Candidates running for three open seats on the Monroe County Community School Corporation Board of Trustees answered questions Monday evening from parents and teachers.
Five of the seven candidates up for election in districts one, three and seven attended the forum at Monroe County Public Library. Eric Breidenstein, District 1, and incumbent Martha Street, District 3, were absent.
The forum was co-sponsored by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education Monroe County, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy group, and the Monroe County Education Association. A handful of MCCSC educators joined about 60 parents in the audience.
Byron Turner, District 3, said educational equity is the biggest issue facing the community, particularly Fairview and Templeton elementary schools. As a family case manager for the Department of Child Services, Turner visits schools almost daily. A couple days ago, he saw four students sleeping in the principal’s office at Fairview Elementary School.
“We’re doing a disservice to those students,” Turner said.
He proposed limiting the number of high-need, traumatized students in classrooms.
Brandon Shurr, running unopposed in District 7, and Elizabeth Ruh, District 1, agreed. Ruh suggested more social workers are needed.
Shurr’s statement that Bloomington needs to consider redistricting the school system was met with widespread applause.
“The term neighborhood schools is a term we use to segregate schools,” Shurr said.
Thao Nelson, District 1, emphasized the importance of treating students as individuals, measuring their progress and identifying where each student can progress.
Several audience members asked candidates to address school evaluations. Rather than relying solely on standardized testing, the candidates supported some type of stakeholder survey.
“We can’t ignore the standardized test, but so many of those other things are just as important,” Jane Gouker, District 1, said.
If elected, Turner said he would immediately look at the district’s current practice of assigning schools letter grades — a practice he completely disagrees with.
“I know the hardest working school in our school district is not an A school,” Turner said.
The candidates had mixed responses to the question of school safety.
Shurr said he’d like to talk to more teachers and students on the topic. Turner said he asks students multiple times a day whether they feel safe. They say yes.
“What’s making them feel safe is that they have teachers that care about them,” Turner said.
Nelson said her sons say they feel safe as well, but stressed the need to build a culture of vigilance.
Gouker and Ruh noted the importance of making resources available to ensure safety.
Culturally responsive practices
Ruh, to the agreement of Shurr and Nelson, said the budget needs to include training for administrators, teachers and staff on culturally responsive practices.
“We should do a better job of getting ourselves into the community instead of expecting the community to come to us,” Ruh said.
But despite the importance of training, Nelson said implementation ultimately comes down to the individual’s willingness to learn and change.
“Colleagues need to hold each other accountable,” Nelson said.
Gouker, a retired music educator, advocated for music as a way to expose students to different cultures.
“Music does it already,” Gouker said.
Turner said he would like to see a curriculum review expanded to every subject area.
All candidates testified to the importance of school librarians, even in the information age. Not all schools in the district have full-time librarians. Shurr said money should be poured into librarians, over other extracurriculars.