Four candidates discuss issues
Waupaca School Board election April 5
By James Card
Three new candidates and an incumbent are running for two seats on the Waupaca School Board.
Ronald Brooks, Ben Warren and Kayla Van Dyke-Griena are the new candidates.
Dale Feldt is an incumbent seeking re-election.
The Waupaca County Post sent questionnaires to all four candidates.
This is the first article in a two-part series. The second article will be published next week.
What do you hope to accomplish as a school board member? If you are an incumbent, what do you believe you have accomplished?
Ben Warren: If I’m elected, I will use my voice and my vote to represent all of the families and teachers in our community. I will be available for respectful, productive dialogue with everyone. Together we will create solutions, and these conversations will guide my actions on the board. We must fix declining enrollment, so we can continue to offer strong and diverse educational opportunities. I’d like to help by improving our online presence, ensuring preparedness of students, and nurturing relationships with community leaders. These measures will strengthen our image as a great place to educate children, and attract new families to both our schools and community.
Kayla Van Dyke-Griena: At this time, we don’t completely understand the influence the pandemic has had on the mental health of our children. Sickness, isolation and increased stressors at home are just a few of the contributing factors that can lead to increased chances of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. I will focus on mental health awareness by supporting the 5 T’s of mental health education in schools as referenced from SRI education; Talking about mental health, providing appropriate training for teachers and staff, incorporating mental health into teaching, providing helpful tools for students, and taking care of teachers.
Ron Brooks: My number one goal as a school board member is to make the Waupaca School District a magnet school. We are currently experiencing a declining enrollment with an expanding residential community. I have not dug into the metrics of our population, but these two numbers don’t appear to make sense. I want the Waupaca School District to be a place families will move to or enroll in because of excellence in academics and extracurricular activities. I hope our school system can augment the fantastic work that Aaron Jenson and his staff are doing to revitalize Main Street to encourage families to live, work and educate their children here.
Dale Feldt: I believe as a board member that I have demonstrated the qualities of a team player. The team of people that run a school district are the board, administration, staff and the community members. Working as a team player, I believe I have not let my own biases or agendas influence my decisions. I believe I have acted as an informed voice and agent of the community members, listening to all points of views and making the most educated decision possible. It is true that those decisions have not always pleased all members of the community, but I have respected all the people that have shared their points of view no matter how passionate they were presented.
My decisions have always been based on our strategic plan; the districts vision statement, the mission statement, and our ends policies. What is best for students in our district is always a part of my decisions.
I believe relationship building is so important in earning the respect and trust of all members of the district team. Knowing each other’s roles on the team and respecting those roles develops a strong school district. A board member exists to act as an informed voice and agent of the owners (community). A board member is accountable to the owners and as such, is not advisory to staff but is an active link in the chain of command. The superintendent is the direct employee of the board.
The authority of the board is held as a body. No one board member can make decisions. The board speaks as a whole. Individual board members have no authority to instruct staff. The board monitors organizational performance against its Ends policies and Executive Limitations policies. The superintendent is the direct employee of the board.
There is much more to explain but I wanted to stress that unless there is trust between all entities of the team, and each team entity is allowed to do its job, the system will not succeed. I have been fortunate to learn what my expectations where as a staff member and now as a school board member. It is so important that all members of the team: board members, administration, staff, and community members follow this chain of command for our organization to be successful. I believe I have done this.
In conclusion, all people involved in the school system should feel they can approach a school board member with their concerns. When I am contacted I will listen to these concerns and direct people to the proper person to contact. I do follow up to make sure their concerns have been addressed. I want everyone to feel they have a voice in our schools and that the district is communicating with the community. Communication is the cornerstone to transparency.
Teaching students about race and gender issues has become a hot topic throughout the nation. How would you as a school board member approach this topic?
Kayla Van Dyke-Griena: Children deserve to be taught the most accurate honest information on all topics in an age-appropriate way. Knowing that race and gender are sensitive subjects for some, I would encourage parents to talk with teachers and other school staff to openly discuss their concerns. This will ensure educational and parental needs are met.
Ron Brooks: First, with regards to race: I assume that this question is referring to Critical Race Theory. First and foremost I believe in education, not indoctrination. I believe that children should be taught how to think, not what to think. That being said, let’s remember that Critical Race Theory is just that; it is a theory. Just as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution or Christianity Theory is only a carefully thought out explanation for observations of the natural world. Do I believe that Critical Race Theory is valid? No, it serves neither the supposed oppressed or the supposed oppressor. But just like Darwin’s theory of evolution or Christianity, it needs to be studied and debated to truly understand its manifestations. I do not support fascism, but to ban the study of fascism from the classroom would leave a great void in our understanding of history, Hitler’s persecution of Jews, and the rise of the Third Reich.
Secondly, gender. If this is a question about transgender athletes competing in sports I believe the answer is quite simple. If you have a Y chromosome, no matter how you identify yourself, then you may only participate in boy’s athletics. The next question that always arises in this debate is then, “Well, how about girls in boy’s sports?” I believe in this case that Title IX has opened up opportunities for female athletes that their mothers and grandmothers could only dream about. If we are going to level the playing field by saying that it is not fair for genetic males to participate in women’s athletics then we have to admit why. Men in general have more testosterone, more muscle mass, and are bigger, faster, and stronger. If you would argue this fact, I would refer you to any track and field record at any level: high school, college, professional, or Olympic. We should use this same logic to keep boys’ sports as boys’ sports and girls’ sports as girls’ sports for both fairness and safety of the athletes.
Ben Warren: I would focus on what’s happening in the Waupaca School District and ignore the divisive media frenzy. When you politicize school board issues, the children, schools and communities suffer. We must remember that the most important job of a school board is to give the children access to the best possible education. As a parent, and school board member, I’d try to ensure that every child in our district feels valued and supported.
Dale Feldt: Public schools should not be involved in divisive and deceptive controversial cultural issues, especially when they are not appropriate. We are here to educate and unite people, not divide people. We have to protect our schools to continue to be sanctuaries for learning. Schools must be fortified with structures to nurture the kind of learning that creates engaging interactive experiences. I believe that at times a sort of group think takes place, with social media distortions. Misinformation is a dangerous product of an online feedback loop many people get caught up in. At times it feels like there is more emphasis on community relations, than on instruction. When these contentious and difficult issues arise, it is important for us to calm, rather than inflame, and to help find resolutions, instead of further division.
We should not be teaching anyone to hate anyone, or to hate their country. We also should not be indoctrinating students to judge others based on their race. There is a cancel culture that exists in our society today, and this is unfortunate. It is as if some think “free speech for me, but not for thee.” This is a double standard. Much of these issues actually violate Title VI/VIL of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Martin Luther King had a dream. It is my hope that we continue to pursue his dream where people are not judged based on things they can’t control, but on their character.
If the topic did come up I would again call on a team of educators, administration and students to help come up with a consensus as to how to deal with this topic. Everything we do in the district has to be done as a team. There is no room for a single person’s point of view. While we make these decisions we must always keep in mind the mission statement, vision and ends policies that focus on students. It is the Waupaca Way!