—The following is Part 1 of a two-part coverage from this year’s “Meet the Candidates” Forum. This article contains a word-by-word transcript from the event. Due to space availability, Part 2 will be published in the Wednesday, March 30 issue. Part 1 features introductions through answers provided on question 3. Full video from the event is available at www.vandalialeader.com and on the newspaper’s YouTube page. Some words were unidentifiable on the recording and the word (inaudible) appears throughout the article.
The Van-Far Teachers Association (VFTA) hosted a “Meet the Candidates” Forum last Tuesday night for those district residents who appear on the election ballot for the school board race in April.
Incumbents Christy Nelson and Kevin Motley were joined by candidates Penny Jennings-Copelin and Dana Keller for the forum that featured VFTA President Joe Basinger as the moderator.
Basinger thanked the forum committee, which included Tonya St. John, Melissa Orr, Gena Gibson, and himself. He also thanked administrators Dr. Stephen Hunter, Van-Far Elementary Principal Brian Hummel, and Principal Pirch.
Later he thanked The Vandalia Leader for providing the coverage from the event.
Van-Far Jr./Sr. Principal Cindy Pirch welcomed those who were in attendance inside the gym.
The following is an official transcript from the event that includes the introductions given by each candidate as well as their word-for-word answers to each of nine questions.
Dana Keller-Okay, so my name is Dana Keller. I reside in Farber, Mo. I landed in this community a little over 18 years ago. Wasn’t convinced that I’d still be sitting in the community but here I am with three kids in the school district.
When I arrived in Audrain County I was employed by this school district. I worked for the school district for four years while teaching at the prison for the AEL program. During that four years I also helped coach the high school girls basketball, junior high basketball, and the high school softball team, back in the day.
Left the school district to remain as a state employee at the prison and I spent 18 years in the education section at the prison where I covered vocational education, special education Title 1, and just adult ed, preparing the ladies at the prison for their high school equivalency or their GED at that time.
I have a bachelors degree in business education 7-12, master’s degree in secondary administration/high school administration and currently I’m employed for Gamm Incorporated, which is in Lewis County, halfway to Iowa from here, near Quincy and the Iowa border and we’re workforce development.
So I help people who have been laid off. We receive funds from DESE that allows us to offer tuition to send adults 19 and over who are low income back to school to get a trade, nursing welding, auto, anything vocational.
And those counties…that we don’t, I can’t serve Audrain but I can serve the kids who are in Ralls and Pike County and then everything that direction. And in addition to that we are subcontractors for the WIOA, Workforce Investment Act, where we are in the job centers throughout the state so people in Audrain County who need employment help would go to the job center in Mexico where our staff would help with that.
I have three children all of which right now are in the elementary school but as of the Fall, one will be coming to this building and the other two will stay at the elementary for a few more years.
I am in involved in the community. I teach the public school religion for the Catholic Church, I am on the Khoury League board, I’m on the YMCA board, and also for the state, I’m on the Missouri Association of Workforce Development Board statewide. And that sums up what I am.
Christy Nelson-I am Christy Nelson. I’ve been in this community for a little over 26 years.
We moved here when I married my husband who was a former resident of Farber; he still says he’s from Farber.
I have four kids, three of whom have proudly graduated from Van-Far. We have a senior this year, sitting up here, Renee, she will be graduating this year.
So all of my kids have been through Van-Far School District. We have a great school district and I’m very proud to be able to work for the school district and help out doing what I can.
I’ve been on the board and I’ve lost track of how many years, it’s been several years since I’ve been on the board. Can’t think of anything else…let’s see I do come from an education background. I did teach Science. I taught high school chemistry and physics in Bowling Green for several years and currently I farm.
And I have a bachelors degree in science education and a masters degree in soil science so that’s me.
Kevin Motley-My name’s Kevin Motley. I was born and raised here. I graduated from Van-Far in 1984. My wife’s here tonight, (inaudible), she’s a 1987 graduate from Van-Far.
