Voting 5

SHEBOYGAN — Do you feel strongly about the way COVID-19 was handled within the Sheboygan Area School District this year? If so, Tuesday's Primary Election is the time to make your voice heard.

Three of the nine school board seats are up for election with seven candidates vying for the positions. Incumbents Marcos Guevara and Ryan Burg will be seeking re-election to their terms while board treasurer Larry Samet will not.

Here is a look at the candidates you will see on Tuesday's ballot:

  • Marcos Guevara (incumbent)
  • Katie L. Checolinski
  • Ryan F. Burg (incumbent)
  • Rebecca M. Versey
  • Santino Laster
  • Josh Fick
  • Christopher Domagalski

We sent out a questionnaire to all candidates to get their input on some issues you may be concerned with. Not all candidates were able to get back by our deadline, but here are the responses of those that did.

What made you interested in wanting to join the Sheboygan Area School District OR renewing your seat on the school board?

GUEVARA: I’m running for School Board because I want to continue the work that I started on the Board two years ago: to elevate the voices and lived experiences of people who have been traditionally marginalized, ignored, and underserved. My ultimate motivation is to ensure that the School District continues to be the pillar that our community needs, and that we intentionally continue to strive to become a Beloved Community, based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of our fellow human beings.

BURG: Simply put, I want to ensure my children's children (I'm not a grandparent now, but I hope to be in the future) have the same amazing educational experience I and my wife had in the SASD. Not so simply put, COVID-19 has significantly impacted our community. While we need to repair the damage it's done, we also need to think of the post-COVID-19 future. I feel that the community at large feels the same way.

LASTER: I’m running for school board so that I can be a strong voice: for students, families, and teachers to continue enhancing the cutting-edge progression of our educational system; to preserve and protect the wise use of our tax paying dollars to improve our educational system; to be a strong voice for all students to thrive and succeed in today’s world. I think it is important to have a school board reflect the diversity of its student population. I believe my perspective, my strong voice and my commitment to strong public education will enhance the high quality of public education in the Sheboygan Area School District.

FICK: My main reason is my kids are struggling really bad. They have gone from loving school to hating it. They miss their friends, teachers and staff. Kids aren’t retaining information as well as in person school. Also, I want to know why 1,000 kids of all ethnicities have left Sheboygan Area School District. We need to as board members improve internal coordination of ideas and resources.

DOMAGALSKI: My decision to run for the school board comes from my lifelong interest in public service and my experience with the Sheboygan Area School District. I come from a family that stressed the importance of education. My mother was an elementary school teacher and my father was a longtime instructor in the Technical College System. Two of my sisters became elementary school teachers and I have taught as an adjunct instructor in the Technical College System. I believe that our educational system provides the building blocks for future success and helps open doors of opportunity. Some of my experience with the district comes from my experience as a father and having four of my children attend school in the district, with three graduating from North High and one currently a student at North. I also have experience with the district from my time as a lunch buddy with Big Brothers Big Sisters. By spending time in the schools volunteering I was able to experience first hand the good work done in our schools and many of the challenges we face as a community. I have a strong interest in giving back to the district and helping to ensure that students continue to receive the opportunities and support needed to succeed that my children have been given.

What kind of experience would you add to the school board?

GUEVARA: In addition to the experience that comes from being a parent to four children that have attended and currently attend schools in our district, since 2009 I have served on the Jackson Elementary’s site-based team and the Boards of both A² Charter School and Warriner Schools before joining the SASD Board two years ago. At each of those positions the learning curve has been steep, and I’m happy to say that I have learned how to support administrators, teachers, and staff in their efforts to help our students grow and families thrive.

BURG: First off, I'm a parent. While my 2 kids have recently graduated from North and Etude respectively, I haven't forgotten what it's like to urge them to get their homework done, go to parent-teacher conferences, or be active in PTO. Next, I have a bachelor's degree in Organizational Administration from UW-Oshkosh, giving me a solid knowledge base in how groups can work well together. I earned this degree while working full-time and it was 100% online, so I have some first-hand understanding of how virtual learning works (and how it doesn't). Finally, as far as my school board experience is concerned, I served for several years on our Budget and Finance Committee as Vice-Chair, and am currently Vice-Chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Committee and Chair of the Facilities, Recreation, and Theatre Committee. Understanding the functions of all 3 committees and how they are related to each other is critical as we continue the recovery from the pandemic. Being the SASD's delegate for multiple Wisconsin Association of School Boards conventions and other events has given me a unique insight into how other districts work and allowed me to share their best practices with the administration.

LASTER: I have worked on the front lines in education as a teacher, Transportation Coordinator, Security, and Dean of Students. I have worked closely with families to create plans for students and their futures. I have also coached high school football for South, and I have coached our younger youth in basketball and baseball. All three of my children have benefited from the opportunities at schools in the Sheboygan Area School District. I have been an active parent in supporting the education of my children.

