The eight candidates for Center Grove school board tackled top issues, such as teacher retention, students growth and parent mistrust in school officials during a public forum Tuesday.
The candidates are vying for three spots on the Center Grove Community School Corporation Board of Trustees. Incumbents Scott Alexander and Jack Russell faced off with challengers Doug Bohall, William “Bill” Collins, Bruce Guiliani, Derek Payne, Gary Robinson and Nick Smither. The seat formerly occupied by Joe Hubbard, is now open after he resigned due to a move out of the school district and his decision to run for Greenwood mayor.
The candidates gathered at the Center Grove High School Auditorium a week before Election Day for the moderated question-and-answer forum organized by Center Grove Education Foundation. The forum was designed to inform the community of those candidates’ backgrounds and experience, as well as their takes on what issues facing the school district deserve the most attention, how to minimize the financial impact of a growing school district and how school board members can be accessible to the community and communicate with their constituents.
The forum took place amid community debate about teacher pay and parental say in schools. Parental say has been in discussion since the debate over masking and social emotional learning came to the forefront during the pandemic.
Recently, teacher pay and retention has been brought to the forefront, after about 150 teachers protested for a better contract during Center Grove’s October school board meeting. Teachers and parents alike are now joining an online movement to share why they think teachers are important and facts about teacher and administrator pay compared to similar districts.
Several candidates, including Alexander, a software company executive who has served on the board since 2010, pointed to teacher retention and community growth as the biggest issues facing the school district in the next four years.
“We continue to grow at a pace that’s just phenomenal, and trying to add new teachers and retain the staff we have has become a challenge based on funding,” Alexander said. “We put together a teacher retention committee and the board is anxiously awaiting to hear the outcome from that teacher retention committee. But how can we retain those teachers, and hopefully keep them from leaving the profession? Right now, in these politically turbulent times, we had 15 teachers this year that left the profession altogether.”
Bohall, a pastor who previously served on Greenwood’s school board, said an important step in teacher retention is making sure there is mutual respect between teachers, students and parents.
“Teacher retention will continue to be a high priority,” he said. “Regaining the respect and cooperation of parents is also part of what makes teaching more fulfilling, and there’s also a need to reinforce the expectation of student respect and cooperation as well. Without these components, I believe some teachers will leave the classroom for less stressful vocations.”
Collins, an analyst and Army veteran, said he feels parents and teachers don’t feel heard and that’s led to a division between those groups, the school board and district administrators.
“Parents don’t feel heard, teachers don’t feel heard or respected. Administrators seem to just be throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. They’re constantly changing policies. The board is not listening to anybody. With the superintendent, it seems like they go along with whatever he wants to do these days,” Collins said. “Hopefully, once there’s new board members seated, everyone comes to the table, parents, educators, board members, administrators and there will be a big meeting of the minds, have some hard conversations and figure out how to move forward.”
Bohall also discussed the need to carefully allocate resources as the school district moves toward more than 10,000 students enrolled within the next couple of years.
“The system has to continually reevaluate how to allocate resources to provide an outstanding educational product. It requires governance looks down from 30,000 feet rather than item-by-item reactive leadership,” Bohall said.
Russell, a retired educator and a school board member since 2010, said he’s tried to make sure the school district keeps up with the growing student population.
“Growth will be affecting class size,” Russell said. “We’ve started several building projects to stay ahead of what we projected will be our numbers.”
Other candidates, including Payne, a software developer, were concerned about curriculum. In order to decrease tension between parents and teachers, it is necessary to differentiate what is taught at home versus what is taught at school, he said.
“Can we just get back to math, reading and science? Just keep the stuff at home that stays at home and keep the stuff in class that stays in class,” Payne said. “That would really eliminate a lot of distractions and really open us up to really excel in the next few years.”
Smither, a self-employed construction worker, said a more focused curriculum, along with fiscal responsibility and eliminating excess spending, would benefit students and teachers alike.
“I’m running because I see that us parents do not have a say in education, whether it’s curriculum or the policies going on during the day,” Smither said. “I want to remedy the accountability of students, teachers, the school and parents. We need to grow our curriculum to where we will be able to set our kids up for success in the future. That is our number one priority for the school board. I want to make sure CRT (Critical Race Theory) will not be incorporated, which it’s not currently. I also want to make sure our budget is spent on the school.”
Student safety needs to continue to be at the forefront of school leaders’ minds. Additionally, decreasing class sizes is key in retaining teachers, said Guiliani, a safety trainer.
“Safety has to be a core value. Priorities change, core values do not. Safety above all,” he said.
School board candidates also discussed the need for school board members to be visible in the community. Robinson, who taught at Center Grove schools for 43 years, said school board members should attend school events and make themselves available to community members who have questions.
“You have to be proactive and go out to (events), go to Walnut Grove (Elementary School) on a Wednesday night and Center Grove (Middle School) North on a Thursday, a football game on a Friday night and band and choir. People talk to you and that’s how you learn what the issues are,” Robinson said. “That’s how to be a proactive member of the community.”
Russell said he attends as many events as he can.
“That’s how you find out what’s on the minds of parents,” Russell said. “Being out in the community and being accessible.”
A live recording of the forum is available for viewing on Center Grove Education Foundation’s Facebook page.
To read more about the candidates visit the “Election 2022” page at dailyjournal.net. All candidate profiles are now free to read.