Here's what De Pere School Board candidates think on funding, achievement and curriculum
DE PERE ― Five candidates are vying for two open seats on the De Pere School Board and will face a primary this month to whittle down the candidate pool to four.
Current Board President David Youngquist and Vice President Doug Seeman are not running for reelection, having filed for non-candidacy in December. After nine years on the board, Youngquist said he's hoping to devote his time toward other things, like his church. Seeman didn't respond to a request to comment on why he's not seeking reelection.
Since five candidates are running, there will be a primary election on Feb. 21. The four candidates with the most votes will advance to the April election.
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Board members get $3,200 for serving with the vice president, treasurer and clerk getting $3,400 and the president $3,600.
The Press-Gazette asked all candidates the same seven questions about their relevant experience and their thoughts on public school funding, curriculum, achievement and areas of improvement for their district.
Answers have been lightly edited for formatting and grammar. Here are the De Pere School Board candidates answers:
Address: De Pere
Campaign website: None
Education: Bachelor's degree in elementary education from UW-Whitewater; master's degree in educational administration from UW-Madison; specialist certification in education administration from UW-Madison.
Relevant experience: 44 years in education as a teacher, coach, principal, superintendent and leader of CESA 7. During my career, I have attended over 600 school board meetings. I clearly know how public schools work and function. I know school finance, curriculum, personnel, policies, etc.
Address: De Pere
Campaign website: Wolf for School Board Facebook page.
Occupation: Global Solutions consultant (software)
Education: Bachelor's of science in human geography with track in environmental engineering from U.S. Military Academy at West Point; master's degree in international policy and practice from George Washington University.
Relevant experience: My experiences as a military officer and in the tech space bring a unique perspective, having led large, diverse teams in austere environments with limited resources toward unifying goals and insight into the integration of technology in the classroom and workforce. I also have experience as an instructor; assisting in the congressional nomination process for the service academies; volunteering to mentor prospective students; and in the past, volunteering with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.
Mike LaBouve' did not answer the questionnaire. He previously ran to serve on the Brown County Board for District 19 last spring, but lost to Jessica Adams who currently holds the seat.
Address: De Pere
Campaign website: Mark Meneau Facebook page
Occupation: Strategic account manager
Education: Bachelor of arts in communication and marketing from UW-Stevens Point
Relevant experience: I recently served on the De Pere School Board from 2010-2022 as treasurer and vice president. I helped lead the district through a new superintendent search, referendums, budgeting discipline, district boundary setting and debt management.
Address: Did not provide her address.
Campaign website: Melissa for School Board Facebook page
Occupation: Small business owner
Education: Bachelor's degrees in business management and science from Bellevue University
Relevant experience: I am a parent of three children. My husband and I moved our family to the school district five years ago so our children could benefit from the quality education De Pere has to offer. I am passionate about my children’s education. As a small business owner, I am invested in serving our community.
Why are you running for School Board?
Dickert: To continue the fine tradition of the excellent educational opportunities that the De Pere public schools have given to many generations of students.
Hindrichs: I believe that quality public education is one of the most important rights necessary to a functional republic; I want our schools to be number one in the state, not in the hundreds, and not in the thirties.
Meneau: I want to continue on the work that I helped establish in my prior term and continue to make the school district a destination for families to raise their children.
Niffenegger: I am running for school board to be a voice for parents. Our schools play a huge role in forming our children. I pledge to bridge the gap between your child's education and your parental influence.
What makes you the best candidate?
Dickert: My 44-year career in education gives me a huge advantage. I know public schools inside and out and how they tick. I know how school boards work and how valuable it is to a school district to have experienced board members. I have dealt with thousands of parents, teachers and students and know the intricacies of how public schools work and how policies, procedures and practices influence all three of those groups.
Hindrichs: Firstly, I’m willing to listen, not being so rigid as to think I always have the right answer. My day to day is spent understanding the competing needs and desires of stakeholders: executives, frontline workers, unions and shareholders; then moving them towards a common goal that benefits everyone. Having lived in many states and overseas, I also have a wide vantage point as to how different strategies might benefit our district and that diversity in thought and experience is an asset.
