BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR & CHRIS FAULKNOR, PUBLISHER
Four of five candidates running for two seats on the Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education attended last week’s forum, which was moderated by Boyne District Library Executive Director Monica Kroondyk.
Candidates Zareena Safdar Koch, Nathan Minnaar, Chris Marlin, and Harry “Hap” B. Wright attended the Tuesday Oct. 9 event at the Boyne City Education Center. School board candidate Karen Belch was not in attendance due to a family emergency.
Two board seats will be decided at the Tuesday Nov. 6 election. Each seat is for a term of six years.
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Hap Wright said he moved to Northern Michigan and taught in Gaylord for a number of years and eventually went on to work with kids in an outdoor education program in addition to his years coaching a number of sports including Little League, soccer, and skiing. He still coaches and works as a mentor with the Boyne City High School Robotics Team.
Chris Marlin has been a permanent resident of Boyne since 2013 and has been a vacationer here since 1969.
Marlin retired in 2013, having previously worked in senior and executive positions in Human Resources, Training and Development, Organizational Planning, Manufacturing Quality, Student Residence Programs and University/Community College Instructor.
Nathan Minnaar has lived in Boyne City with his family since 2008. He is originally from Spring Lake and was married after college and lived in Grand Rapids prior to moving to Boyne City. Minnaar works as the Product Development Manager for EJ, USA located in East Jordan, where he has worked since 2004.
Zareena Koch has lived in Boyne City Since July 2011 and has served on the Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education since winning a seat in 2012.
Koch works as a non-profit fundraiser.
Kroondyk posed a number of questions to the candidates. Here are some of their responses.
1. How is the relationship the district has with the community; and, how should the district develop this relationship in the future?
“It’s gotta be pretty dang good,” Wright said, adding that when he drives by the schools during football games and fundraisers, the parking lots are packed.
“That tells me that we have high event attendance,” he said, “which shows strong support for Boyne City Public Schools from the people in Charlevoix County and that also live here.”
Wright added that things can always be improved and discussed the potential good of holding public forums to deal with issues like drug use and bullying.
Minnaar said it all comes down to communication—being transparent with parents, being honest in those communications, and taking input from the community seriously.
Marlin said it’s important the community understand and has absolute trust the school system will take care of their children.
“I also believe that it’s really important that the community, particularly its employers, have a vested interest in the kind of skills and abilities the school provides them to meet their employment demands,” he said… “What they’re looking for is a whole person—not just specific skills and abilities—but emotional intelligence, social skills, creativity; a whole host of new skills.”
Marlin said it is critical to listen to what people have to say and respond accordingly.
Koch said the relationship between the community and school system is essential.
“I think community plays a huge role in education,” she said. “It has so far, in our initiatives, and I hope it continues to.”
2. In what way should the district train and evaluate staff?
Minnaar said there must be plenty of available training opportunities.
“We’ve been working a lot on that,” said Koch. “And, I think the state and federal changes also impact how you evaluate administrators.”
She added, “It’s been a long road. It’s gonna continue to be a long road as long as laws continue to change.”
Koch said evaluations are a moving target but that ensuring teachers have the tools they need must remain a priority.
Wright addressed hiring standards for all employees saying they must be qualified, teachers must have a big heart to work with kids, and teachers today must have a belief in doing the right thing.
“We need teachers, employees, everybody that practices their work ethic as well as teaching,” he said.
Wright said the school system needs to look at research on technology—specifically the relationship between screen time and depression.
Marlin said he is an absolute advocate of staff development.
“An instructor or teacher’s got to be able to understand what … different learning styles are, they need to be well-versed in the subject matter, they need to understand different classroom management styles, how to present material in a way that is engaging, and they need to be able to adjust their style to meet the particular needs of some students,” Marlin said…. “Now, because of that, I think they need to have continuous training and development.”
3. Do you agree with the current allocation of school resources and funds?
“We have taken a hit in school funding,” said Koch… “Could we do more? Heck yeah. Is this what we have today? Yes.”
She added, “So, if we constantly wait to see our student payment increase, we will be waiting and not implementing anything.”
