OCONTO FALLS – Five candidates are actively seeking two seats on the Oconto Falls School Board, meaning that residents of the district will decide in the Feb. 15 primary which four will advance to the April 5 spring election.
In the running are longtime board member Ron Leja, former board member Charles O’Harrow, NWTC board member Carla Hedtke, 2021 write-in candidate Chad Earley, and newly minted incumbent Sarah Schindel.
The school board on Jan. 25 appointed Schindel to fill the vacancy of Sharon Stodola-Eslien, who abruptly resigned at the December meeting citing complaints about administration. She had four months remaining in her first term.
Leja, the board president, said Schindel, Hedtke and Bob Kellogg had all applied for the post. Schindel was selected after she and Hedtke were interviewed, he said.
Several hours before that meeting, Kellogg withdrew his name from consideration for the appointment and announced he was no longer a candidate in the election. Kellogg, 75, a retired teacher and administrator who previously served as CESA 8 administrator, cited health reasons. His name, however, will still be on the primary ballot.
The candidates provided answers in writing to the following questions. They were allowed up to 50 words for the first two questions, and 200 words for the third question. Answers were edited for clarity.
Why are you running for office?
Earley: I want to be part of the decisions that are made at the school board and make sure kids are getting the best experience.
Hedtke: I feel my education and vast educational board member experience can be helpful to support the vision, mission and goals for the students of the Oconto Falls School District.
Leja: I have a strong interest in education and consider myself a life-long learner. I would like to provide the children of our district with the best possible education while balancing the interest of our taxpayers.
O’Harrow: I had positive experiences serving on the School Board previously. After my daughter graduated from high school, my attention turned elsewhere. My interest has been rekindled recently by the pandemic challenges, the stress placed on professional staff, and the academic and social setbacks experienced by students.
Schindel: I am running for the Board to be impartial, open minded and to work to bring the very best learning opportunities to the students of the Oconto Falls School District. I come with optimism, open mindedness, willingness to listen and a fresh perspective as a mother of young children.
Why should voters elect you to the post?
Earley: I want to help make the right decisions for the school and for the community. I want to make sure the kids are getting the best education they can get to move on to the future and exceed their expectations.
Hedtke: Because of my passion and dedication to help all learners to be successful. I believe all people have worth. As an NWTC Board member I have diligently worked to provide resources to fulfill that goal.
Leja: I believe I have a skill set that helps me evaluate problems and the ability to listen to other peoples’ opinions to work towards the best solution for our children.
O’Harrow: What I will bring to the school board is a willingness to listen, the confidence to take an opposing minority position, and the wisdom to concede when I am in the wrong.
Schindel: I work in several different schools in the county on a daily basis, which allows a unique perspective. I also hold stake as a mother, community member and taxpayer. My main focus will be listening to my community members and having conversations to bring others’ perspectives to the table.
What do you believe to be the one or two most important issues facing the district, and how would you want the board to address them?
Earley: I want to make sure that the money is getting spent the right way. I would like people to know if you have a problem with what’s going on with the school district that you can come to me and I will look into it so we can make it right. We need to think twice about how to spend the money in the right spots.
Hedtke: Our local school districts as well as national school districts are faced with the impact and ramifications of the COVID viruses. Our schools have been impacted dramatically. Resources our schools have relied on to help educate our learners have diminished and/or have been eliminated. The COVID impact has challenged students and teachers to implement new learning and teaching techniques. Virtual learning has been the major source of learning for students. It has contributed to the decline of the “well-being” of our students, teachers, staff, and families. This educational challenge has affected the goals and mission of our school district’s education. As a current college board member at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College representing Oconto County, I have experienced this issue at the post-secondary education level. The challenges to educate students to be successful parallels a student at any level. The many resources we can continue to tap and engage to support our students is within our own school district system and community. Continually working together cohesively as partners with our district administration, board, teachers, staff, and business community is assurance the path to support our students and community is successful.
Leja: Mental health of students is a significant problem that was brought to the forefront over the past couple of years. As a Board we need to provide as much support as possible to help students have the resources and tools necessary so they can attend class ready to learn. Another continuous issue is curriculum and technology. The Board has to make sure our curriculum is providing students with the skills they need to succeed in their future endeavors. The challenge with technology is balancing the cost to stay up to date within the budget we have to work with.