Meneau: Having worked through the pandemic and the extraordinary challenges that came with it, I feel that experience along with my current work has prepared me even more for the upcoming challenges that our district will be facing in the next two to five years. The district needs to continue to be responsive as we address the changing landscape of education today. I also have extensive insight as to how our facilities need to be addressed as it relates to a potential referendum in the future.
Niffenegger: Like many families in northeast Wisconsin, my husband and I moved our family to the Unified School District of De Pere so our children could experience De Pere's quality of education. As a De Pere business owner, and mom to children in the district, I have a vested interest in helping our students succeed. Additionally, I can see things from a different perspective than other candidates who do not have school-aged children in our district.
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What do you believe are the top two issues that need to be addressed, and how would you address them, if elected?
Dickert: Future growth of the district: De Pere public schools and the communities it serves are all growing, and future growth predictions have it continuing into the 2030s. The district needs to position itself for the growth out in our towns and the population explosion once the southern bridge is completed. This process has just started and input from all stakeholder groups is vital for ideas, to vet the proposed plan, then help with implementation.
Future curriculum: As we continue to move into an advanced society, we constantly need to review our curriculum. We need to make sure we add things such as computer coding, college credit courses, and apprenticeship to help all students attain a base education for whatever future they select.
Hindrichs: Infrastructure and safety: Both require extensive collaboration between the board, educators and the community. The strategic plan/facility plan in development will help us decide how we’re expanding in a manner to best fit our projected growth, but we also need space to maximize the existing local partnerships for tech education and revamped facilities for the arts and enrichment programs. I was initially surprised to hear it, but teachers, students and parents have underscored that children do not feel safe. It is our duty to create a safe and inclusive environment for all students. Physical safety on one hand and nondiscrimination on the other. Expanding viewpoints, training teachers and relooking disciplinary consequences is where I would start.
Meneau: Addressing our facility plan and district growth: Our current facilities will have maintenance issues that need to be addressed as well as new building and facility needs. By listening to stakeholders and understanding what we need as it relates to academics, extracurriculars and other learning areas, we can plan more efficiently for future growth and use.
Improving our technical education areas: There is an extraordinary need for skilled labor in today's marketplace. Our current space is very dated and inadequate to provide the necessary learning opportunities for those that want to pursue those careers.
Niffenegger: The top two issues that need to be addressed are: the fact that our facilities are at max capacity and parental and community involvement. If I am elected, I will work to ensure our district can keep growing without sacrificing the quality of our children's education and work to create more opportunities for family events in the community.
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If you could change one thing about your district it would be ______. Explain.
Dickert: Curriculum: It needs to continue to be modernized. Every high school graduate should leave us with at least 20 college credits from either a university or tech college. We need to make this an expectation. Our location has a huge advantage with St. Norbert, UWGB, NWTC, Bellin College, Lakeland College all within 20 minutes from our district. This doesn't even count the endless online courses available. This change will also save our parents or students on post-secondary costs!
Hindrichs: I would introduce more options for foreign language like Mandarin and German, and I would have language instruction begin in kindergarten. Language brings with it many benefits, including cultural appreciation, cognitive development and improved concentration. It is easier to build on foundations at a young age. Speaking more than one language also opens up a multitude of opportunities in the workforce and in college admissions, giving our kids a needed leg up in an increasingly connected world.
Meneau: As a district, we need to continue to be proactive in establishing relationships with our business partners. This will be vital as we move forward with our facilities planning and listening to our business community and how they can partner with the district.
Niffenegger: The lack of apprenticeship and career-preparing electives for our students. I would like to see more local business involvement in offering opportunities that prepare our children for college and the workforce.
What are your thoughts on how the topic of racism and its history in the United States should be taught in public schools?
Dickert: I am not sure why this question is separated out and doesn't ask about all curriculum such as reading and math? De Pere public schools has a curriculum approval process that allows for a vetting process for the community, parents, our expert teachers, administrators and more. The school board approves the final curriculum. If it does not meet community norms, the board will not approve it. So my answer is: I would follow the school board's policies, procedures, and practices.
