OCONOMOWOC — The Oconomowoc Area School District School Board has four incumbents seeking reelection. Two challengers have also entered the contest set for a vote April 5.
The candidates are: Andrew Anderson, Neal Ninmann (i), Sandy Schick (i), Paula Schmitz, Chad E. Schraufnagel (i) and Bill Thiel (i).
Since August, the board has seen four resignations in the wake of a reportedly “toxic” work environment. Voters may cast a ballot for up to four of the six candidates.
Each candidate responded to our questionnaire about their experience and what they see as priorities for the district.
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What made you decide to run for the seat and what makes you a good fit for the role?
Ninmann: I am currently serving as an appointed member of the board since September 2021. I am running to be elected by the community to continue serving on the board as a trustee of the district. I believe strongly that serving as a representative of the community is a primary focus for a school board member and is the reason I am a good fit for the position. Our family owns a small business in downtown Oconomowoc, I am a 1988 graduate of OHS and have three children who also have experienced OASD as students. I am a community supporter, passionate alumni and strong advocate for becoming an unrivaled school district that will be the choice for anyone in our regional community of learners.
Schick: I wanted to provide experience and leadership in the hiring of the new superintendent, selling of the old Meadow View School site, and general district operations. I sought a September appointment and received the appointment. The appointment requires re-election. After 19 years on the Board, my experience can help with boardsmanship, general knowledge, history and more.
Schraufnagel: I was appointed to the OASD Board of Education in September of 2021 after three board members decided to quit in August of 2021. I have been an educator for 21 years, the last 16 of them as an administrator, I felt this background would be a benefit to the board and school district. Since being on the board we have been able to begin the process of selling the old Meadow View building, we have hired a new superintendent, and increased student growth during the pandemic. I am running to continue to move our school district in the positive direction.
Thiel: I have always been involved with the schools as a stay-at-home dad for my three children who all attended the district. I started to become interested in the school board position last year during the recall. I would have run then, but I wanted to make sure that the candidates I supported were elected (they did) and I didn’t want to dilute the votes we needed. I also attended many school board meetings regarding masking and in-person classes. I was so disappointed that at many of these meetings there was no opportunity for the community to speak. I believe that as representatives of the community the board should always have time to hear people out and I appreciate the board making that change now that I am there.
I am a good fit for this role as I can work well with a variety of people, and I can agree and disagree with them without allowing it to become personal. I have no personal agenda and will work solely for the community, parents and our students. The board’s job is to focus on getting our students the best education possible and work (as our vision states) to become “Unrivaled.”
Anderson: As a parent of four, the wake of our school board making national news for toxic dysfunction hit hard. I wanted to make sure someone stood up to take accountability and I was most nervous about our district losing talented teachers. The starting point in creating the best school district in the state is through talented teachers, and I’m proud to accept the endorsement of the teachers in the district through the Oconomowoc Education Association. In conversations with parents, teachers, and members of the community there is consensus that the school board can do better. With a background as a VP of a college and with my current role in senior management at an HNW investment firm I wanted to leverage my professional experience to help our board operate as a high functioning group.
Schmitz: A lady sat next to me on my flight back from a conference in Florida last November and told me she was traveling with a group of five school mothers on a first vacation together since 2020. She said the reason was to cheer up one of them who had lost a 13-year-old niece to suicide. My heart sunk. When I asked, was this pandemic-related? She said: Absolutely! The girl succumbed to social isolation first and bullying and feeling left out through social media next. That day, I felt a moral obligation to step up to the plate and help stop this insanity in our school communities. We have developed a thick skin when we hear about another school shooting or a student being bullied, or a student committing suicide. Only ONE is too many, but the actual numbers are alarming! As a mother of two high-schoolers, an educator, and an online course developer in health and wellness, I have been researching programs and interventions used successfully by other districts that we can bring to the OASD to support students who are hurting. I will fight for this as it will bring a transformative, long-lasting solution in times of crisis.
If elected, what are your priorities for the district?
Ninmann: If elected, my priorities will remain that of supporting through policy, our district administration, teachers, staff and students as we focus on our strategic plan, graduate profile and fiscal responsibilities. One of our top priorities will be to review and respond to enrollment fluctuations by continuously focusing on investing in our teachers, buildings and curriculum both financially and through policy updates that give autonomy to district leadership. Another priority is to continue building trust between the community and the school board that we will do what we say and act as trustees rather than activists.
Schick: “It is the vision of the Oconomowoc Area School District to become an unrivaled learning community, seeking wisdom, honoring the past, and shaping the future.” This is the district’s vision and should be our guiding light. The district is great with wonderful teachers, curriculum and facilities. The district needs to continue moving to unrivaled. This can be accomplished by using the Strategic Plan. Therefore, the district must follow the Strategic Plan and will be monitored by the documented metrics.
The district also must continue to pursue the sale of the old Meadow View School site. The property should be listed very soon.
Schraufnagel: If I am elected, I will continue to prioritize the following: 1.) Ensuring that we are financially viable into the future. We are in a good place right now and I want to make sure that we continue being financially strong.
2.) Finding ways to increase open enrollment into our school district. I want Oconomowoc to be a destination school district for families outside of our boundaries.
3.) Continue to implement our district strategic plan and our athletic strategic plan.
4.) Providing support for the educators of our school district, who continue to do incredible work with our students.
5.) Sell the old Meadow View to fulfill the promise of the past board.
Thiel: I have 4 priorities for the district. As they say, “Keep School REAL”.
R- Realistic Spending- Don’t spend what you don’t have. We need to be smart with our tax dollars and do more with less.
