Seven candidates who are on the ballot and a write-in are seeking four seats on the Stewardson-Strasburg school board in Tuesday’s election.
A hot-button issue is the sports co-op with Windsor. The two districts were sports rivalries for decades, but have joined forces in recent years and had some success, including a state championship in softball and two trips to the state volleyball tournament, taking second in the state.
However, some are not in favor of continuing the co-op. There’s an advisory proposition on the ballot about the issue.
Meanwhile, the new board will hire a new superintendent and there are concerns about improving the level of education and opportunities for students.
Kendra Beals, 44, will be a newcomer to the school board, if elected. She works as a Fee Schedule Coordinator at Heartland Dental. She is a graduate of Cumberland High School and is working toward an associate degree in psychology in her spare time.
“I have not had any previous board experience,” Beals said. “However, I was a member of the Toledo Town & Country Women’s Club for several years. I served as a treasurer, secretary, vice president and president, each one-year terms while a member.”
The Women’s Club is a nonprofit organization serving the community through fundraisers and community activities.
“I want to help make sure all students are getting the best quality education our school can provide,” Beals said. “I would like to explore more options for dual-credit courses offered at Stew-Stras. I would like to help our school continue to grow, and provide the tools our students need to be successful in school and prepare them for the next steps after graduation.”
She called the co-op one of the biggest issues facing the district.
“I feel on a sports side, one of the biggest issues now is getting the state of the co-op figured out,” Beals said. “The board was asked to hold off on signing the IHSA papers until after the April 2 election. These papers would lock us in another two-year sports co-op contract with Windsor. On the ballot is a question asking the voters if they would like to see the co-op continue or not. For whatever reason, the board chose to ignore the request to wait until after the election, so they could find out what the outcome of that vote was. They would, after that time, have been able to call a special meeting to either sign or not. They took the voice away from the voters and approved the continuation of the co-op.
“Now that the decision has been made in regards to the co-op, we need board members who can represent both the boys and the girls sports to work to get the kinks ironed out, and there are some big ones that need addressed. They need to get this working the way it should, so the community isn’t divided over it, and it is functioning fairly and ethically from both schools.
“In regards to education, I think more attention needs to be focused on recognizing the accomplishments of non-athletic activities such as Scholar Bowl and FFA, among others. We need to give all our students opportunities to grow, feel proud of what they do and accomplish, and help them feel that their opinions matter, as well. We need to continue to provide the tools necessary for success whether it be equipment used in the classroom or in teachers hired. The education of our students needs to be our No. 1 priority.”
Darcy Wernsing, 43, is a newcomer. She is the manager of Stewardson Builders Supply. She is a 1993 graduate of Stewardson-Strasburg High School and an EIU graduate with a major in Zoology and minor in Chemistry. She has a husband, Chad, and children Gavan, Addie and Nash.
“I do not have experience on the Unit 5A board, but was secretary for COWS for two years,” Wernsing said. “I feel like my managing-of-a-business skill set will be one to help our district to be ran more like a business. I feel we have slid away from that a bit over the past few years. I am also concerned about the overall education our children are getting, the disciplining of the kids, and the teachers teaching classes that they went to college to teach.
“The top priorities the board needs to address is hiring a superintendent that has the school district in his/her best interest. This candidate needs to have experience, knowledge of rural Illinois, and an ability to relate to students, staff and the public.”
Barry Wittenberg, 45, is an incumbent finishing a four-year term. He is a self-employed farmer. He has a bachelor’s degree in Ag Business from Illinois State University. He has been a member of the Lions Club for 12 years, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Sunday School Superintendent, Richland Township Clerk and a volunteer on the Strasburg Fire Protection District.
“I am running for Stewardson-Strasburg District 5A School Board, because I feel it is important that we provide the best education we can with the respect of the community and their taxes being used in the most economical way possible,” Wittenberg said. “I have four children that attend Stewardson-Strasburg school: twins Jordan and Austin (8th grade), Ellie (6th grade), and Edie (3rd grade); therefore I have a lot invested in this district and want to continue working together to make improvements for our students, staff and community.”
He agreed the co-op is a burning issue.
“Unfortunately, the biggest issue that is currently facing our community and district is one that shouldn’t be an issue at all. I am speaking about the Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg athletic co-op agreement,” Wittenberg said. “The current school board recently voted unanimously to continue the athletic co-op for two years starting this coming fall of 2019.
“There will be a poll on the April 2 ballot questioning whether or not the community would like to see this co-op continue. What some may not realize is that if the board would’ve voted no, our 2019-2020 high school girls volleyball and softball teams would have no schedule, or would have to scramble to get a coach, officials and teams to play because our current schedule would go to the host school. It would be a shame to do that to our high school girls, especially knowing the post-season history of these two teams in the past few years.
“With that being said, to each person one issue may be of more importance than another, but I truly believe if our board can keep flowing the way it has, we will keep building on the progress the board has made over the last few years as each issue arises, including the progress we have made with the athletic co-op agreement. New priorities come up often, for instance class sizes growing, which means our staff must continue to grow. Our administration does a great job of keeping us up to date as issues/priorities come about. I do not have a certain priority I am running for or an agenda to change an issue. I simply want to see our school succeed.”
Pat Nothaus, 51, is a newcomer. He is a crop consultant/business owner. He has an Associate of Applied Science in Ag Business and a Bachelor of Science in Plant and Soil Science from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He served on an Illinois Wheat Association board and currently on the Illinois Trappers Assoc. Board. He is married to Rhonda and has a son, Wyatt.
