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Danville schools superintendent finalists grilled at forum
By Noelle McGee
Champaign News Gazette
DANVILLE - Finalists for Danville schools superintendent took questions from a panel of community members, students and staff on Tuesday. Afterward, the panel met with school board members to discuss the finalists.
Board President Randal Ashton said other members of the public have until 5:30 p.m. today to call or e-mail a comment to board members. That's when the board is scheduled to meet in closed session at the Jackson Building to consider the position. No action is expected to be taken.
The community forum drew about 75 people. The finalists each had 45 minutes to answer questions, which covered what they would do to improve the district's drop out rate, show appreciation to staff and address the district's aging buildings, among other things.
The finalists are Meridian schools Superintendent Yvonne Mack-Bullock, Jerseyville schools Superintendent Colleen Legge and Danville schools Associate Superintendent Mark Denman.
Here's a sampling of the questions, which are paraphrased, and the finalists' answers.
What would you do to encourage parent and community involvement?
Mack-Bullock: Continue working with community committees to make district decisions and build partnerships with businesses that can provide in-kind services and educational experiences for students. Also have monthly family nights to focus on subjects and give parents ideas on how to work with children at home.
Legge: Parent-teacher organization meetings and parent-teacher conferences don't always address needs of people who feel disenfranchised.
"You have to find opportunities and be creative about going where your parents are, if that's a community center ... a caucus meeting ... a preschool program."
Denman: The district must continue to build relationships with parents and the community.
"Relationships are built person to person and family to family," he said, adding that means making people feel welcome, listening to and following up on questions and complaints and being as open and honest as possible.
What steps would you take to improve the graduation rate?
Mack-Bullock: Create individual learning plans for students and follow it through high school. In her high school's Freshman Academy, those are created for all freshmen. Teachers and parents keep close tabs on students to make sure they're meeting goals or need to make changes in the plan. Also, build on successes.
"Children don't drop out if they feel successful."
Legge: Make sure curriculum is "meaty" enough to draw students in. Have one-on-one contact with students. Involve students, especially those who learn better through hands-on activities, in work programs.
Denman: Help kids make a connection to school, which the Freshman House is doing. "It's making it hard to be anonymous," he said, adding students are building relationships with teachers and teachers are communicating with each other about students and intervening sooner if there's a problem. The school is now developing upper houses for sophomores, juniors and seniors.
What would members of your teachers' union say about you?
Mack-Bullock: Firm, fair, consistent, speaks her mind and wants to establish a collaborative working relationship.
"It's not us against them. It's we."
Legge: Respectful but direct.
"I'm very much into collaborating."
Meets monthly with association members.
Denman: Willing to listen to concerns they have and address any lack of follow through from the administration.
"If there's a disagreement, we look to problem-solve as opposed to point fingers."
How will you address buildings?
Mack-Bullock: (Didn't have time to answer).
Legge: Work with a strategic plan. Look at the greatest needs and issues and how to finance them.
Denman: Constantly watch buildings to make sure they're maintained as the budget allows. Talk openly and honestly to the community about the needs, and provide them with the data to so that they can help make decisions for the future.
MEET THE CANDIDATES
Current position: Danville schools associate superintendent.
Education: 1971 graduate of Danville High School; bachelor's degree in education from Illinois State University, master's degree in education from the University of Illinois, specialist degree in education from Eastern Illinois University. Denman holds elementary, secondary and administrative certification with superintendent endorsement.
Experience: Seventh-grade teacher at East Park, then a junior high-middle school; principal of the old Daniel Elementary School, East Park, North Ridge Middle School and Danville High School; associate superintendent since 2004.
Current position: Superintendent of Jersey schools in Jerseyville.
Education: 1967 graduate of Lovington High School; bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois in 1971; master's degree in educational administration from Eastern Illinois University. Legge holds a specialist degree from Eastern with superintendent's endorsement.
Experience: Taught English, Spanish, and speech at the junior-high-school, high-school and junior-college levels for 14½ years; dean and assistant principal at Mattoon Junior High School; principal of LaSalle-Peru Township High School; principal of Eisenhower High School in Decatur; Jersey schools superintendent since 2007.
Current position: Superintendent of Meridian schools in Mounds.
Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees in education from the University of Cincinnati; doctorate from Ohio University. Mack-Bullock holds an administrative certification with superintendent endorsement.
Experience: Director of teaching and learning for the Hazel Crest school district near Chicago.
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