Board candidates answer questions in front of large crowd

By Adam Strunk

A large crowd filled McKinley Administrative Center in Newton to attend a public forum for candidates to Newton’s Board of Education.
Harvey County Now and the Newton Chamber hosted a candidate forum Oct. 26, and the district provided a free location to host the event.
Candidates answered questions from the audience as well as moderator Adam Strunk at the event.
Below are summaries of candidates’ answers to each question.

Sara Getchell
Getchell has lived in Newton for 3.5 years and works for Delta Dental of Kansas.
She said she spends all day finding solutions for people. She hopes to take her problem-solving approach to the board if elected, including finding out-of-the-box solutions.

Heidi Hoskinson
Hoskinson works as the vice president of enrollment management at Bethel College and has lived in Newton for two and a half years.
She said she’s excited to be in the position to run for office in Newton. With 29 years of experience in the field of education, she said she’s proud to bring that to her time serving in office.

Ian Long
Long has lived in Newton for nine and a half years. He said if he’s elected, he plans to work within the community, talk to everybody, and try to understand the best ways everyone can move forward.
He said he would put forth the effort to build the necessary foundation to create the next generation of Newtonians to better the community.

Mallory Morton
Morton has lived in Newton for 19 years, served on the BOE for four years, and has three children enrolled in the school district.
Morton previously worked in banking and then stayed home to raise her children. As her children are in school, she said she is now a full-time community volunteer, sitting on the board of directors for two not-for-profit organizations. She said she’s served on the board for four years and served on various committees and activities associated with the board of education. She said she’s running for the board to put that experience into action to continue to advocate for students.

Melissa Schreiber
Schreiber is a Newton graduate and has lived in the city for 30 years.
“Having lived here for as long as I have, I wanted to step up and serve this community,” she said.
She said the position is a good fit with her involvement.
She’s served as a parent volunteer and served on a site council before serving on the board. She said, in her experience, she had learned to work collaboratively toward a common goal. She said
she’s served on several committees with the board. She said she’s also has gone through leadership development courses.
She said she hopes to continue through that process and contribute to the board of education.

Ericia Stevens
Stevens has two children in the Newton School District and has a third child starting kindergarten in the fall. She owns a bridal shop in downtown Newton, which she started.
She has lived in Newton for 13 years and spent her adult career in Newton. She said she is focused on contributing to the betterment of the community and its education system.

Scott Zimmerman
Zimmerman has lived in Newton for 27 years. He said three of his four children are in the Newton School District. He said his daughter is at Butler College and thriving, thanks to the high school.
He said the school board has struggled the last few years, and he wanted to see team unity come back.
He said he’s proud of district students and their success.
“The last year, I’ve heard a lot of negative things about the district, but you can’t outshine the positive of the district,” he said.

What person issue group or factor motivated you to seek election on the Newton BOE?

Hoskinson said it was more of a feeling about getting involved in the community that motivated her to run. She said she had been in the community, moved out of the state, and returned.
She said her time out of state showed her how many right things Kansas does in education.
She said she valued her public education and she felt she had something to give back to the community. She said she wanted to be involved in helping move education forward in the state of Kansas.
Long said going to board meetings and watching how issues were handled motivated him to run as well as the district’s need for civility, identity, guidance, assistance and growth.
He said the district has amazing staff and educators, and one thing the board can do is support all aspects of those people to make it better.
Morton said having three kids and being involved in their education made her want to be more involved in the board of education. She said it takes a while to get your feet under you on the BOE and said that she wanted to continue all of the positive actions she sees going on in the district and build upon those.
Schreiber said she has an interest in serving the community, and as a parent, she wanted to be a positive leader for the schools and the community. She said there’s not one group or organization pushing her to run or asking her to run.
Stevens said there wasn’t an issue or person wanting her to run. She believed, as a business owner, she had qualities that could serve the district such as data-driven decision-making, as well as long-term planning and implementation goals.
Zimmerman said he wanted to give back to the community but also saw a decline in the cohesiveness of the board and decisions being made. He said he’d like to find a way to make the district’s curriculum help bring up test scores. He said it would take a cohesive school board to
do so.
Getchell said her daughter was a large motivator. She said her daughter would sometimes come with her to board meetings, give her opinions, and tell her that she needed to be more active in helping solve some of the problems they’d discuss together.
“She was probably the first one who told me I could do it,” she said.
She said then others who heard her talking during the public comment section of board meetings also encouraged her to seek office. She said it was a collective of people around her telling her it was a great opportunity to use things she heard from other parents to move things forward.

Enrollment decreases have been a major issue for the school district. How would you address the trend of decreasing enrollment in the Newton School District?

