Southern Door School Board Candidate Questionnaire

There are five candidates running for two Southern Door School Board positions. A primary will be held Tuesday, Feb. 19, to narrow the field to four candidates for the April election.

What motivated you to run for the school board?

Milly Gonzales (MG): I was motivated to run as an advocate and activist. I’d like to be a catalyst for positive change, growth, and to bring a trauma-informed lens to the school district that my children go to and the community that I serve.

Penny Price (PP): As a Southern Door graduate and resident of the Southern Door community for much of my life, I appreciate the quality of education that prepared me for my aspirations. After spending seven years at Southern Door as an educator, I am well aware of the financial constraints that the district faces in order to provide a top-notch education. I do believe that all students are capable of learning at a high level, and I know Southern Door has the potential to be a destination district for others. I believe that my understanding of the curriculum and instructional practices at Southern Door will allow a better discernment of the curriculum tools and specific job roles that we currently have at SD. The number one goal of a school is to educate students, and I can provide valuable insight on how to meet the district’s improvement goals. Southern Door has many successes, and I want to ensure our district, including students and staff, have continuous growth to ensure we not only meet, but exceed current expectations.

George Sincock (GS): I was motivated to run for school board because I wanted to become more involved in our community – the school board seemed like a good place to start.

Matthew Tassoul (MT): With my work at the Door County Sheriff’s Office, as a K9 Deputy, I know that school safety is something that has to be a high priority in this day and age. I am also a taxpayer that wants to ensure money is being spent in a responsible manner. With that being said, I know of the constraints our school faces with funding and the retention of staff. It should be a priority of this board to work together to ensure our students have a highly motivated staff that are being compensated for the work they are doing.

Adam Urban (AU): I was motivated to run for the school board by my daughter Aubrey. She was involved in SDMS student council and served as president of that board. I spend a lot of time with many of the Southern Door youth via sports/Haunted Mansion, etc. I feel obligated to help these children have the best we can offer from our investment in education.

If elected, what skills will you bring to the job?

MG: I excel at embracing change and grasping complex situations quickly. My history in the finance/banking world has given me the knowledge to read and understand financial reports, and I am comfortable doing so. I also have a strong skill set of listening, collaborating and organizing within our community. My crisis work has taught me to work under pressure, remain unbiased, and to see things and process them from multiple angles.

PP: In the age of district academic accountability, my ability to understand student academic data will be helpful in order to interpret the data that is presented to the school board in order to make decisions that will affect our students. I have the ability to understand shared leadership and focus on student learning through a clear vision, high expectations, and leadership. I also understand how important it is to create and sustain initiatives, including how to organize the people and the school environment under budget constraints to have the best outcome. I am a team player and want to create a supportive workplace for the staff, enabling all to succeed in their roles. My overall understanding of curriculum and instruction will allow insight to use data and information on student needs to make decisions and modify what instructional practices and resources we are using at a district and building level. My husband and I also own a small business in Brussels, and I know how important it is to work within a budget and understand checks and balances. I know it is important to ask how much will this change cost or save, and can we demonstrate that this action is an effective use of resources.

GS: I have leadership skills, as a union carpenter I attended Journeyman Leadership Training at the Carpenters International Training Center. I serve as vice president of my church’s congregation council. I am easy going and have the ability to see both sides (or sometimes all sides) of an issue.

MT: As a law enforcement officer with 16 years experience, I have learned many life lessons that would aid the school board. I recognize the importance of understanding the issues at hand in order to make an informed decision without having a bias beforehand. I understand the importance of having patience and being respectful by listening to, and hearing, other school board members and community members share their opinions and concerns. I understand that in order to achieve goals and be a successful school board, we need to work together, keeping what’s best for the students as our end goal.

AU: I am a logistics manager for Forest Construction for my occupation. I work with project coordinator, foremen, customers, suppliers, and subcontractors organizing time-frames and delivery schedules to aid in project completion throughout Wisconsin. I also have experience in charitable donations and brought nearly $10,000 from private donation to enhance the infrastructure at Brussels Park, such as a new concession stand and new dugouts, completing the work alongside volunteers. Private partnership with local business was able to do great things for youth baseball in Brussels and could have great effects on Southern Door if more avenues and partnerships were explored, which I intend to do on all plausible needs.

What are the current challenges facing the district?

