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Olson, Moon, Sand aim for leadership roles with Mitchell Board of Education

Candidates talk goals, leadership, ways to serve the district

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The six Mitchell School Board candidates taking questions during the candidate forum held at the Dakota Wesleyan University Sherman Center on May 17, 2022.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — It’s another busy year for the Mitchell Board of Education election cycle.

For the second time in two years, six candidates are vying for a pair of open seats on the board. It’s also a completely different set of six candidates that will appear on the ballot, with Terry Aslesen, Chris Foster, David Lambert, Tim Moon, Jeff Sand and incumbent Deb Olson all in the running.

They’ve all 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.

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. The first three candidate profiles, featuring Terry Aslesen, Chris Foster and David Lambert, were printed in the June 1 edition of the Mitchell Republic and online. The second three candidate profiles, again presented in alphabetical order, featuring candidates Olson, Moon and Sand, are published here.

The two open seats, 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.

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Deb Olson
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Deb Olson

Deb Olson, 70, is the only incumbent on the ballot for the Mitchell Board of Education this election cycle. She has served on the board of education for three terms for a total of nine years and serves as board president. She is also a longtime educator, though now retired.

But after a lifetime in education and nearly a decade on the board, she feels she still has something more to give to the district.

“I have a desire to serve,” Olson told the Mitchell Republic. “I think that we are to be of service to others. I have the time and knowledge to serve on the board. Those were the deciding factors (in deciding to run again.)”

She knows it can be hard work, and even a family member asked her why she would want to continue to serve on the board when it can sometimes be a challenging endeavor. The work can be complex, but her answer is simple and straightforward.

“It’s a passion about education. That’s it. That’s been my life. That’s been my passion,” Olson said.

Top issues for Olson include finances, including teacher and employee pay and fiscal responsibility. Balancing the books while ensuring satisfied employees and a well-educated student body gets tougher every year.

“In terms of finances, we need to make sure we’re wise with the money we receive in taxes. Salaries need to be competitive. And utilities are going up, transportation with gas for buses and diesel and supplies. Everything is costing more,” Olson said. “And we’re all dealing with inflation.”

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Like her fellow candidates, she also has her eye on the proposed new high school building. Another issue she is following is the evolving ethnic makeup of the district and making sure all students’ needs are met in terms of their educational growth. The mental health of students, especially following the stresses of the pandemic, is crucial, see said.

“The ethnicity is a changing dynamic and that affects the classrooms. It’s also about meeting the needs of students of different ethnicities, as well as the mental health of students,” Olson said. “We didn’t have as long a time in isolation as some areas of the country did, but it impacts students.”

Every student also deserves to learn in a safe, secure environment. She said she will continue to review safety measures at district buildings, especially following the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

When it comes to overlooked issues in the district, Olson points out a perceived issue she believes is actually a non-issue. Members of the public have addressed the board concerning critical race theory, a controversial teaching philosophy, imploring the district to not use the method in Mitchell classrooms. Olson said she and Joe Graves, superintendent for the district, have determined that no Mitchell teacher is employing that style.

Voters have several choices when they go to the polls June 7, and Olson is hoping for at least one more term to serve on the board, and she looks forward to fulfilling that duty should she win a fourth term.

“I’d appreciate their votes. There are things that can still be accomplished and things I have to offer in service of the district, and I’d appreciate their support to do that,” Olson said.

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Tim Moon
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Tim Moon

Tim Moon has worked in public service for some time.

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He currently works for the South Dakota Unified Judicial System as a court services officer, and he has previously made a run for the Mitchell City Council. But this will be his first foray into the election process with the Mitchell Board of Education, something he has been thinking about for some time.

Why run now? Moon said he doesn’t feel like there is a strong enough connection between the public and the board of education. That’s something he hopes to change should he be one of the elected next week.

“Many reasons come to mind but the most important reason is simple: I feel the board has failed to listen. The opportunity for input from the community, staff and students is essential. I feel I am the candidate that can help that problem self-correct,” Moon said. “My platform is that you won’t be ignored and it is a simple welcome mat to all.”

