2016-10-27 / Life in Leelanau

Crowded Northport School Bd. race with 6 candidates, 3 slots

Northport Board of Education

Under Michigan law, boards of education are responsible for school district operations.

Among other things, the Revised School Code gives schools boards powers to: educate students; provide for their safety and welfare; acquire and dispose of school property; determine matters relating to school employees and contractors; set curricula and courses taught; and negotiate with employee unions.

In Glen Lake, The per diem for board members is $30. The compensation applies to the monthly board meeting as well as committee meetings.

In Northport, School Board trustees are paid $10 per meeting, with the president and treasurer offered an additional $200 a year.

However, not all School Board members have accepted compensation in the past.

Seven candidates are seeking four seats on the Northport Board of Education.

Six of the School Board candidates are seeking three, 6-year seats. They are Ben Purdy, Nancy Peterson, Steve Paciorka, Jeannette Nielsen Reynolds, Victor Goldschmidt and Kristen Frank. Mses. Peterson and Frank are incumbents.

Kirk E. Richards is running unopposed for a partial term that expires Dec. 31, 2018.

The seats are nonpartisan.

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Mr. Purdy holds a Bachelor of Science degree in resource development from Michigan State University. He spent more than 10 years with the Grand Traverse Conservation District, most recently as Parkland Program Coordinator. He is the father of three.

Ms. Peterson has lived in Northport since 2001 and has three children who graduated from Northport Schools. She has been a board member for the past six years. She has a teaching degree in secondary social studies.

Mr. Paciorka is an attorney and previously, a teacher. He lives in Leelanau Township with his wife, Jennifer Walter, and two children, who have attended Northport since kindergarten.

Ms. Nielsen Reynolds has worked as a nurse at Munson Medical Center for 10 years. Her work experience also includes 15 years as business manager/program director of WSMH-Fox 66 in Flint. Ms. Nielsen Reynolds holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan-Flint and a Master of Science in nursing from the University of Phoenix. She has two daughters, Sarah, 16 and Emily, 13, who have both attended Northport since kindergarten.

Mr. Goldschmidt holds a doctoral degree from Syracuse University. He worked as an engineer with Honeywell; taught, researched, and was the head of the freshman engineering program at Purdue University. Mr. Goldschmidt also has more than 40 years service on various boards and as a leadership and strategic planning facilitator.

Ms. Frank is a wife and mother of three daughters attending Northport, and is a local small business owner. She has resided in Northport for 15 years and has served on the Northport School Board for more than four years as trustee and secretary.

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We asked candidates in the contested race three questions and limited their responses to 75 words apiece.

1. This fall only five young students reported for the first day of kindergarten despite continued efforts to boost enrollment. How can the district attract more students in the future?

FRANK: We live in a small district where low numbers have always been an issue despite efforts to “boost” enrollment. I think that continuing to provide an exceptional education to the students we do have is more important than attracting students for the sole purpose of boosting enrollment. We have a such a special thing going on here at NPS and that should be attractive enough. To quote “Field of Dreams” If we build it, they will come.”

GOLDSCHMIDT: Demographic projections suggest the pool of potential students will not increase; the potential for more students is from retaining residents otherwise registering in other districts; and from non-residents attracted to enroll in Northport. This means becoming the “choice school of choice”. The Board should stretch themselves and commit to developing (with stakeholders) and implementing a strategic plan to move towards excellence. I have experience in facilitating strategic planning and willingness to drive it.

NIELSEN REYNOLDS: I have not seen strong efforts to boost enrollment. Before efforts can be made to boost enrollment, efforts should first be made to determine why students who live in the district attend other schools. Only after those root causes are analyzed, can a plan be made to retain, or even attract, students to Northport Public School.

PACIORKA: Suttons Bay has an advertising campaign to bring students into their district, staking out a position as “the online school.” Leland has a clearly identifiable vision to be “the International Baccalaureate school.” What is Northport? We need a comprehensive and clearly stated vision of what Northport offers, distinguishing it from other schools. Northport must also be more willing to embrace the student centered learning philosophy shared by many in-district families currently rejecting Northport for Montessori.

PETERSON: Northport Public Schools is in the beginning stages of starting a Young 5’s program which will be integrated with the kindergarten. Parents can thus have their young children benefiting from total kindergarten readiness at no cost to them. Additionally, Northport Schools can take on the toll of the Leelanau Children’s Center Parenting Communities in terms of outreach and relationship-building with young families in our district.