MG: 1. Budgeting and financial constraints

2. Retaining the talent and valuing the teachers in our district

3. Safety, physical, mental and emotional safety

My plan is to advocate and engage legislators with regards to the complex and outdated formulas that work against rural school districts such as our own. With more funding we will be able to pay our teacher’s fair and competitive wages. I also plan to bring a more trauma informed approach to our district where we focus on preventive measures, and teach students not only academic intelligence and skills but emotional ones as well.

PP: Southern Door is adversely affected by the school funding formula, a formula that was created in the 1970s, and does not provide us with the budget that we need to thrive. We need to be smart and intentional on the decisions made for curriculum and instructional practices. The board needs to work collaboratively with the administrative team in order to work within the budget while also trying to create revenue. Our teacher turnover at Southern Door has been high for quite some time, and we need to look at retaining our teachers with appropriate, fair salaries. We also need to make sure that teachers have appropriate time to discern student data and have hands-on approaches that will allow for optimal student growth.

GS: There are many, many challenges facing the district. One is attracting and retaining good teachers. Another is effectively dealing with the upcoming renovations made possible by recent referenda. Student safety is another challenge – both in school and traveling to and from school. Basic education, at all levels, is a challenge. We must ensure all students have the necessary life skills in reading, writing, math and science.

MT: I believe the number one challenge that faces this district is the current funding the school receives and the retention of quality staff. According to the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance, comparing all Packerland Conference Schools, Southern Door has the third lowest per student expenditure. Our student-to-teacher ratio is the second lowest, our administrator’s average salary is the lowest, and our teachers are being compensated at the second lowest rate. Yet despite the above, our school faces budget constraints. I am hoping the Blue Ribbon Commission, co-chaired by our local representative Joel Kitchens, helps with school funding. Instead of our school being punished for a low poverty rate and high property values, we may see additional funding if our state accepts the commission’s recommendations. Another challenge our school faces is the retention of staff. With extreme monetary constraints, it has trickled down to the salaries of our teachers. I believe our retention of teachers needs to improve. The district is losing money, not seen in budgets, through a turnover rate that is higher than it needs to be.

AU: Funding is a big problem at the district. There is a cultural and economic divide within this district among that leads to misunderstanding and opposition. Many who come to retire on the shorelines have little interest in increased taxes regarding the school. There needs to be a conscious effort to bridge that divide. In the age of information the districts (not only SD) could expect losing more pupils in attendance to interactive home schooling, which I do not feel is conducive to community building of which education can be a part.

What is your own experience with public education?

MG: I am a product of public school education, as are my children. I have a fierce dedication to quality education for everyone. I also attended NWTC. I have in the past and currently supervise Bachelor and Masters level students through UWGB’s social work program. Through my work at Help of Door County I also have presented and taught the effects of domestic violence in schools. I have provided education and training to local law enforcement and community partners. I also created and teach a healthy relationships curriculum in our local jail for Operation Fresh Start, a program developed by the Door County Sheriff’s Department.

PP: I have 15 years of teaching experience in grades ranging from kindergarten through high school. During those years, I have been a classroom teacher, an English Learner instructor and translator, as well as a gifted and talented math and literacy teacher. Early in my career, I had the desire to learn more about how students learn, and I obtained my Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Through these experiences, I am confident in my ideas on how to move Southern Door forward. Education is always evolving, but we need to make sure we don’t abandon the practices that have been tried and true just to get the newest curriculum, program, or even the newest instructional models. Just because something is new does not mean that it is better. There needs to be strong research and reasons for adopting new curriculum, and teacher input is necessary as they are meeting with the students and observing how their students learn.

GS: I haven’t worked in public education, but I attended public schools in Detroit and the U.P., and my children all attended public schools in the Green Bay school system.

MT: My experience with public education is being a graduate of Southern Door Schools and entrusting them to give my children the best education possible.

AU: My stepmother was an art teacher for many years at Appleton North. She had a good career and personally invested in tools like welders and plasma cutters to give kids interested in metal fabrication a creative outlet. It worked well. Act 10 took away many such freedoms of faculty to direct education in many different directions. It ended many careers and found districts such as ours scrambling to find funding solutions. There is hope. My good friend (and former teacher of mine) is a high school math teacher on Washington Island and they are working out a program with Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands to perform STREAM-related experimentation on the island, which I think is a community-building exercise as well as learning opportunity.

What opportunities do you see in the district?

MG: 1. The opportunity of growth and continued excellence in our school district

2. The opportunity to bring more funding to our school district

3. The opportunity to bring new perspectives to the table. I will have the opportunity to bring my work knowledge and experience with trauma to advocate for our district’s families and to have equality and equity in education.

