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Columbia Board of Education candidate interview: John Potter


ABC 17 News is interviewing candidates for key races in the April election.

The interviews will air on ABC 17 News leading up to the April 2 election and will be posted online as they air.

ABC 17 News: Why are you running and what are your qualifications?

John Potter: I'm running because I want to represent voices that I've been representing for about four years.

I originally got involved in the school district during the [COVID-19] shutdowns, and they, a group of parents kind of formed and we petitioned the school to reopen. And in doing so we realized that there was a lot of issues going on in school district, it was the first time I started really getting involved in my kids' education. I got three kids at Columbia Public Schools, one in elementary, one in middle school and one in high school.

After hearing a lot of things, we started asking questions and just got a lot of pushback. The district wasn't used to being held accountable by the community. And when I started asking these questions, is when you start getting called a lot of names and things like that, so we really thought it was imperative that groups like ours, voices like mine were heard. So I really focused on creating a platform to consolidate all voices together in order for them to be heard.

ABC 17 News: What is your assessment of current Columbia Public Schools leadership?

Potter: I think it's better than when I first started getting involved in the district. I think they are asking more questions instead of being a rubber stamp for the district administration.

There has been a new superintendent that's been hired. And I think he has a lot of great ideas and is moving the district in a new direction, where previously it wasn't going. I actually ran last year for school board. And in that I brought up a lot of issues that now the district is starting to look at. And so I think the new superintendent, and a few of the new school board members that were elected last year, are really raising good questions. And so it's moving the district in a in a direction that is, that I like, but I think it could be faster.

I think it could be, I think the superintendent needs more support. And that's why, that's why I put my foot in the race.

ABC 17 News: What can CPS do to fix its attendance problem?

Potter: Yeah, that was one of the things that I advocated for, as I knew that it was going to disrupt students' education, disrupt mental health. And in order to get students back in class, we really have to provide an educational environment, that talking to parents, and teachers, I've come to realize that there's behavioral issues in the classroom, behavioral issues into schools, bullying, fights, things like that.

And then also just voices not being heard. So a lot of people moved their kids out of the district or teachers, when it comes to teacher retention, we need more educators. And teachers are being, they feel like they haven't been heard for a long time. And so they're getting their education kept up and move on to different things. And so really, we just got to provide an educational environment where students want to come to school.

Right now there is a lot of a lot of distractions in the classroom, cellphone policies or district-wide policies are things that I brought up. Making the children feel comfortable going to school is a top priority and to increase those attendance rates. Then also a standards-referenced grading was something that I ran on last year getting rid of, out of the district, because it didn't hold kids accountable for attendance. And so I think that was something that has been being implemented for years now. And it's really had a negative effect on academic performance and attendance.

ABC 17 NEWS: What can CPS do to improve its academic performance?

Potter: The main thing is to retain teachers to get a lot of teachers hired. Also the academic performance is based on holding the kids, my new slogan, this year is holding all kids to the highest -- raising the bar for all kids. And in order to do that, you have to, I think we have to re-implement the ABCDF grading system.

The standard-referenced grading system that's been implemented ... it's a four-point grading system from 1,2,3, and 4. And the teachers recommended the students only try to get a 3 out of 4. And so it was really holding the kids down to, really, you know, trying to achieve their best. And so to bring academic performance up, we got to hold all the kids to the highest bar possible, and to promote trying to do your best, you know, and if you're telling them to get a 3 out of a 4 ... there's just something not connecting there.

And so really getting rid of standard-referenced, getting it out of the district is going to help with that academic performance. But it's, it's providing a school educational environment. And so that's one of the reasons why I've advocated for a district-wide cellphone policy, because we have to take those distractions out of the kids' hands, out of their pockets in the classroom, so they can focus on what the teacher is trying to do. And the teacher can actually teach instead of trying to manage cellphone usage and stuff like that.

ABC 17 News: How can CPS best address discipline problems?

Potter: I think there needs to be a discipline policy that holds all kids to the same standard. And then once, once a kid, you know, disrupts the class, you know, once, twice, three times, and there used to be an escalation of, of solutions to deal with the student, you know, I think taking them out of the classroom may be needed, you know, to maintain that educational environment in the classroom.

When teachers have to keep dealing with behavioral issues, then they're not teaching. And so we really need to focus on providing that educational atmosphere in the classroom so they can teach and do what they love. Standard-referenced grading is one of the things that, it didn't hold kids accountable for their behavior. And so therefore, it wasn't tied to their grade. And so they're, they're just more likely to keep acting up in class, you know, and so we really need to implement things. One of the things that I've mentioned is alternative schools. When I went to school, there's Douglass High School. I've talked about alternative schools for middle school as well, in order for kids that have behavioral issues can go and be in a smaller environment with teachers that specialize in social and emotional learning or things like that, to try to get them back on track.

One of the behavior things that I know that they're implementing a lot in CPS that I don't think is, you know, it might be good one or two times, but is the this restorative practices. And so when a kid's acting up, they get restorative practices, and then they're just put right back in the classroom, and then they act up again. And it just keeps disrupting that educational environment. And so we really have to focus on a consistent district-wide behavioral plan that's comprehensive for all teachers, and to take that, that, you know, being a psychiatrist in the classroom out so they can just focus on educating in their field.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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Matthew Sanders

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


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