Spring Election 2020: Salem School District candidates Q&A

Voters in the Salem School District will be able to cast a ballot in a contested school board race on April 7 (or earlier with absentee voting).

There are two seats to be filled, a one-year term and a three-year term. There are three candidates. The candidate with the most votes will fill the three-year term and the candidate with the second most votes will fill the one-year term.

The same questionnaire was submitted by westofthei.com to each candidate by email.

Here in alphabetical order is their biographical information, followed by their question responses:

Ted Goergen — Age: 41. Education: Doctorate: Educational Leadership. Occupation: School Administrator (Director of Student Activities). Previous elected offices: Nominated to Salem School Board of Education, November 2019.

Jack Niccolai — Age: 69. Education: Masters Degree, UW Whitewater. Occupation: Retired Teacher, Freelance Musician. Previous elected offices: 3 years, Salem School Board .

Dana Powers — Age: 41. Education: Bachelors Degree in Marketing & Business Administration from Carthage Collage. Occupation: Marketing Consultant. Previous elected offices: Salem School Board member for 7 years, President for past 5.

1.) Why are you the best choice for a school board seat?

Goergen — I have been a highly involved member of the Salem Lakes community since moving here. I love this community and the people who reside here. I have a sincere interest in working with other leaders in Salem Lakes to improve the community as a whole. In November I was appointed to the Salem School District Board of Education to support its mission to prepare students for a lifetime of productivity, accomplishment and continued learning. I believe I have brought a unique perspective to the Board with extensive experience as an administrator at one of the nation’s most respected public high schools. My current role allows me to collaborate regularly with colleagues to achieve our mission “success for every student.”  I have a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and have been working in education for 17 years. I currently run an activities program of 140 student organizations that serve over 90% of the student body. Throughout the year, I plan and provide professional development opportunities at the school as well as across the nation. My ability to understand, manage, and balance complex budgets is an asset in these fiscally-challenging times of Wisconsin education. I have used my skillset to work with other Board members to create a shared vision for the district and learning focused on continuous improvement.

Niccolai— Salem School has been part of my life for more than 35 years. I have seen Salem’s successes and failures from three different perspectives. As a teacher of 31 years, as a summer school Principal and as a School Board member. I am familiar with the complexities of making a school function successfully and I want to be part of the next phase of this great school. Salem is moving forward in a positive way now and I want to help insure that motion gets the support necessary to insure success. I feel my particular ability to seek creative solutions would be my special gift to this Board.

Powers — I am passionate about Salem School and investing our resources wisely to provide a quality present, without compromising a better future. I believe in making data-based decisions, remaining humble, and empowering those we have entrusted with developing the minds of the next generation. I have committed myself to the long-term success of Salem Schools, and my goal is to leave the school in a better condition than when I started my Board tenure, for my children as well as the entire community. The Board has made a lot of progress in the last seven years, but I have more to give, and we have further advances to make. The District is currently in a critical transition, one I believe will prove to be extremely beneficial. Continuity of leadership during this time will ensure the current trajectory is maintained. Staff is open with, entrusting of, and confident in me. I understand the operational aspects and the budget challenges. I have developed connections that will allow me to seek input from necessary stakeholders. And I will not only seek solutions through this unusual time but will meaningfully guide the community in addressing challenges in the future.

2.) What do you see as the chief challenges that your school district faces?

Goergen — While studying smart and good schools, Lickona and Davidson (2005) shared “Great schools ‘row as one’; they are quite clearly in the same boat, pulling in the same direction in unison. The best schools we visited were tightly aligned communities marked by a palpable sense of common purpose and shared identity—a clear sense of ‘we.’” Salem School District is facing uncertain times during a period of transition.  Following several focus group meetings, the Board is currently in the search process for a District Administrator for the 2020-21 school year. Additionally, during the February school board meeting, we regretfully accepted the retirement of Dr. Eileen Hanson, who has served our students for 35 years. Fortunately, as demonstrated by the recent response to the COVID-19, the building leaders, faculty, and staff at Salem are committed to serving the students and community. I am confident that between all of our efforts, we will enter a new era seamlessly and continue to experience success across a variety of indicators.

Niccolai — Salem is running very well now, a great school. All she needs is the proper leadership. Making sure that happens is the chief challenge now.

Powers — The immediate challenge is to find a way to deliver a quality curriculum that provides instruction for our students, but still attends to the gap that exists. Unfortunately, our current on-line instruction will make that even more difficult to address, so providing support for our teachers is even more essential. Going forward, the biggest challenge will be to develop a long-range plan to maintain and safeguard the significant community investment in our facilities, while providing a quality education for all of our students, within the present constraints on our budget.   

3.) What would be your top initiatives for the next term if you are elected?

Goergen — The question assumes each board member operates as an individual. We have each been elected/nominated to serve the students of Salem School District as a Board.  There is no place to operate with an individual agenda or initiative. The aim of the District is to “work together in a positive environment to help each student succeed.”  Taking on one of the most critical responsibilities–helping to plan the education of our community’s youth–is not something we take lightly. These are crucial times for public education fraught with challenges.  Over the past 30 years, politicians and the media have become increasingly critical of American schools. Newspaper headlines warn of a “crisis,” and the government has addressed this apparent crisis with a series of federal laws from No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top. However, contrary to popular belief, recent statistics demonstrate that far from failing, America’s educators are helping students make more significant progress than ever before. Our schools are far from perfect and need to focus on continuous improvement across a variety of indicators. I find satisfaction in energetically confronting tough challenges and working collaboratively to overcome them.  During the 2020-21 school year, the faculty of Salem School District will be engaging in the work of Professional Learning Communities through inclusive practices. It is essential, that as a board, we work to support the faculty and staff during this transition to implement the culture of a PLC with fidelity. Additionally, the District will be entering year two of receiving funds from the community-supported non-recurring referendum. It is our responsibility to continue to appropriate the funds to meet the needs of the students.

Niccolai — To keep the school running as well as possible. To support the students, staff and the community. This is a proud school, I want to insure we keep that going.

Powers — The top initiative of the collective Board is to attract and maintain a quality staff that is focused on aligning curriculum and instruction through a collaborative process that meets the needs of all of our students. The Board’s initiative, with me a part of it, will be to develop, support, and inspire our District leaders to take on the challenges presented, while using the strengths of their entire staff to meet those opportunities. It is also the Board’s initiative and responsibility to provide support by removing barriers to learning for all of our Salem youth. To support transparency and increase communication with our community. And to have no other initiatives other than to love and care for our students. 

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