CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Early voting is underway. There are four open seats on the Champaign School Board, and seven people who want to fill them. Tuesday night, voters got a chance to meet face to face with candidates who could soon be leading the district. Dozens showed up to a Q&A in Savoy organized by teachers and community members.

Candidates were thrown questions about the achievement gap, standardized testing, union support and more. They had the opportunity to describe their positions and goals for the future of the district. Then, voters got to bring their concerns directly to them.

“I thought we really got a good look into who they are and what they’re hoping to do as prospective board members,” Champaign Federation of Teachers Vice President Joseph Pickell said.

Pickell laid out some of the concerns he and his colleagues hope the next board addresses.

“Of course, the big things facing is the teacher shortage, as well as shortage in other things – bus drivers and other staffing,” he said.

And providing a high quality education while filling those positions, Pickell added. Mary Malloy teaches German at Centennial and Central high schools. Naturally, she says the biggest issue she’s passionate about is foreign language acquisition.

“Thousands and thousands of children in Unit 4 never enter the foreign language classroom. Of those that enter, most do not stay, and of those that stay, few achieve any kind of level of attainment,” Malloy said.

Malloy referenced a recently adopted Illinois State Board of Education requirement that says by 2028, two years of world language instruction will be a prerequisite to graduating high school.

“I’d like to see this school board realize that this policy is coming,” she said.

But right now, Malloy says the district is far behind.

“At the moment, we don’t begin to have those kinds of numbers enrolled. We have very little foreign language learning in the middle schools, and next to none in the elementary schools,” Malloy said.

Malloy says students need to start learning foreign languages early, and in 20 years of teaching, she’s heard countless parents express their desire for more programs.

Voters have until April 4 to make their voices count.

“Make sure you register to vote and come on out and vote for the school board members so we can provide the best education so we can make our community even more great than it already is,” Pickell said.

The seven people running for the Champaign School Board are: Jamar Brown, Elizabeth Holder, Jeffrey Brownfield, Mark Thies, Mark Holm, Albert Zwettler and Amy Armstrong. The only incumbent candidate is current Board President Amy Armstrong.