FICK: I would add a voice for the parents who are nervous or scared to say something that they feel isn’t correct. I also would bring a business background to the school district. I have sold janitorial supplies to school districts across the state. I have been in the back rooms of schools, where you hear the struggles the custodian and maintenance staff face trying to keep everything clean, safe and maintained.

DOMAGALSKI: The experience that I believe I bring to the School Board comes from my 29 years of experience as a law enforcement officer and my 15 years as a law enforcement and community leader. My law enforcement experience has given has given me a very strong picture of many of the challenges we face as a community, how these challenges impact our schools and the opportunities we have as a community to address and mitigate some of these challenges. Most of these challenges are not unique to our schools, but rather are seen and impact many of our systems. I have experience working within and across systems to solve problems and deliver improved services. My involvement helping to establish a drug treatment court in Sheboygan County is one example of this type of work. I also have significant experience working on the boards of nonprofit and governmental organizations.

How would you assess how the school board handled COVID-19 procedures, including school closures, during the past calendar year?

GUEVARA: Honestly, I believe that the District administration is handling the pandemic as well as could be expected. The quick decision to close the schools Covid manifested itself in Wisconsin in March 2020, and then the thoughtful planning that the teachers and staff undertook over the Summer, resulted in a robust policy that underscores the health of our students, families, and staff. That this policy has supported the closing in October and the gradual re-opening starting in January is a testament to the thoughtfulness that went into it. That is not to say that anyone is happy with the outcomes—the effects on our entire community, students and their families, staff, employers, have only started to come to light. The achievement gap has only widened. There’s going to be an entire cohort of students who are going to require even more of our care and attention to get them back up to where they need to be.

BURG: No one likes what’s happened to education because of COVID-19. My son spent the last semester of his high school career completely online because of the pandemic. Even though he'd spend his whole day on his computer when given the chance, virtual learning was difficult for him to master. However, being on the school board means we have to assess everything, listen to everyone, and make decisions based on what is best for the district as a whole. Self-interest needs to be subtracted out to solve the equation. Because of our process, I feel the decisions we made were what was best for the district given the information and opinions we had at the time

LASTER: It is hard to discuss how the school board handled the closures of the schools. We know that when an organization as complex as the Sheboygan Area School District, with it 10,000 students and hundreds of teachers and support staff, is dealing with the health and safety of lives, you are more cautious with your decisions. This pandemic was fierce in how rapidly the cases built up over months. As a school district that has a moral compass, closure of the schools at the time seemed fitting for all. During that time, best practices moving forward should have been discussed with student, parent, teacher, and community leaders’ input. I believe several of our schools needs some additional investments in its HVAC systems in order to maintain good air quality in the buildings. This is a necessary first step in returning students and staff to the schools, along with strong enforcement of mask wearing and sanitation.

FICK: I am not sure you can print profanity. Ultimately they failed our kids. SASD was the county’s only district to have a system-wide closure, despite the schools being in 20 separate building. Our school board continued to support a prolonged shutdown at the expense of our children’s mental health.

DOMAGALSKI: My assessment of how the School Board has handled the COVID-19 procedures during the past year is that they have generally performed well. While I have a strong preference to keeping schools open, I understand the complexities faced by a district the size of Sheboygan. I will not be critical knowing that I do not have all of the information regarding many of the challenges they were facing in making decisions and adjusting to new information as it comes in. I understand that size of the district makes it more difficult to rapidly adjust across the entire system as things change and believe the board and district did respond to feedback they received from the community. I believe that going forward the board must be cognizant of the long-term impacts and potential outcomes associated with the decision to move to a virtual or hybrid format and include those potential impacts in their decision-making.

Why did you agree or disagree with the decisions made?

GUEVARA: If these “decisions” include those made by the public health officials who are charged with keeping us safe, no, I disagree with the way they abdicated their function and the community to fend for ourselves. If we’re limiting the scope of the question to just how the School District has reacted to a difficult reality, then yes, as I mentioned above, I do agree with the decisions made.

BURG: The thing about science is that the more you learn, the more likely your positions will change. When COVID-19 first hit, no one had any idea how infectious it would be in a school setting. All we knew at the time was it had the potential to exceed the 1918 pandemic in terms of how easily it spread and how quickly it could kill. So, based on the information I had, I voted to have virtual schooling for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. I hoped that during the summer, the virus would "burn itself out" and we could return to a five-day in-person setting that fall. The burnout didn't happen, and I was left with a tough choice. As a board, we used the information gained from parent and staff surveys where a majority of both groups wanted at least some face to face education. But there was no clear-cut majority preferring either the five-day in-person or the hybrid models. Furthermore, while the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommended a full return to school, they also advised that we take local conditions into account. The district's discussions with local health experts combined with the survey results made it clear to me that a cautious approach was best. Then, the pandemic spiked. While I knew that the evidence showed that student-to-student transmission was rare, there was limited information regarding staff-to-staff or staff-to-student transmission. It's hard to have in-person learning when a significant portion of a school's staff are sick or in quarantine because of contact tracing. By going all virtual, it allowed the district to continue providing learning opportunities. While I didn't like the administration's decision, I understood that they had to look at the district as a whole in deciding what is best for our students. During this whole time, I was still gathering more information. The presentation the Sheboygan Parent's Action Coalition sponsored with Dr. Christakis helped crystalize in my mind how the pandemic impacts student's mental health and a possible way to be more flexible with quarantining individual students or classrooms. Again, this is all based on scientific evidence. Finally, the recent opinions from the CDC about school spread in addition to the number of parents who have chosen to keep their kids all virtual have made me feel quite comfortable with the remainder of students being in-person at least 4 days a week.

