DANVILLE — Voters got another chance to get to know the Danville school board candidates and their stance on a variety of issues at a second candidates' forum on Saturday.
This one, called "Failure is Not an Option," was sponsored by the Danville Caucus Inc. and moderated by Alfreda McArthur, a former Danville resident who now serves as director of the Alternative Academic Achievement County in the Chicago area.
Incumbents Randal Ashton, Dan Brown, Greg Hilleary and Frank Young and newcomers Johnnie Carey, Darlene Halloran, Lon Henderson, Phyllis Roth and David Woodrow are running for four open seats in the April 9 election. The top vote-getters will serve a four-year term.
Halloran and Henderson could not attend due to prior family obligations.
When asked what her vision for education in the community is, Roth said she wants to see a higher graduation rate, and it's unacceptable to her that about one-fourth of students don't receive diplomas.
That's "going to perpetuate the poverty in this community and affect the quality of life for those students and their children," said Roth, who supports a variety of programs aimed at increasing the rate.
Young said students today must be prepared to compete in a global economy. So the district must have rigorous, consistent academic standards, as well as structure and discipline, to give students the skills they will need to be successful in "the real world."
Hilleary and Ashton said they would like to see a system that includes more parental involvement. Ashton said one way to encourage that is to open up schools to serve as community centers with specific learning opportunities for adults and their kids.
Hilleary also said the district must continue to offer programs such as Junior ROTC and vocational trades. "Not everyone is going to go to college," he said.
Candidates also were asked how they would try to increase the number of African-American teachers. Currently, 40 percent of students are African-American, yet only 4.4 percent of teachers are.
Carey, a former district human resources director, said part of the challenge lies with the state's rigorous licensing exam. She said many education students at minority universities, to whom she's talked, didn't plan to leave their area or test in Illinois.
"We must continue to grow our own," she said, referring to a district program that encourages future teachers to return to their community.
Carey also wants to work with teaching assistants and people like her daughter, who has a master's degree, though not in education, to help them earn their certification.
While Woodrow said he's not sure what the answer is, he said it probably doesn't help that teachers still don't have a new contract.
"That would be scary to me as a young teacher," said Woodrow, who said he wants to see much more collaboration between the board, administration and teachers on different matters.
Brown said the district already offers teachers competitive salaries and "generous" benefits. But Roth said she believes creative incentives are needed and would support creating a privately funded trust to provide African-American teachers with such incentives as helping them pay off student loans.
When asked, essentially, how the board can ensure it's being fair when meting out discipline, many incumbents said the board spends a great deal of time on each case.
Carey said she'd like to see diversity training for teachers. "These teachers have a heart, and they want to do well. But we have to teach them how to deal with students coming from different environments," she said, adding that will result in fewer cases.
Can there be more diversity training? Sure, Young said. But he added the board must use the Ownership in Education student handbook as its guide. All community members have a chance to offer input on the manual each year it's updated, he added.
Young said the one that won't be tolerated is violence. "It isn't going to happen," he said. "The punishment is going to be the same. We can't have students preying on other students or teachers in our schools."
A third and final forum will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. April 2 in the board room in the Jackson Building, 516 N. Jackson St., Danville. It is being sponsored by the district and Danville Education Association and moderated by Danville High School government students.
The public may submit questions for the forum via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.