Meet the Candidates. 4 vying for school board seats

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


Voters will go to the polls Tuesday, September 8, to elect Central school board members. Four candidates are running for three seats. They are NiCole Dennler, Kristin Fitzgerald, Suzy Hilgerson and Michael Whittle. There are three vacancies; Fitzgerald is running for re-election; Todd Lenth and Joleen Jansen chose not to run again.

To acquaint voters with candidates, the Register asked each person to respond to the same set of questions. Their answers follow:

NiCole Dennler, and her husband, Kurt, are the parents of two Central students, Drake, who just entered eighth grade, and Ariel, who is a sophomore this year. NiCole is on the communication faculty at Upper Iowa University.

Why are you running for school board? I want to help make a positive difference in the lives of people that will make tomorrow a better place.

What qualifies you to be a school board member? My numerous years in an educational setting help me feel confident in joining the Central Community School Board.  I was also born and raised on a dairy farm in a small NE Iowa community.  I have firsthand knowledge of the challenges many families face in our community. 

How would you interact with the people you represent? I am an open-minded individual.  I appreciate hearing all sides of a debate.  I believe there is so much we can learn from one another when we take the time to listen. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Central Community School District? In a small community there is always a worry regarding the enrollment numbers, but maintaining and/or growing enrollment numbers will be one of the biggest opportunities I see for Central Community School District.  By being an active community person I can see many benefits that we receive in our community by having a school here and in turn the school knows the benefits of having strong community support. 

If elected, what would you like to see accomplished during your term with the school board? I hope to overcome the myth of being a dissolving school district.  I want to help Central establish a strong use of their resources by promoting opportunities the school can provide the students whether they are entering the workforce directly out of high school or proceeding on an educational journey. I am excited about the potential benefits Central will receive by recently being awarded the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Grant. 

Kristin Fitzgerald, who works at Fitzgerald Inc., has two children who graduated Central. Natalie is now a junior at Luther College and Nathan is a freshman at Central College. Last year, Kristin served as president of the school board.

Why are you running for school board? I care about kids and I care about our community.  I want to do my part to ensure our school remains in our community for a long, long time. I am finishing up my 10th year on the board and with some experienced board members going off the board, I felt I needed to stay on for one more term. 

What qualifies you to be a school board member? I know how to listen and maintain an open mind while listening. I am also a team player and have learned how to work with difficult personalities through difficult situations while working towards common goals.  I understand where the district has been financially and will continue to work to keep us financially healthy. Lastly, education is changing rapidly and I feel it’s important we have leadership that understands and continues to support change and move Central into the future. 

How would you interact with the people you represent?  I will be visible in the community and at school functions.  School board members are the eyes and ears in the community.  We have to be present to hear what people are talking about.  I also am always open to phone calls and available for face-to-face conversation when arranged.     

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the Central Community School District? Our biggest challenge is declining enrollment. Our enrollment is what drives the dollars we get from the state to run our school.  We are always being asked to do more with less.

We need more good paying jobs in our community for men AND women. We want families to move here, but we have to have work for them if we want them to live here. More jobs leads to more families, which then leads to more kids in our school.  

Another challenge is working with our neighboring districts to maximize all of our resources while each maintaining their own district. Instead of merging, we can all survive with less if we work together, but until everyone is willing to be flexible and change, it’s very difficult to move forward.   

If elected, what would you like to see accomplished during your term with the school board? I want our students to be prepared for the next phase of their life. I want our kids to leave Central feeling proud of where they came from and confident that Central has prepared them for their future. 

I want our school to remain in the community as a viable school district working collaboratively with our neighboring districts to offer a broader selection of classes and classes that will help prepare our kids for whatever they choose to do once they graduate.  This means working towards a common calendar where 3 or 4 school districts all have the same days off, the same schedule throughout the day, etc. allowing us to increase our course offerings by utilizing other district’s staff, while not increasing our expenses.  With technology, there’s so much more we can do with other districts that we have not tapped in to yet.

