Incumbent school board member faces challenge

Three Seymour Community School Corp. board of education seats are up for grabs in the Nov. 8 general election.

The Tribune sent questions to the candidates. First up, we will introduce the two people vying to be the Washington Township representative, incumbent Max Klosterman and newcomer Ryon Wheeler.

Why did you decide to run for school board this year? 

Klosterman: I have served on the Seymour school board for a number of years, and I would like to see the new construction projects completed the addition to Seymour High School, the Sixth Grade Center, Seymour Ag-Science building and numerous other projects. I have had the pleasure of serving on the teachers contract negotiation board and the ag advisory board.

Wheeler: My children and the kids I serve each day after school are the biggest influence on my decision to run for school board. I have considered running for school board for many years, but once both of my children were in school, it further solidified my decision to run. Before I decided, I reached out to Max Klosterman, current SCSC Washington Township board member, and wanted to let him know I was considering running. We went to breakfast and discussed many topics related to our school system and education. I told him I wanted to wait until after the first week of school to make my decision. When both of my boys got off the bus on the first day of school, it hit me, if I don’t run now, these boys will be two-thirds and one-third of the way through their SCSC careers. I called Max that day and told him I was going to run. I informed Max I wasn’t running against him but for my kids and those kids that I serve. Having that close connection to the kids and families that are directly impacted is important to me for someone leading and making decisions.

What makes you qualified to be on the school board? 

Klosterman: I have had the opportunity to help hire the past three superintendents. My knowledge of how the school system and school board operates are a great advantage. My goal is for all children to get the education they deserve.

Wheeler: I am a product of public education. I was a James Whitcomb Riley Elementary Poet and proud Frankfort Hotdog alum. I have worked with as many as nine different superintendents in seven different school districts and hundreds if not thousands of different teachers over the course of my career. I’ve served on boards with them, and some have served on my board. I’ve learned from them and challenged them, but the best ones are the ones that always keep kids first. Working with superintendents in Brownstown and Jennings County also gives a local fresh perspective on what we can do to help kids be successful and what resources we may or may not be taking advantage of as a school system. As a parent of two SCSC students and someone who serves thousands of SCSC students each year outside of school hours, I get to hear the good, bad and ugly from parents, students, teachers and administrators. Often, it’s a misunderstanding. I can take that feedback and be able to pass it to the right avenues to improve understanding and communication. Sometimes, this is educating parents or making a connection with someone. I often interact with many business leaders and hear what they are looking for in a workforce. Their feedback is vital, as well, to help shape what we can offer our students as a pipeline to a career for those not interested in college or the military. Assuming I am elected, I would believe more feedback would be presented to me, as well, and it would offer me a better opportunity to help drive change.

What do you feel you would bring to the school board if elected? 

Klosterman: I am a conservative who doesn’t like to waste money, and I want to get the most bang for our buck.

Wheeler: I would bring passion, perspective and perseverance. I have dedicated my life’s work to make sure kids have the tools and opportunities to succeed in the classroom and in life. I want to see all kids reach their full potential. While my role is the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club, I believe God put me on this Earth to help make the lives of children better. As a school board member, I do not plan to take any compensation for serving. I will donate every dollar back to different parts of the school after taxes are considered, if I am unable to defer payment for service. This is truly an opportunity for me to extend my service to our kids and our community into a new arena.

As the executive director of a nonprofit, you must find a way to persevere. I’ve learned that “no” sometimes means not yet, not right now or you need to do some more work to get to that solution. I’ve heard, “We’ve tried that before” or “There is no way that can happen” many times. However, unless we can figure out why it didn’t work when it was tried before or why it may not be able to happen, I will do everything in my power to figure out the why so we can make sure kids have a chance to succeed. Putting in the extra hours to understand and make informed decisions is vital to be a good servant leader, and I plan to do just that.

What are the top three issues that need to be addressed by the school board? What would you do to help address them? 

Klosterman: School safety, hiring great teachers and administrators and maintaining high-quality facilities. We continue to strive to update our security plans, especially with our new construction. We strive to ensure our teachers and administrators have the best working environment. We remodel and update our schools to keep them top-notch.

Wheeler: The No. 1 issue I see are the negative impacts of the COVID shutdown. This has not only decimated some students’ learning achievement, but it has impacted budgets, psyche, morale and many other things. As a teacher or administrator, knowing you have such an uphill battle each day to try to reverse the impact of the last couple school years can be daunting. Having so many outside mandates and having to “teach to the test” makes it hard to do the job that teachers were trained to do. We know that from grades K-3, we are learning to read, and grades 3 and up, we are reading to learn. Trying to simplify the process, I believe, would make things so much better for everyone involved, but we must learn how to navigate the state and federal requirements with the least number of restrictions on teachers. Working to educate parents on their role will help teachers and their mental health because we put entirely too much on the classroom teacher every day.

