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Columbia school board candidate interview: James Gordon

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.

Part of Gordon's platform is bringing his perspective as both a parent of Columbia Public Schools students and a data analyst. Equity for students is a major part of his platform, as well.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE: James Gordon's eight days before election report

LUCAS GEISLER: Just to start things off, why don't you give us an introduction of who you are, what you do, and why you want to be on the board of education?

JAMES GORDON: Well, my name is James Gordon, and I've been living in Columbia for about 10 years now. Actually, I was at the journalism school not too long ago as a first grad student, and then as an instructor in the data journalism program. And now I work as a data analyst.

And the reason I'm right for the school board is because I want us to cherish our schools, and I believe they're the roots of our community, and the ideals of our community made accessible as accessible spaces, and equitable resources and opportunities.

GEISLER: I want to start off by talking about recent test scores, the state improvement plan just came out with Columbia, and a 70%. What are your thoughts on the results and how do you see the district getting better scores, so to speak?

GORDON: Well, I think it's really important not to overreact, because, you know, our, our city has been changing a lot, our district is very large. And, you know, we've got a good plan in place, I think, to pay attention to the things that are going to be happening between now and when our accreditation will be considered a few years down the road. And so, right now, I feel very good about the structure we have in place to attend to these issues.

GEISLER: As a board member, how do you see yourself affecting things like that, affecting not only how well students are doing, but just the quality of their education?

GORDON: Well, for me, we really need to prioritize equity and accessibility and that starts at the policy level. For me, equity is about how do we make sure that every kid no matter which zip code they live in, or what their circumstances are outside of school, that they're able to come into school, and be in this mutual learning space with their peers, and learn. I mean, all kids are capable of learning, all kids want to learn at some level. And so we just had to figure out how to remove barriers that they have to learning. And that starts with the most those who have the most significant barriers to learning.

And this is where accessibility comes in. It's one of the insights I have from my sort of vocational background, if we focus on it, when we're designing systems or implementing systems, those people who have the greatest barriers to access and remove those, then everyone will benefit from that every student.

GEISLER: What are some of the barriers that you see right now?

GORDON: Well, I mean, one of the most basic ones is attendance. And we saw this on the recent annual performance review. You know, there are some schools where, including West Boulevard Elementary where my kids go to school, that we don't have a great ... attendance record. And there's a lot of things going on there. Some people have been talking a lot about the buses and the routes being canceled. I think that's one part of it. But I think there's a lot of other things going on.

So ... it's something I really bring to the school board, is this sort of a critical analysis of the data, not just like taking things for granted that you can the conclusions you can come to looking at a data table or a chart, but getting down to the ground truth and figuring out what's really going on. So you can kind of come up with solutions.

GEISLER: How do you see the district affording future pay raises as these negotiations continue? How do you see the districts being able to keep paying for that to retain and recruit teachers to the district?

GORDON: Well, I think our local CMNEA (a union representing Columbia teachers) has been doing a great job, their representation has been doing a great job of, you know, bargaining for tenable working conditions for our educators. And you know, the district they have to be on the side representing fiscal solvency over the long haul. And I've even seen them in these conversations come to a place of mutual understanding about what the real problem is, which is our state government, which has not fully funded school districts across Missouri for many years now. And that's the thing that's hamstring a lot of this process is that that that lack of funding.

GEISLER: Anything that you're looking forward to taking on if you're elected to the board of education that I didn't get to ask you about?

GORDON: I think the main thing for me is ... the trust between our school districts and our community and also within CPS as well, how we can all sort of figure out how to work together and you know, this one, for the benefit of our kids. Not just these kids but every kid throughout the generations.

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