Spring 2020 Candidate Questionnaire: Altoona School Board
General Election: April 7
Election Day: Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Absentee and Early Voting: Click here for details
Where you vote and who is on your ballot:
Who is Running:
Terry Neff (I)
About this questionnaire: The Good Government Council (GGC) is a committee of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce dedicated to encouraging voter participation and providing members of the business community with unbiased information about candidates’ positions on important issues. Although the Chamber is active in policy issues, it is non-partisan and does not endorse political candidates.
Questions Candidates were asked:
Note: These questions were drafted and candidate responses requested before concerns about COVID-19 escalated to their current level.
Q1. What are your background and qualifications for this position, and why are you a candidate?
I am a retired physician with a daughter in Altoona Middle School's 7th grade. Thus, I have an intimate knowledge of the school system, especially the elementary and middle schools. I first became interested in the school board during the search for a new superintendent after Connie Bierdron stepped down in late 2018. I was elected to the school board in April, 2019 and have served on the school board for the last year. The board recently adopted a new governance model, called "coherent governance", which was adopted in January, 2020. Training for this system involved 5 days together with other board members with instruction by consultants who authored 2 books on the topic; thus, with one year of experience on there board and training in "coherent governance", I feel that I can contribute effectively for the next 3 years. My one year of service on the board also introduced me to the excellent faculty and staff at Altoona. I have served on two other professional boards in the past, including Hudson Physicians and Wisconsin Medical Society board.
Quite simply, I am running for the Altoona School Board because I am passionate about education, passionate about our kids, and I love the Altoona community. I am very involved in the school district volunteering in many capacities. Recently I was the chairperson for Locopalooza -a show choir competition in Altoona that hosted 11 schools from throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. I was on the planning committee for last year's color run. I chaperone field trips and other events. I was chosen to be the parent liaison on the interview panel for hiring our recent middle school principal, I was a parent voice amongst educators in a recent book study for the Wisconsin Department of Instruction, and recently I even baked bread with some of our Intermediate School students as part of their Colonial Living unit. For the greater community, I am a Police and Fire commissioner for the City of Altoona, and help with many other events and activities throughout the Chippewa Valley; be it through volunteering or organizing the events themselves. Most notably I am the president elect for the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted (WATG). It is through my work with WATG that I have really become involved and gained a greater understanding of the education system and the challenges within. Through WATG I have become an advocate on a state and national level for education, not just for gifted individuals, but for all students. My personal motto is, “I can not change the world, but I can work really hard to make my little corner of it a better place.” And I promise you that as a school board member I will work to do just that.
My professional background is in public education. I earned Bachelors Degrees in Biology and Education and a Master of Science Teaching Degree. I have been a full-time classroom instructor for 36 years and have taught as a substitute teacher for 8 additional years since “retiring” in 2011. I believe that my past instructional role provides a much better perspective of important factors in a student’s education than someone with a non-education background.
I have also served on the Board of Directors of Consumers Cooperative Association of Eau Claire / Cenergy for the past five years. I have experience working on the governance, nominating, facilities, and finance committees during my tenure there.
I made the decision to become a candidate after several friends and acquaintances asked me to seek the position. I believe I offer a unique and meaningful perspective to the Altoona School Board if elected.
Q2. The district has had to deal with difficult challenges related to its last two superintendents. What would your role be as a school board member to move the district and the community forward from here?
I was not on the Altoona board for the selection of either Connie Bierdron or Dan Peggs as superintendents. I think the board could have done a better job vetting Ms. Bierdron, based on her past job performance. Regarding Mr. Peggs, his alleged transgressions occurred 4-5 years ago, and his criminal record was unblemished at the time of hiring here at Altoona. During the past year, I worked with him closely and thought that he was an excellent leader. Sadly, his arrest and legal charges suggest a tragic character flaw that shocked all who have known him. The board acted quickly to bring back Ron Walsh, the interim superintendent, who is an experienced school leader and a familiar face to the district, dating back to his role as a temporary replacement for Connie Bierdron. The new superintendent hiring process is already underway with planned opportunities for the community to be involved. I am confident that we can do a better job in bringing a qualified individual with absolute integrity to the position. The kids and community deserve better.
My role in moving the district and community forward is first to listen. I need to listen to the students, teachers, administrators, and community. I need to truly hear their needs and then act on filling those needs. Secondly, I need to support open and honest communication to the community from the board. I feel that communication is the cornerstone of rebuilding trust in the district.
It is indeed a disheartening experience when there is a betrayal of trust by any leader of an organization. It is even more disappointing when that individual is the appointed leader of the school district. None of us possess the power to foresee events, but we can examine past history. All school board members need to ensure that the vetting process for the new superintendent is thorough and meticulous. Detailed input must be obtained from the candidate’s previous school district in addition to a thorough background check by law enforcement.
