Five candidates are seeking a seat on the Maple School Board. With only two spots available, the field will be winnowed to four during the Feb. 16 primary election.
Both incumbents are on the ballot. Business owners Adam Landwehr, of Poplar, and Rachel Zwicky, of Iron River, said they were prompted to run three years ago to affect change.
“Many parents were frequently venting about decisions of the administration at that time, and I realized that becoming directly involved was the most effective way to create change,” Zwicky said.
Instead of pulling his children out, Landwehr dug in.
“I figured if I was going to try to make change, I might as well try to make change for all of the students, not just mine,” Landwehr said.
There’s still work to be done, Zwicky said. In particular, she’s concerned about staff turnover rates for first-year teachers.
“In the five years that my firstborn has attended Iron River Elementary School, there has been a new special education teacher every single year, and there have been three different kindergarten teachers,” Zwicky said.
Landwehr, who has been vocal against some of the board’s decisions, said he was encouraged by community members, family and some staff to continue to serve.
Brule residents Shari Olson and Chris Schultz have both spent decades in the educational field. Olson recently retired from the Maple School District after a 34-year career, 30 of those years in Maple. The district has scored well on the state report card in recent years.
“This is a direct result of all staff members that come into contact with our students,” Olson said. “I would further like to support the progress being made toward keeping our employees and making it a place where the best teachers and support staff apply for our open positions and make Maple their first choice.”
Schultz, a former teacher, associate principal and Arizona superintendent, is concerned about both educators and the bottom line.
“My primary focus as a district leader has always been to improve teaching and learning while significantly improving teacher compensation and reducing operational costs through effective fiscal management,” Schultz said. “I believe I can support creative fiscal efficiency ideas to drastically reduce costs while freeing up funds to make Maple the best-compensated staff in northern Wisconsin.”
A former staff sergeant with the 148th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard, Shannon Grayson, of Lakeside, has volunteered countless hours coaching soccer, t-ball, baseball and robotics for children throughout the community. She has experience working with boards at the city and chamber of commerce level.
“I believe in the importance of civic duty, and I am passionate about the success of our students and district,” said Grayson, a customer service manager at Amsoil. “I want to do my part to ensure the best possible future for each child.”
Grayson said she offers an open mind and fresh perspective, and she can work comfortably under pressure.
“I believe in research and data-driven solutions, with our children first and foremost at the core of every decision,” Grayson said.
Schultz said his educational background is an asset.
“It is said that school boards discuss what they know. We once passed a $2.5 million energy savings project in 20 minutes of board discussion following six months of administrative work on the project. After that, there was a 60-minute board discussion about the wisdom of allowing the baseball team to purchase new ball caps,” he said. “Time should be spent on the issues that belong on the board level; the rest should be left to the administrators and staff.”
Olson is looking forward to seeing situations from the other side of the table.
“I think I bring a unique perspective having been an employee and a recent teacher in all four buildings,” Olson said. “The school board is in the business of serving the students, and I feel my decision making would be driven by what’s best for students, their families and the community.”
Zwicky, who brings mediation and counseling experience to the board, said she is able to view situations from all sides and is passionate about ethics and equity.
“I do a lot of research, I am candid, I am humble, and I can admit when I am wrong,” she said. “Now that I have a better understanding of how things work, I feel more confident to push harder for necessary changes”
In addition to advocating for students, Landwehr has his eye on keeping the district fiscally responsible and making decisions that are best for the taxpayers.
“I like to think that I try to think things through before I make a decision,” he said. “I don’t do anything rash and I usually question everything, only because if I don’t understand it, I’m going to ask.”
The five candidates agreed that the district has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic well, despite shifting guidelines from different sources.
Olson would like to see more support for educators who are juggling teaching students face-to-face and virtually.
“I think the fact that our students are currently in school is extraordinary as so many are not, though I would like to see more resources and time available to staff,” Olson said.
Schultz, too, said he's concerned about teachers who are putting in long hours to develop and implement both face-to-face and online instruction.
“I am very concerned about the sustainability of this for any committed educator,” Schultz said. “All studies indicate that far and away, the most impactful element in student learning outside the home is the classroom teacher. We have to give our teachers the support they need to complete the work we ask of them. “
The district has provided instructional options to families so they can choose what’s best for their individual circumstances, Grayson said, and laid out a plan with set time intervals to evaluate successes and needed changes.
“Moving forward I hope the district is open minded to feedback and continues to adjust as needed to ensure the well-being of our students, staff and community,” she said.
The district has done a good job finding a balance while following guidelines from two different counties, as well as the state and federal level, Landwehr said.
“In other cases, as far as when decisions have come to the board, I think personally I've been over on one side of the fence and there’s other board members that have been on the other side of the fence, and for me that’s been a frustrating part, but as an administration and teachers and staff, I think they’ve done a really nice job of trying to weather this storm,” Landwehr said.
Zwicky said she has mixed feelings about the district’s pandemic response. She has appreciated that the administration surveyed parents and staff prior to opening and again in December to gauge a return to in-person learning, but she feels the district could have been better at communicating consistently and clearly. The communication piece has been improving, she said.
“All in all, I think that the district did a good job attempting to balance the needs and perspectives of all stakeholders while keeping students at the forefront during an incredibly trying, tumultuous and unprecedented situation,” Zwicky said.