Cape Girardeau School Board candidates offer views on dropout rate

Monday, April 6, 2009
Charles Bertrand

As the Cape Girardeau School District works toward a plan to restructure the district's facilities, one school board member says the school system is heading in the wrong direction.

In the face of an increasing dropout rate, school board candidates offer different perspectives on the goals of the district. Incumbents Kyle McDonald and Charles Bertrand will face Luther Bonds and Betty Mosley in Tuesday's election. The two candidates with the most votes will assume three-year terms on the board.

Bertrand, a retired superintendent, said the timeline and scope of the facilities planning project was never approved by the school board. He said the plan should be part of a more comprehensive needs assessment to align curriculum districtwide. School officials are working toward a facilities plan to ease overcrowding and possibly build sports and performing arts complexes at the high school.

Because parents are pulling their children out of underperforming schools, they are creating overcrowding issues in the other elementary schools, he said.

"There's undercrowding at Jefferson [Elementary]," Bertrand said.

Luther Bonds

Bertrand, who has served on the board for four years, said he does not feel a sense of accomplishment from his time on the board because of the increasing dropout rate. He said it has been difficult to get support for his ideas, although he said he has not been diplomatic with other board members.

"I have experience in all these things and it means nothing," he said of the other board members.

McDonald, a pharmaceutical salesman and board president, has two daughters who attend the district. He said he wants to work toward specific goals to help drop out rates, if elected.

He said he would like to establish an advisory program, where a teacher is assigned to mentor a group of students throughout their time in high school.

McDonald said he also wanted to make the high school an ACT testing site and help fund an initiative so all students could take the test for free. He said this would encourage students who are intimidated by the test or cannot afford it.

Kyle McDonald

He said he also wanted to work with the newly established local chapter of the NAACP to create a minority scholarship for graduates interested in studying education at Southeast Missouri State University. He said this would build a base to bring more minority teachers into the district.

"For whatever reason, minority students, when asked, they don't see the positive role models within our schools," he said.

Bonds also said the district should work toward creating the teacher population to mirror the diversity of the student population.

Bonds, executive director of Boys and Girls Club of Cape Girardeau, said he has experience connecting the community with the schools. His son is a senior in high school but Bonds has been involved with counseling and coaching other students.

As the former freshman basketball coach, he said he sees the value in extending sports to seventh grade, an action approved earlier this year.

"Playing sports teaches you about being disciplined and that carries over to the classroom," he said.

McDonald said he saw this as a bright spot on his time on the board. He said the extra activities help motivate students who are not as academically inclined.

"That's what keeps them integrated in the learning process," McDonald said.

Bertrand said he voted against the measure because he wanted more focus on academics.

Bonds also said he wanted the district to focus more on neighborhood schools, especially as it progresses through the facilities plan. He said schools that have developed a surrounding community should be preserved because they encourage parent involvement. He said this concept was lost when May Greene and Washington elementary schools closed in 2000.

"I feel like, in general, our system has become more impersonal," he said.

Mosley was unavailable for comment.

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