3 running for 2 at-large seats on Seymour school board

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. This time, we will introduce the three people vying for two at-large seats, incumbents Nancy Franke and Joe Tormoehlen and newcomer Holly Coates.

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

Coates: I am a lifelong Seymour resident. I attended Seymour Community Schools from kindergarten until my graduation from high school in 2002. I love our community and our school system. Running for school board has been something I have wanted to do for several years. I believe it is very important to serve in your community. Serving our schools and being part of the decision-making processes the school board entails has been a passion of mine for some time. I have three children who are currently enrolled in SCSC. Grady is in seventh grade at SMS, Cooper is in fourth grade and Colt is in first grade at Emerson Elementary. My mother, Chata Toppe, was a kindergarten teacher at Brown Elementary for the majority of her 30-plus years in education. I am running because I have a vested interest in our school system, our community and the kids who walk through the halls of our schools every day. I want Seymour Community Schools to be a school corporation that parents are excited and proud to send their children to. I think it is very important to have people on the school board with children currently enrolled in school. They have a great sense of what is going on in the schools on a day-to-day basis. I want to serve my community and SCSC by helping make informed decisions on issues affecting students, teachers and administrators.

Franke: I have a true passion for wanting the best for our schools and our community. This is why I ran the first time around and why I continue to want to serve on the school board. We have come a long way in the past decade. Our schools continue to strive for excellence, and our school board continues to focus on vision plans that will push our schools forward even more. We have established incredible programs to meet the needs of our diverse student population. Owl Manufacturing and Owl Tech have taken off with huge success. The ag center and recent expansions to the high school and future fifth and sixth grade center are just a few additional examples of the work taking place to keep our schools thriving. Seymour Community Schools have gone through quite a few major transitions and building projects in just the last year. I felt it was important to have follow-through on these projects as well as address some transitions that will take place in the upcoming calendar year. I want to be an advocate to push ahead with plans still on the docket that are needed to handle our growing student population.

Tormoehlen: I have enjoyed serving on the board the past four years, and I would like to serve one more term. I still have a passion for education and want to be part of providing the best educational opportunities for all 5,300-plus students who are enrolled in SCSC. Also, since I came onto the board, we have started building projects at three buildings and hope to start another project at another building soon. I would like to see these projects to completion.

What makes you qualified to be on the school board?

Coates: Being a lifelong resident of Seymour and a graduate of SCSC, I bring a passion and vested interest in making our school corporation the best it can be. My mother was a kindergarten teacher for close to 30 years in SCSC. I have grown up knowing and learning from her and several past and present SCSC educators. I am totally dedicated to Seymour Community Schools and our community of Seymour. We need board members who have a vested interest in what is happening day-to-day in our schools and community. I believe I can bring knowledge and insight on what is happening in our schools from a parent perspective and can better help assess the needs of our student population, having my own three children experiencing these situations presently. I will bring a voice for parents, students and staff. I believe it is time for our school board to have someone with the qualities above to continue to move forward and not continue with the status quo. We need someone with a passion for Seymour Community Schools, and I believe I am that person.

Franke: I have served as a school board trustee for several terms, and each year, I continue to gain new insight into the complicated issues that go into moving a school corporation forward financially, legally and as we have to follow ever-changing legislative initiatives coming down from the federal and state levels. There is certainly a learning curve when it comes to serving on a school board, and my experience over the years gives me the knowledge in how to lead as a trustee. In addition, as a former parent of five Seymour Owl students and as an educator, my passion for quality education just runs deep through my veins. Education is my passion, and I want to be part of providing the very best for our Seymour community.

Tormoehlen: I have been a resident of Seymour for 50 years. I had four sons attend SCSC from grades K through 12 and currently have three grandsons enrolled in SCSC. Over the years, I have been in various buildings in the corporation as a Math Bowl coach, a Mathcounts coordinator and a volunteer. I also was a substitute teacher in the corporation for several years. I was part owner of two small businesses and was heavily involved in the financial aspects of those businesses. My background in insurance has been helpful in regard to the school’s property and casualty insurance and health insurance.

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

Coates: I would bring a voice for parents. Being a parent to current SCSC students right now, I have great knowledge on what parents are concerned about, what they would like to see changed and/or implemented into their child’s education. Our current board members do not have children that are school-age at this time. This puts them at a disadvantage for having a true understanding of what is going on in the schools and in the classroom. I believe the role of a school board member is to take an active role in going out and being present in our school corporation and community. They need to be going into the schools and talking to principals, teachers and staff to see what their concerns are and how they are doing in their personal classrooms and buildings. Each building has different needs, and each building needs to know they have the support of school board members and they are being heard in their concerns and frustrations. It is imperative that school board members remember their job is to serve the children of this community, and with each decision made, it should be for the betterment of the child. I believe it is important for school board members to be an active participant in school events and community events so they can better know the people they are serving and establish relationships with them. Finally, I believe as a school board member, it is your responsibility to make sure all school employees in the school system are being held accountable and doing their job to the very best of their ability because at the end of the day, we are all here for the children of Seymour. Each employee of our corporation should work each day in a way that is positive and shows professionalism and pride in their buildings and classrooms. These are the positive attributes I believe I would bring to the school board.

