The four candidates vying for Jefferson County Public Schools’ District 2 seat will give residents a wide range of opinions to choose from this fall.
In a debate hosted by WFPL Tuesday night, the candidates discussed their visions for the district and ways they would better student achievement. Two of the four–Phil Haming and George Tolhurst–felt strongly that reverting back to neighborhood schools could help the district accomplish this.
Under the JCPS student assignment plan, students enroll in the school nearest their home, but choose from several schools they would like to attend. Most JCPS students are allowed to attend the school closest to their homes, but still thousands are bused around the district to meet diversity requirements determined by the school board.
Haming said the 970 buses used to transport students is costly and those funds would be better spent on more teachers to reduce class size.
“If nothing else we should limit this practice to only middle schoolers and high schoolers,” said Haming who argued that kindergarten and elementary students are not being well prepared and that keeping them close to home would help their achievement in later years.
“I want to give every parent the choice of going to your neighborhood school. That doesn’t mean they have to go to it,” he said.
George Tolhurst agreed with Haming that the district should revert back to neighborhood schools and he said that doing so would also increase student achievement.
“We need to get back to the neighborhood school system,” said Tolhurst.
Parents, he said, would be able to communicate better with their school.
“It’s difficult to be involved with your school when you’re 10 or 15 miles away from your home,” said Tolhurst.
Candidate David Jones Jr., said he disagrees that neighborhood schools is the best way to increase student achievement.
“It would result in overcrowding at the popular schools in a gigantic way,” Jones said.
The alternative, he said, would be to redraw the district lines, which would result in some people being discouraged about what schools would then be in their district. This is no better than the position JCPS is currently in, he said.
Candidate Elizabeth Berfield, who is a former librarian turned stay-at home mother of two, has lived in the county for four years. She said she would be open to discussing a possible compromise for those wanting to attend the schools nearest their home.
“I found myself somewhat in the middle but leaning more towards standing behind the plan that we have because I support the core mission of supporting diversity and retaining the integration of our school district,” she said.
Twenty-nine-year-old Berfield later said, “I’m representative of a new generation of parents entering JPCS. And for my generation diversity is a given, it’s not a choice. Of course we want diversity in our schools. It shouldn’t be an option it should be mandated.”
She believes that keeping younger children closer to home could be a potential option.
To listen to the full responses to the neighborhood schools and other issues please play the segment.
Questions asked to candidates during the debate:
- Have you started meeting with constituents and what makes your district unique?
- What does student achievement mean to you, what factors should be looked at and what are some barriers to better student performance?
- What is your opinion of Superintendent Donna Hargens and her administration?
- What more can JCPS do to communicate to parents? What more could JCPS do to communicate to parents?
- Is funding from the JCTA teacher’s union, or any large donor in school board elections fair?
- What would you do for schools or constituents in the poorer areas in District 2?
- Where in JCPS’s $1 billion budget would you look to cut costs?
- What do you think how Chicago Public Schools, the teacher’s union and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emauel have handled the teachers’ strike?