Mitchell Board of Education candidates cite teacher retention, school security as focuses of candidacy
Matt Christiansen, Deb Everson will face off at June 6 election
MITCHELL — Both candidates for the seat coming open on the Mitchell Board of Education cited quality teacher acquisition and retention as well as Mitchell High School school security as among their primary focuses in their bid to serve on the five-person local government board.
Deb Everson, the challenger for the seat and a former teacher in the Mitchell School District, and Matt Christiansen, a current member of the board who is running for re-election, both took part in a candidate and ballot issue forum Tuesday evening at the Sherman Center on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University.
The pair took a variety of questions from a panel of local media as well as some from the audience. On the topic of high school security, Everson said she was well-aware of some of the security issues from her time working for the district.
“Honestly, I have many concerns about the safety issues. I know for instance after teaching at the high school that we had multiple doors and entrances where kids can come and go at any time, which also means anyone in the public could,” Everson said. “I think it’s something we should set policy on and understand that safety is a huge concern.”
Christiansen agreed that there have been issues, but work has been done to address some of them. An incident in October that saw a fake shooting report at the high school called into police led to some changes that improved school safety.
“The district was swatted earlier this year, and through that was a learning experience. After police responded to an apparent shooting at the high school, meetings were held. Training was held,” Christiansen said. “I agree, there are too many entrances to the high school, and that’s one benefit of the new high school design - we limited it to only one entrance.”
Christiansen also noted that recent upgrades also left all elementary schools in the district and the middle school with one point of entrance.
When asked about their priorities if elected to the post, both candidates stressed hiring quality teachers and retaining them.
“There’s a teacher shortage, and we need teachers to educate students because we’re a school system,” Christiansen said. “There are some programs where paraeducators can do some additional education and transition into a teaching position, and I know our current administration is working hard to make positions more attractive to teachers throughout the state.”
Everson said it is crucial to draw talented teachers to the district, but just as important to retain them.
“Our school district is setting policies so that we are hiring well-qualified teachers, but it’s not just hiring, but setting policies and procedures to retain them,” Everson said. “I think experience is a huge asset for our district, and we have a lot of experienced teachers. One of the priorities, in my opinion, should be that the teachers need to be appreciated and (we) need to set policies to obtain new qualified teachers and retain them.”
The candidates, who will face off in the June 6 election, also responded to several other questions over the course of the forum.
- Both candidates expressed concerns about the recent social studies standards approved by the South Dakota Board of Education Standards. Everson said there were some age-inappropriate standards, including requiring first-graders to memorize the preamble of the Constitution, something she said she wasn’t sure children of that age could appreciate or if it fostered critical-thinking skills. Christiansen lamented that few South Dakota teachers were involved in drafting the standards and that critics of the standards appeared to be ignored in their opposition. Both expressed confidence in Mitchell teachers to navigate those waters, however.
- While both felt the new Mitchell High School was needed, Everson did say she would have liked to see the process receive more public input in the planning stages. Both candidates agreed the increased cost of the new building was a result of inflation, not poor planning, and that waiting to build would only cost the district more in the future.
- In terms of leadership style, Christiansen described himself as a servant leader who likes to reflect on available information, review data and consult with other people who are involved in what the decision would affect. Everson described herself as a collaborator who likes to work with all stakeholders to gather information and opinions, both from teachers and administrators but also the community itself before making any final decisions.
The complete forum discussion with Everson and Christansen, as well as the forum featuring Mitchell City Council candidates and both ballot issues, can be found in the link above.