O’Harrow: Finding a balance between technology and human contact is a challenge facing educators today. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and talented professional staff could create an experience that is light years from the “chalk and talk” experience most of us grew up with. However, our youth also need face time; they need the social skills that come from hallways, playgrounds, sports, and classrooms. The Board can help with these challenges by supporting an environment that rewards innovation.
Schindel: One of the biggest issues is the division between the community and the district, and in some instances, between parents and the district or staff. We must begin with transparent, honest conversations and most importantly open ears to make hard decisions. The district and community need to move forward together and commit to decisions that improve student learning, promote more community and parent involvement, and develop more staff support. School board members are public servants, in that sense it is my intention to ensure each voice is heard and understood. Another issue is mental health and supporting both students and staff in this need. We have come a long way in this, but the task continues to be challenging with the changing environment. This would mean seeking out resilience training, student and adult mental health first aid trainings for all staff, and ensuring a fully implemented new elementary guidance curriculum in 22/23. This might also look like teaching and promoting mental health awareness and self-care which could include mindfulness, improving sleep, proper exercise, limiting screen time, more outdoor time and improved dietary offerings.
Do you have any immediate family employed by the district? If yes, who?
Schindel: My sister-in law works as a secretary at Oconto Falls Elementary School.
Leja: Yes. A daughter-in-law is an elementary teacher.
Occupation/employer: Macco’s Commercial Interiors for 15½ years
Highest education level: Graduate of Lena High School; three years of college to become a journeyman mason.
Family: Wife, Beth; twin sons
Relevant experience: I am a foreman at Macco’s Commercial Interiors, where I have to make the right decisions to make the job run smoothly and efficiently. I am also on the Oconto Falls youth football board and I am a head coach for the youth football program.
Occupation/employer: Self-employed/semi-retired pain therapist, practicing myofascial trigger point for 27 years, Oconto Falls and Green Bay.
Highest education level: B.S., Physical Education, Health Education and Coaching, UW-Oshkosh; M.S. Business Management, Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee
Family: Two children, two grandchildren
Relevant experience: Having two generations of my family engage in many opportunities and graduate from Oconto Falls is direct experience of education issues. I have served for 27 years and currently serve on the Northeast Wisconsin College Board of Trustees Green Bay District and the Wisconsin State District Technical College Board Association. During this time, I have been elected to and served in officer positions. I serve on my professional state Massage Therapy Board and screening panel.
Occupation/employer: Grain farmer for past 18 years; dairy farmer for 25 years; design engineer, three years.
Highest education level: B.S. in Agricultural Engineering UW-Platteville, 1977; 24 Post Graduate credits in Mechanical Engineering, UW-Milwaukee
Family: Wife, Cathy Leja; four children
Relevant experience: Currently member of Oconto Falls School Board, 33 years; Abrams Livestock Shipping Association President, 38 years; Abrams Planning Commission, 17 years; and Oconto County Board of Canvassers, 12 years; previously served on Pulaski-Chase Cooperative Board of Directors, eight years; Oconto County Farm Service Agency Board Member, three years; and Oconto Falls/Abrams Youth Wrestling, 37 years.
Occupation/employer: Self-employed farmer
Highest education level: B.S., Dairy Science, UW-Madison, 1983
Family: Spouse, Rev. L. Gail Irwin; one daughter
Relevant experience: I have previously served two terms on the Oconto Falls School Board (2009 – 2015).
Occupation/employer: Nutrition Educator at UW-Madison Division of Extension, Oconto and Marinette Counties
Highest education level: Associate Degree, NWTC
Family: Husband, Travis; two children
Relevant experience: Nutrition Educator for grades two through four in Oconto and Marinette elementary schools, member of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Work Group (subgroup of the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) Committee for Oconto County). Through the Nutrition and Physical Activity Work Group, I am a member of the subgroup that formed the Oconto Falls Farmers Market. Member of the Focus Group working on the 2022 referendum plans for Oconto Falls Schools.
FOR MORE OCONTO COUNTY NEWS:Check out our website!
Contact Kent Tempus at (920) 354-6075 or firstname.lastname@example.org.