Long said the district needs to ask the hard question of “Why?” He said birth rates are dropping, but the district needed to understand why families are leaving the district. He said that would yield answers necessary to resolve the situation.
Morton said the district needs to reach out to those who recently left and figure out trends. She said schools can’t adapt to all people’s reasons for leaving, but it did have to ask the question.
“If we ask why, we have to recognize we’re willing to address those concerns, acknowledge them and deal with them,” she said.
She acknowledged that while birthrates are declining, other county schools haven’t seen the enrollment drop, making it a Newton issue.
Schreiber said she attended a discussion of declining enrollment across the state and there’s a plan in place to work with other districts that have managed to bring back students.
She said the district had to ask the question of why students are leaving. She said the district needed to prioritize addressing the issues of why parents were that it was able to address.
Stevens said there are things the district can be doing to engage younger families to come to Newton to grow the community and the school district. She noted it was a community issue, as Newton needs more affordable housing. She said the district could build on marketing efforts to show off the great things going on in Newton.
Zimmerman said the district needs to find the data on students leaving. He said a lot of people left the district during COVID and went into private schools then didn’t see the incentive of returning. He said the district has strong offerings such as its VoTech program and the district needed to reinvigorate the public in knowing the benefits the school district offers.
“The values our district offers are endless,” he said.
Getchell said in response to the question that it was also important to ask people why they were staying. She said knowing those benefits gave the district direction on how to market it and engage more people to come into the community. She said she wanted to grow pride within schools and the community at being a Railer and that would be a good starting point in addressing the problem.
Hoskinson said, being in enrollment at Bethel College, she sees trends and the need to grow. She said what’s great about Newton is it has the opportunity to market a pre-K to grade 22 education, with its community college and college in the city.
“It’s going to require some partnering and us to get together and find a way to work together,” she said.
She said students can get all their education needs met in Newton without leaving the city.

Walton Rural Life Center has been a big issue for the board of education over the last year. How would you like to see the school district move forward regarding the school building, the community, and its patrons, following the past decision?

Morton called Walton a tough issue. She noted what the district does with the facility is limited by the State Legislature. She said she’d like to mend hurt feelings in that community. She said she’d be in favor of working with the Walton community in them having the building in the future.
Schreiber said that the district’s use of the building was tied by the State Legislature. She said she wished to work with the Walton community and any others interested in the building to work for the betterment of the building and moving forward.
Stevens said Walton is a community that the district needs to support and thinks the district should support the community in finding ways of involving the community in the district.
Zimmerman said while waiting on the State Legislature, the board could come up with plans in the meantime. He said if the district wanted to keep the building, it might be able to expand Opportunity Academy to the building. He said the academy is thriving.
He said there are a lot of actions the district could take, and it needs to figure out what those actions would be.
Getchell said the legislature will tell the district what it can and cannot do, but it could look at options. She said it was fantastic that Walton teachers were hired into other district buildings and Walton students were embraced at other schools. She said moving forward and thinking about emotional turmoil, the district could look at how to build upon such actions.
Hoskinson said the district should plan ahead think of alternatives and plan ahead. She said the district needs to collaborate with the community of Walton.
Long said the district should really reach out to Walton. He said it’s a part of the USD and its family. He said he was apt to allow the Walton community to make decisions with the building as a sign of respect and collaboration. He said such an action was important to mend fences.

Teacher salaries are among the lowest in the area and in comparison with similar-sized schools. In the face of declining enrollment, how do you raise teacher salaries in a way that recruits and retains quality teachers all while being good stewards of our tax dollars?

Schreiber said the district has dealt with salaries for a while and the district is focused on working toward teacher retention and recruitment. She said the district can focus on the positive things, such as recognition and accolades received by staff and students. She said focusing on those achievements will attract people into the district and the community, which increases the tax base to help with teacher salaries.
Stevens said the district needs to think outside the box and see what other benefits the district can offer to educators that aren’t just money, such as benefits and childcare.
Zimmerman said the district needs to look at longevity incentives. He said the district could probably pay more to teachers if it kept them longer. He said longer-term teachers provided more return on investment, since hiring teachers costs money. He said the district needs to think outside the box and offer something different other than salary-based incentives.
Getchell said work culture was important. She said people work harder, longer, and do more
when they are happy where they are. She said it doesn’t matter how much the district can pay if they’re miserable at their job. She also said it was important to help community members engage with the schools.
Hoskinson agreed with past answers and said she believed in non-monetary benefits and accomplishments recognized in creative ways. She said the district can tell people they’re appreciated in a variety of ways.
“You don’t leave a bad place or a bad boss; you leave a bad environment,” she said.
She said housing child care and community support could go a long way in retaining teachers. She also said Kansas offers more money than other states around it and the district should emphasize that.
Long said the support of educators would go a long way. He said financial payments were a way to do that, but other extra incentives could go a long way, as well.
“A lot of educators do great work for this district out of their own pocket,” he said.
He said the district should work with educators and ask them questions about what they wanted and what they needed.
Morton said she agreed with non-monetary incentives. She said she’s spent four years on the district negotiation team with the teachers union, and that’s opened her eyes. She credited the union for strong representation. She said over the last few years the district has raised its base by $1,750. She said the district has looked at other ways of increasing compensation.

