Alex Sommers says Board should retain power, think ahead

Metro Wire Staff

The Stevens Point Area Public Board of Education has nine candidates on the Feb. 15 primary.

Nine candidates will compete for four open seats on the board. Incumbents Jeff Ebel, Barb Portzen, and Rob Manzke, are being challenged by newcomers Jennifer Bushman, Miguel Campos, Alex Sommers, Kari Prokop, Dennis Raabe, and Lisa Rychter. The top eight vote-earners will move on to the April ballot.

Questions by the Stevens Point Area League of Women Voters. Candidates Jeff Ebel and Kari Prokop did not submit responses.

Alex Sommers’ answers follow:

Why did you decide to run at this time for the position of Stevens Point Area School Board member?

I decided to run for the school board because I, as a parent, community member, current middle school/high school teacher, and holding a master’s degree in educational administration and curriculum, realized that my point of view can benefit the Stevens Point School District. I have the ability to view things from many different angles and with that ability, I can assist our district in moving forward.

What is your relevant background and experience to be an effective School Board member?

I have been an educator for 10 years, teaching English, Espanol, and ESL. I have worked with a variety of different stakeholders in education to achieve positive outcomes for students. I also have my master’s in education (with certification in principalship and director of curriculum and instruction) which provides me another lens to see education through and better assist students and staff. Moreover, I am a dad who loves his children and what they and their peers are being taught.

What do you see as the top three issues currently facing our Stevens Point Area schools and how would you address them?

We, as a district, need to be recruiting and retaining professionals, administrative assistants, bus drivers, teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, etc., while keeping wages competitive to ensure the district has the needs of all students met.

The second item I believe needs to be addressed is keeping students/families within our district. As a board, we can encourage the administration to find opportunities for students to partner with local businesses during high school. This would allow students to acquire on-the-job learning and offer our local businesses quality employees. The more our schools and community work together, the greater our community will be.

Our community recently passed a referendum, we received over two million dollars from the federal government, on top of our normal operating budget. I want to make sure that all funds are being allocated to encourage retention and recruiting of all staff, meeting the educational and mental needs of the students, and maintaining our facilities. If there is a budgetary shortfall, what are some aspects that need to be reexamined to ensure that the needs of our students and district are being met now and in the future?

What is the School Board’s role in ensuring that students from all races, classes, creeds, and gender are given opportunities for a high-quality education within a safe and respectful setting?

The school board has the obligation to ensure that everyone can access education without discrimination. All students need to have the ability to learn without fear. This is federal law and we have the imperative of following the law.

Schools are being asked to handle the increasing mental health concerns of students. Would you support increased funding and policy changes in addressing these needs?

Everyone is under constant scrutiny. We have to make sure that everyone has the tools to be successful, and when there are hiccups, there is support rather than judgment. I think the school should also try to team up with the community to see if there is more assistance that could be offered within the district. The board should also look for additional grant opportunities which could provide additional funding without affecting our overall budget. Schools are being tasked with a mental health crisis on a never-before-seen level. We should also try to develop programs earlier in school to help students learn resilience.

Do you agree with the actions of the School Board aimed at keeping students, staff, and teachers safe during the Covid pandemic? If not, what would you do differently going forward?

The school board has been elected to listen to its constituents and not bequeath all its power to the superintendent, which has happened for two years. The school board needs to be thinking ahead with multiple contingencies based upon what is happening within our schools. The board and administration while talking about bringing students back in the classroom weren’t even sure how they were going to accomplish this, there wasn’t plexiglass or proper sanitation ready. They have been two steps behind rather than thinking forward.

We need to ensure that the voters can communicate with us at board meetings, in committee meetings (which haven’t happened in two years), we need to be getting students back into the classroom; which will subsequently improve the mental health of our students and improve our academics Our students and community need our students to not have the constant upheaval. We need to get our students to have some sense of normalcy again.