LASTER: It’s not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing. We are tasking the school board with making decisions that will greatly affect the population (children and teachers and families) of our community. There will always be disagreements as you can’t make everyone happy. As long as the school administration and school board are making decisions and developing processes for the best interest of our children, parents, teachers and community as a whole, then we have to encourage and back them in these difficult circumstances. There have been hundreds of students, teachers and staff who have contracted this contagious virus. It is tragic that some have lost their lives. In light of the challenges brought on by this pandemic our school board needs to continue to work with the administration to find new resources to support our vision and improve the state of our educational system.

FICK: Disagreed, because multiple schools across the state and country were open. Schools in our county were open while our kids in SASD fell further behind. We could have had plans in place to get our kids in the classroom sooner.

DOMAGALSKI: As a district we must continue to assess how these changes have impacted our students and find ways to address these impacts, whether academic, social or emotional. I believe the district has started to put responses in place, but we must look at this as a potential long-term issue. Some of our most vulnerable students have been most severely impacted.

What other issues will you look to focus on as part of the school board?

GUEVARA: The pandemic will pass, we’ll get measures and practices in place that ensure the health and safety of all of our stakeholders. I think it’s of prime importance that we continue the work that has gone into the District’s Principles of Equity. It’ll also be important that we include the concepts of Universal Design in how we ensure that a quality education is accessible to everyone.

BURG: Continuing our focus on creating equitable education chances for our students and their families. If there's one thing this pandemic has taught me as a board member, it's that we need to do a better job at educating students based on where they are in life instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach. Equity is not solely about a family's ethnicity or socioeconomic background, everyone learns and grows in their own way. How can we encourage creativity in how we educate while rigorously challenging our students?

LASTER: There is a big gap between our highly successful students, and those that can be, but are lacking resources at home. We need to ensure that our policies and programming are in place to close this educational gap. Our community is finally beginning to lower the community spread of this contagious virus. We need to make sure our processes and procedures for how we handle COVID cases within our schools is consistent and safe in order to keep our students, teachers, staff and families healthy and safe. How will we isolate issues to ensure safety of students and teachers? How can we be ahead of the virus and not put ourselves in a position of backpedaling to address it? Additionally, I will focus on building a partnership with local healthcare organizations to educate our community on how to keep the spread of the virus to a minimum by enacting safe health practices so that our students can attend school in-person. We need to close the gap in technology for the students and families who are not able to secure these resources. How can we involve our whole community in unique ways to invest in our children’s future—for example, can individual businesses allow students to utilize their facilities for internet access, or can businesses provide additional hotspots for families? Utilizing clean energy in our schools will also be a priority after the pandemic is over. Having sufficient and clean air cycling through our schools will help and improve our students’ and teachers’ health. Our students and teachers deserve an eco-friendly and safe building to learn and be able to interact with a laugh or smile with each other without the fear of getting sick. We need to make sure our school buildings have the necessary resources (PPE, rapid covid tests, vaccinations for teachers/staff, updated HVAC, etc…) so that they are fully prepared when the next outbreak happens. Having the option to offer two models (in-person and virtual) of educating our children will be essential if another outbreak happens. My professional training and experience have provided me with the skills of balancing the needs of many different people. It is critical to listen to them all individually and get an in depth understanding of what they NEED. I promise to continue to be open-minded and weigh all options before making a decision. I will base all decisions on the best interests of moving the district forward without bias and without negative interference.

FICK: Another issue that is facing our kids is social media. We need to have a class to teach the kids how to properly use social media and what problems can arise. Social media is dangerous if you are not using it properly. I also believe that we need better communication and have the schools work together and benefit the community.

DOMAGALSKI: The Board will continue to be challenged with looking ahead and preparing the district to adapt to a world of continuing change. Staying connected to and collaborating with our business community to understand their needs, maintaining partnerships and working collaboratively with our technical colleges and universities to streamline the path to certifications and degrees that prepare students for the workforce and continuing the work to help students ignite the spark and identify their interests and talents. The board will also have to work with the district to track and plan for enrollment changes and ensure that the district has the right infrastructure to support the district’s future needs.

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