“I am running to bring my business skills as both a business owner and as well as a past and present member of a statewide board. I can bring a fresh outsider perspective to the board with 30 years of budgeting, management and human resource experience.”
Nothaus said he wants to represent “all” students and families in the district.
“We need to get our priorities in order. Why are we only spending 37.5 percent on instruction, nearly 12 percent ‘below’ state average and as much as 20 percent ‘below’ other Shelby County schools? Why is administration cost over 6 percent higher than state average and yet we just hired another principal, when we are already below the state average student/pupil ratio? Why are our other expenditures 7 percent higher than the state average? We will be hiring a superintendent. It is very important that we find a quality candidate with our communities’ values.
“I will support the will of the community when it comes to the vote on April 2. I will either work to fix it or put an end to it, as we cannot continue to let it be a distraction from the education side of things. I question why on our 2014 report card we were spending $2.5 million on education, basically state average percent, compared to 2018 at $2 million, 17 percent below state average percentage. What happened in this past four-year time span?”
Brent Curry, 33, if elected would be new to the board. He is in sales and has an associates degree. He has not been elected to public service, but serves on the John Deere Tech Advisory Board at Lake Land College, Ag Department Advisory Board at Lake Land College, and is a Junior Fair Association Board member.
“I think in small communities it takes everyone to make it work,” Curry said. “I just want to be an active community member, donate my time and energy to make smart decisions when it comes to our children’s education.”
Preparing students is a priority for him.
“Looking at ways to engage with students to better prepare them after they graduate,” Curry said. “No matter if they go straight to a trade job, career, junior college or four-year institution, my biggest hope is students graduating at Stew-Stras were put on a path or headed in a direction where they can become successful in whatever comes next for them after high school. If its upgrades in technology in the classroom, equipment for in-class lab work, school or business visits, funding initiatives like these is what it takes to get kids information and a brief glimpse of what could be available to them after graduation.”
Kinda A. Morris
Kinda A. Morris, 40, is a one-term incumbent on the Stew-Stras School Board. She is the owner and operator of M&W Legacy Farms and a former elementary teacher (2001-20012). She is a graduate of Stewardson-Strasburg High School, a graduate of Lake Land College with an Associate in Science, a 2001 graduate of Eastern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science in Education, and a 2007 graduate of EIU with a Master of Science in Education. She is the secretary and a board member for Gaskill UMC, and an active volunteer at Stewardson-Strasburg School and Gaskill UMC.
“I would like to continue to serve on the school board to help make valued decisions that support our students and staff, impact the efficiency of our school district, and provide high-quality learning experiences for our students,” Morris said. “Being a lifelong resident of our district, mother of three students in our school, and former elementary teacher; I feel that I can make beneficial connections with students, parents, teachers and staff, and community members.
“The school board needs to continue making decisions that prepare our district for what lies ahead, not only budget, but curriculum standards and up-to-date learning experiences for our students. The board needs to be persistent in employing top-notch teachers and staff that will nurture the learning of our students. The board needs to maintain the implementation of technology in our school, so that in the future our students will have 1:1 use. The board also needs to continue with school building and facility improvements to promote the safety of our students and make it a great place to learn! Thank you for this opportunity!”
Brock Vonderheide, 41, is a newcomer. He is a dairy and grain farmer and a 1996 graduate of Stew-Stras and a 1998 graduate of Lake Land College with an Associate in Ag Production and Management. He has been the Superintendent of 4-H Dairy at the Effingham County Fair, Director of the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, member of the Shelby County Farm Bureau, Illinois Holstein Association, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Shumway, and coach of the Stewardson Lions Club baseball team.
“I want to be a voice for our community and students and represent our district to the best of my ability,” Vonderheide said. “I will listen to concerns and suggestions from everyone and make decisions based on what is best for the district as a whole. I would like to continue to make our school an incentive for families to move into our district and contribute growth to our communities.
“Having six children attend school at Stew-Stras in elementary, junior high and high school and play multiple sports at all levels, makes me fully aware of aspects of both education and extracurricular activities. I am committed, concerned and involved in all our children’s future by making the present the most beneficial it can be for our students and athletes, providing a quality education for all our students in a safe environment, and interviewing and making wise choices on selecting administration, teachers and staff that all share the same goal of making our school the best it can be.
“We need to keep up with the latest technology, providing all the resources our students and staff need to accomplish tasks, and prepare our students for what comes after graduation by offering more dual-credit and skilled trade courses.”
Ron McClain, 38, is a write-in candidate on the ballot and would be a newcomer, if elected. He is a Public Service Representative with a master’s degree in Education Administration from Eastern Illinois University, a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a associate degree in Liberal Arts from Lake Land College.
“I’ve worked in public service for 15 years, 10 years as a department manager and an assistant manager for Rural King Supply and five years with the State of Illinois. I’m running for school board to give the community another option. I’m someone that just moved into the district three years ago and have a vested interest in the district and community, since I’ve got two young children just starting school. The biggest issues facing the district right now would be the possible superintendent search once the interim contract is complete. We need to continue to find quality teachers and staff and retain them with our growing district. We need to develop smaller class sizes to help our students develop. Smaller class sizes not only help students, but help out educators and staff as well. I would like to see what type of programs are available for trade skill development as well.”