There is no one single issue he would like to tackle, Moon said. Every issue is important with educating the youth in the community. Teachers' concerns should be a focus, as should paraeducator pay. Asking good questions as a board member can help put the spotlight on those issues, he said.

“The most pressing issue doesn’t have a simple answer. Teachers want to be treated fairly and have their concerns about classroom sizes heard, paraeducators want to be paid a liveable wage, and family involvement are just a few highlights. If we don’t ask questions and ask the ever-so-important whys, then we aren’t doing our job,” Moon said.

If elected, Moon said he is hoping to bring a teamwork approach to the board. That will help find solutions to issues like attracting and keeping teachers in the district, as well as enticing students who may have open enrolled in other districts to return to Mitchell.

“Creating a teamwork approach is something I hope to provide to the current board as well. Other topics that are needs are recruiting new teachers and having the students who left return,” Moon said. “Excitement is a key ingredient in the school system — if teachers are excited then the students will be as well. Creating that excitement culture is very important for our schools.”

Moon said keeping staff and recruiting new top-flight teachers is vital to the district.

“I believe retaining staff is key, as well as recruiting,” Moon said. “Our greatest tool is our current staff. They need to be excited to work or teach for the Mitchell School District and we need to brainstorm on how to help this occur. This approach can be contagious like a smile.”

Simply put, Moon, 43, said he feels it’s time for a change in leadership on the Mitchell board of Education. Moon said he is ready to take on the challenges to help guide the Mitchell School District over the next three years. He’s hoping for support from the voters when they head out to the polls for the June 7 primary.

“I believe a change is needed. Mitchell needs to be excited about our school and our school needs to be excited about our community. I hope we have a great turn out on June 7 and I am truly blessed with the opportunity. Please vote Tim Moon,” Moon said.

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Jeff Sand
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Jeff Sand

Jeff Sand, 38, will be seeking his first seat on a publicly elected board with his entrance into the race for the Mitchell Board of Education. But his connections to the school run deep having attended school in the district himself, a wife who in the fall will begin her seventh year teaching in the district and three children between ages 7 and 1.

The local entrepreneur, who has also logged over 10 years of teaching and coaching, feels that now is the time he can be a positive guiding influence for the district.

“The students, staff, and taxpayers of the Mitchell School District deserve a respected educational leader who will provide transparency, accountability, while communicating in a professional manner to help move the district forward,” Sand said. “I have the unique perspective of going through the Mitchell School District as a student and returning to teach in the district as a speech/debate instructor. There is no better time than now to run for the Mitchell Board of Education.”

For Sand, there are two main issues on which he would like to focus. He feels that both of those would help boost student achievement within the district.

“Bringing all stakeholders together to move forward and properly address the pressing issues of school safety and teacher/paraprofessional recruitment and retention to help increase student achievement,” Sand said.

Sand also feels there is a need for scrutiny on the high school building project. More transparency is needed on such projects.

“Explore all options through a transparent manner before voting on a budget and building plans for a new high school. If building a new high school is the best option, we need to ensure it meets the needs of our students and staff without raising taxes now and into the future,” Sand said. “Taxpayers in the community deserve an opportunity to provide input and ask questions before the school board moves ahead with the project and brings the building of a new school to a vote.”

As a member of the board, Sand said he would dive in to learn more about the accomplishments and needs of both students and staff. He also said he would direct the salary he receives as a board member toward teacher supplies and resources.

“I believe school board members should immerse themselves in the school district to better understand what amazing things our students and staff are doing on a daily basis. If elected, I will be volunteering in classrooms and school events to better connect with students, staff, parents, and community members,” Sand said. “If elected, I will also donate my $1,200 salary as a school board member to start a teacher supply/resource fund. No teacher should ever have to pay for supplies out of their own pocket to help increase student achievement.”

In the end, Sand said if he is elected June 7 he will bring the leadership of an experienced educator who will strive to listen and look at both sides of an issue.

“Please know that if you vote for me you are getting a respected educational leader who is a genuine, sincere, critical thinker. I will ask questions and look at both sides of an issue. I will listen to my constituents while using data to drive the decision-making process and do what is best for the students and staff in our school district,” Sand said.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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