Decision 2017: Board Candidates on Why They Chose to Run

What is your motivation for running for school board and what are your intentions if elected to the board?


Joel Ongert

The West Bend School District was once among the best in Southeast Wisconsin. “Excellence for All” was something the entire community, parents, students, teachers, alumni and business owners believed in. West Bend was the district where every parent wanted to send their child… A Destination! What happened? Unfortunately, the standard of excellence has changed over the years. This is why I am running for school board, and where my campaign slogan was born. “Restoring Excellence!” We CAN get back to “Excellence for All.” We know what it looks like and our district can achieve that again.

We need to hold our leaders accountable to drive this change. It starts at the top with our Superintendent Mr. Olson. He must create an action plan which will drive change towards excellence, and as a school board member, I will hold him and his team accountable to execute it in a timely manner. It is time for our leadership to drive action and be held accountable for outcomes. EXCELLENCE will be the standard once again.

In the 2016-2017 school year, the West Bend School District had 465 students “choice out” of the district to attend public school elsewhere. Equally troubling, only 146 students “choiced in” to attend school in our district instead of their home district. This trend has been steadily increasing over the past several years. We need to get to the bottom of why these families are choosing not to attend school here. Our administrators and/or school board members should be reaching out to these families to gain insight into their decisions.

We also must look internally to examine what we need to change to keep students from leaving our district. Ignoring the statistics or denying the trends serves no one and costs the district over three million dollars in revenue loss. These are all areas that can be improved if we have a school board and administration that are accountable and dedicated to the best interests of our students, teachers, and community.

I will not vote in favor of a district budget that lacks detail. Our school district and board owe it to our community to be transparent and honest about where our tax dollars are being spent. By requiring a line-item budget, we will be able to see areas of redundancy and waste that can be addressed. A transparent and fiscally responsible budget not only provides accountability that our taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, but it also ensures we are looking out for the best interests of our students and teachers.

We must also determine why some district employees remain categorized as teachers rather than administrators. When job duties include leadership responsibility and evaluation of employees, they are no longer appropriately categorized as teachers. When promising transparency, honesty and integrity, an organizational chart is necessary so all questions can easily be answered. In addition, all top level administrators must be held accountable through collaborative performance evaluations, taking into account upward feedback from employees they manage, and not simply given automatic two-year contract renewals without review.

Our teachers are the heart and soul of our district. Great teachers will ultimately be the driving force to restore excellence in our school district. We have seen too much talent leave our district due to frustration with policies, curriculum, lack of strong leadership, unfair compensation structure, and an ineffective evaluation model, all of which lead to a feeling of disempowerment.

Our leaders and teachers must have clearly defined job descriptions when they are hired or change jobs within the district. They should also have clearly defined and realistic goals that are reviewed annually, so they know how to drive results and get the best out of their students. Our district leaders must empower and challenge our teachers to achieve these goals while encouraging innovation and creativity in the classroom. Not only should our district be a destination for students, it should be a destination for teachers. The formula is simple: hire the best, reward the best, and retain the best.

Ryan Gieryn

The reasons that I am running for re-election are similar to the reasons that I ran the first time.

I graduated from West Bend West in 1994 and my wife graduated from West Bend East. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we moved back to West Bend in order to raise a family. My wife was a teacher in the West Bend School District for about 12 years and now teaches in Menomonee Falls. I coached girls basketball for West Bend West for about six years in the early 2000s after moving back to West Bend. We currently have two children in the district. My daughter, Madison, is a seventh grader at Badger and my son, Traynor, is a fourth grader at McLane. Over the past 20 or so years I have also been involved with the Washington County Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association and have raised and given out over $300,000 in scholarship to local students who plan on attending UW-Madison.

I think that it is evident from the preceding paragraph that my wife and I have been very involved with the West Bend School District, in one form or another, for a long time. I feel that the West Bend School District prepared me for my future with an excellent education. I feel that it is my responsibility to give back to the district and help to ensure that the current and future students also receive a great education from the West Bend School District. This is why I ran the first time and why I am also running for re-election.

Last year the school board also had the opportunity to perform what I believe is the most important function of a school board. We hired a new superintendent, Mr. Olson. I strongly believe in Mr. Olson’s leadership philosophy of “servant leadership” and appreciate his willingness to listen to all stakeholders and make decisions based on his listening. I have enjoyed working with Mr. Olson over the past year and believe that he is going to do a great job of leading our district into the future. I would like to remain on the board in order to continue working with Mr. Olson and ensure that the voices of all stakeholders continue to be heard and taken into consideration in the district’s decision-making process.

I would like to see a new elementary school built in Jackson. Ever since the district put together its 25-year facility plan about five years ago, we have been only doing the maintenance necessary to keep the current Jackson Elementary school running. It is an old, outdated building and I believe that it is time to provide a new facility for our stakeholders that live in the village of Jackson.

The last point that I would like to make is regarding the years of experience of the current and possibly future board. The West Bend School Board will be losing its longest-serving members, Mr. Rick Parks and Mr. Bart Williams. Both of these board members have served for the past six years. Mrs. Therese Sizer, who has one more year left on her term, has five years, I have three years, Mr. Monte Schmiege has two years, and both Mrs. Larson and Mr. Schmidt have a year each. [Editor’s note: Therese Sizer resigned from the board on Monday, March 20, after this interview had been conducted.] The board will definitely be losing many years of institutional knowledge with the loss of Mr. Parks and Mr. Williams. If three new board members are elected, a majority of the board will have one year or less of experience. 

The reason that I point this out is because it takes a board member a good one to two years to truly understand the operations of the school district (financing, curriculum, personnel, etc).  For the first year or two everything comes at you very fast and it is like drinking from a fire hose.  Studies have shown that the most effective board members tend to have about 12 to 20 years of experience serving on a school board. It is somewhat concerning to me knowing that future decisions for the West Bend School District could be made by a majority that has one year or less of experience serving on the board.

Nancy Justman

I have three daughters in the district and feel very strongly that education and schools are the key to a successful community. If elected I hope to enhance communication efforts between staff, families, administration and the school district, I hope to provide insight and oversight to the budget and standardized testing, and finally I hope to increase athletic awareness, participation, and establish strong feeder programs to enhance high school sports.

Tonnie Schmidt

My goal for serving on the West Bend School Board is rooted in a simple desire to bring accountability back as a core value of our district. For example, when I became aware of a significant expansion in district middle management while class sizes continued to grow, I began to ask questions. It quickly became apparent that our current administration is operating without an organization/accountability chart. The only information made available to the public is a skeleton organization chart, which serves little value. People need clearly defined roles and responsibilities within any effectively run organization. Therefore, my first objective would be to see the district administration produce a detailed organizational chart to be maintained year over year, and be constantly available to view by the public.

Richard Cammack

Pay back my debt to the community for 22 years of good living.

Bob Miller

I am running for the West Bend School Board to represent our entire community on the board. I believe that everyone from the students, parents, taxpayers and our district staff desire the best representation that I can give them. We need to listen to all parties involved and make the best decisions for all our students that we have in our great school district.

Responses are full transcripts and listed in the order that the candidates will appear on the ballot. Read more about the candidates at The Current, including their backgrounds and their responses regarding Galileo testing and Common Core

The school board election is Tuesday, April 4.

Interviews by Current reporters Maddie Aamodt, Abby Gawrych, Kritika Gupta and Lily Mottet.

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