The school board should communicate with school administration, faculty, various staff members, and community members to gather formal and informal data regarding the potential candidates. I believe it is essential that candidates possess years of experience as a classroom teacher, a principal, and a district superintendent to help ensure a successful and positive transition to the Altoona School District. The new superintendent can then begin to gain the respect and trust of the community. That can be achieved by following the district’s Results and Operational Expectations Policies and being actively involved in all aspects of school academics and activities. It is a demanding job that requires an exemplary individual.
Q3. With a strong local economy and low unemployment, many businesses report difficulty in filling key positions. What can the school system do to promote a skilled workforce for the area sufficient to meet the needs of business and industry?
One of the jobs of the superintendent is to help tie the Altoona school district to the local community. One example is to ensure that students have the opportunity to work with local businesses and to receive credit for their work. Students gain on-the-job skills, and local businesses have an early look at potential young talent for future hiring. Altoona's career and technical education(CTE) curriculum tries to encourage such a partnership. High school students are also offered trade school courses (example: welding) with credit sometimes available through CVTC, valuable especially if a student decides to pursue further training in that area. A strong business community needs skilled leaders with a solid academic foundation to help them solve challenging problems. The latter is one of the core goals for all students in the Altoona school district.
This really is a statewide issue. I am so impressed with how the Eau Claire Area School District is rising to this challenge by partnering with CVTC on the Business Management Associate Degree Academy. Through this program, students enroll as a high school Freshman and, when they graduate from high school, they also receive an Associate's Degree. These students are work ready at age 18! I would love to see Altoona have a similar partnership. Rep. Warren Petryk (Assembly DIst. 93) is the chairperson for the Wisconsin Committee on Workforce Development and I recently, through my role with WATG, partnered with his office to draft a proposal for a legislative study on “Talent Development of Gifted and Talented Students in K-12 Schools”. I do not have all of the answers on how to solve this problem but I am already actively working, on a State level, to study and address this issue.
There is no magic bolus that can be administered to help create the perfectly prepared worker of tomorrow. The school system can help by offering a well-rounded curriculum.
Besides the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) course offerings many other classes play a key role to creating a successful and adaptive worker. Critical thinking skills, creative problem solving, and decision-making components should be integrated into each class as possible. Interpersonal relations and teamwork / collaboration should be reinforced to promote valuing other’s input. Communication skills (listening, written, and verbal) are paramount to success. The performing and visual arts classes are also essential in developing life activities that promote an educated and emotionally strong individual.
The onus of creating and maintaining a strong workforce cannot be placed wholly on the school system. Local industries must be willing to offer competitive wages and benefits to avoid attrition to more attractive and viable cities and states.
Q4. If you could accomplish one major goal in the next three years, what would it be and what impact would it have on student learning?
I think the most important goal to accomplish over the next three years is to restore morale for the faculty and students. The abrupt departure of Mr. Peggs, who both students and staff looked up to, has rattled the school district. Given the prior tumultuous tenure of Connie Bierdron, the district deserves to have a steady hand at the wheel. Improving morale was a high priority on the last community/staff online survey, dated 12/3/2018. Despite superintendent difficulties over the last several years, I think that the board has to work closely with the future superintendent to restore confidence in the Altoona school district's strengths. Studies show that students who are comfortable in their surroundings perform better. If their teachers and staff are happy, the students usually are happy, too, and their performance will reflect their state of mind.
My top priority will be to rebuild trust within the district. If the teachers feel secure and heard they will be more effective in the classroom. If the residents and taxpayers feel they are receiving timely and relevant information, they would be more likely to support major initiatives within the district. We have experienced a period of strong growth in Altoona. This growth has brought us new businesses, new residents and new students that may require new facilities and staff to support. Rebuilding trust will make it more likely that residents would support facilities expansion, should that be necessary, to sustain our educational excellence.
The issue of improving staff morale was mentioned at the March 9th forum by all three candidates. The recent turn-over / attrition of many administrative positions in Altoona only exacerbates the problem. A quote from Educational Leadership periodical states that, “Teacher morale is not a function of practices designed to maintain or create it. It’s a by-product of being treated as leaders and being treated with respect. Teacher morale is the end product of empowering teachers to make decisions that affect their lives.”
When a teacher feels truly valued in their professional role there will be a positive effect transferred in the classroom. Professional autonomy is beneficial for the teacher and the students. The Altoona School District has had several teacher recipients of the Kohl Award of Excellence. These teachers did not win because of top-down mandates implemented in their classrooms. They were awarded because of passionate individual teaching styles incorporating personal knowledge through experience. The students are the beneficiaries of this teaching approach. There is a direct correlation to a strong, positive teacher and engaged, happy, and successful students.
Posted by Amy Oldenburg, Legislative Intern
Eau Claire Chamber
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