Questions for 2021 Oshkosh School Board Candidates

Five candidates are vying for 3 seats on the April 6, 2021, OASD school board election. We asked them some important questions; here are their answers

What motivated you to seek election to the school board?

 

Jim Evans

My experience, my commitment and my passion. My six years serving on this board and its committees gives me the knowledge to handle not only the day to day issues that a board member faces but I also have dealt with the “unexpected” those issues that arise without notice but require an immediate response. I’m commitment to this board, since I was sworn in for my first term in April of 2015 I have not missed one board meeting and my passion I have the highest respect for this district and our teachers and staff. One of the traditions of graduations is for the alumni of the high school to stand up. I am always proud that I can do this at ONHS.

 

Kristopher Karns

I have lived in Oshkosh my entire life and I want to be involved in helping my community. Education is the most important measure of a community’s health. It is the best way to ensure we have smart, educated, thought-provoking, intelligent, compassionate people with the ability to think critically and understand how we are only as strong as our weakest school. As a community, we must come together and work for the equity of all students, regardless of background, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. I want to do what I can to make sure we are educating our students to help our community.

 

Elizabeth Wyman I was getting a bit critical about some of the things going on in the district. I decided I could either keep complaining or be part of the solution.

 

Robert Rigoni

The Oshkosh area is an amazing community, and a successful community needs to have exceptional schools. The best schools have input from the community and educators. I felt like the board and the administration wasn’t listening to the needs and desires of the community. There was a major communication problem, messaging was inconsistent, confusing, and contradictory. With this they are losing the trust of the community. I want to help rebuild the trust of the community and engage our teachers, making OASD a place where families and teachers work with the board and administration.

 

Christopher Wright I have been married to my wife Jamie for 12 years & have lived in the Oshkosh Area School District for the past 15 years. We have 3 children: Cora-11, Ella-10 and Wyatt-7. Cora is in 6th grade at Carl Traeger Middle School and Ella & Wyatt attend school at Grace Lutheran in Oshkosh. All of our children attended Oakwood Elementary School until OASD went virtual this year. I graduated from UW Oshkosh as a part of the national honor society and currently I work in the healthcare field. I was elected to the Town of Algoma Town board for 2 consecutive terms and was instrumental in getting the Town's first park built. The Town maintained one of the lowest tax rates in the Fox Valley while I was on the Board. In my free time I enjoy coaching youth sports in Oshkosh. I am running for school board because I want to see the school district maximize its potential. I believe that our district is capable of great things if we collaborate together, set good policy and allocate resources properly. Teachers are the heartbeat of our district and we need to make sure that they are being heard and they are getting the resources that they need in these rapidly changing times.

What skills or experiences qualify you to serve as a member of the OASD School Board?

 

Jim Evans

For the past seven years I have been a board member of the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) I’m very involved in the arts including creating and running the monthly Gallery Walks for numerous years. Charter member of Art Space Collective Inc.

 

Kristopher Karns

I am a business office manager and in that role I am listening to many different people’s opinions about how we can treat patients in the best possible way with the most efficient process. I have also coached many sports teams over the years. I take a lot from sports and my work experiences and typically like to bring input in from many different places. I want to make sure we have the smartest, most knowledgeable people in the room when trying to understand why things happen a certain way and to hear feedback as to what the next steps should be. I also want to make sure the people most impacted by the decision being made have their voices heard.

 

Elizabeth Wyman

Professional:
Human Resources and Operations manager for large department stores: Boston Store and Weinstocks, adjunct business teacher at FVTC for 11 years, oversee management teams at The Waters and Ufit Personal Training.

Non-profit board service:
Board member and president of the following organizations: Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, UWO Foundation, Paine Art Center, Inland Lake Yachting Association, Oshkosh4Education, Oshkosh Public Museum, Oshkosh Yacht Club, Oshkosh Yacht Club Youth Sailing Program, Washington School PTO

Search Committee:
OASD Superintendent, UWO Chancellor, OACF CEO, UWO Foundation CEO, OASD Marketing Director, OASD Education Foundation Director

Fundraising Co-Chair:
Paine Capital Campaign ($2 million), Bill Van Lieshout Oshkosh North Tennis Courts ($500,000)
Fundraising Chair and Coordinator:
OASD Project Curb 2017 ($250,000)

I have led many effective and efficient meetings always focusing on the Robert’s Rules format, civility, strategic plan, and mission statement.

 

Robert Rigoni

I have a diverse background as a small business owner and over 25 years of experience practicing the profession of Pharmacy. Over those 25 years I have held several leadership positions, including assisting in the education of pharmacy students. I was a pharmacy manager, director and district supervisor. While practicing as a Pharmacist I obtained my Masters in Business. I will apply my knowledge of science, pharmacy, healthcare, and business to the board position.

