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Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Parkway board candidates field questions

By Amy Kronenberger
ROCKFORD - School board candidates hoping to be elected in November answered questions from the high students they hope to represent.
Board of education incumbents Tom Lyons and Ryan Thompson, as well as newcomers Melissa Burtch and Steven Samples introduced themselves to students and parents Tuesday in the school auditorium. The four community members are running for three open school board seats in the November general election. Incumbent Bob Ransbottom did not file for re-election.
The event was organized by the high school social studies and history teachers, who collected 120 questions from students. Questions were pared to 12 and given to the candidates in advance.
All four candidates are Parkway graduates and have children in the school system. All said they are running because they want Parkway to be the best school district and they are willing to help it succeed.
Some of the questions fielded were:
• For high school students, can a school thoroughly cover Common Core curriculum while still offering a wide range of electives, and should the school allow more foreign language options and Advanced Placement courses?
Thompson said having a small student body can make offering a wide variety of classes difficult. A school must have enough students interested in taking a class before it can justify offering it, he said.
"I am a strong proponent of electives," he said. "One of the most important things in education is having students wanting to learn and the elective courses... are the ones you like to take."
He said more foreign language options would be great but students need to speak up and tell their guidance counselor what they want.
Burtch suggested asking previous graduates what high school classes would have better prepared them for college. She also stressed the importance of offering Advanced Placement and dual enrollment classes.
"We have to start offering some type of Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, post secondary classes," she said. "We are so far behind the curve on this topic compared to other schools. I have gone out to other schools and found curriculum and we are the only school in this area that is not offering some type of Advanced Placement classes ... We are doing our students a disservice by not offering these."
The other candidates agreed, saying the best way to prepare a student for college or career is to offer as many college and vocational courses as possible.
Thompson said Parkway also needs to look into offering online courses for foreign language and electives to allow students more options without needing to hire another staff member or worry about enrollment numbers. The other candidates agreed.
• What can the school do to better prepare students for college or a career?
The candidates reiterated the need for Advanced Placement and dual enrollment classes along with vocational opportunities. They also agreed students need to start preparing for their futures before their junior years, perhaps as early as seventh grade.
Samples said students also need to be career aware. He suggested educating students on the number of different jobs and companies in the area and elsewhere.
"I think if we get the students out to see what there is industry-wise, career-wise, ... I think any way we can allow a student to get ... a broad view of what careers and opportunities there are out there, the better off it is."
Lyons said the key to preparing a student for college or career is offering more one-on-one time with the guidance counselor.
"I really think that the guidance counselor, starting sophomore year, maybe freshmen, should spend one-on-one time with a child and assess them and see, because at that age they don't know what it takes to get a better education and go to college," he said. "You don't have to be a 4.0, you don't have to have a big bank account."
• What can you do to ensure a safe learning environment?
All candidates agreed the school already has an effective safety policy and lockdown procedure in place. They said the key is to actively practice that policy and run regular drills.
For safety reasons, the school does not share the details of the policy with the public, Burtch added. However, the community needs to support that policy and work together. Samples and Lyons said every community member needs to do his or her part in collaboration to prevent a disaster.
• Should the school's dress code be modified to reflect changing styles or should uniforms be worn?
All candidates said the district's current dress code is proper and in place for a reason.
"We don't need to be showing any more skin," Lyons said.
Lyons, Thompson and Samples said they don't see a need for uniforms. Burtch, however, said she would approve uniforms if teachers and administrators spent too much time enforcing the dress code.
• What do you think of the retire-rehire policy?
All candidates said rehiring a retired educator should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. If the staff member has proven to be an invaluable member of the district or if rehiring would save the district money, it should be considered.
Thompson said districts should work to "keep terrific teachers around as long as we can," however, the district also needs to focus on recruiting the best young talent.
Lyons agreed and said on most occasions he believes when a teacher retires, he or she should be done.
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