Students question Geneva school board candidates
Geneva High School students put their civics lessons to practical use Monday at a school board candidate forum the student council organized.
They questioned six of seven candidates about testing, technology, school expansion and more.
Incumbents Mary Stith and Kelly Nowak, and newcomers Tina Yagla, Ann Murtaugh, Evelyn Schneider and Taylor Egan attended. Incumbent Mike McCormick did not.
"They came up with the questions, the procedures and everything else. They really impressed me in their interest level and how they went about preparing this event," moderator Dave Heun, a columnist for the Daily Herald, told the crowd.
Students asked how the implementation of Common Core has affected schools.
"Just when we thought we had No Child Left Behind (law) figured out, Common Core came," Stith said, adding she has received positive feedback about it.
"It is encouraging a student to dig into topics," Egan said. " ... Students are able to take that problem and solve it in so many different ways. So our goal of problem solving ... we are actually seeing that in our students today."
Yagla said she wonders about the cost, and what will be gained. "Teaching our kids to think deeper is definitely a good thing. But I have to believe that with the great teachers in Geneva, we were doing that anyway," she said.
None of the candidates thought the high school needed to be expanded.
"I don't see that in our near-term plans," Nowak said.
Murtaugh and Yagla noted student enrollment is down. Schneider said enrollment has fluctuated before and likely will again.
"There are ways to be creative to figure out how to use the space we have before we build more new buildings," Schneider said.
Yagla said having students use tablets and iPads in classrooms was a very good thing then asked the students in the crowd how many had one at home. The district could have students use those, she said.
"I'm just wondering can we afford to continue buying these things for our young people when most have availability at home?" Yagla said.
Schneider said it would be most efficient to have all students in a classroom using the same device, and she is concerned about issues such as adequate bandwidth and system capacity.
Nowak spoke of her frustration with the state's unfunded mandates that are put on districts, and Stith said in her 12 years she has become more involved in state politics to protect the district. Egan cited the social and emotional needs of students as the biggest current challenge. According to a report at a board meeting, she said, 52 Geneva students were hospitalized between September and January over those issues.
Murtaugh encouraged students to learn about school governance. "Students should come to some board meetings and find out what is happening with the district's money. It is your money. It is your parents' money," she said.
And her answer to a question about teenagers' stress may not have been popular with them.
"The stress that high school kids (experience) I believe is directly related to constantly checking their phones and texting and messaging and having to keep up with their group of individuals that they hang with," she said. "They need to put down the phones, the texts, the Notepads, the Chromebooks, and not use them. Have an hour a day ... where they don't use those technology tools and engage in conversation with people face to face."