 

Christopher Wright Some examples are the Advocap Board of Directors, Winnebago County IT committee, Reeve Union Board President, UW-Oshkosh Student Board Chairman and as an elected Town Of Algoma Board supervisor. The most important things that I’ve learned from my past roles is that you have to set solid policy based on a shared vision. The vision is created through collaboration, listening and community buy in. My best leadership quality is that I like to collaborate with others to come up with solid solutions to improve the quality of an organization.

Have you received any donations or endorsements from any group(s)? If so, which groups?

 

Jim Evans

No donations yet. I have endorsements from the Winnebago Labor Council and The Oshkosh Education Association.

 

Kristopher Karns

At this point the only endorsement I have is from the Oshkosh Education Association. The donation has not arrived yet.

 

Elizabeth Wyman I have not accepted any donations. I have been endorsed by the Oshkosh Education Association.

 

Robert Rigoni

I have received no donations! I am self-funding my campaign. And no official endorsements.

 

Christopher Wright I have not received any endorsements or any donations from any groups. I am completely self funding my campaign.

What is the best way to address differences of opinion on the board or between the board and the administration?

 

Jim Evans

One of the things that I am most proud of with this board is our ability to go around the table and voice our opinions and come to some mutual understanding. We are so comfortable with this process that we one asked a facilitator to leave the room so we could have our discussion.

 

Kristopher Karns

I want to make sure we are able to sit down and have a conversation when there are differences. It is important to be able to listen and consider ideas that are different than yours. As a board member it will be critical to help build back the public trust and to do that we need transparency and open communication.

 

Elizabeth Wyman Always refer back to the mission, vision, and strategic plan of the organization. By doing this you take away personal agendas. The decision is made keeping the focus on education. This is why it is important to engage the community in the strategic planning process. When they know they were part of the process they have a better understanding of the decisions being made. Of course, civility, professionalism, preparedness are the keys to moving the discussions along.

 

Robert Rigoni

First and foremost is listening to their opinions and rationale for their decisions. I am an objective, data driven thinker and will consider all opinions and then take an evidence based approach to make my final decisions.

 

Christopher Wright My primary responsibilities as a school board member will be to set good policy, to collaborate with all stakeholders within OASD and to make sure that our resources are being allocated properly. The most important things that I’ve learned from past leadership roles is that you have to set solid policy based on a shared vision. The vision is created through collaboration, listening and community buy in.

What is your position on the recently passed referendum?

 

Jim Evans

Since I voted to bring the questions to the voters I strongly support both referenda. What is your position on the long-range district plan? I think our 5 year strategic plan 3.0 is a natural continuation of the first two plans. Our ten year facilities plan laid it out in black and white the amount of work we have to do. And made it painfully clear that we have to many buildings to maintain. We could bond for a major renovation every five years and it would take 100 years to touch everyone of our buildings at our current inventory.

 

Kristopher Karns

The passing of the first phase of the referendum is a great way to move our school district forward. Now we need to give priorities to our teachers, who have done an outstanding job during the current pandemic. Included in that is support, training, retention and recruitment of our full-time, part-time and substitute teachers. We also need to work on making sure we are doing regular maintenance on our buildings and keeping a long term plan so we don’t get to the current state of our buildings.

 

Elizabeth Wyman I was for the referendum and am excited about the possibilities that exist for the district. I’m glad that we have a long-range district facility plan but believe it needs to be communicated more often to the community. The closing of Smith School is the perfect example of the district knowing the outcome if the roof failed, but the community not being aware. It created a great deal of conflict. Only when we have community conversations do we have trust in the district decisions.

 

Robert Rigoni

I voted for the referendum. I support its objectives. We have some old facilities that need to be replaced and we need to find synergies through the consolidation efforts. Economies of scale, efficiencies, lower building maintenance costs etc. will free up resources to use towards programs. Long term I would like to see a new High School built as well.

 

Christopher Wright We will need to maximize the resources that our community has gifted us through the past referendum. We need to envision and plan at least 20 years out so that we aren’t trying to tackle decades of mismanagement in a short period of time. We should complete cost analyses of our building structures and at the same time we should analyze how building locations affect our local economy and the ability for kids to access schools. Based on the data we should determine what buildings should be maintained and what resources should be used to build better and more efficient structures.

How should the school district manage COVID-19 risk for students and staff?

 

Jim Evans

I think that we have been doing as well as we could seeing that there was no guidance fro federal or state officials. We consulted the experts and come up with what we felt was a good response to how to operate schools during an pandemic. Others schools looked at that same data and came up with different solutions who's to say what the best way was.

 

Kristopher Karns

Firstly we need to make sure our staff is able to communicate their ideas and concerns to the board. They are an important piece to any decision that is being made, especially one that they have such an intimate knowledge as they are the ones in the classrooms each day. When it comes to larger scale decisions like opening schools and other forms of learning, I would defer that to the health department. We should also be aware of CDC and health department guidelines to make sure we are keeping our schools as safe as possible.

