Six candidates are vying for four open seats on the Clinton School Board with half asking to be re-elected and half asking for a first chance to be an elected official for the Clinton School District.
Three incumbents — Gregg Obren, Missey Sullivan-Pope and Jack Wenzel — have decided to run for their second four-year terms on the school board. The three new candidates are Dana Evers, Eric Gettes and Eunice Schexnyder-Short. Board member Mercia Wolf is not seeking re-election.
The polling place for the election will be the Church of the Open Door at 816 13th Ave. North in Clinton. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. next Tuesday, Sept. 10.
Gregg Obren is pushing for a second-term on the Clinton School Board.
Obren, 57, has lived in Clinton since 1980, serving as the recreation director for the city of Clinton. He and his wife have three children, the last of whom just graduated from Clinton High School. While he debated running for re-election this year, he decided to run because of the developments in the district.
“I want to be a part of the school district. We are doing marvelous things. We’ve got the new middle school, an innovation classroom, athletics and fine arts programs, academics. You look at the creativity and the abilities we have here, who doesn’t want to be a part of that? That’s all part of what we can do on the board room table that says, ‘yes, we want to go this way,’” Obren said.
He said his role as the recreation director makes him a good board member because he is familiar with the kids in the schools, the facilities and staff, giving him strong relationships and a good point of view.
He lists the top four accomplishment of the board in the past four years as: making the district financially solvent, building a partnership between the district and athletic booster club, updating schools so that all buildings have been updated in the last 15 years, and offering academic opportunities that rival the best in the state.
He believes the of the challenges the district will face in the next four years, open enrollment out of the district is a significant one.
“We have to do some real in-depth review of why this is being done,”Obren said. “We need to review why and either fix it, which probably in many cases there’s nothing to be fixed it just is perceived as a negative thing. Well then we have to market so people understand the positives of this district, which are boundless right now.”
Other challenges include dealing with the reform package that was passed this year, keeping the district financially solvent while working with the uncertainties from Des Moines and making sure that extra-curricular activities are maintained.
In the end, the reason he believes he deserves to be re-elected is simple.
“I believe in the kids,” he said. “I have the kids at heart. I see them on a routine basis and I know what they’re going through.”
If re-elected, this will be Missey Sullivan-Pope’s second term on the Clinton School Board.
The 39-year-old legal assistant with Farwell and Bruhn has lived in Clinton all her life. She and her husband have one son, Zachary, who is a junior at Clinton High School.
“I decided to run again because I’m committed to the community and I believe that representing your community is something you can do at any level. I want to keep encouraging communication between the teachers, parents, administrators,” she said.
In the past four years she feels the board has accomplished a number of things, including improving the facilities in the district to be at the state-of-the-art level, strengthening the communication between the district and stakeholders and cutting the budget in a way that would least affect students. She also praised the many college-level learning opportunities at Clinton High School.
“Clearly there is no better place to learn than Clinton High,” she said. “I don’t think there is anywhere better in the area and I say that with lots of passion.”
She sees open enrollment as one of the biggest obstacles facing the board. The open-enrollment problem is a product of misperception in the community about Clinton High School, she believes.
“If there was one thing I could focus on besides student achievement and progress, it would be open enrollment,” she said. “I can’t stress enough people communicating their reason for open enrolling to me. I truly want to get to the bottom of that.”
Marketing the schools and opportunities better and talking to parents who are open enrolling their children are possible remedies for open enrollment.
Sullivan-Pope believes she deserves a second term on the school board because of her commitment to the district and willingness to discuss the issues.
“I’m certainly not an ink stamp. I voice my opinion. I’ve been very open-minded about things even when the stakeholders have come to me with things that I didn’t necessarily agree with, I still brought those questions and concerns to the table,” she said. “I take pride in the community and I try my best to represent everyone in the district.”
Jack Wenzel is seeking his second term on the Clinton School Board.
Wenzel, 51, works as a maintenance supervisor at Archer Daniels Midland. He’s lived in Clinton for 21 years and has been married to his wife Paula for 25. They have three children together, two of whom are students at Clinton High School and one who is in college.
“I’ve really enjoyed these past four years. I like being involved. You have some people out there who will sit and complain, but not do anything to change things and that’s not me,” Wenzel said. “I really think the the last four years we’ve done a good job getting things in order.”
Wenzel feels some of the most notable accomplishments in the time he’s been on the board are looking ahead when addressing the budget in order to run the district in the black, improvement to the academic curriculum and updating facilities.
Part of the reason he decided to run for re-election was to see the new middle school project completed. If elected to another term, Wenzel would like to address the growing problem that open enrollment presents to the district.
“Open enrollment is really frustrating. I want to know why people open enroll out when we’ve got all these new buildings, fantastic curriculum, extra-curriculars. There is no reason for kids to leave the district,” he said. “We need to change the perception of the schools to stop open enrollment.”
His plan for decreasing open enrollments is a three-prong approach. First, he would like to see administration come up with a plan to combat it. An advertisement campaign to highlight the programs, facilities and other important things that Clinton schools offer is next on his list. Finally, he would like to see a task force formed consisting of people passionate about changing the course of open enrollment in the district that would set goals and monitor the district’s progress.
