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U-46 candidates debate charter school issue

By Seth Hancock
  Should parents be the ultimate decision makers in how and where their children are educated, or should those decisions be left up to elected officials who may hold different world views than parents?
  The five candidates seeking three open board seats in School District U-46 in the upcoming April 4 election discussed the merits of charter schools at the final candidate forum on Wednesday, March 22 in Bartlett as the Elgin Math and Science Academy (EMSA) has resubmitted a proposal for a charter.
  Incumbent Veronica Noland (Elgin) was the lone vote in support of EMSA during the board vote while Donna Smith (Hanover Park) voted against it. They are the only candidates running who were on the board during the last vote on the issue.
  Incumbent Cody Holt (Elgin) and challenger Enoch Essendrop (Elgin) both support school choice and the competition it spurs while challenger Melissa Owens (Bartlett) does not. Although supporting EMSA the first time, Noland is running on the same platform now with Owens and Smith.
  One question from the audience was if charter schools can help at-risk students. Owens said “when we’re dealing with at-risk students, we need to have the right professionals in our classrooms, in our administration, in our buildings” and she does not see that in the EMSA proposal.
  Smith said “support staff is just as important as teachers” and EMSA “would have to answer that question.”
  Noland said “I was the only vote for it because I was for a different model” but “I don’t quite see the connection” between charter schools and at-risk students.
  Although he said U-46 is trying, Holt doesn’t “think they’ve done a good job at succeeding at improving academic achievement for our at-risk students,” but “I do believe that this charter school, or any charter school in general, would be a great alternative for some of these students who are struggling, who are at-risk students, and we as a district should look to partner with this charter school or any future charter school with regards to trying to help our at-risk students.”
  Holt noted that the EMSA proposal’s target is to have 60 percent of its enrollment from at-risk students.
  Essendrop agreed with Holt and added: “The fact remains that students whose parents are involved in their education outperform, they do, and by giving parents a choice, by giving parents the ability to choose what school their kids go to automatically makes them involved. So we’ve been striving to get parents more involved in the district, and this is another way to do it because the parents would have to choose what school they go to.”
  “Philosophically, we have a capitalistic system,” Essendrop added. “Competition always improves quality, and adding competition will do that. In the end, our at-risk students will benefit.”
  Earlier, audience members targeted Holt as a former teacher and a current Bartlett High School student voiced their opposition to school choice.
  The former teacher felt Holt was contradicting himself because the teacher feels EMSA is not fiscally responsible, but Holt said “the funding will follow the student” and it will ultimately create efficiencies in the U-46 budget.
  In response to the Bartlett student opposed to choice, Holt said he’s for choice because “currently… the system is not working for many kids, and that’s plain and simple. You have so many students who are relegated to schools that are not meeting their parents’ expectations, and because of this they deserve an option to send their child somewhere else.”
  Holt added: “For the past 30 years, we’ve continued to spend public funds on education and academic achievement has been stagnant and declining in many of our schools.”
  Another Bartlett student touched on charters when she explained her concerns with a lack of racial diversity in the teaching staff, specifically in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and she felt EMSA would lead to segregation.
  Holt noted, in regards to segregation, that that’s already occurring in U-46 schools.
  “Currently the district has it set up where basically you have schools that are you know 98 percent Hispanic, 89 percent white,” Holt said and added that “once you see more charter schools, I think you would see a more diverse school culture.”
  Essendrop disagreed with the premise “because the teachers in U-46 are excellent teachers and they teach all the kids the same.”
  Smith said the district has increased AP course offering and students taking AP classes, and Owens said that students should be targeted early for AP.
  Noland supported an idea that has been expressed by current board member Traci Ellis who has said students should have teachers “who look like them.” Noland said “you also want to have diverse instructors” because that’s needed for welcoming a diverse student body.



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