PURDY: More needs to be done to celebrate and communicate the positive aspects of Northport Public School. We need more and earlier interactions with young families to showcase the outstanding resources available here. At the board level we need a strategic plan with measurable goals to demonstrate success and keep everyone focused on our strategic priorities of improved student recruitment and student success.

2. What is the best thing Northport Public School does for students?

FRANK: NPS provides an environment in which students can thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. The best part of our school is our kids, and at NPS the whole student is supported by our small class sizes, attentive teachers and support staff. We really do have the “It takes a village” approach to educating our students!

In order to further propel our school to greatness, there needs to be a reparation of trust between our community, staff…

GOLDSCHMIDT: NPS is responsive to its mission (quality education), and that is good. But could be better. There are more than 20 countries ranking better than the USA in reading and math; Michigan is 28th in US; NPS 113th of 899 in Michigan. Not acceptable. The first responsibility the Michigan Association of School Boards lists for Boards is “Goal Setting.” Aggressive steps to continue improving quality of education should be a goal for the NPS Board.

NIELSEN REYNOLDS: Small class size allowing individual attention from teachers is the best thing the school does for its students. The one area that could use improvement is curriculum development. There does not appear to be a strong curriculum development work group at the school, which would further enhance student learning success. There are teachers in the district with solid experience in curriculum development and their skills should be fully utilized.

PACIORKA: Ironically, the best thing about Northport is also the source of so much anxiety about Northport — small class size. Students at Northport are basically getting a private school education, with its’ student — teacher ratio, amazing technology resources, and afterschool program. Where Northport could improve is in addressing the needs of at-risk students, and the number of students in credit recovery. A gap in services was created by eliminating the on-site Social Worker position.

PETERSON: The best thing is the one-on-one attention that students get because the teachers genuinely care. Our school helps to build a sense of self in students and nurtures them in the way only a small school can. What we need to improve on is preparing our students for the world outside this small community. We need to have a shared vision to provide every children with an education that is well-rounded and rigorous.

PURDY: It is hard to pick one best thing. Our daughter, in first grade, has had a great experience with individualized attention from teachers, a supportive school community, great music performances, etc. However, to pick one “best thing” I’d say the after care and summer programs are a tremendous asset to school families. One area that needs improvement is the overall “brand” of the school. We need to refine our messages and communicate to prospective families just what a great school/education we offer.

3. Will it help, hurt or make no difference that the president of the school board is also the father of the superintendent of school?

FRANK: Yes to all three options. I’m sure at times it will help, hurt, and make no difference at all that our school board president and superintendent are related. Over the history of NPS many of our staff, administration, and board members have been related. It’s one of the perks and downfalls of living in such a small community. To the opposing side of this argument, it could also help, hurt, or make no difference …

GOLDSCHMIDT: Benefits and challenges. Board members must take an oath to uphold all laws. One of these (cited in our Bylaws) is MCL380.1203 “A member of the Board is presumed to have a conflict of interest if the member or his or her family member has ... interest, or a competing ... transaction or is an employee of the school district...” We must seek ways to use the expertise of all parties while upholding the law.

NIELSEN REYNOLDS: It will make no difference. Both are members of the community, and one’s role in the leadership of the school district should not prohibit the other’s. If there is an issue with Neil’s performance, Tom should recuse himself from a board vote. The challenge for Neil may be as the supervisor of both his wife, Corrine, and his uncle Steve who teach at the school. Staff disagreements could lead to tense family dinners for the Wetherbees.

PACIORKA: Provided the board strictly adheres to a policy that prohibits interested members from participating or voting in any matter in which there is a potential conflict of interest, it will make no difference. There are often potential conflicts for local applicants. But if the applicant is the best person for the job, as I think was the case here, the school would be doing itself a disservice by passing on the basis of that conflict.

PETERSON: It makes no difference, and I really don’t know why this is one of three questions the Enterprise is asking. What is helpful is that Tom Wetherbee is an excellent school board president, and that Neil Wetherbee was selected by our school board as the best superintendent candidate for Northport. The Enterprise presented its bias on this subject in an editorial; continuous editorialization on this matter serves no good purpose.

PURDY: The fact that the board chair and superintendent both have such deep ties to the school and community is a wonderful thing. That they are related is inconsequential so long as conflicts of interest both real and perceived, are dealt with in a proactive and transparent manner. Effective board governance will ensure that the personal relationships do not negatively affect administrative responsibilities.

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