The school board candidates answered a variety of questions during Wednesday’s candidate forum about school security, teacher recruiting, consolidation of schools and services and the relationship between the board and superintendent
The forum, organized by the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce, provided a venue for candidates to respond to questions as well as make opening and closing statements.
There are eight candidates vying for four open seats with six of the candidates appearing at the forum. The top four will receive four-year terms
Here are the candidates who attended the forum:
Olmsted, an Ottawa native, said local education needs leaders.
“I have a passion for town and school district,” she said. “I am seeking the position to foster meaningful change, resulting in a lasting and positive impact on USD 290 students, teachers and staff.”
One of the top issues she wants to address is school safety. She said the current board and district leaders have made efforts toward student safety, but have not gone far enough. She said training drills need to include the students more.
She said consolidation is something that needs to be looked at carefully. She went through the West Franklin consolidation a decade ago. She said one aspect of consolidation that could be considered is sharing of positions.
“I am a sounding board for people,” Olmsted said. “I believe transparency will be very crucial. I want to be an advocate for all our teachers.”
Staresinic-Deane filled an open seat recently and wants to continue to help the board make the educational experience positive for students.
“Public schools face state and national challenges right now,” she said. “School boards can still do great things. They can create an environment that encourages innovative teaching and meaningful learning. The needs of our children are complex. A good school board can create an environment where all children can be inspired and develop into adaptable, fearless learners who are also amazing adults. I am running for school board because I would like to bring that unique, diverse perspective to the school board to make good decisions for our children.”
Staresninic-Deane, the manager of the Old Depot Museum, said school safety is always a top concern.
“We have had a variety of drills of all sorts,” she said. “We have had a lot of discussion about active shooter training. That is all things we do to keep students safe, teaching students to use good judgment. There is always improvements to make.”
Staresninic-Deane said consolidation of schools is a hot button issue.
“Schools are a source of identity,” she said. “Is it really more efficient for administrators to wander to schools all over the county? Is it better for the students to consolidate? Can we offer things in a better way? Schools are the heart of smaller towns. It has to be considered very carefully.”
She said board members need to be open to talking to district patrons and keeping lines of communication open.
“I believe in the power of public education,” she said. “I would be a part of a board that empowers teachers and students.”
Wooge has owned property and farmed near Ottawa for more than five decades. He has been involved in politics through running for elected office and attending city and county commission meetings, along with school board meetings.
Wooge said through the years he has tutored students and wants to make a difference in children’s lives.
“There is an art to learning and for social development,” he said. “I have studied the teachers, curriculum and philosophy of schools. There is a much needed change to how and what is being taught in the classroom.”
He said increasing wages is a way to attract good teachers and educators to the district.
Cunningham said he is invested in the community and schools. He came to Ottawa because of its small town flavor. He said one of the reasons he ran for a seat is his love for kids and wants them to succeed.
One of his top priorities is to improve graduation rates.
“My goal is to set the bar at 90 percent or above and make our graduation rate even higher,” Cunningham said. “There is a lot of dynamics that [go into] that graduation rate.”
He said school safety is real and something that needs attention. Cunningham, who has been a volunteer firefighter for 20 years, said drills teach students and teachers what to do in certain situations.
Consolidation is something that Cunningham would take a hard look at. He said his family lives in Ottawa because of the size and having its own school district.
“What makes each community its own community is its high school or the school district itself,” he said.
He said recruitment of teachers comes down to finding the right kind of teacher for the district.
“We want those type of employees that want to make [Ottawa] home,” Cunningham said. “[We need] teachers that want to be a leader and constantly raise the bar, not settle for average. There are some kids that need to be pushed harder.”
Catlin is completing his first term as a school board member. He has four daughters in the school district. He said he ran four years ago because of concerns with the facilities.
“We made some great strides the past four years correcting some of these issues with the construction of the new elementary school and the additions to the high school,” he said. “I want to be a part of the process to bring about positive change to the district. We still have a lot of things that can be done for the district. We need to improve test scores. We could increase the transparency of the school board. A big focus [should be] on retaining and supporting our teachers, giving them the support and resources they need.”
Catlin said a couple of goals to accomplish are improving safety and graduation rates. He said educators need to ask questions on why students don’t graduate and look at the students’ history and see where the problems started.
He said keeping and recruiting quality teachers is a concern.
“We currently have a substitute shortage,” he said. “That is a challenge.”
Catlin does not take the position as a school board member lightly. He said school board members need to listen to teachers, administrators and parents on how to better schools.
“We make decisions that impact families,” he said.
Alderman is seeking reelection after serving a four-year term on the board. She is a retired elementary school teacher for the district.
“I am running because I believe in public education,” she said. “It is an advantageous to have someone with experience in education on the school board. I want to continue to be part of the positive direction that this district is going in providing the skills, knowledge and education to help our students become productive [residents]. As a retired teacher, I have time to devout to the duties of being a school board member.”
She said board members need to connect with teachers, staff and students to make the district run smoother.
“As board members, we need to be available, be involved with our school and be involved with our students,” she said. “My only agenda is to provide the best possible education for our kids.”
She said retaining and recruiting teachers is a statewide issue.
“Part of the issue is that our teaching ranks have been hollowed out the past six years,” Alderman said. “The teaching profession has been vilified by state leaders. Teachers have lost a lot of status. We need to respect our teachers and show our teachers that we value their opinions and value their professionalism.”
She said the relationship between the board and superintendent is an important aspect in the success of the district.
“The board and superintendent have a part in the direction of the district,” Alderman said. “I see improving graduation rates as an opportunity for us.”