The Duneland School
Board interviewed six candidates for the vacant Jackson Township board seat
Kroeger’s resignation, the Board solicited applications from Jackson
Township residents interested in filling the seat for the remainder of the
term, until Dec. 31, 2020, and held a special meeting to interview them in
the public eye.
The six candidates
were Tom Schnabel, Jennifer Weller, Aubrey Rettig, Dr. Linda Rugg, Dr.
Sandra Martinez, and David Adgent.
Schnabel, a now
retired longtime teacher at Duneland, said he’s lived in the district since
1992, and he now has time to serve on the Board. Schnabel said he thinks
having an experienced Duneland teacher on the Board is an asset.
Weller said she’s
lived in the district for over 13 years and works as a special education
teacher for Porter County Education Services. Her three kids have all gone
through the Duneland School system.
Rettig, also a
Duneland parent, said she comes from a legal background and has owned a
small business for the past nine years. “I’m a hard worker. I’m a good
communicator. I listen and work well with others,” she said.
Martinez is the
former superintendent of the School City of Whiting, where she retired in
2016, has lived in Jackson Township for 28 years, and has a grandson
currently in the Duneland Schools. She’s also on the Jacob’s Ladder Board of
Rugg retired last
year as the principal of Jackson Elementary and has spent all but five years
of her career in Duneland since she started teaching in 1974. Rugg said
after retirement, she’s looking for ways to give back. “I believe I’m a good
communicator. I’m honest and trustworthy, and I think people know that about
me. I’m passionate about the field of education, about doing what is best
for children,” she said.
Adgent is an
investment banker who moved to Jackson Township from Ogden Dunes two years
ago. He has two kids in the Duneland School system and described himself as
“task-oriented” and “results-driven.”
The Board members
took turns asking the same set of questions. Board member Alayna Lightfoot
Pol began by asking candidates what policy concerns they think the Board
and Rugg all said the Board could revisit open enrollment. “I think it ought
to be open, but I think it ought to be somewhat on a case-by-case basis,”
that it’s important to be sure Duneland is financially capable of supporting
students from out-of-district, but open enrollment can be a good thing. “If
we are fighting for these referendums, and all these teachers go out and
fight for these referendums and they get passed, we should appreciate that
every student should have the opportunity to go to a school like Duneland,”
Rugg also said the
Board could revisit internet policies, and Martinez said she’d like the
Board to take a more in-depth approach to bullying. Rettig said she isn’t
coming in with a list of things she wants to address. Adgent said he isn’t
an expert on education, but is confident in the policies the Board has
passed, and is more interested in being a fresh set of eyes and part of a
“culture of accountability.”
Board member John
Marshall asked the candidates what Duneland has done well in the past five
years, and what they think could be improved.
Schnabel said, “I
don’t see much bad,” but that the Board could have handled open enrollment
better. “I don’t know practically how it turned out, but optically it wasn’t
Weller said a
positive is that Duneland has started to emphasize educating the whole
student by accounting for social and emotional issues. “Anymore, it’s not
just learning,” she said. However, Weller said Duneland needs more stability
in its administration.
Rugg said Duneland
is excellent, evidenced by standardized test scores, ratings, career
readiness options, and safety and facilities improvements. As for doing
something better, Rugg emphasized communication: “I would say I think a
particular superintendent prior to this one did a lot of harm in our schools
as far as destroying some trust in our schools and our community. We’ve come
a long way, but it still needs to continue.”
Duneland kids are “thriving in a lot of areas” largely thanks to excellent
teachers, but she has heard concerns from her kids and other students about
smaller issues, such as access to guidance counselors and bus schedules. “I
feel this school system is really one of the best in the state,” she added.
Duneland puts students first and always attempts to keep the community
informed, but sometimes implementation has lagged, such as with eLearning
and adding technology to the classroom. “I know that you try to be cutting
edge with technology, but getting it from the idea to the implementation
stages can always be a problem. ELearning got off to a very rocky start,”
Adgent said class
sizes and awards prove that Duneland is doing great, and “we just need to
build on it.” He added that Duneland needs to make sure students are
comfortable at school, especially in the face of unique threats like
cyberbullying, and provide options for student who aren’t college-bound.
The Board was
slated to hold an executive session immediately after the public interviews
and cut one person from the applicant pool. The new Board member will be
announced and sworn-in at the Board’s regular meeting tomorrow, Thursday,
Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Administration Center.