She said she would like to see more but is amazed at what the school system does with what it has.
Marlin said he had an opportunity a couple weeks ago to meet with the board finance committee to learn more about school finance.
“The good news is we do have funds to run the school in the immediate,” he said…. “It’s really important, I think, for a board member to understand the finances of the system, particularly as it relates to understanding—what are the priorities?”
Minnaar prefaced his comment by saying everything the board does should be a short-term execution with a long-term focus.
“With my children going through the school system right now, I see all the opportunities that they’ve had,” he said… “Those are (the) kind of things not every child gets as they’re going through the school system.”
Minnaar said it is important to be transparent about funding to ensure the community knows when things are good or bad.
He also said funding for the arts is close to his heart.
Wright said he is pleased with the effort students, parents and staff put into volunteering and fundraising.
“I think we still … keep an eye on the fund equity,” he said. “And, that’s not something—teachers might not like to hear this but I will say it—that’s not something that teachers should be looking forward to, ‘Oh, we’re going to get a good pay raise this year cause the fund equity is…’ Well, wait a minute, that’s for emergencies.”
Wright said there needs to be prudent, honest financing.
4. What should our community expect from the staff in terms of instruction and student growth?
“Early childhood education is really the basis of it all,” said Marlin.
He said giving young kids a head start is key to evening the field among children of varying socio-economic backgrounds.
Marlin also said there are a number of tools which help prepare students for the types of jobs they will be doing in the future, and that those need to be utilized.
Wright said student academic growth and instruction are important.
“A good education—we blend the basics with motivating instruction,” he said…. “Kid’s gotta know what a sentence is. Kid’s gotta know his multiplication tables. You bet. Those basics are important. And, any good teacher should, and I think in the Boyne City system is, teaching those things.”
He added, “Now, the balance is motivation… It’s not just what we’re teaching but how we’re teaching it.”
Minnaar said he believes every student can succeed no matter their beginnings.
“But, each student succeeds in their own way,” he said, “and that way has to be found out through instruction, through training of the teachers, through ways that maybe are a little unconventional.”
Minnaar added, “What I’d hate to think is we lose children because they don’t understand the curriculum but they would learn it in a different way.”
He said that ties in with keeping parents involved with their children’s education.
Koch said, “Student growth and academic progress is the calling card of any district. It’s how you know you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, along with a balanced budget.”
She agreed that not all children learn the same way, and that assessments must be used to adjust where necessary.
5. What is your vision of the role of both the school board in governing the district and the role of an individual board member?
Wright said of governing the district that parents have expectations that board members do the right thing regarding personnel, policy and finance.
“We’re a team,” he said. “Together, everyone accomplishes more.”
Wright added that he feels he needs to be willing to listen and be a team member.
Minnaar said every decision the board makes should be with larger goals in mind rather than individual wants.
“As a board member I think you have to approach it as a partnership with educators and the administrators and try and keep it that way as opposed to … more of an antagonistic approach,” he said. “And, then, finally … I think we need to make sure parents are involved every step of the way.”
Marlin said it’s important that a school board listen to the entire community when making its decisions.
“It’s important in a board that we have a mixture of different skillsets so we can discuss reasonably and analytically those kinds of subjects or issues that may arise,” he said. “And, at the same time, I think it’s really critical that we focus all our efforts ultimately on are we producing well-trained, civic-minded students.”
Marlin added, “I think it’s really important that the board itself always think about whatever they do needs to always focus on: are we doing the best thing we possibly can, given our resources, to prepare our students to meet a competitive world?”
Koch said the vision of the school board is seven people working hard to make sure kids have the best and trusting administrators as well as being willing to listen to the people they hire.
“I don’t know how to evaluate a child. It’s not my job to know how to evaluate a child,” she said. “It is my job to understand the evaluations that I’m presented with how that student is growing or not growing and what we’re going to do about it.”
Koch added, “As an individual, you’re required to really put aside your personal thoughts or personal goals and act strictly for the kids and for the district. You’re not there for you.”
The forum was then turned over to audience questions.