April Election: Willard School District Candidates

Willard School Board
Willard School Board(KY3)
Published: Mar. 18, 2023 at 11:58 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Missourians will head to the polls on Tuesday, April 4, to decide municipal and countywide issues.

We reached out to the six candidates running to fill seats on the Willard School Board and sent them the questions below, and their responses had to be within 200 words.

What do you see is the biggest issue facing your school district and why?

Jason Dixon: Our biggest issue in the near future is retaining and attracting quality educators. The field is turning out fewer new teachers while at the same time larger numbers are retiring and leaving the field. I feel that our community’s support for good schools and the culture our district has of a family feel are extremely supportive to are current and potentially new educators.

Sutton Berry: One of the greatest challenges the district will face in the future is the overall budget and reacting to the increases of inflation and dwindling state funding Nationwide. With Covid relief funds set to expire in a couple years, the district must have solid plans in place to ensure we continue to meet the needs of our students, retain, and recruit teachers, keep class sizes to an acceptable level, and continue with facility improvements, which support all aspects of a quality public education.

Lacee Blunt: Technology, social media, and OpenAI are major concerns facing today’s youth. They can be powerful tools and major setbacks when we are considering behavior and emotional development. When children aren’t self-regulating in the classroom it can affect the teacher’s ability to educate all students, and I think many children aren’t able to self-regulate due to growing up with screens.

Eric Wilkins: There are so many issues facing all districts right now, Willard is not alone. One of the most important will be to keep inspiring teachers and gaining new ones.

Curtis Martin: The most concerning issue the school district is facing today is finding and retaining quality talent and staffing.

Wesley Burrell: The biggest issue is proposed legislative actions and budget concerns as COVID-19 relief funds dissolve.

What would you do about it?

Jason Dixon: I will continue support our administration and educators as they build on the culture of meeting students everyday where they are to give them the tools they need to be consistently improving. Our culture at Willard is formed from our families teaming with our teachers and administrators to get the most out of our resources that can be poured into our students. We will continue to improve the product that is a well prepared life ready Willard graduate.

Sutton Berry: Specifically, there is not a golden egg that will solve the issue. The district must continue to move forward with caution. We must continue to fight for better rates in all spend categories where applicable and identify areas where spending can be improved but not impact the quality of education and employment benefits the district provides. Everything matters! This is uncharted water for many districts Nationwide and if there was a perfect answer it would not be an issue. It will take collaboration of the staff and the board to ensure we make the right decisions.

Lacee Blunt: I would like to start the discussion on screen time in classrooms and ensuring we are giving our kids the best opportunities when it comes to technology. A state of the art stem lab in the buildings with proper training on computers is something I’d like to see sometime in the future. We need to teach the younger students integrity on devices and how to properly type.

Eric Wilkins: We need to continue to find ways to help all staff find joy in working in the Willard School District and community, this in turn will help our kids find more joy and perform better in all aspects of school life. I’m sure much has been done with this in the past but I believe we can find more ways to make Willard school family more desirable to be apart of.

Curtis Martin: Hiring of staff and retention can be more successful when the benefits we offer are competitive or superior to surrounding districts. Benefits should not only include meeting financial needs, but focus on flexibility of schedule, retirement investments, personal growth/career advancement and staff recognition. We also need to invest in our staff at the community level, forming a sound bond between our staff and the families they serve. When staff are properly compensated and appropriately recognized for their contributions to the district, the hope is that retention will then follow.

Wesley Burrell: It’s imperative for Board members to actively communicate with state legislatures to make our community’s voice heard. I’d like to better understand the budget, looking for ways to become more efficient while attracting and retaining quality staff.

If you were asked about 2 specific things, you would do as a school board member on top of that issue – what would they be and why?

Jason Dixon: The next two things I would like to focus on after that issue are: 1)To help strengthen the lines of communication between our administration, our teachers, and our families to help support the voices and feedback of those key factors that work as a team to educate our students. Expectations and vision that are clearly understood and supported by all teammates are key foundational pillars upon which successful groups are built and maintained. And 2) Help supporting our districts culture of family and learning by finding more ways to support our teachers and staff that are outside of the box. This includes attracting educators and administrators that add value to not only our students but also their peers, promoting a responsible culture of behavior and supports in our classrooms/ buildings, and improving facilities and resources that are used everyday necessarily.

Sutton Berry: Two specific things I will do as a school board member are…1) I will represent our school by holding the superintendent accountable to the strategic plans and budgets set forth by the district while working with my peers to develop policies and rules to help the school operate at a best in class manner. 2) My goal is to be a voice for our students, teachers, staff, schools, and community. As a board member I will serve the educational needs of all students in the district to enhance and enrich what goes on in and out of the classroom. I will work with parents and district personnel, along with other board members to be partners in success.

Lacee Blunt: Safety is on my radar. I want our physical and mental health safe. Although recruiting is something we need to focus on, I would really like to work on retaining our loyal staff members and reward their time dedicated to Willard.

Eric Wilkins: I’ll always be honest with you and try my best. Have open appropriate communication with students, staff and community.

