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COLUMBIA BOARD OF EDUCATION: Andrea Lisenby

Andrea Lisenby is one of three first-time candidates for the Columbia Board of Education on the ballot April 5.

At least one of them will be elected, with two seats up for grabs and just one incumbent in the field.

Lisenby is running on her experience as a mother of three and a goal of making the board more accessible to the public.

Should CPS bring back masks if we get hit with another coronavirus case surge?

It's not really something I can answer hypothetically. What I can say is how our school board responds is really important. It's essential that we have open and honest conversations. It's essential that we listen to everyone. Above all else. We've got to be transparent with the community about how and why decisions are being made, what metrics are being used, what's the plan going forward? And when will we reevaluate? A lot of trust was lost during the pandemic, due to this lack of transparency. One of the reasons I'm running for the school board is to repair our trust with the community.

How do you think the Columbia Board of Education handled navigating the previous pandemic surges?

Well, those were uncertain times, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. I think we all agree it couldn't have been easy to make those difficult decisions. I can say with some certainty that had I been on the school board, I definitely would have voted to offer in-seat education much sooner. I think it would have been prudent to have a panel of experts advising the school board in their decisions. I have a degree in microbiology, and I understand how to read scientific literature. And even with that background, as a board member, I would have appreciated advice from doctors and other experts. Just as importantly, I think being open and honest about how and why the board voted the way it did would have gone a long way in defusing the public's anxiety surrounding our schools.

Do you support the $80 million bond issue on the April ballot?

One of the things I love about Columbia is that we're a community that places a high value on education. People are upset with CPS because they feel like their voices aren't being heard. Some people are coming out publicly and saying they will vote no for the bond because that's the only way to be heard. And I can sympathize with that. In fact, improving communication is one of the top reasons why I'm running for Columbia School Board. I will be voting yes for the bond issue because it benefits our students.

Do you support a collective bargaining agreement that will increase starting teacher pay to at least $40k per year?

Yes, I think no matter what, teachers are always underpaid. Our CPS teachers are passionate, dedicated and highly qualified professionals. Yes, I support the increase in starting salary. And I also support giving our existing teachers a raise. This is long overdue. I've made it my mission these past three months to be in our schools and in our community, listening and learning from teachers, administrators, parents and other taxpayers. Teachers should have a voice about their workplace. And while salary increases are important, our teachers are asking for other support from the district, most notably better communication and help with discipline challenges. If we are going to retain and recruit excellent teachers, we need to take a look at all of their needs.

Is teaching about history, race and LGBTQ issues being done appropriately in CPS classrooms?

Well, it's a little tricky to answer because I'm not in all of our classrooms. Nor should I be. But I do trust our teachers and our administrators to make thoughtful decisions about what's being taught in our CPS classrooms. More importantly, I trust them to determine what is age-appropriate for students.

In the interest of transparency, I think it's important for parents to have access to the curriculum, parents may decide something isn't appropriate for their child. But this is not a new concept. CPS has always done a really good job of honoring parents' requests to find alternatives. And while we're talking about it, I think it's important to encourage parent engagement. The student always stands to benefit when parents are engaged in their education.

How accessible do you think the school board is to the public?

I think there's room for improvement here. Again, communication is one of the top reasons I'm running for Columbia School Board. Face-to-face conversation is the most effective way to listen and learn. Most of the time, email and public comment are not productive. I think the board needs to look at other ways to engage with the public. They used to hold parent-community university and I'd like to see us bring that back. I also support the idea of each board member being assigned a handful of schools that they can visit PTA meetings, possibly faculty meetings, and other school events. It's important for board members to be involved in the communities that we serve. In addition to listening and problem solving, I would like to be an advocate for CPS out in the public sharing about all the good things that we do so well and building relationships with our community partners.

Are there any other issues you see as important to CPS?

Academics needs to be our top priority. CPS used to be a model district in the state of Missouri and we are now performing below state average. For a community that values education so highly, this is concerning. Among our comparison districts, Columbia ranks nine out of 13. Right here at home, Columbia ranks five out of six in Boone County. Our performance has been declining since 2016, well before the pandemic, I'm concerned. And while test scores don't tell the whole story, they're the tool that we do have to measure our success.

But there's a solution. We have outstanding teachers at CPS we always have. If we listen to our teachers, they tell us the solution. Nearly every classroom is experiencing student behavior challenges. So much teacher time and energy goes into managing these kids that they don't have as much time to focus on educating our students. Understandably, these kids need support beyond what a classroom teacher can regularly provide. We need to come up with creative solutions and fast to help our teachers with this challenge. Let them get back to doing what they're best at -- educating our students.

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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.

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