Solon school board candidate questionnaires

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SOLON — Four candidates are running for three at-large seats on the board that governs the Solon Community School District.

All responses come directly from the candidate and have not been edited for space or grammar by The Gazette. We are providing their full unedited responses, so that the public can experience the candidate’s thoughts and stances in full.

Dan Coons

District: Solon

Age: 48

Educational Background: Masters in Physician Assistant Studies

Occupation: Physician Assistant

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

Yes

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

School Board

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

"Science Standards Committee and Volunteer Football Coach"

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

My wife is a teacher in the district and I would recuse myself from salary negotiations committee.

Why are you running for school board?

The school district is one of the most important aspects of the Solon community. I believe that the health and growth of this community hinges on continuing to strive for strong academics, excellent extra-curricular opportunities and continued transparency and communication from the leaders of the school district.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

I believe that the continued growth of our community is the largest challenge the district faces. We are blessed to have a community where families desire to reside , but this growth will force the district to continue to have to assure that the students receive excellent education and maintain high standards as the funding from the state of Iowa continues to be inconsistent. I plan to continue to monitor our students performance and be involved in creative solutions to hard budget concerns.

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

We are blessed to have a district that is currently in good financial health but we must continue to look to the future and anticipate the upcoming fiscal environment. I do not think that there is one specific area that can be targeted when there are budget concerns. My priorities for funding will be student focused to maintain high academic standards and the overall health of the pupil.

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

We are a strong community that has a lot pride in our students and our school district. We continue to challenge our students to be successful in the classroom and in the community. We are always examining best practice for education and teacher collaboration. We have excellent educators that are student focused. We have an administration that continues to look for evidence based curriculum and trending towards the goals of the strategic plan.

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

The district must continue to be transparent to the community and provide excellent communication. I, as I did before , plan to be visible in the buildings and listen to our students and focus on them. I will be interested in getting the opinions of our students both current and past to see where we can improve. I will also get input from educators, administrators and community members before making difficult decisions.

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

I believe that all of the people running for school board are qualified and will serve well if elected. If the community is interested in someone who had previous board experience and is interested in trying to reach every student where they are and progressing them academically, then I am a candidate you should consider. I have experience with school funding, building projects and examining student performance. I have had to make difficult decisions within the district in the past and strive for honesty and integrity.

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

I plan to communicate directly with the community and board members when ever possible. I find personal communication is the best for all involved.

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

We are blessed to have addressed many of our school district needs in the facilities aspect of the last 4 years. I believe it is important to continue to monitor growth and stay ahead with our building projects. Also we will need continued diligence to assure current projects are finished well.

Nicole Pizzini

District: Solon

Age: 43

Educational Background: "Phd, Rehabilitation Counseling Education MA, Substance Abuse Counseling BS, Psychology"

Occupation: Associate Professor

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

Yes

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

No

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

Girl Scout Troop Leader

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

No

Why are you running for school board?

"To bring a diverse perspective to the board. To be an advocate for providing opportunities to encourage our students to grow academically, socially, artistically and athletically. To bring my love of teaching and learning to my community and participate in shaping the future of our school district. To be a voice for our teachers, parents and students"

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

In the past several years, our district has seen lots of growth. We welcomed more students, new buildings, new grading standards and new educational practices. As a community, we see ourselves as leaders in education. We take pride in the educational and extra curricular opportunities available to our students. The three largest challenges facing the SCSD are: planning for "what next", retaining/recruiting district employees, and meeting the learning needs of our increasingly diverse student population. My plan to address these challenges is to: continue to research and implement best practices for education and teaching; gather input/ feedback from teachers, parents, and students; assess teaching and learning outcomes; and maintain a budget that addresses the needs of the school district.

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

When faced with tighter budgets, there are four strategies that would guide my decision making towards reducing the budget. First, evaluate the budget for any areas of duplication of services. Consolidate/streamline any duplicate services. Second, review budget for line items that have overspent the approved budget amount. Determine the reason of the overage and reduce unnecessary costs.Third, review cost of goods. Negotiate lower costs for services/products purchased. Finally, reduced budget for areas that do not impact educational service delivery. Funding priorities would be: services impacting teacher retention/recruitment and services enhancing student learning outcomes/student engagement.

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

The district strengths are: the overwhelming support from the community, the commitment to providing quality educational experiences, and the dedication and passion of our teachers and staff. These strengths will be supported through: community engagement efforts such as celebration of accomplishments and community outreach, fiscal priorities on teacher retention and recruitment through supporting professional development, and supporting the implementation of educational best practices.

