Warsaw R-IX School Board Candidates Q & A

The Warsaw CTA Chapter has gathered questions to ask of the candidates running for the Warsaw R-IX Board of Education.  Each candidate was asked the same questions, and below are their answer to each of these questions.  We provide this information to help you in making your decision upon which candidates should receive your votes.  
What are your priorities for improving our school district?
Rickie Caswell stated, “My priorities for the district are to help develop and communicate both a vision and a process that would send a clear message of what schools are to be about. This would be a message not only for educators but for stakeholders as well.  I believe the board is now currently on the right path with inviting a group to help develop a governance plan that can accomplish all of that.”
Brandy Fajen stated, “My top priority will always be the children in our district. When making decisions, their best interest will be in mind.  We should continue to recruit and retain qualified and committed teachers. I am excited about the number of educators who are committed to teaching our students each day and I pledge to give these individuals the support and tools they need. We need to strengthen our partnerships with parents and the community, as they are essential to building a culture of excellence to ensure all students are successful.”
Michael Schockmann stated, “I have a fairly small set of priorities.  A large list spreads your focus too thin and makes it less likely that you wiill get them accomplished.   My first priority to improving the district would be to hire, evaluate and retain quality staff.  The second priority is to try and solve the district’s attendance problems.  Next, I would like to resolve some of the issues that we have with our facilities. Lastly, I want to solve the disconnect that I see between the district and the community.”
What do you see as the biggest obstacles facing Warsaw R-IX and how would you address these obstacles? 
Brandy Fajen stated, “The biggest obstacle is our aging buildings. While our school district has taken substantial steps to address each facility’s needs, the buildings continue to age and modern classroom requirements continue to evolve.  To address this, we must regularly conduct a needs assessment and formulate a strategic plan to ensure buildings are safe, clean, orderly, and cost effective until new facilities can be constructed.”
Michael Schockmann stated, “I think the biggest obstacles for this district are a low amount of community participation and a disconnect between the district and parents.  We ask a lot of our community  financially and for the most part they  step up to the plate.  But the district needs the community to show up when it matters.  More people should attend board meetings and school functions.  These students deserve for all extracurricular events to be full.  The community needs to understand how important their presence is in the lives of our students.   Now as far as the district and it’s parents go, the relationship needs to be mutually beneficial.  Unfortunately we have many parents, who for various reasons cannot provide the proper support structure for their students.   We need to try and figure out a way to give these parents the necessary tools to put the proper support structure in place.  In order to improve student performance we need every parent reinforcing the district’s expectations.  I think the easiest way to address both issues is communication.   District leadership needs to get out and open up every available line of communication.  We need to ask the hard questions nobody wants to deal with and be willing to except the answers.  Having those critical conversations is key to getting to the root of the problem.   Sometimes people are willing to help or accept help, they just need to be asked.”
Rickie Caswell stated, “Government funding and bullying seem to be some of the bigger challenges that Warsaw is facing.  Unfortunately, schools across the country are dealing with some of these same issues.  Budget cuts have created huge problems in the recent years. Less funding means smaller staff, fewer resources for textbooks and technology in the classrooms.  Bullying has always been in the schools but now with today's technology cyber bullying has become more prevalent through texting, social media and other virtual interactions.   There is a zero tolerance for bullying in place but it has to be a collaborative effort from all involved; students, teachers, administration and most importantly parents.  Policing our children's cell phones, computers and having conversations with them about their day can help combat a lot of the every day student pressures.” 
What specific goals and plans do you have to maintain and improve the quality of education in this district? 
Michael Schockmann stated, “The first goal I have is to reduce staff turnover in the district.   To help address this issue I would like to implement an exit interview for all outgoing staff.  Hopefullly we can get answers from these interviews as to why people leave the district.   My next goal is to try and give parents and the community a bigger voice.   The plan would be to model  our board meetings  after other districts who schedule a small amount of time at the end of open session for public comment.  I would also like to  explore the idea of an alternative school.   We have a large number of at-risk and special needs students who could benefit from that type of option.   I also feel like it could help the other students by removing those individuals from the regular classroom.  Sometimes entire classes are held back by one student who needs extra attention.  My last goal is to improve student attendance.  It is hard to learn and retain material  when you are not at school.  It holds everyone back when teachers are constantly having to catch students up.   When my wife had her district governance plan interview  she learned from Mr. Hinson that other districts participate in a truancy court.  So I would like to research this idea  and implement it if we can deem it as viable, effective option.”
