Four of the five candidates running to fill three seats on the Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education participated in a candidate forum on Thursday Oct. 27 at the Boyne District Library.
There had been six people running for the three seats—currently held by school board members Bea Reinhardt (retiring after 18 years on the board), Lisa Schrock and Robert South—however, Trisha T. Ager, who was seeking a six-year term, discovered that she could not be a school board member and continue to work as a substitute teacher for Boyne City Public Schools. So, she opted to drop out of the race prior to the forum.
Schrock, who is the only person running for the late Ed Vondra’s remaining two-year term on the board, did not attend the forum in order to allow the rest of the candidates more time.
The four candidates who attended are vying for two six-year terms. They are newcomers Kristine Brehm, Alison Fuller-Mellon, Patricia Hills, and Bob South—who was appointed to fill Vondra’s vacancy until the Tuesday Nov. 8 election.
Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Pat Little opened the forum by explaining the format and giving a little background on who was running and what seats they were running for.
“We’re excited to have so many people want to see and hear candidates for the board because it’s a really important job,” he said. “Our school district is an exciting school district. It’s growing, it’s doing a lot of great things, and there are many reasons for that but part of it is having great leadership. And the board, of course, is an important part of that.”
Retiring Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Baumann moderated the event.
Candidates began by introducing themselves and explaining why they are running for the board.
Mellon said she has lived in Boyne City since the early 1980s, and has been a teacher all her life. She taught in Detroit and Charlevoix schools in addition to working for the Char-Em ISD as a literacy consultant.
“Currently, I am the AmeriCorps program director for the Char-Em literacy coaching corps,” she said. “And, we place members in intermediate school district elementary schools to support students who are having difficulty … with reading, writing and phonics—phonetic awareness—so, all things literacy.”
Mellon said she has the knowledge, interest and time, at this point in her career, to do the job of school board trustee well.
Hills said she has worked in education for roughly 20 years. She worked in Alpena before coming to Boyne 16 years ago.
“I think being an educator gives you a unique sort of background for being a board member,” she said. “I’m interested in being a board member because I think it will give me some connectivity to the school.”
Hills still teaches but in another school district.
South, a small business owner, said he really enjoys his time on the board and having the opportunity to help drive decisions which affect his three children, who go to Boyne schools.
“When I was appointed to the board, there were a lot of really good candidates, and I really didn’t mind whether I was selected or not because I knew they would make a good decision with any of the people that they chose,” he said. “But, I was excited when I got chosen and had the opportunity to be involved.”
South added, “I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to do something, to give back in some way.”
Brehm, also a local business owner, came to Boyne City in 2005. She has a degree in chemical engineering from Wayne State University.
Brehm, who has two children in Boyne schools, has served on the Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce Board—serving as president for a year.
“I feel a very strong connection with Boyne City,” she said. “There is something very special going on here, and we do a really good job in this community of making it exactly that—a community.”
Brehm said she feels compelled to participate in the community.
“I feel that I bring a pragmatic approach as well—running my own business and dealing with members and understanding financial responsibility … that I bring that to the table,” she said.
Brehm said she has also worked as a tutor, which gave her some insight into the field of education.
1. The candidates were then asked for their opinions on various topics, the first of which was, “community/school district relations.”
Hills said her philosophy is that they should be wide open, frequent and as transparent as possible.
“I am interested in looking at the avenues of technology. We use a lot of that in Boyne, and I think there’s a lot we can do with that to get information out to people and also get information back so that we can get a feel for what our community wants,” she said.
Hills also said she feels school board members need to be visible in the schools and at school events.
South said, in his time on the board, he has seen there is ample opportunity for people to learn about what the board is doing and to offer input.
“I think the challenge is to get people to come to those meetings and be engaged and informed,” he said.
South added that the only time there is a large turnout at a school board meeting seems to be when there is a “hot topic” and that some of the people are ill-informed on all the facts. He said this creates an opportunity for the school board to try to get more people involved.
Brehm said she thinks the community comes together well but she agrees not enough people are active in school board meetings.
“Making sure that getting this out to the community and having everybody participate is very important, as well as making sure that all the pieces of Boyne City work together as they have been doing so well for so long,” she said.
Mellon said she thinks most people have a “really positive” view of the schools, adding that the various student groups and activities showcase the school well.
“There’s all these high points and, perhaps, these people don’t come to the school board meeting because they feel like they do know what’s going on because they see it out in the community,” she said.
