Campaign signs for all seven candidates in the Springfield Board of Education race have been placed near a Greene County absentee voting location at 1126 N. Boonville Ave. The signs are more than 25 feet away from the front door, in accordance with Missouri law. (Photo by Joe Hadsall)

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It’s that time of year again when various elections are held across the nation, state, and our community. Did you know only 42.5% of registered voters in Springfield voted (according to the city’s website) in the November 2022 elections?

Voting is one of the best ways to impact change and shape the community. It is a way to address concerns by voting for people who can serve as leaders to set policies and direction for the community. However, one needs to determine are they voting for someone who will do what is best for the community as a whole or a person’s individual beliefs and desires.

The freedom to choose is exercised as Americans, and historically, many people fought for these rights. The question is, how informed are we about who we choose during elections? Are we able to civically voice our thoughts, concerns and considerations when it comes to voting for the candidates who are running for office? Or do we sit quietly thinking our vote does not matter?

The Springfield community has made great strides over the years to provide opportunities to have a voice. Some of those initiatives include “Tough Talks” — to talk about sensitive and challenging issues in our community. Another initiative was “Be Civil. Be Heard” — a campaign used to strengthen communications in public settings. Through these types of initiatives people were more apt to listen to differing opinions with civilized conversations. The ultimate goal was and still is to find what we can agree on to proceed with the enhancement of our community rather than divide us.

School board election is time of choice

For several months, Springfieldians have been able to hear and meet candidates running for office. Springfield has a uniqueness of intersectional populations and subgroup populations. Sometimes these two groups may not feel their voice is heard as much the larger populations and groups. However, voting can make sure their voices are heard. Voting while treating each other with dignity and respect is part of the city’s framework for equity and equality for all who call Springfield home!

School board elections are just around the corner. This is a time of choice, a time of reason, and a time of understanding who is best to serve the 24,000 plus pre-K to 12th grade students.

First and foremost, vote!

Second, think about the needs of the students and then think about the best candidates to serve the needs of all students. Think about the impact on those that will be served. The students are comprised of about 43% students who receive free lunch and 10% who receive reduced-price lunch. Will the candidates running for school board know best practices and policies to ensure children are able to have important meals besides lunch? Or will they believe it is the child’s and family’s fault for not having enough food to eat?

Will voters see candidates who recognize the need to have teachers trained and equipped with curriculum designed for all populations of the students? Or will they think differences do not matter when it comes to learning? SPS has the following populations of students: 69.24% White, 9.64% Hispanic/Latinx, 8.74% Black, 7.83% Multiple Races, 3.33% Asian, 0.67% American Indian and 0.55% Pacific Islander.

Balance needed to ensure young people are seen for who they are

Will the candidates running for the school board know and understand the connectedness needed with the business community to develop local talent? Will they know the need to continue to grow our community as we continue to embark on economic development? Or will they see community connections to the business world as distractions to learning? There must be a balance to ensure young people are developed for future growth and that the young people know they are seen for who they are even if their backgrounds may be different.

A few years ago, Springfield was one of 75 cities in the U.S. to receive a Lumina Foundation community partnership for attainment grant. The grant focused on creative and innovative ways to address barriers to postsecondary attainment — additional education beyond high school. With this grant, the community collaborated with the city of Springfield, Springfield Public Schools, local higher education institutions, MO Job Center and the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Springfield Education Network was developed from this grant and continues to meet monthly. The Network builds ecosystems that support student pathways to careers in the Springfield area. Will the candidates running for office understand the importance of developing local talent, so our young people stay in the community upon graduation from high school? Or will students who feel unsupported — because they may look different, talk differently, love differently — leave the community?

We can continue to have success in the community with your vote by voting for candidates who support all students and all backgrounds. The choice is yours — vote wisely.

Francine Pratt

Francine Micheline Pratt serves as director of Prosper Springfield, a community collective impact model charged with oversight of community goals to reduce the poverty rate and increase postsecondary educational attainment. She is president of Pratt Consultants LLC, which focuses on community engagement, business infrastructure development, conflict resolution, strategic planning, and diversity training. She also is a creative partner for the Queen City Soul Kitchen restaurant. Email: More by Francine Pratt