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Commitment to in-person education helped motivate Neal in school board race

Luke Neal says a desire for having kids in classrooms was part of his reason for running for a seat on the Columbia Board of Education.

And he tells potential voters on his campaign website that he put his children in private school.

Neal says on his website that he attended public schools and that his wife works at Columbia Public Schools, but that they put their children in private school because of a need for stability during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the response to the pandemic isn't the only thing Neal's campaign is based on -- he's also running on his connection to the community and his experience in Columbia's public life.

Neal is a youth minister with the organization Young Life and a former Hickman High School track coach. He's one of four newcomers seeking one of two seats open in the April 6 election. Others in the race are Katherine Sasser, Aron Saylor, Jeanne Snodgrass and incumbent Teresa Maledy.

Family: Marries to wife, Amy, for 17 years. Two daughters: Nora, 10 and Agnes, 6.

Education: Bachelor of science in secondary mathematics education, University of Missouri, 2003

Occupation: Area director for Young Life, a non-profit Christian youth organization

Previous political experience: None

How do you think the school board has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and in-person teaching?

Overall, I think the school board has done a really good job. They were dealt an impossible hand, it's impossible to please everybody.

In this particular situation, I think they've done a pretty good job. I would have pushed for a sooner, fully in-seat return. I think we've should have been there a few months ago. In hindsight now we know that that would have been safe, and we would have been totally OK. So I would have advocated for that if I were on the board.

But I think overall, they've done a pretty good job. The virtual learning has been very challenging for our students and our teachers. We have some amazing teachers in our school district, and they've done a really good job with what was a very, very difficult situation.

Conservative politicians have attacked some curricula being used in public schools, particularly as it relates to history, slavery and critical race theory. Do you see any problems with the CPS curriculum in this or other areas?

I don't have any problem with CPS's current curriculum on history, I do think it's important that we elevate Black and Indigenous voices. There's an old saying that history is told by the victors and our version of history, by and large, is very white, very Eurocentric. So I do think we need to elevate certain voices.

However, I would say I think any view of history that centers critical race theory as the lens by which we should see the world is a little bit troubling. Critical race theory, by its definition, divides people into many groups, and assigns moral goodness or badness to them based on sometimes characteristics that they can't help. And I think that divides us more than it unifies us. And I think that we've made a lot of progress in the last few years and I think that would set us back if we chose to center critical race theory as the lens to see the world.

Should parents be able to record meetings to talk about their children’s individualized education plans?

Absolutely. I think the answer is yes.

These IEP meetings, my wife is a special educator in CPS and so I have some inside knowledge on what these can be like. There's a lot of legal jargon and acronyms thrown around. And these can be very intimidating environments.

For some parents, I think the ability to go back later, and be able to listen to that a number of times is very helpful. I think we're headed in that direction anyway, both because of the state legislature and CPS policy. I think we should get there as quickly as possible.

What should CPS do to narrow the achievement gap between some groups of students?

Statistically speaking, how a child enters kindergarten is the best indicator of how they will graduate high school. So many of the efforts that we have in place are not as effective as I think our best use of funds would be pre-K education. And we are doing a lot in that regard.

The biggest issue is how do you fund it? And so I think we're going to get the most bang for our buck by really beefing up our pre-K education and students entering kindergarten with more of a level playing field

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Matthew Sanders

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

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