Franke: I not only will bring a vast amount of experience and passion to the board, I will continue to set visions and goals for the future to keep our schools moving forward. I thrive under the aspect of excellence in education. I want to keep raising the bar and striving for the very best. We still have plenty of room for growth. I want to advocate for such within our schools.

Tormoehlen: I feel like I am open-minded and fair. I listen to all sides of an issue before making a decision and will not shy away from making a tough decision if needed. Also, by serving on the board the past four years, I have learned how school corporations operate, which has allowed me to gain much-needed experience. School systems our size have many moving parts, and it takes time to get a grip on all of the nuances of how schools operate.

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

Coates: Student population across the board has grown exponentially over the last several years. Most of our schools, if not all, are bursting at the seams. Some of our elementary schools have had to bring in portable classrooms, which are not ideal. Individual classrooms are crowded. We don’t have enough support staff to help classroom teachers, and this in turn creates stress for these teachers as well as the students in the class. Teachers do not have enough time or resources to meet the needs of 30-plus individual students in the course of a school day. Teachers need help in the classroom, but we also need to figure out a way to decrease class sizes. To add more sections, we would need to hire more teachers and support staff. These are vital and important issues that need to be addressed, and if elected, I would like to work with administrators and other board members to find a solution that would benefit teachers and students. We are doing a disservice to every student who has to be in a classroom with overcrowding. Not only do the students who struggle in the classroom not get enough instruction time, but those students who are high-achieving get left behind, as well, because it is impossible for one teacher to make sure they are meeting the needs of 30-plus students in their classroom.

COVID shutdowns and quarantines of students and teachers caused a major setback for school-aged students. The number of children who did not have the resources to properly learn and have support at home during the months of March, April and May of 2020 are scary to think about. I know for my own children, having both parents at home helping was still a struggle, and they were not getting out of their lessons what they would have been in the classroom with their teacher. Also, when children were forced to wear masks all day long, this also created a barrier for young elementary-aged students to be able to see their teachers’ lips moving when learning sounds of letters and sounding out words. This in turn hindered them from learning to read as they would have without the masks. We know now that quarantines and masks were not beneficial and actually a detriment to learning and students’ mental health. This is something we have to address and make sure we are helping those children effectively today so they are not falling farther behind.

Our non-English -peaking population also continues to grow. We do not as a corporation have enough manpower to help these students to the fullest extent. Many staff members have told me there are not enough translators in each building to accommodate these children. How scary to think you are in a classroom and you don’t understand anything that is being said or taught and there is no one there to help you navigate the situation. On the flip side to this, we also are hurting English-speaking students because the teacher is devoting needed time to those who need extra help and guidance. Someone is always losing in this situation, and we have to have the manpower in our personnel to make sure everyone is getting what they need during instructional time.

Franke: Exponential growth has been one of our growing issues over the years. It’s a wonderful problem to have, actually. The growth shows not only are our schools doing some great things, but it also means our community is growing and is reflective of those great aspects. However, this also means handling the growth in productive and economical ways. We have gone through several small and large building and renovation projects. No matter how much we have completed, there still is more to be accomplished. Brown Elementary has completely outgrown its space. Seymour Middle School has not only outgrown its space, the school is stuck in a 1970s design, which was conducive to how education was streamlined 50 years ago but doesn’t meet the educational needs of today. We also were hoping to address the pool at Seymour High School, but the costs far exceeded what we could do at this time. I am pushing to get these projects tackled sooner rather than later.

Our financial base is strong, but we are entering into concerning economical challenges. We need to be on top of this to keep us in a sound financial plan over the years. I never, ever want to hear from teachers that they have to purchase their own copy paper for their classroom because we do not have enough money to cover the cost of such basic needs.

A third concerning issue is regarding how political agendas are seeping into schools across our country. Politics has absolutely no place in the classroom. One of the major responsibilities a board trustee is expected to hold in high regard is refusing to play politics in the traditional partisan and in the petty sense. I will not play to political hype. Our time is best spent in helping our administration provide a solid education for each student so our kids can eventually spread their wings as adults and thrive as outstanding community members.

Tormoehlen: We need to continue to build, maintain and upgrade facilities to meet the demands of increased enrollment. I addressed what we are doing in this regard in Question 1.

We also need to retain good and qualified personnel at all levels and find new people to replace those who are retiring or moving on to other professions. We do this by keeping our salary structure competitive and offering a safe and desirable work environment.

Lastly, but most importantly, we need to continue to prioritize student achievement. Schools exist to educate our children. We must strive every day to teach, encourage and motivate students. A school board’s role in this is to hire and retain good, qualified people and provide all of the tools necessary for our teachers and staff to be successful.

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

Coates: Although to be in good financial standing is the goal, we can’t tout that we are financially responsible and have kids learning in portable classrooms outside the school building. We can’t say we are financially sound but teachers are told there is no money for up-to-date equipment in their classrooms. We also can’t allow the rate of turnover in our accessory staff (classroom aides and support staff) because the amount of money we are paying them is so low. Is it better to say we are financially responsible but everything within our schools is being done at a less-than-stellar approach? We should most definitely make sound financial decisions, but not at the expense of our students suffering and our teachers not being able to effectively teach.

