Columbia school board candidate interview: April Ferrao
ABC 17 News is interviewing each of the seven candidates running for three open spots on the Columbia Board of Education. At least two of them will be new members -- only one incumbent is in the race.
April Ferrao has been involved in the schools as a parent, volunteering on parent-teacher groups at Ridgeway Elementary School and Hickman High School.
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MEGHAN DRAKAS: To kick things off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your platform?
APRIL FERRAO: Sure. Thanks for having me on Meghan. A little bit about myself -- both my sons went through Columbia Public Schools, one graduated in 2021. From Hickman, across the street, and the youngest is graduating this year. I've spent an inordinant amount of time inside our buildings, volunteering with all of our PTAs, being advocates for our students and our teachers. And in those roles, I've gotten a firsthand view of, you know, what's happening in our buildings and how students are, are working and adjusting and how teachers are ... stresses that they're under, I'm working directly with district administration on our needs.
And so my platform includes, of course, we need to increase our student achievement. And we need to, in order to do that, I think we need to improve the working and learning environments, in our classrooms, for both our students and our teachers. And I think we can probably do that through optimizing some of our human and financial resources that we have. And so those are the things that I think they all tie together. And I think our recent curriculum audit also kind of really showed that those are good things that we need to be focusing on.
DRAKAS: And teacher pay is obviously a huge topic. Missouri teachers are some of the lowest paid in the country. How will the district be able to afford pay raises for teachers and employees?
FERRAO: Yeah, what's really interesting that came out of the recent curriculum audit was about how we do our budgeting. And we do a modified zero budget. So buildings kind of start with zero at the beginning of each year, and they put in their requests for what their needs are. But we don't have a real good mechanism in place to identify the programs and the areas that we're putting money into, and how that translates into success in the classroom. And so I think we need to take a deep dive into how we're doing our budgeting, where we're placing that money, and be able to find some savings, maybe in places that it's not as effective.
But we absolutely have to meet the needs of the teachers, we have to be paying a living wage for our hourly employees, and for our seasoned teachers, you know, all the way through, because we won't be able to not only recruit people to come here and work, but we're not going to be able to retain them once they are here.
DRAKAS: The Missouri State Improvement Plan ranked Columbia Public Schools at a 70%. So what is your vision for addressing this to raise test scores?
FERRAO: Well, luckily, right after that was released, the public got access to the 330-page curriculum audit, which really lays out and shows that over a long period of time, this is kind of why we're in the situation that we're in, we have policies that are out of date, that are not clear, that aren't concise. We have policies that certainly need to be improved when we're addressing instruction. And you can't make any progress without a roadmap. And our policies are our roadmap. Without strong policies in place, we have nothing to go on. And so I think that's one area we really need to focus on.
We need to again, reallocate some of our human and financial resources, we have schools that are performing very low that have, you know, I think the average (teacher) experience in their schools is three, four years. And we have schools that are performing very well, where they have a lot of veteran teachers who have been teaching 10, 15 years. And we see that test scores seem to be directly related to that.
DRAKAS: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our viewers that you would like to focus on if elected?
FERRAO: I want to focus on really hearing the voices of our people. And that means, you know, the board needs to be engaged with not only the superintendent, who's their employee, but we also need to be having committees that are parent-driven, you know, that are teacher-driven. We need to be able to hear the voices of the people that are impacted recklessly by the policies that were at putting in place and without a mechanism to engage with them. We can't possibly design good policy without all the stakeholders' involvement and we desperately, desperately need that. April.