Rickie Caswell stated, “Goals are never achieved without a written plan.  In the past couple years, the district has been doing a phenomenal job of getting the right people in the right place to implement a plan to improve the quality of education. Unfortunately, it takes time to see results and being in a rural community we are more at a disadvantage in the fact that it can be extremely difficult to attract great teachers. Indeed hiring in general is tougher in rural areas, for fields extending far beyond education.  The list of reasons why teachers may be dissuaded from applying for jobs in rural areas can be long.  The usual approach is to offer higher pay or better side benefits, but this can often be difficult to afford with the budget limitations that most schools face.”
Brandy Fajen stated, “To maintain and improve the quality of education, we need to partner with students, families, staff, and community members to address the unique learning needs of each student and to create meaningful and engaging opportunities for each child.  I would also ask that our district revise curriculum as needed to support student mastery of grade-level expectations. Our district has recently implemented a Governance Program that will include stakeholders, educators and parents. This systematic plan of reviewing and implementing educational programs is vital for our district. If we utilize this properly, the plan will hold us accountable for achieving these goals.”
What are steps we should take to create a better relationship with our community and with parents of our students?  
Rickie Caswell stated, “To create a better relationship between the community, parents and the school, we must identify the roadblocks that exist now.  It truly is a two way street and to retrain our mental state to not always feel defensive where the school is involved.  One of the great things of being in a rural community is the fact that we can get to know each other on a more personal level.  Plan some "socials or game nights" early in the year that way the parents and the students can get to know their teachers in a less formal setting.  While few can argue against having parents involved in school life, many of us struggle with fitting it in our work schedules. Sometimes our efforts miss the mark and breed more suspicion than trust.”
Brandy Fajen stated, “First, we need to make the community and parents feel wanted and heard! Inviting community members to truly be a part of the decision-making process is integral to gaining back the community's trust. School communication needs have increased dramatically and become more complex. I feel our district needs a professional public relations specialist to develop and execute its communication plans through print, electronic media, and face-to-face communication. I believe this would help share all the great things going on in our district.”
Michael Schockmann stated, “I believe there are two necessary steps we need to take to build a better relationship with our community and parents.  They include communication and transparency.   During my interactions with our community I have noticed that a large portion of them don’t feel  like the current  district leadership values or wants their opinions.  We have to find a way to give them a voice.  There also is a distrust of the current leadership.  The community feels like the district is trying to hide information.  The proposed 4-day week is a good example.    District officials have dropped hints  about it since at least last fall yet the district failed to provide any details until the meeting that was held just recently.  Several people I talked to had positive things to say about the meeting they just wished it had been held earlier.   Being transparent and releasing this information earlier would have led to a better perception of the district leadership.”  
When reduction in personnel occurs in a school or teaching assignment, on what basis should these decisions be made? Do you feel experienced teachers are an asset to the educational program? Explain  
Brandy Fajen stated, “The reduction of personnel is potentially disruptive to school programs and students. If reduction has to occur, experienced teachers should not be those in consideration. These individuals are the backbone of our children’s education. Therefore, we should start with a hiring freeze, so that when we have a vacancy, we could relocate persons to a new position. If no vacancies exist for which staff members are qualified, the superintendent should provide the board with a list of part time or non-certified staff and their job duties. The board would then have to take these individuals under consideration. I want to stress as a current board member, this would be my last resort.”
Michael Schockmann stated, “Any decision to reduce personnel should be taken seriously and one needs to remove both emotion    and personal bias.   I think those decisions should be based on comprehensive individual evaluations. Those individuals who are performing the best should be the ones who are retained An experienced teacher can be an asset to the educational program, but a high quality experienced teacher is always an asset to the educational program.   Experience by itself does not always equate to excellence.   Teachers like any other profession can fall victim to the pitfalls of doing the same job for a long time.  Those pitfalls include complacency, antiquated methods and lack of enthusiasm to name a few.  Quality teachers are constantly adapting and trying to improve themselves.  Quality experienced teachers bring continuity and an increased knowledge of subject matter to the classroom.  When students realize this, it raises their expectations prior to entering the classroom setting.  Younger less experienced teachers also have a mentor who can help when they have problems or just need someone to bounce new ideas off of.   All of these qualities lead to a better educational setting.”   
Rickie Caswell stated, “Virtually it is impossible to have a clear cut answer when it comes to a reduction in personnel or teaching assignments.  There can be several methods used as a general rule of thumb but guidelines must be met to make sure laws are not violated: Seniority based, performance based and skills based are just a few methods in place. Although any of the previous mentioned methods can be proven to be effective, a mixture of criteria would probably be best suited in our school district i.e.. an employees attitude, skills and knowledge, educational and experience level, attendance history and tenured with the school.  I do feel experienced teachers are an asset as long as all the criteria can be met when determining whether to retain them or not. Regardless if its a school or another entity it still needs to be addressed as a business when it comes to the difficult decisions of budget cuts and staff reductions.”
