Six newcomers will face off against two incumbents in the Feb. 15 primary for a chance at three open seats on the Menomonee Falls School Board.
The top six vote-getters in that race will advance to the April 5 general election. The seats carry three-year terms.
Incumbents Cathy Olig and Michele Divelbiss will be on the ballot with challengers Kova Brown, Nina Christensen, Shelley Holzman, Lowell William Kellogg, Anbu Madankumar and Chris Stueland.
Although Madankumar filed for candidacy, he has since decided he would like to withdraw; however, it is too late to remove his name from the ballot.
Incumbent Faith VanderHorst is not seeking re-election.
Now News Group posed three questions to the eight candidates to outline their plans for the Menomonee Falls school board. Answers were limited to 100 words.
What are the most pressing issues facing the school board, and how would you solve them?
Kova Brown: I think some people find the role of the school board mysterious and may not be sure of what the board’s responsibilities are. As a board member, I would aim to be accessible to community members to allow for dialogue to hopefully help clarify any questioning. I would also want to make sure staff and students feel engaged with the board. I would plan to visit schools and attend school functions to stay connected and available.
Nina Christensen: The most important issue is restoring parent trust in the school administration and board, and teacher retention. This starts with complete transparency related to curriculum. Parents and teachers should be active participants in policy decisions that directly affect our children's education. Teachers and parents are at the core of learning and deserve to have input in the process.
In addition, retention of teaching talent contributes to our children's continuity of learning as teachers grow together with the district. Competitive wages and incentive programs to retain good teachers in our district is very important.
Michele Divelbiss (inc.): As I specifically serve on the curriculum and personnel committees, the main issues I would focus on would be to continue the work on our strategic priority of early literacy and continue to make sure we are well situated in the marketplace to adapt to employment/economic shifts.
Shelley Holzman: What: Trust and transparency.
How: Increased frequency in parent/district/community communication, parent feedback panels
Lowell William Kellogg: School board members are to write, revise, enforce school policies. The trouble with school boards today is they are influenced by powers outside of the school district. I find it interesting that school board elections are nonpartisan elections, yet people ask if I’m Republican or Democrat. I would focus on the policy decisions with the district’s best interests and not the interests of those outside the district trying to make it political.
Cathy Olig (inc.): Future school funding is a critical issue. ESSER III discretionary funds represent the district’s largest source of federal funds at $2.1 million. We are in touch with our local legislators to understand the revised allocation plan and actual amounts from the DPI, the Joint Finance Committee and the Department of Education. Our district needs these federal dollars for the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 budget years to cover inflationary revenue needs because the latest state budget did not include a revenue limit increase. I support ongoing communication and advocacy for school funding to help ensure predictable and sustainable K-12 funding.
Chris Stueland: Unfortunately, the most pressing issue in our schools is COVID and continuing an excellent education for our children. Our teachers and students need to be in school to receive an engaging education. As a speech language pathologist and parent, I can appreciate face-to-face communication and the importance of reaching benchmarks in learning. Menomonee Falls Schools has invested significant time and funding to keep our children in school, but our teachers need further support. Spending should be prioritized to focus on the students and the advancement of their learning.
Schools have been using virtual and in-person learning. How would you ensure students get the highest quality education in both environments?
Brown: COVID-19 continues to be a challenge in all communities. Our children cannot learn well if they’re distracted by things such as concerns about their health or feelings of isolation from being away from their peers. Aside from our teachers continuing to provide the highest quality education, both virtually and in person, it has been beneficial for schools to have more counselors onsite to support students whose mental health may be strained during this time.
Christensen: The virtual learning model has proven to have detrimental consequences with our children. Academically, socially, emotionally and mentally, our children have suffered in these remote environments. Students lacked resources that are available at school and the physical presence of teachers to keep them on task. Students were isolated at home in front of the screen for hours at a time. This led to a lack of motivation, depression and anxiety. Great effort should be put toward keeping staff, teachers and students healthy in order to have in-person learning. That has proven to be the best learning environment for our children.
Divelbiss: Our district has not had to employ virtual learning on a large scale in the last year. Our data showed it to be a poor learning mode for many of our students. While we have learned much about teaching in a virtual environment and certainly have the technological capacity to teach in that mode, our staff excels in the face-to-face model and we need to maintain our focus there.
Holzman: SDMF has been in-person learning for most students since January 2021. More emphasis needs to be placed on how to catch up any students left behind by virtual learning or those students struggling with reacclimation to in-person learning.
Kellogg: I have no problems with the SDMF COVID-19 protocols as long as they adhere to the CDC guidelines, which are always changing due largely to this being a new virus and we are constantly learning from it and its variants. I am a full-time employee at Milwaukee Area Technical College, and MATC’s COVID protocols are stricter. I am also an adjunct instructor at Carroll University, and we have been face to face with COVID protocols for 1½ years.
Olig: High-quality education starts with our highly qualified teachers who care deeply for our students. Retaining our incredible educators is one of my top priorities. Kids learn best in school through high-quality instruction.
Since March 2020, our district has experienced 100% remote, hybrid and in-person learning. With an understanding of the tech tools, teachers and students are adept at switching modes of instruction. Students have also learned flexibility, a critical life skill.
Teachers, educational assistants, and building staff work hard to support families during virtual instruction. No matter the mode of instruction, our talented staff seek to maximize student achievement.
Stueland: Supporting our teachers and students is of highest priority in both learning environments. Schools must focus on promoting higher learning and advancing our children in their education in both settings with parent involvement. Parents should be informed of issues in a timely manner in order to provide feedback and offer solutions. Our teachers are a valuable resource and we need to respect their opinions, listen to their concerns and use their solutions to improve our schools.