We have a three daughters. Sarah is a freshman at Southeast Missouri at Cape Girardeau.
My other daughter Claire is a freshman this year and the little one, Rebecca, she come tagging along, she’s just in 3rd grade.
Prior to the school board, I had eight years on the city council. Here I’m in my second term on the school board.
I want to thank the other three candidates that ran. I think you should always have an election. Too many times we’re low on boards, whether it’s city council or school board, sometimes we don’t even get the minimum, you know. If you want to help your community, be active.
When I think I finally decided to run for a board, I got tired of complaining and I think people in my house got tired of me complaining so I decided to run (inaudible). I’ve been here for a while. I just want to thank everybody for coming out this evening.
Penny Jennings-Copelin-Good evening. I’m a 1979 graduate of Van-Far. I was born and raised in Vandalia.
I came back for three years and I did teaching in the elementary and coached.
After leaving Vandalia as I went into my administration career, I have 12 years of teaching experience and I have 13 years of administration experience.
I’m getting close to retirement. I want to be a part of the district again and so I feel like this is an important way to become a part of our district.
Question 1: What do you see as the primary function of the school board?
Dana Keller-What I see as the primary function of the school board is to gather information, whether that be from the community or from the school itself (the administration, teachers) and then to act for what’s best for the student population and where it will take the kids down the road.
It’s important for me…I know if you read up on it, they’ll tell you the primary function is to hire the superintendent. But then once that’s in place, I don’t think it stops there but all the literature says it does.
My goal is to act as a liaison for those who are not on the board that pay taxes, who want to express their concerns with or their gratitude or their desire for change in the best that I can.
Christy Nelson-The primary function is to hire the superintendent but in addition, we’re also there to help set policy and the policy is the guidebook by which the school operates in and that is very important.
We do that in many ways by again, like Dana eluded to, we do gain information whether it be from communities, superintendent, from attending school board meetings, lots of different areas, and we look for ways that we can make our school better by changing policy or tweaking the policies that we have.
Kevin Motley-In all the people you go to, they say that a school board member has two functions, hire the superintendent and (inaudible) over the budget. But we all know it goes beyond that especially in a smaller community.
A lot of times the school board members are the first line of the cog if a patron has a concern. I’ve always listened to different concerns, didn’t commit the board to anything, and passed their concerns onto the appropriate administrator or staff member that can help satisfy the problem.
Like I said, being in a small community we’re all going to have our differences but the number one thing is we have to do what’s best for the group as a whole and sometimes that will leave some parents of students unhappy.
But we all know that we can’t make everybody happy all the time. It’s a give-and-take situation. We just need to listen and try to help when we can.
Penny Jennings-Copelin-I look at the function of the school board and getting on it in three different ways.
One of the first ways is that the educational welfare of our students is first. Those students need the right education because you know they are our future. Secondly, you all know that they pay the superintendent but there’s a roll also that gets to set the goals for the school and that we have to make sure that it’s met, and to make sure that the policies are followed by the school district.
And I think that the school board is that voice, the listener who lives in the community because we are all stakeholders in this school district and we’re all apart of it. And I think it’s important that we all have to work together to do what’s best for everybody.
Question 2: How much time have you spent in school buildings in the last year?
Christy Nelson-I have not kept track but I’ve been here quite often. I’m in and out of the building fairly frequently. I was out here today as a matter of fact. I will be here tomorrow with the FFA group. I’m going to be serving as a judge. Isn’t it tomorrow? Okay, thank you, don’t confuse me Renee. Anyway, I’m frequently in the building. I do still have a student in the building and I try and attend as many functions as possible. Probably not as many as I need to but I do try to come to as many things as I can. But it is important to be able see what is going on and the good things that are happening. I always enjoy seeing the kids when I come out here, that’s the best part about being on the school board is seeing those kids and seeing them do well and being successful.