Do you think there should be more accountability between students and parents for their behavior toward staff and teachers? If so, what would you recommend to add to that accountability?

Stevens said she’d like to get more information before giving an answer. She said she supported accountability but would like to learn more before saying what the district should add to that.
Zimmerman said relationships were important. He said teacher’s conferences should be mandatory for parents. He said there are steps to take but he didn’t know the policy well enough to say how it could be better but said the board should sit down and look for ways to come up with ideas to benefit the student, parent and educator.
Getchell said that there should be accountability between parents educators and teachers. She said over the last year she was a bit appalled seeing some parents not follow the proper chain of what was outlined in manuals but instead jump to the top. She said there was a process for complaints, and the first option for parents was to work the process. She said it was important to not just hold a parent or student accountable but to hold staff and board members to the accountability process.
Hoskinson said people respect processes upheld consistently. She said it was important for a district to be consistent in the accountability process and that would go a long way to building a culture of accountability in working toward the same goals.
Long said personal responsibility was what he does every day. He said he believed students, parents, and the district should have the same mindset. He said the district needs to follow that policy, enforce it, maintain it and respect it.
“We can’t go through the process of making a long list of protocols or rules if we are not willing to hold ourselves accountable to the process,” he said.
Morton said there should be accountability, and part of that would be parent engagement before
issues occur. She said it is harmful when parents speak negatively about teachers in front of their children, as that doesn’t lead to respect. She said the district needs to have consistent, age-appropriate expectations.
“If they don’t have consistent guidelines rules and expectations, that can be very difficult for them,” she said.
Schreiber said accountability was important and the district had a policy in place for behavior issues. She said communication was important between parents, staff and schools to set expectations.
“If there is a behavior issue we all need to come together,” she said in figuring out how to prevent future behavior problems.

What role will your personal, political, and religious beliefs play as a school board member?

“That’s a very simple answer, it doesn’t,” Zimmerman said.
He said he’s going to do what’s in the best interest of the student and the community.
“I’ve never seen a child in a middle school high school elementary school say ‘I can’t do that, I’m a Democrat’.”
Getchell said it wouldn’t and that her decisions would be made through data.
“If you let your personal, political or religious beliefs color your decision making, then you’re not being a good steward for the overall board in my opinion.”
She said that everyone has personal beliefs, but when presented with facts and information, people can see those points of view based on the data.
Hoskinson said absolutely nothing would be influential with regard to her decisions on the board. She said all those who would elect her have different beliefs and she couldn’t be a good representative for stakeholders if she held to her own personal feelings when she worked on the board’s behalf.
Long said to be elected to the board, a person must look beyond themselves beyond politics, religion and biases. He said there’s no place in education for unnecessary politics and biases when ensuring students at USD-373 get the best education possible.
Morton said she and her husband handle their personal beliefs at home parenting their children and said it’s not her role as a board member. She said she’s made decisions in the past going against her personal thoughts, as she’s serving 3,000 kids and not her children at home.
Schreiber said her political and religious beliefs are what make board members individuals but don’t come into play when looking at the district as a whole. She said it was important to look at all the district and such beliefs can’t come into play, because not everyone is the same, and board members need to set those beliefs aside. She said she had not used her beliefs in any decision she’s made in the last four years.
Steven said the BOE isn’t a place for political points of view to be expressed. She said she believes the board should come together with people of different backgrounds and views, as that’s what makes democracy great.

What is your stance on keeping or changing the name of the Santa Fe Gymnasium/Lindley Hall?

Getchell said the name is a divisive issue. She said, looking at the positive things the district wanted to be known for, it is time to have an honest, open discussion about the name at an open
“There’s not going to be an easy answer on it, to be honest,” she said.
She said the decision should be made by factoring in what represents the district and what is best for it moving forward.
Hoskinson said dialogue on the issue and communication were important. She said she is not a person who’s usually in favor of changing things.

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