DeKALB – The diverse student population of DeKalb School District 428 was a common theme of questions submitted to the nine candidates actively campaigning for a school board seat during a DeKalb Chamber of Commerce open forum Thursday.
The format of the event, which was held at the Egyptian Theatre, allowed one randomly selected question from an audience member to be directed at each candidate. The nine hopefuls also had an opportunity to respond to three additional questions not directed at them.
In a question directed at Twangie Smith, candidates were asked how to close the achievement gap, which recognizes a disparity in test scores for minority students.
Smith said the board needs to look at the data that has been collected on student performance and act upon it.
“I can make sure that the board stays focused on that achievement gap and that it’s not something that’s just pushed under the table,” Smith said.
Four other candidates also addressed this question.
Jeff Hallgren said this problem cannot be addressed by teachers alone.
“We should be reaching out aggressively to parents to get them involved in trying to develop a program or work on the programs that already exist to rectify this problem,” he said.
Former board President Tracy Williams said a significant amount of research has been done on student achievement gaps, which should give the board all the information it needs to solve the problem.
“We have everything at our fingertips,” Williams said. “It simply has to be made a priority to make sure it’s carried through.”
Valerie Pena Hernandez said teachers in DeKalb, particularly at Jefferson Elementary School, are collaborating with other teachers so that their instruction can meet the needs of all students.
Shatoya Black said the board should identify where students stand based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a motivational theory that uses five levels of individual need to determine what is necessary for someone to achieve happiness and success.
Sean Johnson was asked how he would use the results of the diversity needs assessment, a plan approved by the board in October to gain input from the community on how to respect the racial and ethnic diversity of students.
Johnson said respecting diversity should start within the district, and the results should be oriented to make the schools’ strengths greater and weaknesses improve.
Board President Victoria Newport was asked her position on supporting LGBTQ students.
Newport said students should take advantage of the dozens of clubs and programs offered within DeKalb schools to find people with similar interests.
“Each club is important to students and some of them are the reasons kids come to school,” Newport said.
Catherine Harned praised a leadership workshop her grandson was involved in sponsored by Clinton Rosette Middle School where he learned about bullying and LGBTQ rights.
“For a little kid like that to be understanding those issues was a sharp thing for the district to be doing,” Harned said.
While Jeromy Olson did not field a question aimed at student diversity, he said that in hiring new administrative staff members after the announced resignation agreement with district Superintendent Doug Moeller and the nonrenewal of DeKalb High School Principal Michele Albano’s contract, he said that it’s not only critical to find the right person, but to establish the right metrics that would allow them to succeed.