PP: We have the opportunity to become the best school in the area, and we need to start by first addressing student achievement. There is a lack of consistency in our literacy program as we are using a curriculum that was created in an emergency when Common Core was adopted by the state of Wisconsin. Through my work in the school, I view literacy curriculum and instruction as an opportunity and area for growth. We need to keep the communication between the school, the board, and the community open about our current performance level and have all stay committed to improving student achievement. I am confident in our teaching staff and how hard they work, but they must be given the appropriate tools and curriculum to maximize student success.

With the passing of the school referendum, the positive outlook for school safety is on the horizon. Having a more secure building will ensure a safer place for learning, and having students and staff feel safe when they enter the doors of our school is an absolute must. It is our duty to provide a safe learning environment for all that enter our doors.

Our athletic department also provides an avenue for student achievement at another level. For many of our students in our rural district, the only extracurricular activities students participate in are ones that are offered through the school. We are fortunate to have so many dedicated parents and community members that coach and even volunteer to help our athletic programs. We need to have space for them to facilitate the sports programs at Southern Door, and we need to ensure the athletic programs have appropriate funding to continue their success.

GS: The passage of the school referenda last fall give us the opportunities of renovations that can make Southern Door a state of the art learning institution. We need to make the best use of the community’s tax dollars making the renovations reality.

MT: I believe opportunities provided to our students is excellent; Southern Door is the only area school I would ever enroll my children at. From academics to sports; from our arts to tech-ed departments, our school offers many avenues of growth for our children to choose a path in which they can succeed in the future. Our school also offers programs to help our children in need. Southern Door has recently received a grant and now has a person at the school one day a week to assist with students who are in need of mental health assistance. Our school also offers assistance to students who struggle academically or on a high risk path. The assistance these students receive help them achieve a path to graduation and success in their future endeavors. Our accelerated learning and advanced placement education also assists our students.

AU: I am excited by the remodel of the tech areas and think a lot of partnerships could provide better more immersed learning. I think an increased focus on agriculture, which is our predominant livelihood area wise, could provide opportunity for students to raise native plants that could be planted in riparian areas or pollinator habitats using science to improve conservation areas around our community. There are hundreds of grants available for such exploits.

What is your vision for public education in the community you hope to serve?

MG: I envision Southern Door to be the best school that everyone wants their children to go to. I want our school to be a place where our children are prepared for a career in the technical arts, or to attend a four-year university or vocational program. I envision a school where students and staff feel safe and valued. A school where the focus is on preparing our students for lifelong learning and options.

PP: My vision for Southern Door is to be a successful school that truly follows its mission statement:  “To ensure that all children learn. Through our work as a collaborative community, our students will develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to achieve at a high level. We do this so our students can meet future challenges and be contributing members of our global society.”

This can happen by having a highly informed school board that has open communication with its stakeholders, including parents, students, staff, and taxpayers. We need to know how students learn and deliver the content knowledge they need in order to be successful. This may be through new literacy initiatives, including a stronger foundation of word study and literacy skills, a math approach that allows for multiple ways of getting an answer, classes in art and music that will allow students to express their individualism, and science and instructional technology classes that prepare our young people for the fields of science, engineering, design, manufacturing and architecture that they will encounter in their future.  

GS: My vision is a school district that treats all students fairly, recognizing their individual needs and learning abilities.

MT:  My vision for public education is to provide the students of Southern Door with the essential necessities to be able to enhance their education to its highest potential. The top three necessities are to ensure each student is safe at school, provide a quality education by educators who are motivated, and to provide alternate avenues for our students to succeed.  

AU: My personal vision for public education is to provide the core principles that build the foundation for further education post-high school, as well as work ready skills for those who may not pursue this. I hope the referendum dollars will create a more inspiring learning space not only for students but the good teachers we need to retain. I think community service or summer internships focused on projects within Southern Door will help retain our young talent and have them feeling proud and vested in the community at large and will build the homes, families, farms and businesses that will sustain Southern Door in the future.

What are your views on transparency of information, and what kinds of school-district information should be made public?

MG: I believe our school board and district should be transparent to the citizens of our district, especially on issues regarding policies and procedures and finances. However, personnel issues cannot nor should be discussed within public domain due to confidentiality, and employee or student rights.

