SYRACUSE — Three candidates seeking the only contested Wawasee School Board seat this year appeared at a forum hosted by the Wawasee Community Educators Association Tuesday evening, Oct. 23, in the lecture room at Wawasee Middle School.
Mary Lou Dixon, the incumbent for District 2 covering Turkey Creek Township is being opposed by Steven Baut and William “Bill” Cripe in the Nov. 6 election. The three candidates answered several questions posed to them by Mike Malcolm, science teacher at Wawasee High School and who was the forum moderator.
When asked what the greatest challenges and opportunities are for the Wawasee district, Dixon said the school corporation is already ahead of some other school districts when it comes to the use of technology and the growth of the career and technical education program. She said a challenge is the yearly decreasing enrollment of the school corporation, meaning less funding is received from the state.
She also said keeping students safe is a big challenge in today’s world, but a grant received from the county will help with security. The grant will allow a cellphone app to be used to notify law enforcement in the event of a dangerous situation.
Cripe said keeping the buildings in the district properly maintained will be a challenge. Baut said he would like to see more mental health counselors and also noted the declining number of people wanting to be teachers. He also would like to see an elective class offered to students challenging them to think as a group and be creative in finding solutions to problems.
Cripe noted maintaining school buildings is one of the greatest capital needs of the school corporation. Baut said he would like to see resource police officers in every school. Dixon would like to see all employees “paid fairly and equitably.”
When asked who they would seek advice from if faced with a difficult situation, Dixon said she would start with informing other board members, then the superintendent and then possibly legal counsel. Cripe said he would talk to the superintendent. Baut said it would depend on the circumstances involved, but he would respect the advice of current board members, talk to the superintendent and then “go to my wife, because she is a strong leader.”
If a parent approaches a board member and has a problem with an athletics coach or the athletic director, Cripe said he would go to the superintendent and then take it to the board. Baut said board members need to listen carefully and then “engage our process for this that is already in place.”
Dixon said parents need to be listened to, but “my role is non-existent because it is not a board issue,” saying the coach involved needs to be addressed.
When asked how they would measure or evaluate teachers, Cripe said administrators should do that because they are more qualified to do so. Baut said there are many intangibles involved in teaching and evaluation teams or committees need to be trusted when evaluating teachers.
Dixon said the state system for evaluating teachers is not fair and teachers need to be held responsible to meet community standards.
Candidates were asked to name one thing the school corporation does well and one thing that is done poorly. Baut said the expansion of the CTE program is good, but communication is lacking between the school district and community and a “bridge” is needed to close the gap.
Dixon said she is impressed with the use of technology and the CTE program and there are things that can be done better, “but I don’t think we are doing anything poorly.” Cripe said he has been pleased with the schooling of his grandchildren in Wawasee schools.