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Suzette Waters is one of three people running for a seat on the Columbia Board of Education for the first time this April.

Two people will be elected from the field of four, which includes incumbent Blake Willoughby. That means the board will have at least one new member.

Waters is a product of Columbia Public Schools and her children are or have been students in the district. The platform outlined on her campaign website includes support for teachers, encouraging student achievement and open communication with the community.

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

Well, hopefully, that will not happen -- hopefully, we're on the tail end of this pandemic. And I would have to say, I'm gonna have to follow the science. If I'm elected to the school board, I'll be the only school board member that works in patient-facing health care. I'm a dental hygienist. But that doesn't make me an expert in public health or in infectious disease. So I would have to rely on the advice of experts and follow the science in that case.

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

I think, in hindsight, it's pretty easy to pick the last two years of pivoting decisions apart. I think they did the best they could, in an ever-changing situation that was new to the entire world. Our own opinion of COVID has changed over the last two years. I mean, two years ago, it was kind of scary. And now we're all sick of it. So I think they did the best they could with the information they had, and allowing that that information was changing constantly.

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

I do. We're out of space in our south elementary schools, and we need that new elementary school. And that's going to be a good chunk of the first half of the bond money that gets spent. And then we have old buildings that need maintenance, we have a lot of a lot of maintenance needs. 3.5 million square feet of building space, you're gonna have to spend some money to maintain it, and we don't get money from the state or the federal government to do those buildings or improvements. So we need that bond money to do that.

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

I do. And Missouri has been pretty much last in teacher salaries. And I think that if there's anything to be last in I would prefer it be teacher turnover, not salaries. They did finally get to $40,250, so that's a $1,200 per year increase for starting teachers. The cost of living in Colombia has gone up drastically. And we can't compare ourselves maybe to the bigger cities, but certainly to the surrounding rural communities, it costs more to live here. So I think it's a fair salary. And I'm always going to be in favor of supporting teachers where possible.

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

I do. I have not heard concrete evidence otherwise. I've heard speculative evidence based on a friend of a friend of a teacher of a student of a mom of a friend told me. I certainly have not heard firsthand evidence of anything to the contrary, I think it's important that we allow children the freedom to learn the entire scope of history. I think we can do that with fidelity without invoking shame, without invoking disappointment in America, or a hatred for our democracy. I think in fact, teaching a full picture of history in all of its messy, hard work inspires appreciation of democracy, and the critical thinking it takes to maintain it.

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

I think accessibility has been a particular issue lately. And I think part of that was due to COVID.

I know, school board members in the past have been much more active in visiting buildings, but for a while they were asked not to, frankly. And I think just the ability to have in-person conversations with the community was hampered by COVID. I've said publicly for weeks now that if I'm elected, I would be happy to have office hours on a regular basis rotating between evenings and weekends to be accessible to people with different work schedules and needs. Nobody might show up, but at least I'll be available for a two-way conversation. I think two-way conversation is what people are looking for. They don't want to send an email. They want to have a conversation.

Another thing I have publicly said that I'm willing to do is visit all the schools to which I'm assigned if elected, and visit on a rotating basis, PTA meetings and faculty and staff meetings. Those things have to be done sometimes during the da,y the faculty and staff meetings, those happen during the day when school is in session. And I have the unique ability to be able to do those things during the day because I work part-time. And so I'm available to visit schools when schools are open. But I think that's an important way that school board members can be accessible to the community, just providing additional opportunities for two-way dialogue.

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

There's a lot of issues that are important. First and foremost, we have to support public schools, our public schools are the cornerstone of this community. And if we are going to have a successful community in the future, we have to have strong public schools, this school district in particular must survive. And we can do that. I think we have a lot of academic catching up to do from the pandemic. And we need to keep focused on that. We need to make sure students are catching up and are making progress at all levels.

And I think we need to address the disparity between buildings that we have in our district. We have some buildings that struggle and some buildings that are struggling quite a bit less. And I think we need to look at those numbers, look at the data from those schools and divert resources where they're needed most. And I think a lot of that includes early childhood education. We need to be very mindful of investing in early childhood education because we know that that early literacy, if we nail that, then that leads to greater academic success all throughout school, higher graduation rates, lower incarceration rates, greater upward mobility and better workforce development. So all of those things, that's what we're looking for, not to mention a better quality of life for the child involved. So I'm really interested and excited to learn more about the possibility of CPS expanding early childhood education and as a nation in expanding early childhood education because that's, that's an important piece of the success of our community and in the long run.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia
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Matthew Sanders

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


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