Hindrichs: Yes, in an age-appropriate manner. (Deserves more space than allowed; I can expound on my page). An accurate account of history is necessary to create a more informed society that does not repeat mistakes. Beginning with concepts like fairness and celebrating our differences, building to historical events (like slavery, Native treatment, 20th century internment camps) and culminating in a deeper understanding of it’s impact. Ignoring racism, especially in a homogenous community, is a disservice to children.
Meneau: We should continue to learn from history as it helps us understand the positives and negatives from our past. All of our students should trust that our educational curriculum is appropriate for them and that they are learning material that will give them the proper understanding of that material. If students are not comfortable with topics that may be sensitive to them, they should have that right to opt out of that lesson.
Niffenegger: Our schools should represent all people. Our history as a nation is a topic that should be taught in schools, so we can learn from our mistakes and not repeat them.
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Do you have areas of concern about student achievement in your district? What are your specific suggestions for improvement?
Dickert: The district does a great job on student performance, as proven by the state report card. I would suggest that the district look at those students that are not performing well and concentrate on getting them back on track using multiple strategies that does include technology. Also, I believe that computer coding should be taught starting in kindergarten, as our children's future will require them to know coding and other aspects of IT no matter what occupation they go into in the 2030s.
Hindrichs: Elementary school math and reading proficiency scores need to be improved (Dickinson 53% and 53%, Heritage 64% and 59%, Altmayer 74% and 64% of students are meeting proficiency levels). Despite being above the Wisconsin average, these numbers can go up significantly; and elementary education is the basis for future success. Dedicated math and reading specialists instead of shared assets, as well as more funding for special education would be my first thought in addressing this achievement gap.
Meneau: No. We have a high performing district and our metrics have shown that over the past 15 years. Our excellent and committed staff continue to challenge our young learners each and every day. We continue to be viewed as a school district of choice in the state.
Niffenegger: Our school district is ranked 37th in Wisconsin and first in the Green Bay area! I believe our parents and teachers have played a huge role in our success! There is always room for improvement. In the coming years, I would like to look at where we can make some tweaks to keep our school number one in Green Bay and rise higher in Wisconsin.
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What are you thoughts about the state of public school funding in Wisconsin?
Dickert: De Pere is a growing school district. In the state funding system, this is an advantage. Also, De Pere is a target school that parents from other districts want to send their children to via open enrollment. This is also an advantage if we only fill capacity. While I always want more dollars from our state funding to come to education, the current system favors De Pere Public Schools.
Hindrichs: It’s contentious, underfunded and broken, distributed unfairly between low-income and wealthy districts across the state, and our kids and educators bear the repercussions of over a decade of cuts. Local voters consistently vote to raise property taxes, but that doesn’t make up for the (2009-2019) disparity between 17% inflation and the 6% statewide average student revenue limit increase. While De Pere relies heavily on fundraising, we still fall back on referenda. Our kids deserve better.
Meneau: Public schools need the unwavering support from our state leaders in Madison. Funding has lagged for the better part of a decade in the state, and we need to see increased investments to continue the quality of our education in Wisconsin and our own school district.
Niffenegger: Our district is ranked 19th at $12,435 per child out of 51 states, with Utah at the lowest with $7,954 per child and New York at the highest of $20,645 per child. Our current and past school boards have done great staying on or below budget with our funding each year. Editor's note: These numbers are from 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data. The most recent data, from 2020, shows that Utah ranks 49th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in per pupil spending and New York ranks second. Wisconsin is 24th at $15,015 per student. The data doesn't break down spending by district, only by states.
Danielle DuClos is a Report for America corps member who covers K-12 education for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @danielle_duclos. You can directly support her work with a tax-deductible donation at GreenBayPressGazette.com/RFA or by check made out to The GroundTruth Project with subject line Report for America Green Bay Press Gazette Campaign. Address: The GroundTruth Project, Lockbox Services, 9450 SW Gemini Dr, PMB 46837, Beaverton, Oregon 97008-7105.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Q&A: Here's what De Pere School board candidates think on top issues