Jefferson City School Board candidates largely saw recruitment and retention of teachers as a top challenge facing the district but saw a variety of different opportunities during the next few years.
The News Tribune asked candidates what they viewed as the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity that the district faces during the next few years.
There are five candidates vying for three seats in the April 4 election. Candidates will be on the ballot alongside an $85 million no tax rate increase school bond issue called proposition "Kids First."
The candidates are: incumbent Scott Hovis, executive director of the Missouri Golf Association and chairman of the Missouri Tourism Commission; incumbent Brad Bates, executive director of Missouri Beer Wholesalers Association; challenger Tapiwa "Felix" Madondo, a general services coordinator for the Missouri Lottery Commission; challenger Mike Harvey, a former First Ward councilman and Holts Summit alderman; and challenger Suzanne Luther, a former teacher and founder of a small business.
Most candidates agreed recruiting and retaining quality staff topped the list of difficulties for the district going forward.
Hovis said, "It's well-known that a lot of people are leaving the world of education because of what is going on around us, a lot of negativity about public education, about schools, and teaching these days is difficult."
Hovis added the district needs to let teachers know they are important and actively recruit great talent.
Bates said one challenge the district faces is "to recruit and retain the best teaching staff available."
The district will need to go to different areas to recruit the best teachers possible, Bates said.
Harvey said retention is a huge issue in many districts for both students and faculty.
Harvey said quality education and providing the tools necessary to do the job are top factors in getting people to stick around.
Madondo said recruitment and retention was the greatest challenge facing the district.
Some of the politics that have been inserted in the classroom can prove frustrating to teachers who "just want to teach."
"The job is already stressful as it is," Madondo said.
The greatest challenge for the district is legislative, Luther said.
"Things that are outside, seemingly, our control as a district, but could undermine faith in teachers, could greatly damage the money coming in to support public schools. I think that's the greatest challenge, is navigating that," she said.
Candidates saw a wide variety of opportunities within the district over the coming years.
Bates saw many of the district's current efforts as opportunities, including the introduction of a STEM school, expansion of Advanced Placement classes and Nichols Career Center, all of which provide children a chance to learn and grow and reach a bright future, he said.
The greatest opportunity is the wide variety of communication methods available these days, including technology, Luther said, which allows for greater communication with parents, teachers and administration.
"When you create better communication, then as you move forward, I think you've got a solid foundation for any improvements, and I think that's an amazing opportunity," Luther said.
Hovis said the biggest opportunity is "to build off the momentum that we have going now."
Hovis added the new administration has a lot of positive aspects, and the district is making progress.
Harvey said he sees an opportunity in providing what teachers need to get the job done.
"I think it's great that teachers are creative, but at the same time I think they have plenty on their plate, so it'd be nice if they had some custom tools for that use if they need them," Harvey said.
Harvey said he hopes the funds from the bond issue go toward giving teachers the funds they need to get supplies.
Madondo said he views the bond issue as an opportunity, including investments in Nichols Career Center, technology, the early childhood center and buildings.
Madondo said early childhood education makes a difference. When children go to school, you can tell which students learned their ABCs, were exposed to books or were read to, instead of being dropped off and "baby-sat," he said.
"With the Kids First (bond issue), if we open up adding more children to get that opportunity to go to school earlier than they normally would, that's a wonderful thing," he said.
Have a question?
Readers can submit questions to school board and council candidates on the April 4 ballot via email to [email protected].
We'll ask the candidates to answer the questions; the answers may appear in a future edition of the News Tribune.
To view all election coverage, visit newstribune.com/election.