How do you feel about receiving teacher input about what is needed in a classroom when a new facility is being built? 
Michael Schockmann stated, “Anytime a new facility is built some of the first people who should be asked for input are those who are going to be using it.  Who better to ask than those who will be expected to live and work in it every day for at least 8 hours?  But a facility should not be customized to an individual’s taste so much that if they move on it is not workable for the next person.”
Rickie Caswell stated, “I believe all employee input would be a huge asset in the process of building a new campus.”
Brandy Fajen stated, “Teachers should absolutely have input on classroom needs when a new facility is being built. Our current board policy FB states, ‘The Board or superintendent will generally initiate facility planning; however, the Board and superintendent will consider suggestions from staff or patrons. Principals, staff and patrons shall be consulted during the planning stage through final layout.’”
What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?  
Rickie Caswell stated, “Factors that I base my decisions on are merely what I believe truly makes a good school board member in general.  Qualities are as follows;  a conviction that public education is extremely important, the ability to make decisions based on facts with zero personal gain or agenda, believing in the democratic process, the courage to stand up for your convictions, respect for the district employees, being able to accept the will of the majority and  an ability to communicate with others.”
Brandy Fajen stated, “I will always ask myself these questions. “Is this in the best interest of our children? Do I have all of the information needed to make my decision? Will my decision align with board policy? Is my decision ethical?” Those are the factors I will consider as I make my vote with integrity.” 
Michael Schockmann stated, “There are several  varying factors (i.e. finances, legality, staff support, community support)that will come into play on any decision that a school board makes.  I don’t want to sound simplistic, but the one guiding principle in all of my decisions will be what I think is in the best interest of our students.”
Should teachers be involved in the evaluation of administrators?
Brandy Fajen stated, “Teacher input in the evaluation of administrators is vital. Board policy CFB it states, “Assess performance on a regular basis, providing timely feedback from multiple sources that promotes formative development at all career stages and supporting overall improvement.”  Multiple sources would include teachers. Staff surveys have proven to be a successful way for teachers to provide feedback to the board.” 
Michael Schockmann stated, “Prior to working for myself, I spent almost 12 years as an account sales manager with Pepsi.  Every year we took a survey evaluating our superiors; so, I am a firm believer that teachers should be involved in evaluating administrators.  In order for it to work as intended, you first have to create an environment where teachers feel safe from repercussions for giving their input.  The other factor in making it work would be for board members to have direct unfiltered access to the results.”
Rickie Caswell stated, “The evaluation process is used in every aspect of life.  It is an always changing work in progress. I believe evaluations need to be done at every level right down to the student evaluating the teacher as well.  We all need an approach to collect information to determine the quality and effectiveness of the teaching and learning of any program.”
Would you consider cost-of-living salary increases for all personnel that would be separate from increments earned by experience? 
Michael Schockmann stated, “I am not opposed to a cost of living increase, but I would like to see it be more merit based.  The first step in this model would be to determine measurable criteria that all teachers could be evaluated with.  Next set a base amount of compensation that everyone would receive then set  increases based on reaching certain targets on the predetermined criteria.  This would allow high performing teachers to be compensated for their efforts without penalizing those who did not perform quite as well.”
Rickie Caswell stated, “Cost-of-living salary increases and step increases are essentially raises regardless of how you look at it.  I most definitely encourage raises when warranted and if the budget can afford. “
Brandy Fajen stated, “We need to evaluate the current salary schedule as well as our district budget to see if it allows for an increase. As everyone knows, the cost of living has dramatically risen over the past several years and as a district we should take that into consideration. Teachers are what keep the world going!  Most jobs require educational skills that you learn in school. To ensure the highest quality teachers for our children, we should stay above the paygrade of comparable districts. This would keep academic excellence right here in Warsaw!”
Do you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or as a representative of the school system? 
Rickie Caswell stated, “I see myself equally as both a representative of the community and representative of the school system. Given the fact that I have two children in the district ages 9 and 17, I most definitely have a vested interest in my children's education first and foremost.”
Brandy Fajen stated, “With Warsaw pride, I can say that I strive to be a liaison between community and school.  When families, community groups, business, and schools band together to support learning, young people achieve more in school, stay in school longer, and enjoy the experience more. I agree with Nelson Mandela. “Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world!” I want to be a part of that change!”
Michael Schockmann stated, “I don’t want to sound uncommitted, but I believe it depends upon the context of what I am doing. As an elected public official anytime I am performing the official duties of a board member I will be representing the best interests of the community who elected me.  When I am not acting in any official capacity, I will say that I am a representative of the school system because my actions could draw either positive or negative reactions to the district as a whole.  No matter the situation, I will always be trying to represent the best interests of our students.”