Name one or two services provided by the school that you would like to see improved. How would you go about making changes?
Brown: I think the school has a lot of great services in place that effectively meet students’ needs. The board, administrators and teaching staff have an effective system in place to assess what is and is not working. As the population grows and changes, I would want to see the school district continue to also grow to best meet the needs of all of its student body.
Christensen: I would like to see greater investment in the support staff for the special education department. It takes a special individual to work with the special-needs population. It is important to hire and retain qualified staff, supply them with equipment to be more efficient, and offer additional training courses.
Additionally, I would like to see a greater emphasis in elevating other career options for all students, especially the trades. It is wonderful to stress the advanced placement courses and tests for a four-year college, however, the trades should be considered just as an important career choice and option for students.
Divelbiss: Another of our strategic priorities is to make sure every student graduates with a plan in place for their post-secondary experience. Our academy experience has been beneficial to many students, but for those that don’t participate in one of our academies, we need to make sure our students are equipped to identify their preferred path
Holzman: What: District staffing
How: Conduct analysis on staff/student ratio; understand vacant positions and recruiting/retention to fully support all students and teachers in an academic environment.
How: More transparency into the materials selected to educate students of all ages, library materials accessible and time dedicated to core academics.
Olig: Demand for mental health services is at an all-time high. To improve access to therapy, the school district has established on-site counseling centers in all of our schools. Mental wellness and resources webpages and access to training programs with community partners also help families.
We can continue to improve supporting students’ emotional well-being by proactively addressing teasing, conflict, bullying and cyberbullying. I would advocate for making it easier to report bullying via an online system or app for students. To improve the school climate, I would increase lessons on addressing and preventing bullying, and provide ongoing professional development for staff.
Stueland: Mental health issues with children have skyrocketed. With a range of issues, from behavior issues in the classroom to serious psychological problems, our schools need to address mental health going forward when considering future policy and procedures related to COVID. Falls School District should provide teachers the tools, training and support in classrooms to ensure that children are receiving proper assistance. The repercussions of COVID and the stress of these times are hard on our children. We need to offer a listening ear to our parents and teachers on how we can further improve our mental health services.
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Address: N89 W15791 Main St., Menomonee Falls
Occupation: Certified professional midwifery student
Previous elected experience: None
Community involvement: Volunteered weekly at Ben Franklin and Riverside elementary schools in classrooms and libraries; volunteer with the Milwaukee Church of Christ; volunteer with HOPE worldwide for over 25 years; give blood; soon to sit for the certified professional midwife exam to become a midwife.
Contact information: email@example.com; www.kovaforschoolboard.com; Facebook: @kovaforschoolboard; Instagram: @kovaforschoolboard
Address: W143 N6156 Red Oak Court, Menomonee Falls
Previous elected experience: None
Community involvement: Volunteering with my children's schools and activities and fostering and training dogs with a local dog rescue group to be donated to an at-risk veteran.
Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook: Nina Christensen for MF School Board
Michele Divelbiss (inc.)
Address: W182 N8270 Georgetown Drive, Menomonee Falls
Occupation: Frame shop manager for Hobby Lobby
Previous elected experience: A school board member since 2013 (nine years)
Community involvement: N/A
Contact information: 262-339-0241; email@example.com; Facebook: Michele Divelbiss for Menomonee Falls School Board
Address: W132 N6795 Westview Circle, Menomonee Falls
Occupation: Vice president, wealth product manager
Previous political experience: None
Community involvement: Christian education board member and teacher; pastoral search committee; 4K parent advisory board (School District of Menomonee Falls); Ronald McDonald House volunteer; co-chair U11 Menomonee Falls Jr Phoenix Baseball fundraising committee
Contact information: 262-227-6972; Facebook: www.facebook.com/voteshelleyforboard
Lowell William Kellogg
Address: W147 N6677 Ash Drive, Menomonee Falls
Occupation: Chemistry educational assistant at the Milwaukee Area Technical College and an adjunct chemistry instructor at Carroll University.
Previous elected experience: ran in every school board election since spring 2014
Community involvement: Menomonee Falls firefighter/emergency medical technician for five years (four years volunteer and one year part-time).
Contact information: 262-703-0943; Facebook: Lowell Kellogg for Menomonee Falls School Board
Cathy Olig (inc.)
Address: N77 W15424 Crossway Drive, Menomonee Falls
Occupation: marketing consultant/account manager.
Previous political experience: Three years on the school board (appointed in October 2018 and elected in April 2019)
Community involvement: Menomonee Falls Chamber member; Leadership Menomonee Falls class 2019; Collective Impact Menomonee Falls communications volunteer and early literacy committee member; Menomonee Falls High School Academy adviser: design, communications and media, and business, school volunteer: mock interviews for personal finance classes, Art Folks, library, book fair, numerous events; PTO co-president at Ben Franklin 2017-18 school year; Menomonee Falls Youth Basketball Association head coach, fourth-grade boys’ team; youth sports volunteer: Menomonee Falls Little League, Falls Kickers, CE&Rec basketball coach and Good Shepherd Catholic Church volunteer, event chairperson
Address: N77 W17161 Overlook Trail, Menomonee Falls
Occupation: Speech language pathologist
Previous elected experience: None
Community organizations: Girl Scout leader for 10 years, with four of those years as a Girl Scout school coordinator and a volunteer for various school activities and committees.
Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook: Chris Stueland for MF School Board
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Menomonee Falls School Board: Primary to narrow field of eight to six