USD 373 voters to select board members

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Come Nov. 2 voters in the Newton USD 373  school district will select three members of the board of education, fill terms ending for Angela Becker, Dayna Steinmetz and Andy Ortiz.

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Come Nov. 2 voters in the Newton USD 373  school district will select three members of the board of education, fill terms ending for Angela Becker, Dayna Steinmetz and Andy Ortiz.

Voters will have six candidates to choose from on the ballot. Incumbents Dayna Steinmetz and Andy Ortiz will be on the ballot. Also on the ballot will be Brenna Haines, Laura Garvin, Morgan Simmering and Reachel L. McLoud.

Five candidates responded to a request from the Newton Kansan to create candidate profiles for publication. 

The deadline for voter registration is Oct. 12.

Advance voting by mail will be available for the election. Registered voters may apply for an Advance Ballot by Mail through the county clerk's office at the Harvey County Courthouse.  A separate form is required for each election. Ballots begin mailing 20 days prior to election, for this election on Oct. 13. Requests must be submitted by October 26.

​Early in person voting will begin Oct. 19 at the Harvey County Courthouse, 800 N. Main The early voting poll site will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 30 in the commission room. Early voting will close at noon Nov. 1. 

Laura Garvin

Age: 69

Years living in USD 373:This is my first year, I moved here for retirement. I enjoy the culture of the close community and have already benefitted from the generosity of strangers.

What motivated you to run for the board of education seat?

I have been a volunteer my whole life, primarily with youth organizations. I see the fear and stressors of this pandemic trickling down to the children so I ask myself, what can I do to leverage my time and affect the most children? I have the time and commitment to do this work.

What do you see as the single biggest issue in front of the board at this time?

As I am not a current board member my observations at the moment aren’t comprehensive enough to be able to confidently prioritize the issues, this would be a joint effort by the board. I do see two issues that are connected to each other: good stewardship of assets, including human resources, and pre-k education need focus.

What solution do you believe you can bring to the board?

I have a collaborative work style and build consensus as no action can be taken until that happens. I also bring project management experience and am a trained mediator, I bring research skills, training and compliance experience, and the “art of possibility”.

What do you believe the district can do to build or rebuild trust in administration and the board?

Better communication all the way around. A way to start would be sharing the board’s vision with written goals and objectives, progress can then be measured. Communicate to the public the current top priorities and the action plan for them.

What goals do you have for the district for the next four years?

I do not have a personal agenda to mow everyone over with. I would like to be able to assist in task groups with specific assignments and goals. Such as the kindergarten gap, having the greatest peer disparity in knowledge and ability.

Brenna Haines, EdD. 

Age: 45

Years living in USD 373:  23 years

What motivated you to run for the board of education seat?  I think we need an experienced teacher's perspective on our Board of Education.

What do you see as the single biggest issue in front of the board at this time?  At this time, I think teacher, administrator and para retention. We need consistent, solid leadership at the building level.  In terms of teacher retention, we need to understand why teachers are leaving, where they are going, and for what reasons. 

What solution do you believe you can bring to the board? As a BOE member, I would advocate for exit interviews for every licensed professional that leaves our buildings. At the very least, we need to offer a detailed survey. We need data, both quantitative and qualitative, to better understand how we can improve upon keeping good, professional people. 

What do you believe the district can do to build or rebuild trust in adminstration and the board? District administration and the Board of Education need to solicit more and better quality community feedback.  Then, put the feedback into action. They need to then follow-up with the public detailing how their feedback and suggestions were utilized. The BOE needs to hear and consider all voices including parents, community members, teachers and administrators. This includes voices that prefer to stay anonymous and/or busy, working parents who cannot easily attend face-to-face meetings, or visit schools during the day. 

What goals do you have for the district for the next four years? 

1. Investigate teacher/para pay and teacher/para retention. Why do good employees leave our district? 

2. Improve special education services. Are IEPs being followed?

3. Work to update and modernize classrooms and laboratories; particularly in the STEM fields.

4. Work to keep the historical integrity of our school buildings. 

5. Support school budgets that put money directly into classrooms, rather than administratvie overhead and pet projects. 

Andy Ortiz

Age: 42

Years living in USD 373:  24 years

What motivated you to run for the board of education seat?  

For my first term I did not officially run for the board, I was appointed to a seat that opened up when a member left the board.  

The reason I chose to run this time is the team. I believe I just got my feet wet while learning so much about the process and systems. I want to put what I have learned to work over the next  four years, and believe I can bring value to the community and team.  I love our kids — all 3,100 or so of them.   It would be an honor to go to work for them and our staff another four years.

I chose to join the board after I got a call from a friend that asked me if I was interested in a BOE seat that had opened up.  I said no at first, but began to think harder about submitting my resume as the day went on.  The next day I called two of my friends, and mentors, and asked them what they thought.   Both of my mentors showed excitement, and said they thought that was a great place for me to serve the community. I talked to my business partners and let them know serving the board would take a substantial amount of time.  They both were fine, and excited, that I was thinking about submitting for the open spot. My family gave me the final nod of approval. By this time I was very excited about the possibility of being on the board. 

What do you see as the single biggest issue in front of the board at this time?

Keeping the kids in school and making sure we are working on our culture across the district is huge.  Our kids and staff have been pushed hard, and I worry about burnout and mental health across the district.  We have taken measures to help but I think we will be dealing with the fallout of Covid-19 for years to come.  

What solution do you believe you can bring to the board?

I can bring good productive energy to the team.  With my involvement with social services, The Newton Area Chamber Of Commerce, Rotary Club, and other sectors in the community I think I can bring more people to the district to support our kids and staff.  