E- Excellence- Excellence in everything we do. That mindset is the only way for us to grow as a district to go from good to great.
A- Accountability- Do what you say you are going to do. If you make a promise keep it. First off, sell Meadowview School. L- Leadership- You manage things; you lead people. Leadership by the board, in the district, in classroom, by the teachers, and by the students.
Anderson: The main goal for the district should start with retaining our most talented teachers and positioning the Oconomowoc brand as the destination of choice among teachers across the state. Additionally, we are lacking a significant strategic initiative to address why families who live in our district are actively opting out of keeping their children at our schools. There is an opportunity to advance learning opportunities through improved online platforms that can serve both students and assist parents. Lastly, our board can help to elevate the district by prioritizing the focus of the board itself as the existing strategic plan that has not seen improvements or modifications in almost 4 years.
Schmitz: I like to call my priority number one “Student Mental Fitness” instead of student mental health. DPI, the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, has a budget for student mental health that has increased to meet the students’ needs after the pandemic. Are we using it? Mental fitness goes beyond being mentally sane; it includes developing a success mindset that can be applied to any discipline. I want to see “Student Personal Development” days on the same days that their teachers have their PD days. What a blessing this would be for parents! They would be able to go to work that day. What a concept! And my third priority is “Student Global Impact.” If we are forming students at OHS to be grounded, responsible and accountable, that should focus primarily on how their actions are impacting others around them at home, at school, in the community and around the world. Our actions have an impact. Students can grow and develop these mindful skills in a fun-filled environment that departs from the classroom and uses a common space like the cafeteria, the gym, and/or some outdoor space on campus or in the community. It will be a fantastic!
What programs or initiatives are most important to you? Of those priorities, what should the district focus on and why?
Ninmann: The most important initiative for me as a board member is to remain a functional and cohesive board that acts collectively in the best interest of students, the community, teachers and administration. We must govern via smart policy and not by current events or pressure from outside influences. The district has a focus on developing learners and leaders and the board has a responsibility to support that focus with policy and financial stewardship. When the board and district make student achievement their top priority, the district and community win.
Schick: When I campaigned in 2002, I had the following beliefs. School board members are responsible for providing quality education to all students in the Oconomowoc Area School District; educational opportunities provided by the Oconomowoc Area School District should develop individuals who can lead productive and responsible roles in our community and society; the Oconomowoc Area School District contains a varied population who must be represented regardless of home location (urban and rural), family income, and family heritage; The School Board needs to ensure accountability and financial responsibility; School Board Members need to be open-minded, independent thinkers who are willing to challenge the district to maximize potential; The School Board needs to plan for the future.
Throughout my life, I have been an active participant in my community. My goal is to continue positively contributing to the Oconomowoc Area School District for the benefit of my family, my neighbors and the greater Oconomowoc community.
My viewpoints remain the same. I support all programs and initiatives with no favorites. The district needs to ensure that all students are given the opportunity to learn.
Schraufnagel: It is important for board members to support the school district as a whole and not get into personal projects. Past board members began to work on personal agendas and that led to a great deal of dysfunction. The current make of the board has moved past the previous issues and is focused on policy and governance and supporting the work of the administration and teachers. As a board our priorities are driven by our strategic plan and I will continue to support that plan. As I stated on the previous question our priorities are financial stability, increasing open enrollment into the district, focusing on the strategic plans, supporting administration and teachers, and selling the old Meadow View.
Thiel: We are very fortunate to have an excellent district to start with. A great group of administrators, staff and teachers. Having said that, we are still losing some of our students to other districts and other schools. This “enrollment out” is currently larger than our “enrollment in” and every time that happens, we have fewer resources to work with. Bottom line, we need to increase our market share. To do this we need focus on excellence, celebrate our successes, and create an overall district that people see as the best overall option for their students. I don’t think we need some new program or initiative to get us there. We are doing it in many areas already. Did you know we were one of the few districts in the state that increased student performance last year during COVID? Look at our band and theater programs, our internship and apprentice programs, all top in the state. We need to bring this same level of excellence to the areas that still need improvement to get us there. You can help too. Read to your children. Believe it or not, that small step over time will also help us become a better district.
Anderson: First, is to focus on how we attract and retain the most talented teachers possible. The impact of an amazing teacher is immeasurable, and we’ve all had teachers in our past that were less than exceptional. If we fail to support the best teachers, then we will miss them when they are gone. Second, is the unique opportunity to help students pursue their individual passion to a greater extent. There are examples of other districts offering course credit for extra-curriculars and this innovative strategy helps to reduce expenses while also increasing scope and depth of viable opportunities for students. My own kids have spent time in robotics, drama and athletics and I want to help promote the passion of students to the greatest extent possible. Third, we deserve a school board that can operate for more than six months without creating negative headlines.
Schmitz: Based on the priorities I outlined in my previous answer, I am developing a proposal, a comprehensive plan that includes creative and innovative programs, initiatives and strategies to meet the needs of our students after the pandemic. This can be integrated with the resources that the district already has in place and enrich them. We can always do more and better in supporting students’ wellness. The fact that the restrictions have been now lifted doesn’t mean that the havoc caused by the lockdowns will disappear overnight. It will take years of rebuilding and recovery as people continue to live in fear. We need to give our students coping tools to not live afraid.
Student Mental Fitness should be the top priority in the district. It is intrinsic to its mission: Unless students are mentally fit and emotionally stable, they can’t learn and therefore, they will not be able to lead. The district should focus on advancing these programs to meet the needs of the current times or we will be missing the boat. Schools should be a haven for students, a springboard for each one of them to become the best version of themselves in service to others.
For more spring 2022 election coverage, click here.