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Five vying for District 95 board

By Curtis Winston
Contributing Writer
updated: 4/5/2021 8:22 AM

Five candidates are running for four seats on the Carbondale Elementary School District 95 Board of Education in the April 6 consolidated election.

Three -- Catherine Field, Carlton Smith and Markida Roper -- are seeking re-election.

Erin Connelly and Corey Cawthon fill out the field of candidates.

Current member Gary Shepherd is not seeking election.

The Carbondale Times e-mailed questionnaires to the candidates.

Field is seeking her second four-year term. She explains about her experience.

"The district has been engaged in a multi-year turnaround project, for the purpose of improving teaching and learning, and lifting our Carbondale schools up to where they should be. The turnaround began when the board hired Daniel Booth as superintendent, and provided him and his staff with the resources they needed to make needed changes.

"I'm happy to say that in the last three years all of our schools have shown significant improvement.

"Teachers report the district is a better place to work now. Student achievement scores have gone up. The core curriculum has been overhauled to raise the expectations of teachers and learners. The District has created systems for tracking every child's progress to ensure all can succeed and have the support they need to do it.

"Even through the disruption of the pandemic, District 95 continues to work toward the kind of elementary education our kids deserve, whether remotely or in person. Three out of our four schools are now ranked by the State of Illinois as 'commendable.'

"No one person is responsible for all the progress that has been made. But the turnaround began at the top, with the board and the superintendent setting a clear vision and inviting all the stakeholders to share it.

"Recently Mr. Booth resigned to become the superintendent of the high school, and the District 95 Board has promoted Assistant Superintendent Janice Pavalonis to assume his position on July 1. We have every reason to expect our turnaround project will continue. My experience as a board member will allow me to keep working toward the District's shared goals."

Finances are the most crucial issue facing District 95, Field says.

"The district's recent improvement has not come without a cost. We now have to look for ways to cut back for the next few years, to address some deficit spending.

"Currently the district is planning ahead for routine vacancies due to resignations and retirements, and calculating the savings gained by not refilling positions when that is possible. Some new hires can be done at lower salaries.

"Additionally, even though they have done exemplary work, our administrators have not received raises this year. They are leading by example.

"I am confident the district's employees, our families, and the whole Carbondale community will come to share our vision of having both good schools and balanced budgets.

Roper, who was appointed in 2019 to fill a board vacancy, is seeking her first four-year term. She writes about her experience and the most important issues facing the district.

"First and foremost, I am a product of Carbondale Elementary School District 95, kindergarten through eighth grade, and I am a mother of kids who are currently enrolled in Carbondale Elementary School District 95.

"As a former student and a parent of students enrolled in the school district, I have seen the growth that District 95 has made. The experience that I bring to the table will allow this growth to continue.

"In my current position on the school board, I am currently the chair of the building committee. In this role, I am responsible for the building and facility repairs needed to enhance the learning environment for all students, staff, and community members.

"I am also the representative for the behavioral intervention committee. As a member of this committee I have the opportunity to assist in efforts to address behavioral concerns through the process of collaboration. I am also a parent-volunteer. This affords me the opportunity to engage with my kids schools and build relationships with staff and other parents.

"One of the most important issues District 95 is facing is improving our schools. Improving our schools will improve academic success for all students.

"With this school year being one of the most unprecedented school years we have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that we come up with a plan where all students are able to meet their academic goals.

"In order to achieve this, we must expect excellence, monitor performance, and provide feedback. We have to pay close attention to instruction, align standards, curriculum, assessments, and policies. We have to make sure that our educators have access to professional development seminars. We have to help strengthen the relationship between the district, schools, and community. We must set expectations, act as the change agent, and support and mentor our schools, so our students and families will be impacted in a positive way.

"If we can do all these things, all students will reach their full potential."

Smith cites his long experience with Carbondale schools as he seeks his own re-election.

"I see myself as more connected than any other candidate to the community and our school system," he said. "I have lived through both segregated schools in Carbondale, and when they integrated. At one time there were three different school systems in Carbondale: University High School and Elementary, Carbondale Elementary School System and high school (CCH), and Attucks Elementary and High School. Later, I witness the first integrated school in the Northeast Carbondale, Thomas School.

"I am a lifelong member of the Carbondale Community, left only to serve my military obligation, one year of which was in Vietnam and at sea, I attended John A. Logan College, then Southern Illinois University. I worked in the coal mining industry (bituminous coal) as a supervisor at Kellogg Coal Dock. Then worked with the U.S. Postal Service and a member of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and a union representative. I was track coach at Carbondale Community High School for a period of 3 years. I am a member of the City of Carbondale Building Board of Appeals. I represented the NAACP in three leadership roles, committees for the NAACP Illinois State Conference of Branches. The former president of the local branch of the Carbondale NAACP. I am serving my second term as president of the Carbondale Spirit of Attucks. Then, I have served on Carbondale District 95 School Board for 4 years.

Smith noted several challenges facing District 95.

"Addressing the issue of students at risk, so that they can become fully academically empowered. Establish a system that will close the educational gap in our school system between different ethnic groups. Effectively address a system hindering, or impeding students development, such as social emotional learning inhibitors, or obstructing services being rendered.

"Getting the parents and the community involved in the school strategic plan with a complete buy in. Create a relationship that will foster positive collaboration between the community, parents, and other stakeholders seeking to better our school system and not just one ethnic group."

Among the challengers is Cawthon, who brings his experience as a CESD 95 alumnus.

"Some of my fondest memories and lifelong friendships were created in the schools that make up the district. Some of those buildings are still standing today and are the setting for memories and budding friendships for children in this community.

"I am a District 95 parent. I currently have three children in the district: one Thomas Tiger (Caleb) and two Parrish Panthers (Kirsten and Kaitlyn).

"My oldest daughter, Kylah, 18, attended District 95 for several grade levels when she resided here in Carbondale.

"I have also spent some time working as an aide at CMS. I made a few lasting connections with teachers, staff, and students. Some of the students are a part of the youth ministry at Hopewell. All of this will help me be successful in improving the relationship between our schools and our community. My experiences will also help me stay focused on improving our schools so that our children can establish great memories as they grow as I did.

"One of the most important issues facing the district right now is its relationship with our community. We have to find ways to strengthen that relationship.

"We serve each other better when everyone knows what everyone needs. With more parent involvement and teachers and staff that go beyond the call of duty, we can successfully meet the needs of our kids."

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