Why is he the man for the job? “I feel I’ve done a great job in the past four years. I’ve looked for what’s best for the district and I’ve never voted for a tax increase,” Wenzel said. “I listen to complaints and I’m not just a rubber stamp. I feel passionate about the schools and will continue to work hard for people.”
Dana Evers is a first-time Clinton School Board candidate.
Evers, 56, has lived in Clinton since 1981. She moved to the area to become a school psychologist with the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency, serving in the Clinton School District. She worked for the AEA until her husband died in 2011, when she took over his business, Riverside Custom Woodworking. Evers’ two sons are both in college and graduates of Clinton High School.
While she has contemplated a run for school board for several years, she decided to take the plunge this year because she saw a point of view on the board the needed to be filled.
“I am someone with an education background and I think that’s a voice that needs to be on the board,” she said. “I spent 30 years working closely with administrators, teachers and parents. I understand education and the topics the board will face. I feel like I have really strong relationships and a strong reputation with my colleagues and the parents I worked with.”
She believes the school board should publicize the programs that the school offers as well as continue to offer programs that will benefit the students she believes are the future taxpayers of Clinton.
“We have to look at who is going to make up this community. I believe it is more likely to be the kids who go straight into the workforce. We need to pay attention to that fact and promote the vocational programs, maintain strong relationships with industries and promote technical and interpersonal skills,” Evers said.
She also is passionate about the arts and ensuring those programs are strong and offer students a chance to “nourish their soul.”
Some of the challenges she believes the board will face include the high number of students open enrolling out of the district. The district should take an honest look at why those students are leaving and try to address those issues, she said.
Her patience, understanding nature and ability to diffuse adversarial situations without losing sight of the end goal would make her an asset to the board, she said.
“The first year I think I would be doing a lot of listening. I’m not walking in with a big chip on my shoulder,” Evers said. “I want to be a part of positive changes. I want to serve because I love education.”
Eric Gettes, 57, is vying for his first term on the Clinton School Board.
Gettes, a 33-year Clinton resident, and his wife, Lorri, have three daughters, all of whom have gone through the Clinton school system, with one still attending Clinton High School as a sophomore.
He worked in the Clinton School District for the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency for 30 years, serving 10 of those years as an administrator. Gettes now works for the Black Hawk Special Education district in Illinois.
If elected, Gettes would would like to address three issues combating open enrollment, adding a community service requirement for graduation and improving school environment.
He said he doesn’t understand why $1.8 million a year leaves the district due to open enrollment, going mostly to the Camanche and Northeast school districts.
“I’ve worked in both of those districts and they’re very good. But they’re no better than ours and I feel like with the opportunities we have in our district, those number should be reversed. We should have people from smaller communities wanting to come to our schools.”
To adress open enrollment, he would like to look at very specific data to identify what demographics of students are leaving and why in order to develop a plan to decrease the number of open-enrolling students.
Implementing a volunteer requirement for graduation could also help bring students to the district, he said.
“I think there’s some sort of misconception about what goes on at Clinton High School. If we get these students out in the community doing good things, we can promote and celebrate that,” he said.
His third goal of improving school environment includes the physical, but also ensuring the building climate is positive and teachers feel like they are partners with administrators and feel respected and valued.
Other challenges Gettes believes the board will face are the budget and working with standards set by No Child Left Behind. He also would like to improve the district’s fine arts areas.
“I think people should vote for me because I’m a person with a lot of integrity. I’m a hard worker. And I have a good understanding of how the Clinton Community School District in particular and schools in general should work,” Gettes said. “I’m not going to be afraid to stand up for all employees and students in the district.”
Eunice Schexnyrder-Short, 67, is making her first bid for Clinton School Board.
The retired teacher started working in the Clinton School District in 1994, retiring in 2007. Before she came to Clinton, she worked for the Chicago Public School District from 1976 to 1993. Her five children did not go through the Clinton School District as they had already graduated by the time she moved to Clinton.
She continues to work at Clinton Community College with adults trying to obtain their GED diploma.
“I chose to run because of the years of experience and knowledge I’ve acquired in the field of education. I would like to share this with other board members and to become an asset to the board and the Clinton Community School District,” she said.
If elected, she would work diligently to address the needs of special-education students and assure they have adequate teachers and programs that make them a part of the district.
“We need to have quality teachers with the background because you can’t just go in and think you are an expert in dealing with those students,” she said.
She also would find out what the concerns the people the school board serves have before identifying any particular concern to tackle. She doesn’t see herself re-inventing the wheel. Rather, she would like to be an advocate for the district’s stakeholders.
“I don’t know what all the challenges are, but I know a voice is needed for our greatest commodity, which is the students, the parents and the teachers. They have to have someone who will work for them,” she said.
Schexnyder-Short has a passion for connecting teachers and parents and would like to see the district emphasize that relationship.
“If you don’t get to know the family life. If you don’t get to see how the kid spends his time once he leaves you, then how can you fully teach those special-needs students and other students in general ed?” she said.
Her term on the school board also would be directed toward moving the district forward, maintaining a balanced budget and maintaining the district’s focus on excellence.
“I have experience to share with other board members which may narrow the gap between young and old as well as possibly building a better understanding between schools and parents,” Schexnyder-Short said.