As with so many other schools the Sparta Area School District (SASD) will have an election to re-elect incumbents or elect new members to their Board of Education. The SASD includes the city of Sparta and parts or all of thirteen townships within the district boundaries. There are six candidates for four positions; the top three candidates on Election Day will get three year terms while the fourth place candidate will get a one year term.
What a difference a year makes! A year ago there was an unpopular referendum being hotly debated by the electorate and there were eight candidates for four school board positions. Two of the positions were for normal three year terms and the other two were caused by resignations of board members. A ninth candidate – an incumbent on the school board – had lost his opportunity on Primary Day in February. That election was lively complete with yard signs, letters in the paper, and seemingly a lot of interest throughout the district. Parents and others attending School Board meetings could have felt like they were the “domestic terrorists” the Attorney General of the United States was talking about.
In January of this year the Monroe County Herald had a front page story “2022 in review” and four of the top five stories were related to the SASD! The stories in order of appearance included: “Cataract Elementary School closing”, “SASD Referendum fails”, “Dr. Amy Van Deuren gets investigated” (SASD Superintendent), and “Sam Russ becomes Superintendent”. And, shortly after the April election the SASD Board Chairman resigned.
You can probably figure out the general cultural environment of the SASD!
Now a year later there are three new SASD Board members. The new Superintendent is much more of a listener and team leader than the previous one who left the district under a cloud of questions about her leadership style. The newly elected Board Chairman has a strong but inclusive leadership style. The previous chair seemed to be dependent on the Superintendent, or maybe it was the Superintendent that imposed herself on the Chairman?
As a tax paying citizen that has been an active observer and sometimes participant over the years, I can see and feel the difference at SASD Board meetings. The SASD school board campaign appears much lower-keyed and more peaceful than a year ago. Again, what a difference a year makes!
I had four candidates in mind and then attended the recent SASD Candidate debate which further confirmed my choices (even though one candidate was out of town and did not participate). The four candidates that I plan to vote for, and would encourage others in the SASD to do the same include:
AMY LOPEZ - Amy has been on the SASD Board for almost a year and in that time has established a reputation of “doing her homework” and speaking up appropriately. She is the mother of eight children, five of whom are SASD graduates. She is a small business owner and involved in her church. She believes in community participation. Amy believes low test scores and student behavior are two areas that need community interest and support.
PAT McKENNA – Pat is another of the new faces on the SASD Board having been first elected last April. Pat is a listener and a thinker that considers the alternatives and then supports the logical solution. Pat’s kids went to Sparta schools and now his grandsons are enrolled. Pat is a manager in automobile sales and as such has his finger on the pulse of the community. Pat’s vision is to make the SASD a “destination” school that causes families to move into the district and others to open enroll into Sparta’s schools.
JOSHUA MATHISON – Josh came to town over a decade ago to settle in his wife’s hometown. Their three children attend three different SASD schools where they are involved in a variety of opportunities. Josh has some youth coaching experience and experience on a parochial school board. He is a wealth management advisor and will bring that knowledge of planning and finances to the school board. Josh believes the SASD needs to continue to grow a culture of respect and safety for students, staff, visitors, and citizens.
DARREL R. WHITTON III – Darrel is an Active Duty Army First Sergeant currently assigned to Fort McCoy. And, he was recently notified of a promotion which will keep him at Fort McCoy for two years when he plans to retire and stay in the Sparta area. His nineteen years of army experience has provided him with management, leadership, responsibilities, and training experiences that will enhance his experience on the SASD Board of Education. His boyhood hometown in New York similar to Sparta and a degree in Environmental Science with emphasis in Fish & Wildlife only strengthen his resume. He will share first-hand knowledge of what parents face when they move from school system to school system. His presence on the school board should only strengthen an already good relationship between Fort McCoy and the City of Sparta. Like other candidates, Darrel values community involvement as critical to SASD success.
One of the other candidates is an incumbent that is just four years out of Sparta High. While I admire his youthfulness and desire to serve, I believe he needs some more of life’s experiences to effectively represent the tax paying citizens of the SASD. And, I have agreed with some of his votes and disagreed with others. If the SASD Board wants a youthful perspective, then maybe they should establish a student member that has full voice (but no vote) to represent the younger generation. This would give other students a friendly ear but also give a student a noteworthy experience for his or her future applications and resume.
The SASD School Board member that was the apparent driving force behind the closing of Cataract Elementary School is not up for re-election until 2025. Only time will tell if this will be a campaign issue two years from now.
As one of the candidates said at the previously mentioned debate “All six will do a good job.” However, “we the people” can only vote for four. I plan to vote for Amy Lopez, Pat McKenna, Josh Mathison, and Darrel R. Whitton III and, if you live in the SASD, strongly encourage you to do the same!