Marion-Florence USD 408 Board of Education interviewed three candidates Monday for a vacant seat on the board, but put off a decision on whether to fill the spot until its next regular meeting.
Dick Varenhorst, 202 E. Santa Fe, Brenda Odgers, 229 N. Cedar, and Jana Nordquist, 128 N. Lincoln, all of Marion, applied to fill the seat left vacant by Keith Collett when he resigned from the board in June. Prospective candidates had to live within the same geographic district as Collett.
Each candidate was asked the same questions, and was given the opportunity to query the board and Superintendent Lee Leiker.
Candidates were asked why they wanted to be on the board of education.
Nordquist said her primary motivation comes from having four children in district schools.
“I want a more active role in their education,” Nordquist said.
Varenhorst, a 1962 graduate of Marion High School, said his father had been president of the school board in the 1950s. That experience, and working as an instructor in a military academy, have fueled his interest in education.
“To me, education is something so vital to a town and community it needs to have the right direction to it,” Varenhorst said.
Odgers said her career in education was evidence of her interest.
“Obviously education has always been important to me. I’ve been in education for 27 years,” Odgers said, citing her experience in teaching and administration in districts of varying sizes. Odgers was Marion High School principal from 2008 to 2011.
When asked what the greatest challenge facing the district is, Odgers focused on education.
“Educating all kids. Implementing common course standards. The fact that we can’t leave any child behind, and we’re going to be expected to show growth with every student,” Odgers said. “You’ve got to educate every kid that walks in your door, you don’t get to pick and choose.”
Varenhorst honed in on budget issues.
“The way the state is cutting funds and cutting funds, I’m sure the budget is a top concern,” Varenhorst said. “That and coordinating resources we have in the schools.”
Nordquist’s answer was the most succinct.
“The economy,” she said.
Candidates were asked how the district should attract and retain staff.
“I would get a system set up where we are getting our name out on a statewide basis,” Varenhorst said. “More and more teachers, especially in western Kansas, are looking to move this direction. If they see the facilities we have, I think they’d be very impressed.
“Giving them a decent salary, not exorbitant, but decent,” Varenhorst added. “You can’t keep good people unless you pay them what they’re worth.”
Nordquist said promoting the quality of the district is important for recruiting.
“We have a great district. When we moved here two years ago, this is why we decided to move here, because of the school district and all the good teachers,” Nordquist said. “I think by reputation.”
Odgers’ answer was similar.
“If we’re doing a good job and we have publicity, word of mouth,” Odgers said. “I think word of mouth goes a long way.”
When asked how they would respond to disgruntled patrons, all three candidates identified having patience and listening as critical skills.
“You should never disregard what people say,” Odgers said. “You should tell them you’ll look into it and get back to them. You need to know the whole story before you commit the board in one direction or another.”
“My father got calls I don’t know how often,” Varenhorst said. “He was always patient, would always listen to people, and try to calm them down.”
“You have to have the ability to listen and not pass judgment, try to get all the facts,” Nordquist said. “Just be a good listener, try to keep them calm.”
The board asked candidates how the board should promote community involvement in schools.
“Getting parents involved with kids at school — I know it’s a problem for all school districts. It becomes really difficult to get the kids’ interest,” Varenhorst said. “How we could go about that I couldn’t tell you exactly. I would like to sit down with administrators and find out what they’re doing right now.”
“I think it’s good to see board members being at school functions promoting community involvement, and just staying involved in different things,” Nordquist said.
“In a small town the sporting events are going to be a recreational activity,” Odgeres said. “The board should be very positive and proactive and tell them we want them there. Provide free passes. Ask them to do some volunteer work where they can develop personal relationships with kids.”
The candidates varied in their responses to a question about how the board should interact with media.
Nordquist emphasized the importance of the board president being the primary spokesman for the board.
Varenhorst said the media is a vital conduit for communication between the district and its patrons, and emphasized both cooperation and accuracy.
Odgers said board communications need to be honest and have transparency so people are aware of why decisions are made.
Odgers emphasized her experience in education, her certifications and endorsements, and the understanding gained from working in various positions as the primary attributes she would bring to the board.
Varenhorst said his experience serving on numerous boards, his experience teaching in a military academy, and his passion for education would assist him in bringing new ideas to the board.
Nordquist highlighted the manner in which she would handle her board responsibilities, emphasizing caring, listening, attention to detail, fact-finding, and withholding judgment until she has the information necessary to make a decision.
Once the interviews were completed, Board President Chris Sprowls expressed reservations about taking any action due to the absence of board member Lyle Leppke.
“My one hesitation is that since Lyle didn’t get here tonight, I’m not sure how to handle that,” Sprowls said. “I think we need Lyle’s input.”
“I think it should be the whole board decision,” board member Duane Kirkpatrick said.
Board members asked Leiker to pull together information from the meeting for Leppke to review. The board took no action, deciding to take the matter up at the next regular board meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 9.