School board candidates speak to Brownstown Town Council


Five Brownstown Township residents are vying for a seat on the seven-member Brownstown Central Community School Corp. board of trustees.

During Monday night’s Brownstown Town Council meeting, Mary Ann Spray, Adam Nicholson, Brian Wheeler and Rhonda Fountain spoke about their desire to serve. Jon Robison is the other candidate, but he did not speak during the public portion of the meeting.

Following the meeting, each of the candidates met with the council one at a time in executive session.

The council has the responsibility of appointing someone to two seats on the school board, while the remaining five are appointed by township boards.

Spray’s seat expires June 30. She has been on the board since 2003, including serving as president since 2013.

Town council President Sally Lawson said the council will announce its appointment during the next meeting at 6 p.m. June 3. The person selected will begin his or her four-year term July 1 and also serve on the town’s park board.

Spray was the first to speak Monday night. She thanked the council for reappointing her in the past and having the opportunity to serve on the school and park boards.

“I consider that a very prestigious appointment,” she said. “I take a lot of pride and commitment in both of those positions.”

The school board has overseen building projects, contract negotiations and hiring a superintendent and other employees, while the park board hires summer employees, ensures the needs of the pool and park are met and is looking into converting a men’s softball field so it could be used for the youth.

Spray said the school corporation’s goal is to educate children. The corporation has 210 employees and 1,580 students.

To meet that goal, she said it’s a “high, high priority” to keep everyone safe.

“When we attend seminars, learning sessions, professional development days, we’re instructed as to when things are going to happen and not if they are going to happen, so we need to be able to prepare all of our staff … because eventually, all of those folks are most generally going to be involved if we should have a crisis, so that is a top priority for us currently,” Spray said.

The corporation has one school resource officer, and Spray said they hope to have a second one by August and ultimately have three so one is at each school building.

“Obviously, one or two people can’t be everywhere at the same time, but if we can position an officer in each building, that would certainly be an asset for us,” she said.

Spray said the board also wants to ensure students are prepared for life after high school, whether that be college, a trade school or entering the workforce or military.

“In helping those students, we want to prepare our teachers, as well, and give them all of the tools to put in their toolbox that they can have to further their needs for their education as well as developing ways to educate their students in their classroom every day,” she said.

That includes providing professional development on a much bigger scale than in the past, she said.

“Everything is changing, something new every day,” Spray said. “We want to be prepared, and we want to be ahead of the game as much as we possibly can.”

Nicholson said he has been interested in serving on the school board for a while.

He said he feels he has a unique perspective because of his law enforcement background and the advanced active shooting training in which he has participated.

“It’s something that people don’t like to talk about, but it is stuff that happens, and with my experience with that, I think that I would be able to incorporate the security of the schools more with plans,” he said.

He said he would work with the Brownstown Police Department to make plans for each school.

“Maybe go to the schools to train with students and staff so they know us, what to expect from us, why we are there,” Nicholson said.

He said he has two children in the Brownstown school system and will have two more in the future, so safety is a top priority.

“It means a lot to me to make sure that the schools are secure and safe and that there is a plan in place and people know what that plan is,” Nicholson said.

He serves as the public information officer for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and manages Sheriff Rick Meyer’s Facebook page, and he said he wants to help give the schools more of a social media presence.

Wheeler was up next. He said he initially was drawn to Brownstown when he landed a teaching job there.

“I enjoyed my time in school, excellent career. I chose to take a different path into the business world,” he said.

“But all of that being said, there are a lot of challenges,” he said. “Obviously, it doesn’t take much to look at the news and the newspapers and know that our education system is definitely being challenged, I will say that. From the state, national, we’re seeing teacher shortages across the state. Especially Indiana, schools are struggling to find those teachers.”

Wheeler said it’s important to look at the challenges as opportunities to improve the status of the schools and what they are doing as far as programs.

“How are you comparing to those neighboring school districts? Are you offering programs that are going to draw kids to your community?” he said. “Our school should be a selling point for our town, our community. I view that as a super, super important piece of our community structure.”

It’s also key to set the corporation up to attract the best educators, Wheeler said.

“That’s not always easy to do, especially with the restraints and the laws that have been passed in the Indiana House in the last six, seven years,” he said. “We need to set ourselves up to attract those educators that are in turn going to be treated well. Let’s take care of our teachers. Let’s take care of our staff.”

Wheeler agreed with the others about the importance of school security, and he also said he would like to work toward becoming a STEM certified school. That stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

“That would be a great attraction tool to bring kids into this town,” he said. “Let’s be honest, that’s the day and age we’re in, and our schools are out there competing with each other for students, and it’s always going to be the main hurdle.”

Wheeler has spent seven years on the Brownstown Baseball Association board, serving as president and treasurer for four years. During that time, he said they have built a new concession stand building, replaced scoreboards and equipment and improved facilities.

“I think I can bring a lot of expertise and knowledge to a project like Mary Ann mentioned with the men’s softball field and the parks in general,” he said. “Anything to help attract students and families to our town is a good thing.”

Fountain was the last person to speak during the public portion of the meeting.

“I’m just really interested in the schools and the success of the schools in the community,” she said. “I’ve been really invested as my kids have been in school, and I’ve volunteered a lot and done a lot of volunteer stuff in the community, as well. It’s just something I’m interested in because education is important to me.”

The council expressed appreciation to the candidates for sharing their desire to serve.

“You’re making our job very difficult in choosing because we’ve got very good candidates,” Councilman Mark Reynolds said. “That tickles me to death that we’ve got people willing in our community to step up.”

The council’s next school board appointment will be in 2020. That seat currently is held by Scott Shade.

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What: Brownstown Town Council meeting

When: 6 p.m. June 3

Where: Brownstown Town Hall, 200 W. Walnut St., Brownstown

Who: Open to the public and press

On the agenda: The council will announce its appointment to the Brownstown Central Community School Corp. board of trustees