COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
After a year for school districts across the country that was unlike any in recent history, two new members will join the Columbia Board of Education.
The two Columbia Board of Education candidates endorsed by the Columbia Missouri National Education Association — Katherine Sasser and Jeanne Snodgrass — won a five-way race. Incumbent Teresa Maledy came in third. Sasser took 6,969 votes, Snodgrass took 6,193 and Maledy took 5,350.
Two seats were up during Tuesday’s election, currently filled by Susan Blackburn and Teresa Maledy.
Blackburn, the vice president of the board who was originally elected in 2018, dropped out of this race in January after deciding to not seek another term.
Luke Neal and Aron Saylor were also seeking one of the two school board seats up for election.
As the only incumbent running, Maledy is the only candidate who had a hand in decisions about in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic.
In an interview with ABC 17 News, Maledy said she believes the district has done a lot of things right throughout the pandemic, and the board was always focused on the health and safety of students.
She says her top priority is closing the achievement gap between students in the district.
“I think as we look at educational equity, it’s important for us to meet the child where they are, and then really develop a prescriptive approach to help them grow in their academic world,” Maledy said.
She is the retired chairwoman and CEO of Commerce Bank.
A youth minister with the organization Young Life and a former Hickman High School track coach, Luke Neal says a desire for having kids in classrooms was part of his reason for running for a seat on the Columbia Board of Education.
While the response to the pandemic motivated him to run for a seat, he’s also running on his connection to the community and his experience in Columbia’s public life.
During an interview with ABC 17 News, Neal touched on several topics, saying that ramping up early education could help close the achievement gap.
“The biggest issue is how do you fund it? And so I think we’re going to get the most bang for our buck by really beefing up our pre-K education and students entering kindergarten with more of a level playing field,” Neal said.
Katherine Sasser (Winner)
The educational program coordinator with eMINTS National Center at the University of Missouri, Katherine Sasser is hoping her experience in the education field will earn her a spot on the school board.
Sasser spent nine years teaching in Columbia Public Schools and works on improving rural education through a program at the University of Missouri.
While she says the current board did a good job handling the pandemic, she would have tried to think more creatively to get students a better experience.
“One thing I would have wished that the district would have focused more on … early on is thinking about creative problem solving around how we could have gotten kids together more safely more quickly,” Sasser said.
Sasser is endorsed by the Columbia Missouri National Education Association (CMNEA).
Jeanne Snodgrass (Winner)
The executive director of Mizzou Hillel (Jewish Campus Center), Jeanne Snodgrass is running on a platform of equality for students.
Equity is highlighted on her campaign signs and she says it’s one of the most important principles for running Columbia Public Schools well.
Snodgrass told ABC 17 News the disparity in outcomes of students’ growth and learning should be address by looking at where the funding is going.
“I think we need to look at how our resources are being distributed to the various schools, I think, particularly when you look at our elementary schools, we see a lot of difference in how students are being approached in the opportunities that are being given to them,” Snodgrass said.
Snodgrass is also endorsed by CMNEA.
Web developer Aron Saylor was motivated to run for a seat after the current board’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of his main criticisms has been the benchmarks for coronavirus cases in the district used to help determine whether students would return to classrooms. The district early on relied on the “Minnesota model” to help guide decisions.
In an interview with ABC 17 News, Saylor said the pandemic could have been handled better by tailoring the return to age groups.
“I would have liked to have seen a little more nuance in the plans, get back to school quicker. The data was there for a while to support that. … COVID-19 wasn’t transmitted in schools,” Saylor said.
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