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Candidates discuss what’s great in District 161, how to move forward

Seven of nine candidates running for the Flossmoor School District 161 board of education Thursday responded to questions at a well-attended political forum.

In all, the candidates answered nine questions submitted by audience members in the Parker Junior High School gymnasium. The 90-minute forum was sponsored by the Homewood-Flossmoor League of Women Voters.

Candidates included Misha Lynn Blackman, LaCael Palmer Pratt, Stephen Paredes, Carolyn Griggs, Isaac D. Harris, Cameron Nelson and Jadey Ryndak. Melissa Stilts and Kelli Bentley, who are also on the April 4 election ballot, did not attend the forum.

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About 120 people came to the forum.

Question topics included: what’s great about the district, and moving it forward; creating a relationship with the Flossmoor Public Library; candidate qualifications; the importance of diversity in the district; how to improve the school board; the role of arts in the schools; the inclusion of District 161 students who don’t live in Flossmoor; qualifications for a new superintendent; and whether grade centers are needed in District 161.

Surprisingly, there were no questions about student scores on state-mandated standardized tests. Nor were there any questions about district finances, or property taxes.

Lagging student test scores were at the forefront of criticism against former Superintendent Craig Doster, who resigned last November. The board of education is currently searching for a new superintendent, and also for a new principal at Parker following David Kennedy’s resignation last August.

High property taxes in Flossmoor were discussed at last weekend’s League of Women Voters forum for village candidates. Flossmoor officials repeatedly point out the biggest portion of property taxes goes to District 161 and Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233.

Thursday’s District 161 forum was generally upbeat, with most of the candidates agreeing with one another on a number of issues they expect to deal with if elected to the board.

There are four seats open on the school board. Paredes is the only incumbent board member seeking another term. Timijanel Boyd-Odom, Christine Marks and Lisa Harrell opted not to run for re-election.

In response to the first question, about what’s great in the district and moving it forward, Pratt singled out “the community.”

“It’s a great thing to see parents come together,” she said. “We want to take that energy and move forward.”

Paredes said “a lot of great things are happening” and that District 161 is in “ascension mode.”

Students and parents are the greatest things in the district, Nelson said.

“We’re interested in being one of the top school districts in the state,” he said. For that to happen, Nelson said, every student needs to get the right educational content and the appropriate curriculum content.

Blackman said she remembers the warm reception she and her daughter received when they moved into District 161.

“We were welcomed,” she said. “My daughter was nervous. But in this district, welcoming is what people do.”

Griggs said a “community of parents” is one of District 161’s strengths. She also pointed to the district’s teachers, who she said are “very committed.”

“If you email them, they respond right away,” Griggs said. The district needs to provide teachers with what they need, she added.

Harris said District 161 has “some of the greatest teachers in the country.”

Ryndak said what is great about District 161 is “this moment. This very moment.”

Right now in the Flossmoor community, she said, “there are so many interconnected organizations trying to move together.”

Find more information about the District 161 candidates in the H-F Chronicle Voter Guide.

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