Maintaining standards, technology top issues in Jackson School Board race

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Most Jackson School Board candidates can't talk enough about the district's positives, jumping at the chance to paint a picture of the district floating happily along.

"We have excellent administration, are well-organized, have some extremely highly qualified teachers, and there is good communication," Mack Illers said.

Bruce Thomas said he feels "positive and proud" about the schools. Scott Wren said the district has "fantastic teachers." Dr. T. Wayne Lewis lauds the district's "academic excellence."

Criticisms are few, with most of the candidates naming maintaining standards, keeping up with technology and completing construction at the high school as district focus points.

Lewis acknowledged, however, that the district must be progressive or face being left behind. "We can never stand still," he said.

Five candidates are competing for three slots during the April 8 election. The race has not drawn as much discussion as the one in Cape Girardeau, where there are seven candidates and the district is transitioning with new administrative staff. But the Jackson race will prove important, however, as the district may have to consider building a new elementary school at some point.

Incumbent Terri Tomlin was out of town and could not be reached for interview. Tomlin has served on the board since 2002.

Wren said if elected he would like to see teachers given adequate prep time, saying some teachers are asked to teach during that time. "They may pay them extra but even if they do they're still losing their time. They don't have time to get their grades or lesson plans done, and are working on school work until 7 or 8 at night," he said. "If new teachers are needed we need to hire new teachers," he said.

Wren said he decided to run because he has three children who attend school in the district and he wants to "continue the tradition" of the district. He said he'd like to see new faces on the board to generate new ideas, and he has plans to tour most of the schools next week. The assistant manager of Emergency Services at Saint Francis Medical Center would like to see "something done to the West Lane School area to modernize that up a bit."

Illers has served on the board since 2002. He said the rising cost of health insurance and utilities will be something the board must prepare for. "We are watching every nickel and dime, looking for cost saving measures," he said. Once the high school is complete, Illers said the district will turn its focus to maintenance, and said a new elementary could be up to five or 10 years down the line.

"I always listen to the teachers. I stay out of their way. They know what their job is. The only time I interact with them is when I see them out in public, and the general question I have is how are things going this year, and their general answer is that things are going great. I don't question the teachers. That's not my job," he said.

Lewis was elected to the board in 1987 and has worked with four superintendents. "I'd like to see the high school through its completion. After that ... it may be time to get off," he said.

He said staying abreast of new technology, while ensuring it is safe, is a priority. He also said the district may be faced with "trying to figure out some creative financing to go with a no tax or low tax bond for another elementary school at some point."

Lewis attributed the district's success to community expectations. "Our disciplinary actions are not very great considering the size of the district. Parents expect courteousness ... and these kids stand up for their values."

Thomas, a former teacher, head wrestling coach and assistant football coach, said he decided to run because after retiring he missed being involved in the school.

If elected, he said he would like to see a bigger emphasis placed on physical education. "Obesity and diabetes are such great problems in our society," he said. Thomas would also like teachers to be recognized more for their work. Since his decision to run, Thomas has met with eight principals to hear their concerns.

"I think a majority of people are very comfortable talking to me because most know me from being a coach and teacher so long at the high school."

335-6611, extension 123

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