Teresa Maledy, the retired chairwoman and CEO of Commerce Bank, is the only incumbent seeking reelection to the Columbia Board of Education this year.
Susan Blackburn had filed to run but dropped out of a race that culminates at the end of a year spent in a pandemic. That pandemic, and whether children would return to classrooms or keep learning online, sparked emotional school board meetings and public demonstrations.
As the lone incumbent, she is the only candidate who had a hand in decisions about in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic. Luke Neal, Katherine Sasser, Aron Saylor and Jeanne Snodgrass are also seeking one of the two school board seats up for election.
Family: Married Scott Maledy in 2000; three children ages 9, 11 and 13
Education: Associate of art design, Stephens College; bachelor of arts in business administration, Webster University
Occupation: Retired as chairwoman and CEO of Commerce Bank
Previous political experience: In first term on Columbia Board of Education
How do you think the school board has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and in-person teaching?
Well, I think ... the district did a lot of things right.
The Columbia public school district, like many large districts across the country, really were challenged by balancing in-seat learning or traditional learning, versus the steps we needed to take to mitigate risk and prevent the spread of COVID-19. So I know that we did a lot of planning and thoughtful processes around that.
But we were mainly focused always on our students and employee safety, and tried to make sure that we developed a learning plan that would allow them to be safe. But we also had administrators and employees really rise to the challenge and do extraordinary things to serve our students.
And just a couple of examples of those, on devices. ... Once (we were) in the summer, we realized that we needed to prepare for the fall, we distributed purchased and distributed more than 10,000 devices, and had them distributed before the start of school. We also purchased and distributed 1,500 hotspots to help our students access the internet. Some of those were bought by the district and some were purchased through CARES money which was offered through the county. We also implemented a grab-and-go food distribution for our students so that they could follow the bus route and get food during that time.
The other thing that I would acknowledge, though, that I think the school district, it really ... highlighted how important we are to our families in the broader community. Those families that chose virtual, it offered them more stability, the choosing the in-seat was the less stable choice. And that made it challenging for families to accommodate that throughout the period of time. But I think both voices virtual and in-seat were important. And I listened to all of those voices and tried to balance them against what the health experts were telling us. Fortunately, with vaccines now, and also the rates lowering and new guidelines, the health officials are saying that we can move towards the next step of reentry. And we're doing that on April 5.
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?
Well, at CPS, we're continually looking at ways to enhance and make sure that our history and social studies are appropriate and factual. And we not only follow the Missouri Learning Standards put forth by DESE (the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), but we try to make sure that they are equitable as we distribute the learning opportunities to our children.
And our job, I believe, is to tell the factual story. And that's going to have different perspectives. And we need to make sure that we include those for our students.
And in fact, I'm going to read this because it's from a policy so it's important, but we have a specific policy to address curriculum, and it basically says that we must maintain a comprehensive curriculum, which reflects the wide range of individual differences among our children and abilities, needs and interests. It also says though, that improvement of the curriculum must be a continuous process based on research experience and critical analysis. So this means that our professional staff is expected to investigate new curricular ideas, develop and improve programs and evaluate results. But in turn, the CPS administration is responsible for bringing any new significant changes to the board.
Should parents be able to record meetings to talk about their children’s individualized education plans?
It's my understanding that there is one school district in Missouri that in general allows recording of IEP programs so the CPS policy is not unique.
Currently, our policy allows for exceptions, if a parent or guardian or an 18-year-old student wants to have an exception because of their own disability. That said because we've received requests from different parents wanting to record their IEP s, the administration and the board reviewed and evaluated different ways to approach that and we actually came up with a plan that we could put forward to implement. During that same time, legislators in Jefferson City introduced bills related to the recording of IEP so the board has been waiting to find out if the bill passes and then what the requirements and guidelines would be.
As an individual board member, I have evolved on my position on this. I've listened to parents and understand why they feel this supports their students. So I am personally supportive of recording IEPs -- I do believe it's very important that we take the time to train and support our educators as we take this new approach.
What should CPS do to narrow the achievement gap between some groups of students?
The achievement and opportunity gap was of great concern to me when I ran last time, and compared to this time, I've kept the same three top priorities. But the one that is my first one, which is to close the achievement gap across certain demographics. I actually expanded it to include through educational equity and enrichment opportunities. I think as we look at educational equity, it's important for us to meet the child where they are, and then really develop a prescriptive approach to help them grow in their academic world.
So for some children, that might be a program like reading recovery, another one, it might be math support, another child, it might be social-emotional support. So I think we need to find the ways to help that individual student grow.
I am very excited about the early literacy program that the board approved last year because we had really good results for at-risk students when we did the pilot program. So I feel that that can be an incremental step for our students and their success. I'm also very excited about the enrichment opportunities that we have available to our students starting in third grade. Every student every year gets an enrichment opportunity, which in my mind helps them imagine where they fit into a bigger world.