I want to see better communication with all of the people we serve in our district.  We are constantly working to improve this, striving to be better by changing our methods of communication, removing what doesn’t work, listening to what our students, staff, parents, and community want. We have to find a way to reach all of the people in our community so they understand what we are about and what we are trying to accomplish.

Suzy Hilgerson was raised in Elkader and graduated from Central. She completed two years of college at Iowa State University. Suzy and her husband, Scott, a dairy farmer, are the parents of four children: Samuel, 20, a 2014 graduate of Central currently a sophomore at ISU in Agronomy; Shana, 18, a 2015 graduate of Central currently a freshman at ISU in Animal Science; Ted, 16, a junior at Central; and Tess, 14, a freshman at Central. Suzy works at Keystone AEA as a media clerk and part-time at the Elkader Cinema as an assistant manager.

Why are you running for school board? As a graduate of Central Community High School, and with children that have/will graduate, and possibly someday even grandchildren, I would like to see the tradition of the Central Warriors continue.  My roots are in Elkader and as a community we should be proud of our students and their accomplishments.  I hope to assist the board and the community with the future decisions.  

What qualifies you to be a school board member? I am an active member in our community.  I have been on several boards in the past including President of the Elkader Child Care and Learning Center when that was initially brought to the community.  I am a past employee of Central, as a substitute aide and a lunch lady which means I am acquainted with several of Central’s staff.  Plus I have 4 children that have been and still are active in the Central schools.  Because of my children’s interest in music and athletics, I am aware of the importance to continue co-curricular activities for our students.

How would you interact with the people you represent? As a long standing citizen of Elkader/Clayton County, I have already had the opportunity to interact with parents, teachers, and students through various committees, past board commitments, volunteer duties, parent teacher conferences, etc.  As a parent of active children, I attend many functions at Central and experience a variety of events, this allows me to better understand and communicate with other parents.  Having children in everything from band to basketball, I have been able to see a variety of conflicts and their solutions, and am always willing to lend an ear or discuss issues with fellow parents or community members.  I enjoy discussing and listening to the different views that are in front of us. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Central Community School District? We need to problem solve how to make our school sustainable for the future.  I think a challenge we face as a small school is being able to offer our high school students more AP opportunities. More AP opportunities will give our graduating seniors the content needed to be college ready.  It is important that students, if they wish to pursue higher education, have the ability and the strengths to do so, and are better prepared for the challenges of college or the challenge of entering the work force.  We also need to remember that we are an Agriculturally based community and continue to support the growth of the Industrial Ag department and FFA, as well as drama, music, art and other co-curricular activities. 

If elected, what would you like to see accomplished during your term with the school board? I would like to see the students of Central graduating with a feeling of confidence that they have been provided with all that they will need for a successful future; whether they are entering the workforce, military or continuing their education.  That means providing the teachers with the most updated technology/classrooms, looking for more opportunities outside the classroom for the children or more ways for the community to get involved.  I believe that growth at the school is more than just a classroom number.  Central has always had a reputation for excellence, we need to maintain that by moving forward with our approach to education so that Central can continue it’s excellency and continue to grow and change with the students and with the times, so we have better prepared students today, to be better members of the community/society tomorrow. 

Mike Whittle and his wife, Hollie, are part owners of Whittle Farms in Volga. The operation consists of dairy, beef, cattle and crops. The Whittles have four children: Joe, 17; Ben, 16, Jon, 14 and Dan, 5. Their children are the third generation to attend Central Schools.

Why are you running for school board? I decided to run for school board for the kids—our four boys, their cousins and the rest of the students in the district.

What qualifies you to be a school board member? I believe I have the students’ best interests and the future of the district in mind.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Central Community School District? I feel communication and longevity of the district are two of the biggest problems we are facing at this time.

If elected, what would you like to see accomplished during your term with the school board? I would like to establish open lines communication between parents, teachers, students, administration, staff and board members so everyone can voice their concerns. Hopefully, then everyone can have a good understanding and awareness of the problems and changes that need to be addressed for the district to be successful and viable for years to come.

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