Kevin Motley-I have no idea how many hours I’ve spent out here the last year. My eyes were wide open when I ran the to get on the board the first time and I thought, ooh, two hours, one night a month. Well it’s more than that.
This time a year when you’re working on the budget, trying to hire staff, we’re working to try help improve the project. Downhill recently with the abatement and closing in the pods, it just takes time and it takes a lot of effort.
I think one thing I did different the second time I ran is I promised myself that when I ran the second time I wasn’t going to sacrifice my kids activities to be at a school board special meeting (inaudible), the regular meetings I always try to make but my kids are important, everybody else’s kids in this district’s important, and you try to balance that out.
Penny Jennings-Copelin-Alright, my job is in education so I spend many hours in the school district. Just like now, I’m in between, I’m the elementary and middle school assistant principal in Bowling Green. So I have two functions to cover my elementary events as well as my middle school events and that also means supervise them during athletics.
Another thing I think I‘ve done this year and many years is my elementary kids will tell me when they are participating in basketball activities and I support those kids.
I think there was a Saturday that I spent my whole day here in Vandalia watching just not our kids but other kids from other schools. It’s what I’ve done. I love the kids and I love what I do.
Dana Keller-I’ve spent many hours on the football field, in the basketball gym taking pictures of the youth.
I participate in the elementary related activities that of course my children are involved in. Depending on whose eyes you are looking out of, I spent a lot of time in the prison schools for the last several years. From January through October, my responsibility was to oversee all of the educational functions within seven of the prisons across the state. Since the appointment with my new job, I have actually spent many hours in the high schools in the northeast region along with Moberly Community College and Kirksville Career and Tech Centers trying to outline services for the youth involved. So, many hours.
Question 3: What issues do you believe our district needs to address in its academic programs and what changes would you recommend?
Kevin Motley-I think it would be a lot easier to set an academic program if the state of Missouri wouldn’t change it every 18 months to two years and I just read today that the committee has finally decided on new standards, maybe for this year, so…when you don’t have guidance from the state it’s hard to put a program together locally. All we can do is pull on that we think might coincide with what the state wants for us. And then if it’s not, then we have to, you know with that, we can adjust to make the state happy. I’m sure there are probably things we can do better. I think overall with the testing that we’ve come a long way in the last three years in our buildings. We have a high number of kids that go on in secondary education, whether it be trade school, or college or military. I think that’s a strong point.
We have to help everybody. I know we have staff that gets down sometimes but we just have to build each other up and just work as a whole for the district.
Penny Jennings-Copelin-I’m a data person a so the educators will understand my talk with this. MSIP5 is very important and that’s what we’re graded on by the state.
And I know that Van-Far has continually improved with their MSIP5 scores. I know that they do their MSIP work in subgroups, and that’s okay with me and we use it in different things like that but that’s all over the state right now.
The sub groups are just going to end up in all areas.
The other thing is back in the high school with career and (inaudible) there’s a little lower score there than in some of the other schools around the area. But like I said the most important thing is the scores continue to improve and MSIP5 continues to go up in Van-Far.
Dana Keller-If I have to give an answer to this question, it’s going to be based on my experience as a parent with three children in the elementary school.
And I think a change needs to be made with the reading program because it holds students back in some ways and it hinders them in other ways.
As the readers advance with their ability to read fast and read big words, it doesn’t help them with their comprehension that then kind of takes us back to square one and causes lots of late night tears in the Keller household.
Christy Nelson-We’ve made a lot of strides over the last several years as Kevin eluded to.
Again, we need to continue to build on what we have done well and continue to find ways to improve on the things that we’re not doing as well.
Math is one of those areas that is probably where we seem to be the weakest.
I don’t have that answer I guess, if anybody had that perfect bullet for it, it would be, they’d be millionaires by now.
But to just continue to do well what we are doing well and to improve on those areas that we need that improvement.