EVSC school board candidates address issues as 2022 election nears

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Published: Oct. 27, 2022 at 5:58 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 27, 2022 at 9:22 PM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - Four of the seven seats on the EVSC school board are on the ballot in November, and there is intrigue surrounding the open at-large seat.

Each candidate has ties to Evansville and Vanderburgh County, and they all care deeply about the future of education. What separates them is their vision of what the future looks like. All five hope to bring new ideas and perspectives to the board.

Former school board president Jeff Worthington served on the board for eight years before losing his seat in 2020. His top priority today is school safety.

“You’re never gonna be able to fortify a school, and I can never guarantee you that a school shooting is not gonna happen in your school,” Worthington said. “With the training we do, we can minimize the casualties, that’s all we can hope for.”

He says under his leadership, your children will be as safe as they can be. Worthington says he can be the bridge between teachers’ unions and the board. He’s endorsed by the Evansville Teachers Association, along with another candidate, Melissa Moore.

Moore has never held a seat on the school board, but finished second in 2018.

“My platform is transparency, accountability and responsibility. Just those three words, I do believe they have a very strong tie to what we are needing in our system,” Moore said. “I do feel in some areas it is lacking, could there be some improvement? Absolutely, and so of course, that is why I am running.”

Moore and her three children are all products of the EVSC, and she feels that will help her in understanding the system.

John Geary II has seen education transform his life. He dropped out of high school. But then when his son started school, he was inspired to get his GED, then his associate degree, bachelor’s degree and soon his master’s degree. His innovative ideas are unique to other candidates.

“I would like to see a further advancement in virtual reality curriculum,” Geary said. “Another aspect I’d like to see is advancement in our school bus transportation. My main other objective is just to listen to the students, teachers and parents.”

Geary says he wants to empower others to embrace and benefit from education like he has.

Carolyn Gallagher says she took an interest in the school board after hearing about the way schools were operating from her granddaughter. She felt when she tried to share her concerns with the board, the current process put up red tape and made it hard for her voice to be heard.

“I feel like you should be able to bring any concern before the school board, not just what is on their agenda,” Gallagher said. “And you should have more than just two minutes to ask a question.”

She wants the EVSC to focus more on core subjects, and produce patriots, not activists.

Ken Colbert joined the race because he says that’s what God wanted him to do. He’s taken up issues with activism and equity within the schools, as well as Reitz High School’s gender identity club.

“The school board needs someone with business acumen and previous experience that can correct some of these problems that in my mind are very glaring,” Colbert said.

He says he wants to expose EVSC officials for what they are hiding, while adding transparency.

One topic each candidate was asked about was how they hope to influence the curriculum in the EVSC.

“Some of the students I’ve talked to have said they’ve expressed the need for a different style of curriculum. More than just their textbooks, more than just a digital screen,” Geary said.

“I think we took a big step back during the COVID era, these kids didn’t get the education they were needing, not by fault of the EVSC, it was just the circumstances, and we’ve got some catching up to do,” Worthington said.

In an ever-changing technology landscape, schools are always looking for the best way for this generation of students to learn. Colbert says the common core curriculum introduced by the board is ineffective.

“This is literally lowering the standards of the children. Because of this, these children are not performing with the ISTEP. The scores are abysmal, is the word,” he said.

For other candidates like Moore, learning can be improved by adjusting other aspects within the EVSC.

“There are so many things that stand out to me that need to be addressed. Two that are truly at the top of my agenda are teacher retention, the next would be promoting positive school improvements, climates, as far as your mental health is concerned with the students, the teachers and even the support staff as well,” she said.

Gallagher wants the schools to put a renewed emphasis on core subjects like math, reading, science and history.

“Focus on those main subjects so that we are not backdooring any theories like critical race theory, abolitionist, 1619, any of these other theories that are being backdoored into the curriculum,” Gallagher said.

Critical race theory (CRT) was a hot topic for Gallagher and Colbert. They believe although the district doesn’t advertise teaching it, they’re promoting it with certain programs, surveys and styles of teaching.

“Reitz High School currently has a gender identity club, and it’s over the theatre department at the blessings of the EVSC school board. Unacceptable. There’s only two sexes, always have been. If you have a penis, you’re a boy. If you have a vagina, you’re a girl. This is the beginning of critical race theory here in Evansville,” Colbert said.

Colbert went on to say that people who identify as a gender that doesn’t match their born, biological gender have a “psychological problem” and that they “need treatment.”

Gallagher didn’t speak on the issue of sex relating to CRT, but she did have an issue with the number of students graduating from the EVSC that are “activists.”

“Instead of turning out good U.S. citizens, we are turning out activists because of the way children are being taught in school,” Gallagher said.

EVSC Chief Communications Officer Jason Woebkenberg says the district is in no way teaching CRT, and that it’s not part of the Indiana curriculum. He says statements like that are an attack and added stress to highly educated teachers in the EVSC.

Moore and Geary agree.

“I will be very honest with you, I don’t know why it’s still a topic of discussion, when it’s a moot point and it’s not taught here at the EVSC. What I do think that needs to be taught is the truth, is history, is education,” Moore said.

“I know to separate my personal views or opinions on social aspects for schools or students. I just wanna be there for the students,” Geary said.

Another hot topic among candidates is standardized test scores in the EVSC, which they believe are low, but as Worthington says, it’s hard to compare the corporation to other districts.

“When you look at the test scores across the state, it’s not apples to apples. The EVSC has to educate everyone. It doesn’t matter disability, learning type, whatever you’ve got, we have to educate you,” Worthington said.

On Election Day, it’s up to the people of Vanderburgh County to decide which candidates’ ideologies are best fit for the future of the EVSC.

All five candidates are looking to fill the at-large seat, previously held by David Hollingsworth, who is now running for the District 2 seat.

Any registered voter in Vanderburgh County can vote for the at-large seat, unlike other positions on the school board.

EVSC school board candidates address issues as 2022 election nears