Six candidates will compete for two open seats on the Mitchell Board of Education when voters head to the polls Tuesday, June 8 to decide who will serve as at-large representatives on the elected board. The winners will replace Lacey Musick and Neil Putnam, who decided not to run for re-election.
In an effort to profile the six individuals running for the positions, the Mitchell Republic reached out to the candidates and asked them about their platforms and what they hoped to achieve, if elected.
Reed Bender, a 2000 Mitchell High School graduate, would love to see more emphasis placed on students learning basic life skills during their time in districts like Mitchell, something he would emphasize if elected to the board during the election next week.
“You can go anywhere in the world and use a trade,” Bender said. “It depends on where the kids want to go, and there are different levels and desires of what they want to do when they grow up.”
That is something that Bender, 39, learned firsthand after he graduated high school and attended Northern State University. He eventually transferred to Dakota Wesleyan University, but soon realized that an early inkling of working for his dad at Bender Sewer and Drain in Mitchell was the type of career he could excel at.
“I always wanted to work for my father,” Bender said.
And now he does. His job brings him into contact with members of society from every economic and social strata. He uses his ability to connect with those people to bring solutions to their problems, something he said he would continue to do if elected to the Mitchell Board of Education next week.
He wants to be the representative that will listen to the constituents without them feeling a fear of retribution because it affects the status quo.
“I get to talk with janitors, cooks, teachers through all the years I’ve been doing it, and most of it comes down to a complaint or an issue and they’re afraid of bringing it up to administration for retribution,” Bender said. “Nobody should fear any type of retribution. I think that doesn’t provide a good place to raise kids, and it’s not a good environment for employees, either.”
Bender said he was frustrated about how some aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic were dealt with in the Mitchell School District during the last year. He appeared at several school board meetings in 2020, once being escorted out of a meeting by Mitchell police for refusing to wear a mask, as per district policy. Bender was later indicted for obstructing a police officer, a Class 1 misdemeanor, in the incident. The case is scheduled for an August trial.
Bender said the mask requirement and other steps the district took some traditional school experiences away from students. He stresses that he was not against the use of masks, but instead the forced requirement of wearing them.
“I think they have taken a lot of memories from the kids. I have never been against masks, it all comes down to whether the individual even wants to, or if it’s even good for the individual,” Bender said. “I think it never should have gotten to that point.”
If elected, Bender said he would bring an attentive ear to the problems for district patrons.
“I’m a problem solver, and I can’t just fix a problem by just walking in. What is the problem? What are the symptoms? That’s how you solve the problem. My favorite thing to do is talking to people. That’s more important than people at the top thinking they know better,” Bender said.
Debbie Emme is a familiar face around the Mitchell School District. With three kids involved with the school, she can be found at class events, often dressing up for various holidays in an effort to bring a sense of spirit and fun to the day-to-day happenings in the district.
And how she would like to be even more involved as she prepares to run for one of two open seats on the Mitchell Board of Education.
The run at elected office will be the second for Emme after running for a seat on the Mitchell City Council in 2018. Even then she was focused on getting kids more involved in community activities as a way to round out their educational and social development.
“One of my priorities (running for city council in 2018) was getting kids more involved. I am a firm believer of being active in kids' lives, which is important to their development,” Emme said.
Emme, 35, who currently works in the Davison County Welfare Office, said she has seen the benefits of getting kids involved in activities that are directly related to the community itself. It gives them a chance to broaden their perspective outside the classroom.
“I have built up so many outside resources within the community,” Emme said. “I know that this community program might be able to do this or this organization might be able to assist. Developing those community resources, I feel, is one of the strongest aspects of our town. We have community support, and it’s just a matter of knowing how or how or when to ask for support.”
Emme said one of the issues she would like to see addressed by the district is how it handles bullying. A native of Colman, Emme said she knows firsthand what it is like to be on the receiving end of bullying, and it's something she wants to make sure as few students as possible experience.
“Speaking from experience, from kindergarten all the way to my senior year, I had been bullied. I have been belittled and picked on because I’ve always been overweight. It is amazing what it can do to self-esteem, to a person’s perspective in life,” Emme said. “It’s being able to relate to those kids who have had to face that and don’t know how to turn to or talk to.”
She believes that can be accomplished by bridging the gap between board member and district patron.
“It’s just a passion of mine to help develop kids and bring back the partnership,” Emme said. “That might be the small-town girl in me talking, but knowing how to use your community resources (is important) to make it effective. It takes a village to raise a child.”
Mitchell Board of Education candidate Brittni Flood, 30, is looking to get involved in local education for some time after studying it in school. She said until now she hasn’t had the time.
“I actually have an education degree and I have a huge passion for education. The thing for me is I can’t teach full-time at the moment with our kids and crazy life,” Flood said.
The mother of three, the Chamberlain native studied education at Dakota Wesleyan University and got to know many local teachers and administrators during her time in school. While her young family has taken up much of her time in recent years, her experience in the classroom inspired her to find a way to give back.
“I really got to know a lot of the teachers and paraeducators, and I thought this was a good opportunity to be an advocate,” Flood said.
If elected to the board, she wants to bring a focus in part to paraeducator training and pay. Paraeducators are a crucial link in the classroom, she said, and making sure they receive competitive pay and top-flight training could be the difference in making sure they deliver a high-quality education in the classroom.
“Getting quality training for paraeducators (is important). If you have good paraeducators, you can teach better, and students will learn better,” Flood said.
As for curriculum, Flood feels teaching history and civics based on actual events and not as part of a wider ideology is the right move.
“We need to make sure our government and history are being taught the way that it happened. We need to be proud of our country. Is it perfect? No. But what is? It’s come a long way,” Flood said.
