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Three candidates vie for two seats on the Peoria Public Schools board

Three candidates are competing this June for the two available seats on the Peoria Public Schools board of education.

Gregory Wilson, Dan Walther, and Paris McConnell are running for two seats representing District 2. They participated in a candidate's forum Tuesday evening hosted by the Peoria NAACP Young Adults Committee at the Tri-County Urban League.

Wilson is the current school board president. In terms of racial disparities, he said he believes there isn't an achievement gap, so much as an educational debt.

"Throughout the years public education resources that's never fully invested in education of Black and Brown children over time," he said. "The only American institution created specifically for people of color has been the American slave trade."

He said he believes the state should relax its regulations and policies for local school districts, and allow for more local control to allow districts to meet the needs of children.

Paris McConnell said she doesn't think many teachers working in the 1st and 2nd board districts fully understand their students.

"I think it's critical that teachers come in knowing that they may need diversity and inclusion training. I can't grow up at Farmington and never seen me, and try to understand what this child needs, just because of cultural differences because of parents need for lifestyle, so many issues. And so I think that we have to bridge that," she said.

Dan Walther, a former 3rd district school board member now running for a second district seat, said he believes the Grow Your Own program will help bring a more diverse teaching staff into Peoria's education system.

Walther said he is supportive of a requirement for staff to live within the district - particularly administrators.

"We've got four or five people who are making really good money to live in Bloomington-Normal, but live outside the district," he said. Well, how are you going to lead? How are you going to show your participation and community if you don't even live here?"

McConnell agreed residency is important.

"There are so many cities to be a city officer, county representative, you have to live in the district. There's a crowning principle with that, is if you live in your neighborhood, you're going to care different," she said.

All three candidates said incentives or bonuses of some kind could be part of the equation to encourage residency within the school district.

District grading policies also continue to strike a chord.

Walther said he thinks passing students onto the next grade, regardless of whether they passed or failed, is a bad policy. He said there are now students in the second grade who couldn't function in a kindergarten class.

"I think what we're doing is we're not helping the kids, and we're putting them in situations where eventually going to fail," he said.

Wilson said he believes the traditional A-B-C-D-F grading scale doesn't work anymore.

"So many of our students are brilliant, in so many different ways. So almost to label them, with a grade that that could be, you know, a D or an F. But did they get the point of the assignment? So I think that needs to be looked at, as well," he said.

He said the district grading committee is currently meeting every month to review the challenges.

McConnel said she wants to take another look at the practice of rotating principals between schools every couple of years. She also said principals should have a three-to-five year action plan with measurable goals and outcomes.

The winners of the race will be determined after voters cast their ballots on June 28.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.