What do you believe the district can do to build or rebuild trust in the administration and the board?

It would be nice if we were more specific here.  I am not sure what exactly this question is aiming at.  I think being transparent and direct is key.  I do not believe we will always earn everyone's trust but we should be direct in our communication, and make sure we have community involvement.  We are living in interesting times.  One example would be this weekend — Friday to be specific I got a notice from a friend who was angry, at least that is how I interpreted his message.  After hearing him out and responding with questions, it came to be that his information was not true or a lie.  He graciously took responsibility for not looking into the situation before messaging me, but it happens.  How often do people not send the message?  I  deal with this often since I began my work with USD 373.  I cannot control that type of activity and unfortunately, it is going to happen.  

What goals do you have for the district for the next four years?

I would love to be a part of the culture change that is taking place.  I want to be working closer with the city and county as we move our community forward.  I believe I have the relationships in place and have been working on building bridges between our teams.  I want USD 373 to be a place great teachers want to come.  I think we are very close to seeing a whole new chapter for our community and am excited to be a small part of it.  

Dayna Steinmetz

Age: 42

Years living in USD 373: 30

What motivated you to run for the board of education seat?

As a current board of education member, I want to continue giving back to the community that I have lived and worked in for years. I believe my background working with children, as well as our community, along with my experience and knowledge as a board member, is an asset to continuing serving on our board of education. 

What do you see as the single biggest issue in front of the board at this time?

Our biggest immediate issue is continuing to navigate through the school year while dealing with Covid. Beyond that, a major issue the board will need to work through is budget cuts, due to a decrease in enrollment. 

What solution do you believe you can bring to the board?

My experience as a current board member will be helpful as we look to address immediate needs and long-term planning. I have background knowledge and experience working through a budget session for the school district, along with planning for the best use of ESSER dollars to address crucial needs within the district.

What do you believe the district can do to build or rebuild trust in administration and the board?

I believe we have already made progress when it comes to building trust, our culture has changed. Transparency and clear communication will continue to build trust in the administration and board. For example, our district has been transparent about multiple facilities issues that have come up, including storm damage to Lindley Hall and the insurance claim that wasn't initially filed for roof damage in 2016. We have been open and direct about assessing the damage, publicly sharing professional reports, and openly discussing next steps. The district has also publicly shared plans for how we intend to utilize ESSER funds to best address the needs of our students.

What goals do you have for the district for the next four years?

Three of my priorities as a board member are:

Students first - Make decisions based on the student's needs 

District wide accountability - Never having to second guess what is happening in our district. 

Transparency for families- Families should be able to have an easy and active role in their children's education. 

Morgan Simmering

Age: 36

Years living in USD 373: almost 6 years

What motivated you to run for the board of education seat?

My children, their peers, and my desire to serve this great community. I plan to use my knowledge and passion for education to equip the kids of USD 373 with an amazing education. These children are the future of this community and I plan to serve as a leader to provide them with the resources and guidance needed for them to succeed, in school and beyond. I believe (and have experienced) that public schools are the backbone of a community. Our schools set a precedent and foundation for critical aspects that define a thriving community. For example, we’ve seen other schools in our area that are attracting new families by resourcing and advocating for their schools. This results in increased home prices that can spread the tax burden across a greater population. I have ideas, data, and insights to offer and think Newton can do this, but it will take all of us. Further, I come from a family of Public school teachers, and I’ve seen firsthand the challenges that our educators face. I will be an advocate for our teachers by understanding their pain points and how we can rally around our educators. Teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate and I want to do my part to ensure that we engage, retain, and resource our teachers.

What do you see as the single biggest issue in front of the board at this time?

Beyond the health and safety of our students and educators, the data is illustrating a sharp decline in available teachers, paras, and support staff across Kansas. The success of our schools starts with our educators and there are pragmatic ways to help curb this decline.

What solution do you believe you can bring to the board?

A listening ear and an ability to think critically. We need to engage our educators and listen to their needs. Why are they leaving, what keeps them in our district and what support do they need to make them successful? If we can work with our educators to help them succeed we can improve our culture and the education we are providing our children.

What do you believe the district can do to build or rebuild trust in administration and the board?

I believe we are on the right track and have great leaders in our community that are stepping up to support our schools. There have been excellent hires in the past few years and we’ve made a shift in leadership that the district and community were needing. Our leaders are visible in the community, hosting community members and asking for input. Our district leaders are showing up for our kids in ways we hadn’t seen in years. I believe that as we continue to shift the culture around our schools, the community will buy in. Newton has hometown pride, but it could be harnessed and leveraged more effectively. I believe that this cultural shift we are seeing will help remind the community of our strengths but also the untapped potential we have in front of us.

What goals do you have for the district for the next four years?

- I would devote time and energy to help the Community of Newton get involved and to rally behind our schools. As we’ve seen recently, there are structural issues that need to be addressed. This issue has been poorly addressed, or completely avoided, for far too long. I believe that we’ve begun to make progress and I’d like to see that continue.

- Intentional teacher retention and engagement initiatives to understand our educator’s needs and making data informed decisions to resource them with what they require to succeed. We need to benchmark where we are at and have tangible goals to track our improvement related to teacher hiring, retention, and their general satisfaction.

- Collaborative strategic planning to prioritize our goals in relation to the critical drivers of community involvement, teacher retention, and our student’s educational experience. There are tangible ways to gain input across our community but it will take tremendous leadership. I’m excited to take on this challenge and am confident that we can see very meaningful changes in our schools (and broader community) in the next four years.