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Thursday, March 31, 2011 03:44 am

Two strong candidates vie for open school board seat

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Donna Moore
Candace Mueller
When Cheryl Wise this spring finishes her term representing Springfield School District 186’s Subdistrict 5, one of two accomplished women will take her place. Which one depends on how voters cast their ballots on April 5, but for now the race is on, between two candidates with strong leadership backgrounds – 57-year-old Candace Mueller and 47-year-old Donna Moore.

Mueller has been a child advocate for most of her life – in and around the halls of Congress, as a six-year school board member in a five-school Ewing, N. J., school district, and currently as the assistant director for external relations at the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Moore is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard, the mother of seven children and the owner of two Springfield businesses, Curves for Women, which she bought just before the recession hit.

Moore’s concerns center on District 186’s achievement gap and high number of academic watch-list schools. She says her top priorities would include evaluating and eliminating any ineffective programs that don’t support the district’s educational mission. Moore also wants to develop a master plan clearly outlining the district’s future and to boost the district’s public relations. As an example of poor communication with the public, she lists the recent district announcement that Feitshans Academy would be phased out – news that took some parents by surprise. She says that Superintendent Walter Milton’s “heart is in the right place,” but suggests that some decisions seem to be made in a vacuum. Moore says new buildings won’t improve academic achievement, something the district needs to work on if it expects voters to approve a sales tax referendum.

Much of Moore’s school and community involvement has been with Blessed Sacrament Church and its parochial school, where her children attend or attended elementary school. Moore, the wife of Sangamon County Board member Tim Moore, says she chose a Catholic elementary education for her children so they could build their faith. She notes that her children, when not enrolled in parochial school, have attended District 186’s Early Learning Center, Franklin Middle School and Springfield High School, providing Moore with 15 years of experience as a Springfield public school parent. “I’m a taxpayer. Because my children go to a parochial school, does that mean that I should be disenfranchised from participating in this public arena? I think not.” She says her family’s parochial school experience is an asset, as it provides her with another point of view, and that sending her children to private school has saved the district about $213,000.

Mueller is the mother of two college students, one a recent Springfield High School graduate. She moved to Springfield in 2007 with her husband, David Racine, the director of the University of Illinois Springfield’s Institute for Legal, Legislative and Policy Studies. As a supporter of the recent failed sales tax referendum, Mueller says the district needs to better promote its good work and mobilize parents to get involved. She cites her work in Ewing, N. J., where the public was charged with approving budgets but often declined to do so. Mueller says she helped develop a campaign that led voters to accept the district’s proposed budgets – an experience that could benefit District 186. She says that as long as she’s a “freshman” on the board, she’ll act like it, spending the first year learning how the district operates and building good rapports. “School board of course works the best if it can be a consensus building group,” Mueller says. “It’s not just an up or down vote – it’s a process of working with the seven members through the superintendent.” Mueller says her priorities include boosting academic achievement for college and career readiness by ensuring equity for all students as well as recruiting talented teachers who want to work in high-need schools.

Though relatively new to Springfield, Mueller is an Illinois native, and she’s not worried about her newness being a problem in the election. Mueller, who is a past president of the SHS parent teacher organization (PTO), adds that no longer having a child in Springfield schools means no risk of a conflict of interest and that her past parental experience in Ewing and Springfield schools means she can relate to other stakeholders.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com.

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