Curtis Martin: I believe that we need to do a better job at expanding and building the extracurricular activities that our school offers. Extracurricular activities are what help shape our youth into productive adults. These activities drive kids off the couch and away from video games and cell phones, they put them in a situation that requires face to face communication, develops leadership skills and emphasizes teamwork. These programs can shape the future that a lot of our graduates will follow. Programs are only as good as the instructor or leader allows them to be. If the leaders of these programs are unwilling to put in the time it takes to build these programs to their full potential, then they will never be successful. Starting at the top, we must develop programs that generate community excitement and involvement. When we help support these extracurricular activities as well as identifying the right people to lead the programs, instead of excepting those that are only willing to do the bare minimum, we will see results.

Wesley Burrell: In regards to any issue the Board of Education faces, one must follow and maintain appropriate Board policies. Policy should be updated and understood by Board members and the community. To make lasting change, policy must be at the forefront.

Do you think the taxes going for schools need to be raised or lowered.. and why... if raised – what would the money go for?

Jason Dixon: Whether I think that taxes need raised or lowered is irrelevant. I will say this, I think teachers should definitely be paid more, for their job is so vitally important. However, so many factors that determine our money available to the district are out of our hands, from the state formula, to the county’s assessments, to the amount of growth or businesses in our area. Our community has always made quality education a priority so I would not be surprised if taxes were to slowly increase if the inflation continues to stay at current rates. If taxes were to increase I would say the top priorities for those monies would be both salaries and facilities. If taxes were to decrease I would say that the inflation situation has reversed course and the economy has returned to a growth trend. In this case we should be able to maintain course because in general we will be able to get more bang for our educational buck.

Sutton Berry: Raising taxes would not be a first option for me. Tax payers already contribute a large percentage of their taxes to the schools. Also, unlike other surrounding communities, Willard does not have the same infrastructure in place to create the added school revenue other districts have. I believe most people in our district would agree the majority of our taxes already go to the school. Without community and business growth it will be difficult to have the same budget. Personally, I believe State funding is lacking when it comes to public education needs.

Lacee Blunt: I’m excited at the opportunity to look at the numbers in greater detail. I do not support wasteful spending. If there isn’t money to give our kids the best opportunities then we can have those discussions as they come, and I would support them.

Eric Wilkins: I believe we need to find all ways to keep taxes lowered at at the most the same. We all pay a tremendous amount of taxes already and we must find a way to thrive with what we have now.

Curtis Martin: Currently I do not believe that Willard school taxes need to be raised. With COVID relief funding to expire in the next couple years, the district must be very intentional about bringing the district’s budget down to match the available funding.

Wesley Burrell: From what I understand as a community member, Willard Schools currently has the funds available to operate as needed. Being a good steward of finances is imperative to any entity.

Why should people vote for you?

Jason Dixon: I bring a multi faceted perspective to my seat on the board. One of a father, a spouse of a veteran teacher, a child of two life long teachers and coaches, a past high school coach, a promoter of the trades, a member of multiple past boards and parent organizations, a church member, and a current sitting board member. I am a strong listener and I try to speak much less than I listen. My time on the board has been both encouraging and challenging but always worth every minute because the outcome of our work is so very important. I feel we have great people in so many positions at Willard and I would be honored to again help our district problem solve our challenges and improve upon our success with Team Willard for the next three years.

Sutton Berry: I grew up in Willard attending South Elementary through High School. I have a huge amount of pride and passion for our school and a desire to help the students in our community. This passion comes from a family of current and retired educators and the fact I have children attending both the middle school and high school. This opportunity would allow me to share my career and life experiences to benefit the Willard community in which I have been a part of for so long. For the past 25 years I have worked for one the world’s largest OEM companies and held varying roles in manufacturing, sales and marketing, project management, and leadership. My job and my life experiences have prepared me for this task with my ability to listen, my experience in making tough decisions, my experience leading diverse cross functional teams, and my experience being a leader. If elected, as a board member I will serve the educational needs of all students in the district to enhance and enrich what goes on in and out of the classroom. Ultimately, advocating for the value of a strong public education system.

Lacee Blunt: Aside from my family, being on the school board would be my top priority. I’m extremely detail oriented and research major decisions before I make them. I enjoy conversations that bring all sides together to work for the greater good. I’m for the staff, I’m for the students, and I’m for keeping their mental, physical, and emotional well-being safe

Eric Wilkins: I love people and want people to succeed, especially children and youth. I want all youth/children to know they have value and how important they each are. I hope that I can help others see the good in each other and in turn work to build each other up. We have a wonderful school district with variety of talents, personalities and beliefs. Willard being ONE is the way we can improve together and I know I can help with this.

Curtis Martin: Over the last 20+ years I have worked at many different levels of management, from retail sales, warehouse and distribution management, general management, and product management. In management, I have gained a lot of knowledge in how to work with others. I have learned that communication is key, and when you stop and listen to others perspective, you often find a better path or solution to what you are trying to achieve. Additionally, no one in my immediate family is or has ever been and employee of the district. Because of this, I am able to offer an outside perspective that allows me to make unbiased decisions when discussing matters of financial needs and employment for the district.

Wesley Burrell: There is no ulterior motive behind my choice to run for the Board. I don’t have a platform that I’m running on or a program to get, I simply want to help Willard Schools be at its best for our Willard Students. I was blessed with a great education through Willard Schools and I have been afforded the opportunity to give my time and talents back to the students and community in this way.

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