Mellon said she thinks Boyne City Public Schools already has a good relationship with the community and vice versa.
2. The next topic was “student academic growth and instruction.”
South discussed the board’s decision to choose Little as the new superintendent, and that he felt that was a good choice. He said he looks forward to the board partnering with Little to continue to improve the school district.
“I see a really cool opportunity to partner with him, if I’m on the board again, to drive change, to look at the things we do and to say … ‘How can we make things better?’” South said. “We can sit and be complacent and say we have such a great community, we have such a great thing going on here, but we need to keep moving forward.”
Brehm said she is “all about the academics.”
Brehm said the school district should constantly be pushing students to be better than where they were the previous year.
“When we have an educated community … we have an opportunity to better where we live,” she said, adding that she loves math and science.
Brehm said there are many retired teachers who might be tapped as volunteer tutors. But, her main message was to keep pushing and challenging kids to do better.
Mellon said Boyne’s test scores are already higher than average though there is a percentage of kids who are not where they should be.
“It may be a college prep direction, it may be a vocational-technical direction, but we need to address the needs of all kids,” she said.
Mellon said she would like to see more of a focus on writing and communication skills.
“There’s so much technology that I think those kind of skills are going away,” she said.
Hills said there needs to be an emphasis on teaching kids to be able to handle long-term goals, to be determined and to understand how to handle failure without giving up.
3. The next topic was “school finances and resources.”
Brehm began by talking about how important it is for her to be pragmatic in her own business. She said it is important for the school board to be unified and looking at the students’ best interests when budgeting.
Mellon said she feels it is important to be aware that you are spending someone else’s money every time you make an expenditure. She added that she would do what’s best for the kids and community.
Hills said it can be difficult to balance what’s best for the kids and dealing with a finite amount of money.
“When you have to make cuts, it’s always painful,” she said. “You always have to take into consideration what you’re losing, and you darn well better be gaining something for it.”
Hills said the school board members should investigate what other boards are doing around the country to see how they could be doing better.
South said fiscal responsibility is very important to him.
“There are always things that we want, always things that would be great to have but we have to be grounded in reality,” he said.
4. The candidates were also asked for their views on “staff development and evaluation.”
Mellon said she was puzzled by the topic since staff development and evaluation do not fall under the auspices of the school board. Baumann asked if she supported continuing education for school staff.
“When the board makes a policy, and the school improvement plan lays out their goals, then staff development should be tied to those goals,” she said. “And, evaluation is a fact of life in any place.”
Hills said it can be challenging and disconcerting for a teacher to be evaluated based, in part, on student test scores.
Hills said, if the school system is going to pay for professional development, it should be in areas which will improve teacher performance.
Hills also said the educational backgrounds of teachers need to be looked at to ensure the right teachers are teaching the right classes.
South said the administrators provide teacher evaluations but he is a huge supporter of teachers and he will do what he can to ensure teachers get all the opportunities they need to improve.
But, he added, it all needs to be grounded in fiscal responsibility and what’s best for the students.
Brehm said the community is blessed to have all the great teachers it has.
“Those teachers are also faced with some huge challenges nowadays where … their evaluation is based on who they are teaching, and sometimes that’s just not fair because every student has challenges of their own,” she said.
5. Candidates were then asked about, “the role of the board in governing the district; and the role of the individual board member.”
Hills said she views the board as a box for concerns and suggestions and as a tool for oversight.
“We rely on our administration and our staff and we need to be able to trust in them to do their jobs. And, if we cannot, then somewhere along the lines we made a mistake,” she said, adding that board members need to discuss serious matters as individual voices but come together to work as a team despite having rigorous debates on important issues.
South said the role of the board is to help the schools provide the very best education possible.
He also said it is important to have the courage to make tough decisions and be willing to explain why you made those decisions when approached by community stakeholders. He also said being a board member requires having an open mind on issues.
Brehm said the board is the leadership of the school and, while there can be disagreement behind closed doors, the board needs to come together with a unified front in the public eye.
“Oversight is obviously very important,” she added.
Brehm also said it is important for board members to be active in the school community.
Mellon said it is important for school board members to be good listeners to the community and each other. She also said they need to be civil, to share ideas with one another, and to respect and support decisions once they are made.
Mellon said the board, in general, must be a good leader for the school district and that members should stay up-to-date on legislation which affects the school district.