to help kids become involved with other cultures at a young age.

The most important thing is to admit that there is a problem, especially, you know, as we see nationally, racism is unfortunately alive and well in this country, he said.

Corsi emphasized the importance of addressing ones own implicit bias.

You cant just gloss over and say, We should all just get along, she said. You have to dive deep into who you are as a human and how you can help others.

Wheeldon said that its important to educate students on racism. I also think that creating experiences for kids to really understand how these things play out in real life, what is their role as a growing member of society, is really important, she added.

Ulery said that a first step should be implicit bias training for every staff member. She also said that the school corp. should examine the diversity of its staff.

I would ask the question, Does our staff reflect our community? she said.

Another question addressed the beginning of this school year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Candidates were asked about parents concerns about a lack of equity among the choices offered to BCSC families for in-person or virtual learning.

I have a real respect for the school board and the administration in the central office that spend inordinate amounts of time planning and making sure that we have the best interests of kids in mind, Grimes said of the opening of the school year.

There have been difficulties for teachers tasked with in-person and BRIDGE instruction, Jamerson said.

Stating his opinion that in-person learning was a mistake, Persinger said the school year should have begun with online learning before moving into offering the three different learning options for students.

I think that wouldve given our teachers more adequate time to prepare for the school year, he said. I think that it was rushed. I think thats why we had so many issues at the beginning and still continue to do. He added that there shouldve been more transparency and communication between the administration, staff and community.

Corsi said that in her discussions with teachers, most said they didnt feel as though they had enough time to prepare.

I wouldve liked to have more time for the teachers to prepare for this, because thats a big transition, when youre teaching in-person and online, she said. Like Persinger, she also expressed a need for transparency from the administration.

Wheeldon said that the litmus test of reopening is to ask how students are feeling about it. In her case, her daughter was thrilled to go back to school.

However, Wheeldon also noted that BCSC should continue to improve the reopening plan, ask important questions, receive feedback and listen to (and meet) teachers needs.

Ulery said that some students are struggling with virtual learning and that the school corp. needs to make readjustments as needed rather than go with a uniform approach across the board.

We may want to consider more training for students and parents or possibly a list of helpful resources like study groups or tutors that they may reach out to themselves, she said. But we should continue to look for those that struggle and are falling through the cracks.

How to watch

The Columbus Educators Association will upload a recording of the public forum to YouTube and then share it on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

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School board candidates participate in forum - The Republic

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