BELOIT - Candidates running for four seats on the School District of Beloit Board of Education discussed issues such as teacher retention and student discipline during a City Hall forum on Wednesday night.
The event was hosted by the NAACP Beloit Chapter and the League of Women Voters of Beloit, and was moderated by Ralph Berkley.
Seven candidates spoke about themselves and fielded questions. Write-in candidate Joe Walls was not in attendance.
Torie Champeny said Beloit teachers need an advocate; current board president Pam Charles said she has experience on a board headed in the right direction; Ami Christophersen said she wants to be a voice for educators and students; Megan Miller said she wants equitable education and to empower students; Phillip VanLandingham Jr. said he wants to improve student discipline; former board member John Winkelmann said he wants to ensure all students thrive; and board member John Wong said he wants to listen and continue the board's good work.
The candidates had different opinions on how to address student discipline.
VanLandingham said it's the greatest issue in the district. If order is restored, he said it would resolve the issues of teacher and student retention.
"We need to take back classrooms and get rid of disruptions," he said.
However, Miller said there will always be discipline issues and they should be handled proactively rather than punitively. She said the answer isn't to take "naughty kids" outside the classroom, but to take them aside and give them the tools to learn proper behavior.
"All kids should have the opportunity to learn," Miller said.
Wong said people must be mindful that students come to school with a lot of baggage and they might need an alternative setting or to be pulled aside to get the help they need.
Charles said the board has heard this cry for more discipline from parents and has increased mental health services to students and is revising the district code of conduct.
When asked the key to retaining staff and improving morale, Wong said it's engaging staff.
Winkelmann said the district's challenge is educating all children.
When asked the role of the board, VanLandingham said it's devising policies and holding staff accountable for adhering to them.
To reduce numbers of students leaving the district, Miller emphasized efforts to expand early literacy, engage students and give them more job skills.
When asked about accusations the board in the past has micromanaged the district, Christophersen said the board should hold the superintendent accountable, but said she's not a micromanager and the board needs to have faith in its team.
When asked about how to close the achievement gap, Charles said the district should include teachers in decision making and engage parents more.
When asked if she agreed or disagreed with issuing only one-year renewals as opposed to the traditional two-year contracts to administrators, Champeny said she agreed.
"It's important the new superintendent have time to take six months to evaluate administrators and see what is needed," Champeny said.
After being asked specific questions, candidates had the opportunity to respond to a question of their choice.
Champeny said to retain staff there should be additional prep time, less professional development requirements and more support to get student behavior under control.
Charles said the main challenge in the district is inconsistent and unstable leadership. She said the board has addressed this by hiring a new superintendent by its deadline. The board has learned governance, is cohesive and has healthy debate. She said teacher retention is critical and noted staff is giving input as evidenced in the new ad hoc committee for student discipline.
To retain staff, Christophersen said the district needs to work with the city and market itself and to recognize its staff.
Miller said students and equity should be the focus of the district. The board needs to research best practices of districts with similar demographics.
VandLandingham said he's a strong supporter of one-year contracts for administrators as it shows the board is holding them accountable.
Winkelmann said the role of the board needs to be supporting the new superintendent and making sure there are strong principals in place.
Wong said the district must get back to strict hiring policies. He noted the board followed the correct processes in hiring the superintendent. He said he wants take advantage of existing and talented staff and engage the business community more.