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Student Success, Staff Support, and Mental Health Among Top Priorities for Candidates for Appleton School Board

AnnMarie Hilton | Appleton Post-Crescent

APPLETON – The five candidates for the upcoming Appleton school board election on April 4 list student success, staff support and mental health as top priorities.

Incumbents Kristine Sauter and Deb Truyman, are facing three challengers — Sam Blackwell, Jason Kolpack and Nick Ross — for three open seats. Incumbent Jim Bowman is not seeking reelection.

The Post-Crescent asked each candidate to fill out a questionnaire explaining their relevant experience, why they want to run and what community members are telling them are the most important issues.

Some responses were lightly edited for clarity and to meet the word requirement. Candidates are ordered alphabetically by last name.

Here’s a closer look candidates for the 2023 Appleton school board.

 

Sam Blackwell
City of residence: Appleton
Age: 26

Occupation: Independent contractor for public utilities

Highest level of education: Right of Way certification

Campaign website: blackwellforschoolboard.com

Facebook page: Blackwell for School Board

Relevant experience: Volunteering for school programs, leadership roles in multiple occupations, frequent communication with family and friends who serve in a variety of educational capacities

 

Jason Kolpack
City of residence: Appleton
Age: 45

Occupation: Senior e-commerce technology manager

Highest level of education: Bachelor’s degree in management information systems from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/JasonKolpackForAASDSchoolBoard

Relevant experience: As a veteran of the United States Navy, I learned how to adapt to new and uncomfortable situations and work with people from a wide variety of diverse backgrounds.  My role in the intelligence field trained me to work with large amounts of sensitive data to identify useful patterns, for which I was awarded a Joint Service Achievement Medal.

My prior experience as a software developer trained me to create and maintain complex systems as well as quickly identify and resolve critical issues. Additionally, my current leadership role has enhanced my skills in communication and policy development.

I serve with a number of other technical leaders in the Fox Valley as a member of the Fox Valley Technical College IT Advisory Committee. This committee works to ensure that the technology programs offered by the college are relevant and up to date with current industry standards and workforce needs.

Lastly, I volunteer as a basketball coach and have for several years. This has been a very rewarding experience and has allowed me to work with children from all over the city to help them challenge themselves and learn new skills.

 

Nick Ross
City of residence: Appleton
Age: 36

Occupation: Anti-violence advocate at Diverse & Resilient

Highest education level: Bachelor’s degree in English and comparative literature from Columbia University

Campaign website: nickross4aasd.com

Facebook page: facebook.com/nickross4aasd

Relevant experience: Member, Outagamie County Public Health Division Mental Health Workgroup

Volunteer advocate for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) of the Fox Cities

Member, Outagamie County Subcommittee on Equity in the Criminal Legal System

Member, AASD Library Materials Review Committee

Vice president, Friends of Appleton Public Library

2022 Pulse Young Professionals Fox Cities Future 15 Young Professional

 

Kristine Sauter (incumbent)
City of residence: Appleton
Age: 66

Occupation: Retired teacher and former substitute teacher, Appleton Area School District

Highest education level attained: Bachelor’s degree in education from UW-Oshkosh with certifications in elementary and special education; additional graduate classes

Facebook page: facebook.com/SauterForAppletonSchoolBoard

Relevant experience: I have been serving on the AASD Board of Education since 2020, the last two years as vice president. Committee assignments during board tenure included business services, programs and services, and currently, community linkages. In addition, attendance at district and school events has been a personal priority. Regular attendance at board meetings for eight years prior to serving also provided background and perspective on the many facets, complexities and opportunities in education.

Prior to my 29 years of teaching experience in special education and regular education within AASD schools, I served as assistant director of alumni relations at Lawrence University. In addition, as a parent, educator and community member, I held multiple volunteer coaching and leadership roles on school committees and parent-teacher organizations supporting student involvement in the arts, sports, forensics and graduation activities.

 

Deb Truyman (incumbent)
City of residence: Appleton
Age: 68

Occupation: Retired educator

Highest education level: Master’s degree in education – curriculum and instructional leadership, Marian University and master’s of education – reading specialist, Viterbo University

Campaign website: www.votedebtruyman.com

Facebook page: Facebook.com/DebforAASDBoE

Relevant experience: Current board member serving in my fourth year

Member of the board’s community linkages committee

City resident for 30 years

Volunteer in district schools for the past several years

Currently have grandchildren attending district schools

 

Why are you running?

Blackwell: I have a personal belief in community service. I am concerned about the grading performance in the district. Children should be an important focus. Our workforce is hindered. I want to push for trade schools, as well as college, so students can find meaningful, financially stable jobs following their schooling.

Kolpack: I believe that all students deserve a great education. I am running because I want to help ensure a safe and inclusive learning environment for every student, support and empower educators to do what they do best, and contribute to defining the policies that shape our students’ education.

Ross: I know the challenges faced by our students, families and staff. I work connecting local students and families in crisis to resources and support. My partner is an educator in the district. I want to leverage my experience and relationships to improve the lives of everyone in our district community.

Sauter: As a lifelong resident and proud graduate of Appleton schools with current family members attending AASD schools, I strive to support continued student success experiences. Strong public schools are important community assets contributing to overall quality of life. I would be honored to continue serving as a board member.

Truyman: I am running for reelection because I care deeply about the success of our students, schools and staff. I will continue to bring an informed voice to issues our district faces so together with AASD staff, parents and community members, we can help all students become life-long learners and contributors.

 

What makes you the better candidate?

