Chesterton Tribune



Duneland School Board interviews candidates for Jackson Township seat

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The Duneland School Board interviewed six candidates for the vacant Jackson Township board seat yesterday.

Following Kristin 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 Directors.

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 should address.

Schnabel, Weller, 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,” Schnabel said.

Weller cautioned 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,” she said.

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 good.”

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.”

Rettig said 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.

Martinez said 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,” she said.

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.

Board to pick new member Thursday

The Duneland School Board will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6 at the Administration Center, 601 W. Morgan Avenue, Chesterton.

The Board will appoint its newest member to fill the remainder of the term for the vacant Jackson Township seat, following interviews that took place Tuesday.

Also on the agenda is an agreement for Town of Chesterton utilities to serve the Liberty Schools, which follows the School’s withdrawal from its contract with the Damon Run Conservancy District, which was acquired by Valparaiso City Utilities last year.

The Board will also appoint a liaison for the Town of Porter Redevelopment Commission, recognize staff and student achievements, hear a presentation from Brummitt Elementary School, conduct first and final readings of policy updates and new policies, award bids for security camera and system upgrades and a contract for the Westchester Intermediate mechanical project, and approve K-8 and High School summer school dates and fees.

The public is welcome to attend with its comments and questions.

An executive session at 7 p.m. to discuss personnel and training will follow the regular session. Executive sessions are closed to the public, per state law.



Posted 2/5/2020




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