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

The areas of improvement or change are: meeting the needs of our increasing diverse student population and supporting multifaceted learning opportunities for students. I would like to take a closer look at these areas of improvement/change through efforts such as focus groups, online surveys, open discussion/town hall meetings and utilization of existing committees and creation of new committees. These efforts would focus on gathering feedback/input from teachers, students, parents, and the greater solon community.

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

My passion for education, value of life-long learning, providing diverse educational opportunities, experience working with diverse populations and serving in positions of leadership/project development and management have prepared me well to serve as a school board member. My previous experience assisting people overcoming barriers, working collaboratively with multiple communityagencies, teaching, and developing/managing projects allow me to have a unique perspective on the challenges facing our increasingly diverse school district and the various needs of our students, teachers and parents. I am a great listener who has an excellent ability to critically assess situations and develop stratic plans to address the issues.

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

Communications through official means, board meeting minutes/audio tapes of sessions are a good first step towards disseminating information. Increasingly, social media efforts are being utilized as effective informal ways of interacting with various stakeholders. My social media site along with other board member social sites and local community sites/groups area wonderful place to share district concerns and celebrations. All members of the district should be invited to participate and included in any strategic planning and district visioning. Members of the community who are not direct stakeholders in the school district should be encouraged to fully engage in all district affairs. One of our strengths is the support from the local community, this includes those who do not have direct connection to the school district through family members attending or working for the school district.

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

We are at a unique point in our development as a school district. With the addition of two new schools in the upcoming years, our long term facility needs have been front and center for district matters. Continued assessment of the projected population growth for the school district will need to be closely watched. In addition to population growth, changes in student desires for learning opportunities, evolving best teaching/learning practices and changes to educational policies will need to be monitored. These could have a direct impact on the services/facilities that will be needed to maintain the high quality education provided in the district.

Timothy Brown

District: Solon

Age: 45

Educational Background: Ph.D. Engineering - University of Iowa; M.S. Engineering - University of Iowa; B.S.E. Industrial Engineering - University of Iowa

Occupation: Associate Research Scientist -National Advanced Driving Simulator, University of Iowa

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

2 graduates

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

Seven years on the Solon School Board

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

I am actively involved in my community including volunteering at the school, with scouts and at my church.

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

No

Why are you running for school board?

I have always felt a strong obligation to be actively involved in my community including a focus on the providing the youth of community with opportunities to grow and reach their full potential. The Solon Community School district has made continued progress towards maximizing educational opportunities for all of our students. Based on my background and experience, that I will continue helping the district meet the evolving needs of our students and staff. I want to ensure that we keep the focus on maximizing the education outcomes for every student. Additionally, I have been a strong advocate for professional development throughout the district. Over the last several years, I have led the effort to enhance board professional development. This resulted in the board and its members being recognized last year for commitment to board learning. Maintaining the focus on board learning will remain a focus of mine, as I strongly believe this makes us a more effective board.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

Managing the growth in the district will remain an ongoing challenge. With continuing growth, despite the closure of open enrollment at most grade levels, we will need to carefully manage our budget. With limited increases in state funding over the past several years and uncertainty over future funding levels, we need to make sure that we invest prudently with a focus on improving student achievement by investing in our staff. We need to continually evaluate the programs we offer as we strive to meet the changing needs of our students.

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

No Answer Provided

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

We have invested in our buildings and our staff to provide the best possible learning environments for our students. With the addition of the new middle school, the renovations at the high school including the new Center for the Arts, the 2011 renovations to Lakeview Elementary and the upcoming opening of the intermediate school, we are well positioned from a facilities standpoint to provide state of the art learning environments. The quality of teachers is the most important factor in student success and our staff is second to none in their dedication to our students…without them our facilities would be meaningless. As the Irish poet William Butler Yates said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Our staff daily instills in our students the desire to learn and we need to continue to invest in our staff.

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

We need to find a way to provide greater vocational and technical training earlier to our students. Although Kirkwood provides outstanding resources to Juniors and Seniors, we don’t have sufficient course offering for students pursuing vocational and trade jobs out of high school. There are many paths to success in life and just as we need to prepare our college bound students, we must also prepare those who will enter the workforce directly.

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

No Answer Provided

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

No Answer Provided

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

The district needs to be proactive in planning for upcoming facility needs. We are currently in the midst of finishing a series of major construction projects that should accommodate the districts growth over the next decade or more. These high school, middle school and intermediate school were designed to allow for future expansion to accommodate growth.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

 

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