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INDEPENDENCE – Candidates for the Independence Community School District (ICSD) had the opportunity to meet the public at an open forum hosted at West Elementary on Monday evening, October 28, by the Independence Teachers’ Association (ITA) and the Independence Educational Support Personnel (IESP).

Joel Dinger, a social studies teacher at the jr/sr high school, moderated the 90-minute event. Forty or so people were in attendance.

Candidates were able to read opening and closing statements and respond to a list of questions prepared in advance. They also took written questions from the audience.

Five of the six candidates are, or were, educators – in the ICSD or elsewhere.

There are three seats up for election this year. In District 1, Heather Hupke and Matt O’Loughlin are running for the seat currently held by Brian Eddy, who is not seeking another term. In District 2, incumbent Eric B. Smith is facing challengers Beth Hilliard and Gary Waters. In District 3, Kim Hansen, an incumbent, is running unopposed.

Information about the candidates and why they are running follows.

Heather Hupke, District 1

I am running for school board to continue to make a positive impact on the school district (students, facilities, etc.) I am vested in the community, attending multiple events (athletic, fine arts, and academic), and am community-minded. I have the passion as an educator and a coach to build on the district’s strengths – the community and the facilities – and want to teach kids how to be leaders.

My top two priorities to accomplish as a board member are to continue making improvements to the buildings and facilities, and student growth.

In terms of qualifications and experience that will make me a good board member, I have been a softball coach in the district the last five years. Prior to coming to Independence, I was a college softball coach and instructor at Buena Vista University (six years), and Briar Cliff College (10 years). I feel that my variety of experiences will allow me to have open mind for our school district.

Matt O’Loughlin, District 1

I am running for the board because I want to utilize my knowledge, experience, and perspective to bring a well-rounded voice to the board. I am confident that I can be part of a team to bring effective change to the district that will lead to an even better learning environment for all stakeholders.

The first priority to accomplish as a board member is to ensure that we are preparing our students for 21st Century success. As a district, we need to make sure that we are preparing our students to be critical thinkers, effective communicators, and collaborative citizens. Additionally, with the state expanding mental health training in Iowa schools, I want to ensure that students have access to quality services and the school can provide additional resources for parents if needed.

Secondly, we need to invest in our teachers and support staff. With the recent state-level changes that were made to collective bargaining, as a board we need to make sure that our teachers and support staff know that they are crucial individuals to the success as a district. Our board and district must ensure that we are able to retain quality teachers and support staff, while recognizing their dedication to the district. We need to make sure that they are provided a just wage and treated as professionals. I want teachers and support staff to feel that they can share their concerns and not have to worry about any repercussions.

Having been a teacher, principal, and superintendent for the past 24 years, I feel that my professional experiences make me uniquely and well-qualified to be a board member. As a principal and superintendent, I have had many opportunities to work with people of varying personalities and this has given me the opportunity to work on communication skills. These skills of open communication have allowed me to work with a team to reach consensus and work toward a common goal. Additionally, I have experience in ensuring that policies are in the best interest of the whole community, rather than for just a few.

Furthermore, I am a strong leader who can collaborate and create a vision. I hold myself accountable when things go wrong and give credit to the team, not myself, when things go well. Another qualification that makes me a good board member is that I will listen to the stakeholders. If they have specific concerns, I will encourage them to share that concern with the individual who can address the concern immediately.

Beth Hilliard, District 2

I decided to run for school board because I have dedicated my life to educating our youth, and I feel that by running for the school board I will be able to further support that dedication to our community and the students that attend school here. I also decided to run because I have children that attend Independence Community Schools and wanted to be a part of the decision making for their future as well as for the rest of the community.

My first priority as a school board member is to make informed decisions that would be in the best interest of our current and future students. I want to make sure that we are looking at things as they affect our students, families, and community both now and in the future.

My second priority would be communication. I think that we need to have effective communication with the community so that they can have a voice and can easily locate information to help them aid in that voice.