And like her fellow candidates, Flood wants to be an open line of communication for anyone who has a concern or idea for the board of education and the district at large. As an elected member of the board, being there for the constituents should be of the highest priority, she said.
“I think that communication is the biggest thing you can do as a candidate. If they have questions, concerns, issues, just reach out to me, I’d love to hear their opinion,” Flood said. “As a member of the board, it’s not what I feel is best, it’s what is best for the whole school. I’m willing to listen and take every opinion into consideration.”
Chris Nebelsick, 39, is a native of Mitchell who farms south of Mitchell. He said although he has never run for public office in the past, now seemed like the right time to step into the ring to help guide the district into its next phase. His children, who attend Mitchell Christian, will soon be involved in school activities and that urged him to get more involved in the education environment in the Mitchell community.
“I will admit some of the things last year are a big reason (why I’m running). My children are also getting to be the age when they’re involved in activities, and even though they go to Mitchell Christian, the Mitchell Public School influences many districts,” Nebelsick said.
He noticed a lack of communication between the board of education and the general public during its dealings with COVID-19 last year, he said.
“Honestly, parents and some students were just being ignored and a lot of things happening were being ignored, and I want to be a voice for them,” Nebelsick said. “We have to be listening to the people, and if there are concerns that come up, we at least have to give them time and discuss them. We’re there to do the best for the students and taxpayers.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic receding, Nebelsick said there are new ventures for the school to examine, such as the planned construction of a new high school building, something he would enjoy being personally involved in.
“The high school needs to be replaced, and we know that’s being worked on, and I would love to be a part of that process,” Nebelsick said.
He also would like to see as much done as possible to improve teacher pay, something that has been an issue for years, he said.
“Inflation is insane right now because the government is printing money, and that is going to hit teachers, too. The teachers and the district as a whole will be facing some interesting financial problems. You don’t have to be a great economist to see what’s happening here,” Nebelsick said.
He also wants to make sure that history and civics are taught in a manner that reflects accurately on history, he said.
“Social pressures for education and curriculum are coming. I want to keep the actual history and actual science. I don’t want education to fit an ideology,” Nebelsick said.
In the end, a healthy study of the past mixed with an eye on the future will guide him if elected to the board, he said.
“The future is important, but I want to learn from the success and failure of the past to do the best I can,” Nebelsick said.
Letcher native Shawn Ruml will take part in his first election for public office next week when he seeks one of the two seats opening up on the Mitchell Board of Education.
But it’s not the actions of the board over the past year as it dealt with COVID-19 that inspired Ruml, 31, to file a petition to run for the position. This run is something he had considered for quite some time before deciding that 2021, with a daughter due to start her school journey next year, was the right year to move forward with those plans.
“My daughter is at Gertie Belle Rogers kindergarten next year, and it’s always something I wanted to do. And with her now in school, it makes sense,” Ruml said. “Regardless of what was going on in the community, I wanted to do it anyway.”
Ruml, who works at Innovative Systems in Mitchell, studied education at the University of South Dakota to be a teacher, but realized it wasn’t the right fit for him. Still, he earned a master’s degree in education from USD, and hopes to bring that background with him to the board if he’s elected next week.
Bringing in and keeping talented teachers would be one of the areas he focuses on if voters select him for one of the two open seats. Growing up in the Sanborn Central School District, he knows the appeal the Mitchell School District can have on area educators when it comes to a desirable place to work.
“One of the big things I want to do, when it’s applicable, is bring up a comparison of wages for teachers and paraeducators comparing Mitchell and other towns of Mitchell’s size,” Ruml said. “A lot of people stop me on this, and teachers are saying they could go to Sioux Falls and make more, but they don’t want to.”
He would also like to keep an eye on the future building projects in the district, such as the proposed new high school building that the district has been looking to finance for a number of years.
“I want to be involved in future building projects to make sure they go as they should. A new high school is going to be happening in the next three to five years. The school was built in the 1960s, and (the new building) should be built in an affordable manner,” Ruml said.
Ruml will bring an energy to his position on the board if elected, he said.
“I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can and seeing where I can help the most,” Ruml said.
Dwight Stadler, 68, is a native of Chamberlain who spent over 30 years working in the military and with the Department of Veterans Affairs and returned to his home state when he relocated from California to Mitchell in 2018. Since then he’s been an active member of American Legion Post 18, serving as the Americanism Officer and helping select local youth to the annual Boys State event, among other responsibilities.
His service in the Marines and Army instilled a service-oriented mindset in Stadler, and he wanted to continue that service by representing the public on the Mitchell Board of Education.
“It’s an honor and privilege to be a school board member. Now I’m retired and have the opportunity to do things,” Stadler said. “The thing is I care immensely about the educational welfare of our children and grandchildren, and I’d like to be involved with that.”
Stadler is a candidate who wants to bring a strong connection between representative and the represented, he said.
“I want to be a voice for the parents and grandparents. I want to be their voice. Their input is crucial to the educational welfare of the children,” Stadler said.
He wants to see students in the district learn to think critically on their own by utilizing information on subjects from a wide range of sources.
“Students should be inspired and encouraged in terms of being free, independent critical thinkers. They need to learn how to pursue all available sources of information, and not be of one singular purpose,” Stadler said.
Stadler also believes that one aspect of a school board member’s responsibility lies in utilizing resources, such as taxpayer dollars, wisely. That includes making it clear what funds are being spent on what projects and materials.
“It’s about evaluating how you’re using your resources,” Stadler said. “Is the school board being transparent with the public? Those are things that I am focused on if elected. I think it would be great to be part of that and be involved with those decisions.”