PP: It is critical to maintain public transparency while creating an atmosphere of mutual respect. As a board member, it is important to represent all stakeholders and provide factual information. The quality of information provided to the public and stakeholders represents the satisfaction of the public. We need public input because we can’t be successful without them, and we need to show how we are improving student success for the economy of Wisconsin and for the betterment of our students. It is imperative that board members serve as a bridge between the schools and the community. We cannot lose by asking the stakeholders their opinions. With technology, communication has been improved, but there are always ways to have continuous improvement for transparency and communication with the public. The public should be informed of items concerning the budget and academic performance, including gaps between student population subgroups and the effectiveness of strategies being used. The community should also know what the strategic plan is for the long-term goals of the district. We need to honor public input and address the questions they have, as long as they do not break confidentiality of any stakeholder.

GS: I believe in full transparency of all school board activities and decisions unless it involves personally identifiable information regarding a student, staff member or board member.

MT: The school board, like all other government entities, should be transparent. If the school board wishes to gain support, and retain trust of the community members, they must be open to the public in which they serve. When the trust is lost, so is the support. With regards to which information should be made public, I believe the school board should obey all open meeting law requirements under the Wisconsin statutes. The more information that is made public will garner support and retain trust in the school board.

AU: I think transparency and communication are paramount. I think the public who fund the schools are owed transparency and should have community reports regarding focus on educational programs, volunteers or minor work needing done. I think numbers regarding grants and federal dollars coming in are as nice to know as some sports scores. I am a big believer in hearing feedback and having a regular forum for it.

If a parent comes to you with a particular school issue, how do you see your role as a school board member to resolve that issue?

MG: My role is to listen, connect and advocate so that any and all issues could be addressed by the board itself or the appropriate party responsible for resolving that issue.

PP: Individual school board members have little power or authority. The community elects a school board member to represent their needs and interests to the school administration. It is also important for a school board member to represent information from the school to the community. For individual concerns, it is necessary to ensure all involved have followed the appropriate chain of command and have spoken with those who are involved with the issue. I want to listen to community members and bring issues to the superintendent when action is needed.

GS: I would listen to the parents concerns and bring those concerns to the board.

MT: If I were approached by a parent with concerns of any particular situation, I would listen to their specific concerns. If I were unable to provide a suitable answer for them at that point I would contact other board members, or appropriate school contacts, to gain facts that would lead to an answer for the concerned parent. I also believe when a community member, or a parent, comes to a school board member with a concern, it is the board’s duty to respond to them in a timely manner. When a timely response is absent, it could lead the concerned community member/parent to believe that their thought or concern is not taken to heart.

AU: If a parent comes forth to me with a certain issue I will surely bring it up to the rest of the board and administrators/faculty involved, if so warranted and will seek pragmatic resolution. I have seen much passion aroused in certain issues and realize the reactionary capacity of the board.

Do you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or as a representative of the school system?

MG: I see myself as both. I feel as a representative on the school board I would be in a position to balance both the needs of the community and the school system.

PP: Neither. It is crucial to be a representative of all stakeholders.

GS: As a school board member, I represent the community that elected me and the students living and learning in our community.

MT: I see myself as a representative of both the school system and the community. As a representative of the community, it would be my responsibility to listen to fellow members of the community and to provide them with an open mind pertaining to their concerns. As a representative of the school system, it would be my responsibility to ensure the concerns of the community are brought forward and that I, along with fellow school board members, would make decisions based on facts and that as a school board, we are always looking for the best results for the Southern Door School District and the Southern Door Community.  

AU: As an elected official I see myself first beholden, if elected, as the voice of all of the constituents ideals and opinions regarding their investment and ensuring the school has all of its means to deliver on the communities education expectations.

What do you see as the most important role of the school board?

MG: To advocate for the best education of our districts children and ensure the continued excellence of our community through doing so.

PP: The most important role of the school board is to be the bridge between the community and school, as well as work with the superintendent to find the right questions, seek the answers, and focus on the important issues. The age of academic accountability has changed the role of the school board to improve student achievement. We need to set clear expectations for outcomes of district improvement work.

GS: I believe the role of the school board is to oversee the education of our children using the funds provided by taxpayers in a sound fiscal manner.

MT: The most important role of the school board is the oversight of the Southern Door School System. The school board must be conscious of the budget, ensure our school maintains academic success, and ensure our students have a highly motivated staff.

AU: The most important role of the school board is to put the tax dollars to the best use in the education of our most important resource and to distribute it in the broadest possible equitable way. That may include hard decisions, deep discussion and reasoned informed debate rather than emotionally charged rhetoric. I intend to work with EVERYONE to keep EagleStrong.