Blackwell: I believe I’m the best candidate because I have an impressive ability to work with opposing viewpoints. I have empathy for every individual. In work, it’s my personal priority to be transparent and to achieve the best outcome for clients. I’m decisive, earnest and have phenomenal communication skills.

Kolpack: As an AASD parent, I have a vested interest in the success of the school district. As a veteran, I have a history of service.  Lastly, as a technical leader, I believe in the practice of servant leadership and have experience tackling complex issues that require a systematic analytical approach.

Ross: I have built strong relationships with community resources and service providers that touch the lives of our district’s students and families. I believe that increasing student achievement requires a broad view of the barriers our students are facing in and outside of school. I will bring this holistic perspective to the board.

Sauter: I have an immense appreciation for and commitment to the time, effort and dedication required to be an effective board member. I thoroughly prepare for meetings, actively seek input from all stakeholders, and respectfully engage in a collaborative approach to problem solving with positive student outcomes as the ultimate goal.

Truyman: I have proudly served on the AASD Board for the past four years. My professional experience as a former educator as well as my current work on the board has enabled me to understand how to create meaningful policies and practices that will build strong foundations for our children’s learning.

 

What are residents telling you are their most important issues? How would you address them?

Blackwell: Frequent feedback I’ve received is the school district is not performing to high standards. Only 40% of students are proficient in the basics, Only 40% of students are proficient in reading and math, according to the state’s report card, even after the district lowered the grading scale by 10%. Also, I’m told the current board is not very receptive to parents’ concerns. I plan to push for raising the grading scale back to a traditional level and advocating for more frequent meetings with the community. Residents and parents should feel validated. Lowering the standards for our students does not benefit them. I will be cooperative and respectful of all board members.

Editor’s note: The district uses a standards-based grading system, which is meant to be more accurate, consistent and better reflect student achievement. District leadership said it’s not a direct comparison to a traditional points-based system. Read more about the grading policy on the district website.

Kolpack: The most important thing we can do to ensure student success is make certain our educators have all the tools and support to do their work efficiently and effectively. I would look for ways to reduce workload, job creep and demands outside of contract hours.

While it seems Appleton has been spared from the bulk of the teacher resignations that have been sweeping the country, I still see an opportunity to support educators. I would like to improve mechanisms for educator feedback directly to the board and to include a satisfaction or retention metric as an operational expectation.

Ross: We urgently need to prioritize student mental health. Nearly half (48%) of all high school students in Outagamie County indicated in the 2021 National Youth Risk Behavioral Survey that they “rarely or never get the help they need” when they are in emotional distress. Ten percent of all Outagamie high school students indicated that they had made a plan for suicide in the past 12 months. These numbers are significantly higher for our students of color and LGBT students. I will advocate for policies that increase students’ access to mental health support and I will help the district build stronger partnerships with our community’s resources.

Sauter: Meeting the diverse educational, social, emotional, and behavioral needs of each student in a safe, accepting environment while remaining fiscally responsible is important to community members.

To meet this goal:

  • All students must be provided equal access to educational and extracurricular offerings, preparing them to be healthy, fulfilled, contributing, responsible citizens and lifelong learners.
  • Mental health needs must be addressed through additional strategies and resources.
  • The AASD must continue to attract and retain exemplary, qualified, skilled, dedicated and appreciated employees to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all students, families, staff and community members.

Truyman: Student outcomes and opportunities: We must evaluate our goals for students, staff and schools to ensure they’re ambitious and drive a culture of excellence while monitoring to provide support that makes these goals feasible and meaningful.

Staff support: Our teachers and staff are vital and work closely with our students and families. We need to expand avenues for staff engagement and input to refine our systems.

Improved communication between district leadership and the community: My work as a board committee member on development of community connections will provide families, community members and board members with more opportunities to share ideas.

 

There has been talk that school board elections, which are designed to be nonpartisan, have felt more partisan in recent years. What is your take on partisanship for this race?

Blackwell: I fully respect the categorizing of “nonpartisan.” The board has influence over all the community, no matter the political leanings. My vision of high grading standards and communication with parents benefits everyone. This role should be nonpartisan, and I plan to act accordingly. I’m not a hardliner for right or left. I want to benefit every individual, whether we agree or disagree.

Kolpack: Sadly, it seems that a few special interests have decided to make education a battleground and often, support for public education is seen as a partisan stance.

My goal is to make my positions on issues of education clear to make voters’ decisions easier. Reasonable people can disagree reasonably, but I believe if we can keep our focus on the goal of improving outcomes for our students, we can all work together productively.

Ross: I am an independent and strongly believe that this race should focus on issues specific to our district rather than national media or major political party talking points. I also believe that running for public office should be accessible to everyone, but our current system makes this difficult for an average person without wealth. This is why I support candidates receiving endorsements, resources and support from individuals and groups as long as they require no policy promises in return.

Sauter: Education should not be a partisan issue. I believe all stakeholders desire the same outcome — the best possible educational experiences for all students in a safe, inclusive environment. As a current board member and candidate, I am committed to continue focusing on collaboratively meeting student needs and providing an optimum learning and working environment for students, staff and families.

Truyman: I don’t believe partisanship has any place in school board elections and hope we are able to avoid it during this election. A board member is elected to represent all constituents, and while board members come to the table with different values and ideas, we are here for the students, families and community members, and must work together for what is best for the education of each and every student.

 

Reach AnnMarie Hilton at ahilton@gannett.com or 920-370-8045. Follow her on Twitter at @hilton_annmarie.

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