Aslesen, Foster, Lambert look ahead to Mitchell Board of Education election
New school, teacher retention, communication among issues candidates want to tackle
MITCHELL — The six candidates running for two open seats on the Mitchell Board of Education all say the Mitchell School District and the education it provides to students is an incredibly important resource for the community.
They also believe they can contribute to the overall leadership of the district. That’s why they’ve filed nominating positions to run in the election, which will be held Tuesday, June 7 with the polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voting will take place at the Davison County Fairgrounds and the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy.
And while district success is a shared goal among the six, they all have a unique platform of their own they hope to bring to the table if they are elected.
The Mitchell Republic reached out to all six candidates to produce a short profile on each. The first three candidate profiles, featuring Terry Aslesen, Chris Foster and David Lambert, are printed here. The second three candidate profiles, which will feature candidates Deb Olson, Tim Moon and Jeff Sand, will run in the Saturday, June 4 edition of the Mitchell Republic.
The two open seats on the board, held by Kevin Kenkel and incumbent candidate Olson, are at-large bids, meaning the top two candidates to receive the most votes will claim the seats. Kenkel has stated he is not seeking reelection to the board.
Terry Aslesen has a long history with the Mitchell School District and education in South Dakota in general.
He has served as both a long-time teacher, a former principal at Mitchell High School and other positions within the district. He has also served on numerous education-based boards, including as member on the South Dakota Education Association board of directors. He and his wife Cheryle raised three children, all of whom attended Mitchell.
Now it’s time to continue his service to education as a member of the Mitchell Board of Education, he said.
“My life has been dedicated to helping others,” Aslesen told the Mitchell Republic. “With my recent retirement, I now have more time to do service for others. Since education is my passion, the school board is the natural position for me to continue to make a difference in students’ lives and to help improve our community.”
He sees several important issues facing the district, including the proposed new high school, but he would like to focus on maintaining quality staffing within the district first and foremost.
“I believe that staffing is the biggest issue. A business is only as good as its people. Nearly every business is struggling to get enough quality workers, so we need to make changes that will allow us to not only recruit good teachers and staff, but to retain the best people to educate our children. When you lose good staff members, your business takes a step backward.”
Finding and keeping good employees is a process that has changed over the years, he said. The board of education should look at how to keep and maintain a quality staff in modern times.
“The job pool is smaller than it used to be. Back when I hired a chemistry teacher, there were 80-some applicants. A year ago they had two science openings and could only fill one,” Aslesen said. “You need to have a reputation in your school system that that’s where (employees) want to go to teach. And you need to have a salary and policies that are user-friendly, so they feel like a valued member of an organization.”
The new high school is also a topic of interest for him, and he said he is looking forward to learning more about the design, location and other factors that will go into its construction. Being a once-in-a-generation construction project, it’s important to get everything right so that the building can serve the district for another half-century and beyond.
“I would like to see the plans and to see where they think it will be located. Location means a lot, but there are so many details that can be overlooked,” Aslesen said. “If you’re going to do something, do it right.”
His other goals include increasing staff, students and parental input, keeping technology and curriculum relevant to what kids need for their futures without implementing radical options that can appear and maintaining transparency to foster trust in district patrons.
Overall, Aslesen, 65, said he considers himself a listener who can implement good ideas no matter who or where they come from, he said.
“I see myself as a person who likes to get input because I realize that all of us are smarter than any of us. One of my (strengths) is solving problems creatively,” Aslesen said. “You never know what challenges are ahead, and I'm ready to do some listening and take input.”
Chris Foster, 47, a Mitchell resident since he was 8, threw his hat into the ring for the Mitchell Board of Education election because he feels the district has worked on autopilot for too long, with parents and district patrons relegated to the sidelines in the decision-making process.
That’s something he’d like to change should he be elected June 7.
“Over time I feel like parents have gotten too comfortable with just letting the school teach whatever they want and have distanced themselves in getting involved with what the actual material says,” said Foster, who works as a support technician with Innovative Systems. “That’s one of the main points of my platform - to make sure the parents have a voice in the administration. That’s why I decided to put myself out there and say I’m willing to step forward to take the responsibility.”