Franke: Our present board and our administration have a fantastic working relationship with our chief financial officer, who happens to be considered one of the very best in the state. We have been able to maintain a solid financial plan over the years and will continue to work toward keeping our schools financially secure for the future.

Tormoehlen: Very simply stated, we have to stay within our budget. All school corporations in Indiana are in the unique position of having control over spending but only limited control over revenue. Therefore, we need to be good stewards of the money we receive from the state, federal government, local property taxes and grants. We can only do this by being diligent on where we budget and spend the money allotted to us.

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

Coates: School safety should always be a high priority. As it stands now, I think we have four full-time resource officers in the system: One at SHS, one at SMS and one that is shared by the five elementary schools. This is not enough. Schools the size of Redding, Jackson and Brown need a full-time officer at the school every day. Optimally, each building having a full-time resource officer would be the best. One officer for hundreds of elementary schools is not optimal. When it comes to school safety, we cannot skimp by and hope for the best.

Franke: Safety will always be a priority in every one of our buildings. I am proud of the working relationship we have between administration and our local and county law enforcement. We’ve created measures in each of our buildings to keep our students and staff safe. Communication between our school community and our law enforcement community also is key in making sure safety continues to excel. I absolutely will not go into details of those measures in place here, but I feel confident the measures we have in place and the continued reevaluation of those measures keeps us well ahead of many other school districts. Safety measures continue to be reviewed and updated. We will never let that go to the wayside.

Tormoehlen: School safety is always on everyone’s mind in the school corporation, including the school board. I think it is important to remember school safety is not limited to an active shooter event. From the time the first child is picked up by a bus in the morning until the last student is let off at their stop in the afternoon, SCSC has over 6,000 students and staff under their roof. We need to be diligent in keeping everyone, including students, teachers and supporting staff, safe on the buses, in the classrooms, in the hallways, in the cafeteria and at recess. This also includes all extracurricular activities, athletic practices and games held inside and outside our school buildings. This is a daunting task. We have addressed safety concerns in the building projects at the Sixth Grade Center and Seymour High School. Most importantly, we must have policies and procedures in place that keep everyone safe, and we must work on a daily basis training people to implement these policies. I do favor adding resource officers when and where they are needed. However, the challenge is to do this without taking money and resources away from educating our students. This presents a very delicate balance, but hopefully, through grants and additional funding from the state of Indiana, we can do both.

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

Coates: I am running for Seymour school board because I love my community and I want our local school corporation to be a place that parents want to send their kids to school each day, a corporation that is working and making decisions that best support the children. Administrators and teachers that take pride in their buildings and classrooms and come to work every day to make the lives of the students in their classrooms better and are creating a positive experience. A corporation that takes parents’ concerns seriously and has a good streamline system of communication between teachers and parents. A corporation that is successful in making sure everyone is being heard and respected. We have board members who have currently served for many years. I respect their time and dedication and know they have only had good intentions for SCSC, but there is a time when change needs to happen. New voices and ideas are needed. Most importantly, we need people on the board who have children enrolled in our schools and who have a vested interest in our schools. If elected, I look forward to working alongside administration, teachers and staff who continue to make SCSC a wonderful school corporation as well as finding ways to make things even better for everyone. It takes everyone working together and on the same team for positive change to happen.

Franke: I have always maintained that a strong school and a strong community go hand in hand. You can look at areas across the state and country and will easily track where communities that are in strife usually have school corporations going through the same issues. Maintaining a strong school corporation will almost always be reflected in a strong community. I want to keep Seymour trending on such a path.

Tormoehlen: Our vision statement for SCSC is “Soaring to Excellence, Everyone, Every Day.” I believe this says it all. We can’t let ourselves as a school corporation get satisfied with mediocrity. I am not so naive as to think everyone involved in the education of our children is working hard to achieve excellence, but I do know there are a lot of administrators, teachers, support staff, parents, guardians and, most importantly, students who are doing just that. It is our job as a school board to hire a strong and qualified leader, which I believe we have done, and again find ways to provide the tools necessary for him and all of our staff to meet our vision statement.

Coates file 

Name: Holly Coates

Age: 38

Hometown: Seymour

Education: Seymour High School (2002); Indiana University dental school (dental hygiene program, 2006)

Occupation: I have been a practicing dental hygienist in Seymour for 16 years and currently work at Dr. Tammy Hiester’s office in Seymour as a licensed dental hygienist

Franke file 

Name: Nancy Franke

Age: 54

Hometown: Cedar Falls, Iowa; I have made Seymour my home for more than 25 years

Education: Concordia University Chicago (Bachelor of Arts in education and Director of Christian Education)

Occupation: Management and operations for Amazon

Tormoehlen file 

Name: Joe Tormoehlen

Age: 72

Hometown: Born and raised in Brownstown and have lived in Seymour my entire adult life.

Education: Indiana University (Bachelor of Science in business finance)

Occupation: Retired from Beatty Insurance, where I was an owner and an agent for 30 years