By Tim Ashley
SYRACUSE — Five Turkey Creek Township residents hoping to serve on the Wawasee School Board gathered for a public forum Tuesday evening, Sept. 28, in the lecture room of Wawasee Middle School. The five applied for a soon to be vacancy on the board when Mary Lou Dixon retires effective Oct. 31.
Applicants for the board vacancy are Rob Chalk, Andy Cripe, Vicki Morton, Nancy Nelson and David Rosenberry. Chalk and Cripe are business owners, Rosenberry works in the public safety field, Morton is a retired accountant and Nelson is a retired educator. The person chosen to replace Dixon will serve the remainder of her term through Dec. 31, 2022, and officially start Nov. 1.
Tuesday’s forum was sponsored by the Wawasee Community Educators Association and Dina Coverstone, a teacher, was chosen to moderate the forum and she asked each candidate a total of 11 questions after they gave opening statements.
The 11 questions covered a wide range of topics including, but not limited to, how the candidates would view their role as a school board member and the ideal relationship with other board members, how they feel about educating all children, even those with disabilities, what are the outcomes derived from an education mattering most, how they will know if a program has been successful, how they feel teachers should be evaluated, how they would enlist public support for referendums or bond issues among those who don’t have children in school and what they see as challenges and opportunities.
As the evening progressed, it was apparent all five candidates had many similar views. None of the five expressed they had a particular agenda or would try to “fix” things, but rather shared a desire to serve the community and try to improve on the good programs already in place.
All five also stated more needs to be done about getting the word out on what is offered in Wawasee schools. “We need to toot our own horn,” Nelson said. “Wawasee has been known for a long time for its programs and we need to get the word out. We need to be our own advocates.”
There was also unanimous agreement on some of the challenges faced by the school corporation such as a lack of state funding and declining enrollment numbers. Morton noted the declining enrollment can affect what and how many programs Wawasee can offer to students. Cripe said the lack of funding can make it more difficult to find and keep teachers who have a strong passion to teach kids.
Chalk said a challenge, or possibly an opportunity, is to find out why kids who live in the Wawasee school district are attending schools outside of the district. “We need to figure out why kids in our district are not going here,” he said. “They need to be in our buildings.”
Rosenberry said a possible challenge is parental backing of schools and also making sure both middle schools are doing equally well in preparing students for high school, though he emphasized he doesn’t necessarily feel it is a problem now. He also added he is a strong advocate of career and technical education programs and wants to see those continue as they are.
Wawasee has good facilities, the CTE program is strong and there are good teachers and administrators in place was also expressed by each of the five candidates. Each candidate also emphasized the importance of utilizing the “chain of command” when confronted by parents who have concerns about athletic issues or even teachers. “It’s not my role,” Nelson said. “I bypass that. It’s somebody else’s role.”
Chalk also noted it is important “to be a good listener” and follow up with the parent to make sure the issue was resolved properly. Morton added using current school board policies is also an option for addressing some issues.
When asked what the district has done well or poorly, Chalk said the use of solar panels has saved the school corporation a lot of money. He noted sometimes there has been a failure to communicate properly, but he cautioned “we are on the outside looking in and don’t see all of the details.”
Morton said Wawasee has a lot of teachers who have been teaching a long time and has a lot of male teachers who can be good role models for kids growing up without a father in their home.
All were in agreement community support needs to be sought for bond issues or referendums and the public needs to be educated on the details well in advance of when voting will take place. “It is naive to think if your kid is not in school it doesn’t impact you,” Cripe said, noting the success or failure of schools has a ripple effect on the community.
Each of the five also stated they feel teachers are not evaluated fairly and too much emphasis is placed on testing results. Chalk said “we still need students who want to learn” and it is not fair to say a teacher didn’t do their job if a student is not learning. Cripe said there are different ways to measure the success of students such as getting a student “to come out of their shell” regardless of what their grades are.
Morton said some students can get good grades, but not do well on testing. “I don’t like using test results to evaluate teachers,” she said. Rosenberry noted NWEA testing used in the school corporation is “better than what the state does.”
Each candidate gave a closing statement before the forum was adjourned. The applicant chosen will be announced at the Tuesday, Oct. 12, regular monthly meeting of the school board.