By Katie Dahlstrom Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON - The six candidates vying for a seat on the Clinton School Board pleaded their cases to area voters Wednesday during a school board forum, less than two weeks from school board elections Sept. 10.
The forum was hosted by the City PTA and the Clinton Education Association for candidates to answer questions ranging from budget challenges to changes that could be made within the district. Candidates were allowed opening and closing statements and two minutes to answer each question, which they were not provided before the forum.
Incumbent candidate Gregg Obren was not at the forum, but he was given a chance to answer the questions under the same time constraints as the other candidates before the forum. His answers were read by moderator and Iowa PTA President Liz Mink.
Obren, along with fellow incumbents Missey Sullivan-Pope and Jack Wenzel, will face challengers Eric Gettes, Dana Evers and Eunice Schexnyder-Short for the four open seats on the board. Incumbent Mercia Wolf did not seek re-election.
The Clinton recreation director is pushing for his second term on the Clinton School Board, serving the past year as board president. He said his support to do what is best for the kids since being elected four years ago has not wavered.
His position as the director of the Clinton recreation department gives him an advantage in terms of familiarity with the school district, he said.
“I am seeking re-election because I have a good, solid, fundamental knowledge of the administration of the school district and through my job I have contact with students, staff, teachers and administrators on an extreme routine basis,” Obren said.
In his answers, which were given prior to the forum, he said the district’s facility, staff, faculty and programs are second to none and didn’t note any changes that needed to be made to the district’s curriculum.
“I don’t see that change in curricula is the way to do things. I think curricula needs to evolve on an annual basis and as our environment changes we need to stay abreast of what is coming down the pipeline,” Obren said. “Bottom line: we need to always evolve, not necessarily change.”
In order to get a better handle on the budget, the board should look at ways to reduce the amount of students who open enroll out of the district, he said.
Sullivan-Pope is running for her second term on the Clinton School Board. She currently serves as the vice president and said if she is re-elected she looks forward to continuing the collaborative work the school board has already undertaken.
The life-long Clinton resident was compelled to run because of her desire to be involved in her son’s education as well as the district’s other students. During the forum she emphasized the weight of other parents getting involved.
“As a parent I encourage all parents to get involved in their child’s education. I can’t stress how important that is,” she said.
When asked if she would like to see any changes in the district, Sullivan-Pope said she believes the district is headed in the right direction with every child learning, although it might be at their own pace. She echoed an idea from Gettes to have students get involved in a volunteer activity and added she would like to see legislative change related to open enrollment.
In her four years on the board she has worked to garner support for the district’s academic and other activities, an important mission of a school board member, she said.
“I think the candidates that should get your support are those that will do their best to meet the needs of our schools, to work with our staff to find a vision for the future of public education in Clinton and rally public support to make the vision a reality,” she said.
Wenzel also is seeking his second term to represent not only the school district, but the community, he said. He has lived in Clinton for 24 years and works as a maintenance supervisor at Archer Daniels Midland.
Wenzel praised the district’s schools and facilities, pointing specifically to the high school renovation and the new middle school projects. He also praised the school’s academic programs, faculty and administration. Like many of the other candidates, Wenzel stressed the district should focus on cutting the number of students who choose to leave the district.
“I cannot believe why 200, 300 students are going somewhere else when they could get a lot better education, a lot better facilities right here in Clinton, Iowa,” Wenzel said.
He said parent involvement is critical to student success and the district needs to increase it.
In regard to policy or curriculum changes, Wenzel felt the district has done a phenomenal job to stay ahead of the curve, a pattern that should continue.
“I think to stay competitive in the education field you always got to be staying ahead. Not just to be complacent to be where you’re at,” he said.
Wenzel used his experience on the board when the district was making cuts due to budgets constraints to illustrate his ability to work through potentially unpopular cuts and the wisdom of the board to make cuts so that it did not have to return the next year to make more.
Evers, a 32-year resident of Clinton, has served in most of the schools in the Clinton School District as a school psychologist.
She said her desire to serve comes from a passion that’s rooted in her family’s role in education. While she disagreed with a notion to make volunteer work a requirement for graduation because it would add another “road block” to students getting their diplomas, she did cite the importance of extra-curricular activities.
“I would like to see that there is a basic expectation that all kids must participate in at least come extra-curricular every year,” she said. “I think it could make a huge difference in some children’s lives and bring some people into the fold that maybe we didn’t know had a lot to offer,” she said.
If she was forced to make budget cuts as part of a board, Evers said she would continue with the district’s pattern of using data and measurable impact to make cuts rather than unfounded beliefs.
She also challenged the board to look toward the next generation of Clinton taxpayers, which consists of Clinton students.
“We must acknowledge that and work harder for our children to succeed whether they are college bound or workplace bound. Successful vocational experience will have a direct effect on the future of this community,” she said.
Gettes, also a school psychologist with decades of experience working in the Clinton School District, said he has formed positive relationships during his time working in the district.
Part of his motivation to run for school board came from Wolf’s decision not to seek re-election.
“I feel like it’s important for a school board to have a very diverse representation with the fields they represent and with Mercia Wolf leaving there’s kind of a void with the education background right now and I think that I could fill that void,” Gettes said.
He cited three areas that he has particular interest in: cutting down the number of students who have open enrolled out of the Clinton School District to other districts, advocating for the school board to add a volunteer requirement for high school graduation and continuing and improving the positive environments in schools.
Gettes said it is very important for the school district to cultivate collaboration with other businesses, post-secondary institutions, the city and other stakeholders because they feed one another.
“When we have somebody who’s exploring whether or not they want to move to Clinton, one of the first things they look at is what does the education system look like and if we have a great education system, we’re more likely to bring people to our community. When we bring more people, we got more businesses,” he said.
Schexnyder-Short explained her years of experience working with students compelled her to run for school board. She worked for the Chicago Public School system from 1976 until 1993 when she moved to Clinton. After moving, she worked in the Clinton School District for several years before retiring in 2007.
She said her specialty was working with the socially and emotionally maladjusted students and if elected she would work to assure those students have as many opportunities as their general population peers.
“I’m an advocate for the special-needs students. I would like to know, and I probably will get to know if I get elected, what programs have been set up for those kids to feel as though they are a part of Clinton Community Schools,” she said.
In addition to seeing the district made students college ready, she would work to connecting parents and teachers in order to get parents more involved in their children’s educations.
“I feel parents are the most important person or persons in their child’s lives,” she said. “What we need to do is try to build that gap back with the parents and the teachers.”