Our growing population is another top issue. Many of our schools are at capacity, and many are aging. Our housing is growing in new areas, and this causes districting issues. We have so many different languages spoken in the school system, I don’t believe we have the resources available to teach all those kids efficiently and effectively. Everyone knows smaller class sizes and more front-line (teachers aides and support staff) staff will help us be more impactful on those ELA, special education, high ability and more. While I am hopeful the Fifth/Sixth Grade Center will help alleviate some of the capacity issues, I don’t believe it will resolve them all. Looking to redistricting, allocating more resources to the classroom and having more front-line support staff will be vital to helping our corporation and more importantly our kids.

Funding is the last one. You can’t pay teachers or light bills or buy buses without money. I do not like to pay any more taxes than I must, but I’m a firm believer in you get what you pay for. This is no different with our schools. When I moved to Seymour, I immediately asked to tour all the schools. Mr. Harpe gladly took me on a tour of all of them one day. I was impressed at how good they looked for being 20-plus years old. We know that aging facilities, aging assets, retiring workforce and lack of resources aren’t a recipe for long-term success. We must find ways, be it through budget efficiency, grants or other sources, to invest in our schools, teachers and facilities to offer the best to our kids.

What would you do to ensure the corporation remains in good financial standing? 

Klosterman: Working with administrators in our budget meetings to keep our budget in line with tax dollars so we don’t overextend ourselves and can provide for future growth.

Wheeler: I think first would be creating a definition of “good financial standing” and creating processes and benchmarks to ensure we are there or on our way there. In the business world, days of cash on hand or operating reserves are often the measure you want to use to define success. However, in the world of education, if you have money in an operating reserve and portable classrooms and schools at capacity, you can’t consider that “good financial standing.” So as a board, let’s set the definition with good SMART goals and communicate those with our stakeholders.

When it comes to school safety, are there any areas that need addressed in Seymour schools? 

Klosterman: Our schools are fortunate to have resource officers in various schools and a police department that can be to schools in minutes. Our local law enforcement agencies have taken extra training to deal with school intruders.

Wheeler: Without hesitation, yes. Safety encompasses so much, I believe there is a multifaceted and ongoing approach. I have consulted with a national safety expert, Les Nichols. He served in an executive safety role for over 22 years with a national youth service organization and has been an expert witness and consultant for the past seven-plus years. I believe bringing in an outside consultant can help us look at safety as a whole. It can look at policy, procedures, facility design and more. I know the schools are already doing this, but always staying fresh and looking at ways to keep our kids safe from each other, adults and outside threats is vital. We must also not forget that we have to make sure we can keep our staff safe from students, adults and outside threats, as well. Safety encompasses so many things, and utilizing an outside expert to conduct an audit would help us find out the best areas to focus our resources.

Anything else you’d like to mention, feel free to share. 

Klosterman: One of my goals when I got elected to the school board was to advance our trades classes. I am proud to be a part of the new ag-science building at Freeman Field. This program has been a tremendous success and offers welding certification, food handling certification and lots of other things. Kids can graduate and get a job right away with these certifications. We look forward to growing these programs. Even though we have the best and brightest students, not everyone is meant for college, and America is short on blue collar workers. I have enjoyed serving on the board, solving problems and finding solutions for such a large school corporation. I feel our schools, teachers and administrators are some of the best around. I would appreciate your support on Nov. 8.

Wheeler: I am not going to pretend I have all the answers, nor am I an expert in public education. I am going to do everything in my power to make sure our community has the best. I am going to ask questions and dive deep into content. I am going to stay up late and research things I am not well-versed in. I am going to call people who are smarter than me and ask them questions about things I need help with. I am going to do everything I can to push the needle forward for our kids and our community. I will work to communicate and celebrate all the great things that are happening in our schools so everyone can know how great Seymour schools are.

I will not rubber stamp things, and I may question if things can be better, but it is because I have done my research and feel it is what is in the best interest of the kids. I will do whatever it takes to make sure our school system is the absolute best it can be. However, I am only one of seven votes. I will work with the rest of the group to continue to move our school system forward.

I do not plan to take any compensation for this position if elected. I believe folks on the school boards should be servant leaders and steward resources to the best of their ability. I do not plan to take a penny in compensation and want to use my skills to make sure all kids have the opportunity for the best education possible.

Klosterman file 

Name: Max Klosterman

Age: 65

Hometown: Seymour

Education: Seymour High School (1975); Indiana College of Auctioneers (1988)

Occupation: Grain farmer with my son, Clayton; auctioneer; equipment trader; Seymour school board member

Wheeler file 

Name: Ryon Wheeler

Age: 38

Hometown: While, I wasn’t born here, Seymour is my home

Education: Indiana University (bachelor’s degree in public affairs public and nonprofit management)

Occupation: Executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Seymour Seymour, Brownstown & Jennings County