I have been an educator for going on 17 years in both the primary and secondary levels, so I know what it means to have decisions made by a school board and have to implement them in the classroom. I have also dedicated my life to making decisions daily regarding students in order to help them be successful now and in their future. I am very passionate about education and I want the very best for all students. I have held many volunteer positions, such as Cub Scout and 4-H leader. I also hosted a foreign exchange student from Spain last year because I saw that amazing opportunity it gives to young people and their education. I was given the opportunity to spend a month in Spain in high school and learned so much and I wanted to give others the same opportunity.

Eric B. Smith, District 2

I am seeking re-election because I am willing to be one of the volunteer leaders for our community. I have been honored to serve on the school board for eight years. I have found this role to be a rewarding responsibility. I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of representing the community. Our children need an education to be prepared to go out into the world. For the sake of our children, the school district needs to be a good employer. I expect the school district to educate our children and be a place where people want to work. Finally, looking out into the future to see what is needed intrigues me. Whether facility planning for the next 20 years or looking at staffing levels over the next five years, I want to be part of setting that direction for our community schools.

My priority is to continue the school district’s efforts of continuous improvement. As the community’s expectations change, whether preparing children to utilize technology in their future vocation or being good citizens, I want to see the school adapt. Also, I want the school district to be an employer of choice in the area. The school district must adapt to changes in the Iowa Code while being an attractive place to work. There is no resting on past efforts; this is a changing world, and the community school district must change with it.

Having lived in Rowley and Independence for a combined 35 years, I know the area. My experience on volunteer boards, such as the Independence Lions Club, the First Presbyterian Church, and my engineering professional society, prepares me to represent a larger group when making decisions for an organization. I will be a good board member by taking the input of the community, staff, administration, and other board members to guide our school district.

Gary Waters, District 2

I am running for school board because I have a strong interest and connection to ICSD. As a former teacher, with grandchildren currently in the district, I have an interest in its betterment. As a landowner, I understand the implications of increased property taxes, and I believe I can act in the best interest of the students. As a former teacher, I value the strong faculty and staff that are in place.

My first priority to accomplish on the board is to improve communication and transparency among all stakeholders and, second, to address large class sizes and the impact on learning, especially at the secondary level.

I believe I am a good listener, am thoughtful in considering others’ opinions and questions, am consistent and fair in handling difficult situations, and a collaborative group member. I have educational, agricultural, and industrial experiences in my work history, which allow me to be able to assess situations and decisions by looking at the big picture and work to negotiate a solution acceptable to all.

Kim Hansen, District 3

My husband Russ and I have been married for 20 years. We have four children, ages 10-17, who attend the Independence Community School District and are involved in many activities. I am a former high school science teacher who chose to leave my classroom to raise our children and work from home. Since moving to Independence 11 years ago, I’ve been an active volunteer in our schools, church, and community. It is important to me to model to our children the importance of using one’s time and talents to serve others and give back to our community, while continuing to learn and grow personally and professionally.

I have chosen to seek re-election because I am invested in using my experience and knowledge to contribute to our school district’s continued growth and development. I have the perspective of being a parent, a school volunteer, and a trained teacher. I listen and seek input, research and ask questions, and work together with the rest of the school board to meet the best interests of the district. I have invested a great deal of time in professional development opportunities – learning about school finance, board policy, state law, characteristics of an effective school board, and my role as a school board member. During my first term, I have served on numerous board-appointed committees (Landscaping Committee, School Improvement Advisory Committee [SIAC], Buchanan County Advisory Board, Mustang Foundation, Auditorium Committee, and Scheduling Committee), and was involved in this year’s contract negotiations as board vice president.

It is important to focus on continuing to improve communication at all levels within our district and with all stakeholders. It is imperative to represent the students, staff, and residents of Brandon, Rowley, and Independence when decisions are made at the board table. It is vital to invest in our staff and students – focusing on improving student engagement and achievement and ensuring our teachers have what they need to effectively teach all our children while also being a good steward of the district’s finances. I want our district to continue moving forward in a positive and proactive manner, building on our successes and seeking opportunities to enhance our staff, students, and curriculum. I look forward to continuing to serve ICSD’s students and staff as well as our community.