Much of the direction of what is taught to students should be dictated by parental preference, he said. It’s something that he has heard about from other residents in the district as well, he said.
“I think it’s not just me. It’s other citizens that have kids in school that are definitely concerned. Again, parents need to have a voice. Because the parents should be telling the school as to what is being taught and being done in the schools,” Foster said.
As a married father of four, he knows the feeling of wanting to give that input, both for the benefit of his own children but also the children of every district patron who sends their child to the school to be educated.
The new high school is also a point of interest for him. He said he considers himself a supporter of building a new high school — but being prudent with the choices that go into designing and building such an important piece of district infrastructure is crucial. And it is crucial to make sure the building serves its purpose to the fullest while also being fiscally responsible to the district and its taxpayers.
“I’m a supporter of getting a new high school. I went to that high school, I’ve got a daughter that graduated and one son in high school right now and another daughter will be there in the fall. The building is showing signs of decay, and it’s time to replace it,” Foster said. “Not just to replace it for replacement’s sake, but we really need to have a great plan in mind for what needs to be done and be able to present that plan and the financial estimations in detail to the people before anything is done.”
Foster said his platform remains in flux, as he continues to listen to supporters on issues they would like to see addressed. One such issue that came up was paraprofessional pay within the district. With paraeducators an important part of the school system, he would like to examine ways to keep their pay competitive and fair.
Listening for new issues from parents and district patrons is something he’ll bring to the role of school board member, he said.
“I want to make sure the parent’s voice is heard in the administration. We are the leadership of the district and we need to make sure that we do everything we can for everyone that works for the school district, be it teachers, paraprofessionals or administrators. We need to do our best to show them support and encourage them in good times and bad.”
David Lambert has worked in community service for some time, currently holding the position of regional development director with the Mitchell Chamber of Commerce and Development Corporation. He works to improve the quality of life for residents in Mitchell and the surrounding area, working on issues such as affordable housing and growth.
Now he hopes to maintain, if not improve, the quality of education students are receiving in the Mitchell School District.
“(Running for school board) is not something that has been high on my priority list, I’ve always felt that I’m a servant leader, but with two girls out of school it seemed like the perfect time to consider giving back to the school system,” Lambert said. “There are a lot of positive things going on in the school. But I just felt this was the right time to be engaged.”
Lambert, 61, knows the importance of having a strong, educated and capable workforce on hand to do the best job possible. That’s an important factor in drawing new businesses to the region, but it’s also an important part of bringing in high-quality teachers and staff to the Mitchell School District.
“Workforce is critically important. We want to keep the brightest and best teaching our children,” Lambert said.
He also would like to see more transparency in the process that is working to make the new high school building a reality. Guidance can come from top school officials, but there needs to be communication with parents and district patrons when it comes to large-scale projects like a new high school, he said.
“(Another issue) is to clearly communicate information in regards to what is going on with the new high school. It seems like there is a disconnect or lack of information out there about the process, timeline and cost,” Lambert said. “Those are (factors) I’d really like to focus more on. How do we help the current administration communicate that more clearly to the folks and make people feel like they are part of the process?”
Lambert stresses communication, collaboration and capital when it comes to summarizing his priorities should he be elected to the board. Improving communication will ensure a smooth exchange of ideas. Improving collaboration will allow for better cooperation between groups in implementing new ideas.
The third, capital, involves the resources of the district, such as faculty, staff, technology and infrastructure. Of those, the most precious is faculty and staff, he said, and a district should be able to make it so those teachers don’t have to pay for classroom materials out of their own pocket.
He said he also understands the need to make schools in the district secure and safe, citing the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. He praised the fact the district has strong connections to law enforcement, and he would like to see that continue to help ensure the safety of everyone who works and learns at the school.
Lambert said he is ready to be a part of the solutions to issues at the Mitchell School District should he be elected June 7 and he encourages everyone to get out and vote regardless of whom they expect to vote.
“I would encourage (voters) whether they vote for me or the other candidates – just get out and vote and exercise their right. “I don’t come into this saying I know it all, but I’ve really enjoyed learning more about the school district and the issues that are front and center for all of us to consider,” Lambert said.