 

Elizabeth Wyman I’m glad we are back in school and there are active mitigation factors in place. If there is one take away from the pandemic, it is communication to all stake holders is vital in ensuring that everyone understands the reasoning behind a decision.

 

Robert Rigoni

All Personal Protective Equipment should be fully implemented and utilized. The school should invest in technology that measures temperatures of students before they enter the school. Rapid testing for COVID-19 should be more widely available in the school. Teachers and auxiliary staff should be strongly encouraged to receive their vaccination.

 

Christopher Wright First of all we need to get our teachers and staff members vaccinated as quickly as possible. We should be using the local healthcare providers who have offered assistance to support our districts COVID 19 strategies, make our students, staff and teachers feel supported and safer and to assist and to assist them with any concerns that they have. Our goal should be to innovate and collaborate with other school districts so that we can take every precaution necessary to maintain in person schooling.

 

What is your vision for education in the Oshkosh Area School District?

 

Jim Evans

My vision of the future of the OASD is bright. We will be building two new schools, new schools transform neighborhoods, brings in new families and renewed pride. We may soon start on a public funded sports complex that will put our district on more equal footing with other area schools.

 

Kristopher Karns

As I said previously, Education is the most important measure of a community’s health. It is the best way to ensure we have smart, educated, thought-provoking, intelligent, compassionate people with the ability to think critically and understand how we are only as strong as our weakest school. As a community, we must come together and work for the equity of all students, regardless of background, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. I want to be part of a process to make sure our teachers are paid (and incentivized) at a level that meets their excellence and training. Teachers are the most important item to successful students and we need to make sure they are appreciated by being a part of a strong community, strong school, with supportive leaders and willing and helpful parents/students. We also need to make a point of coming up with continuing education initiatives and professional development opportunities that prepare our teachers to be more prepared in the classroom. I also want us to become a destination school district for open enrollment. That would help bring in more money that can help us pay and incentivize our teachers more. We also need to make sure our teachers are not having to spend any money out of their own pockets to buy necessary supplies for their classroom. It is my belief that all teachers are underpaid, considering the importance of the job they do. They are literally teaching our kids to be productive, educated members of society. I can’t think of a job that is more important than that.

 

Elizabeth Wyman Failure rates and learning deficiencies need to be addressed. Upon returning to school each student should be reevaluated to determine a level of understanding and knowledge. Virtual learning has made it difficult for some students to learn in a manner which is best suited for them. Ineffective assessing tools may also play a role in reported failure rates. Overall reading satisfaction is too low. I understand that the district is determining if the current program should continue.

 

Robert Rigoni

I see OASD becoming a destination district. Not only will we get back the families that left, but we will also attract new families to Oshkosh because of the reputation of the district. In a fast changing and Tech heavy world we need to develop life-long learners who will obtain the skills necessary to adapt to an ever changing world. We need to find ways to promote and stimulate curiosity, develop character and encourage perseverance. We need to provide a safe, welcoming, happy, and supportive learning environment while also striving to eliminate barriers.

 

Christopher Wright My primary responsibilities as a school board member will be to set good policy, to collaborate with all stakeholders within OASD and to make sure that our resources are being allocated properly. The most important things that I’ve learned from past leadership roles is that you have to set solid policy based on a shared vision. The vision is created through collaboration, listening and community buy in.

 

What do you see as the major issue(s) facing our school district?

 

Jim Evans

Funding. We are still operating under the spending caps that were placed on us in 1993 that made us a low spending district. Until the state takes a look at a more equitable way of funding schools. I;m afraid that we will remain a low spending district always at the mercy of the well funded districts.

 

Kristopher Karns

As a parent in the school district I would say the primary challenge facing the district right now is the lack of faith in the current decision making process. Mostly because the communication around the pandemic has been limited and sometimes contradictory. I would prefer to hear from the health department about the safety of our schools being opened and how that impacts the community as a whole. But in doing so next the current administration has not been very clear about next steps nor preparing for this current situation we are in, even though last year most of us knew we wouldn’t be starting schools in the same way we have in the past. Communication needs to be better and is a place we need to earn back the community’s trust. Another area that needs to be addressed is the divide between many groups in the community. It is important to listen to everyone, but some groups are looking at situations from only one perspective. It is vital that we make sure we are looking at issues from all sides and being civil in our discourse on possible solutions to those problems. Civility has been lacking lately and we all need to do a better job. Open and transparent communication will hopefully bridge some of the divide.

 

Elizabeth Wyman COVID has created a new set of issues such as critical loss of students to other districts and private schools, failure rates of students and mental health issues. Along with that we continue to struggle with facilities (both in number and age) and support services for students, including psychological, counseling, social work, and disability. We have lost many partnerships, including Oshkosh4Education and a fully engaged Chamber PALS program. These are critical in engaging our community. We need to recreate a positive culture for teachers, families, and all stakeholders.

 

Robert Rigoni

The financial impact of the large number of children and families who have left the district. The mental health crisis and loss learning that has come about due to the school shutdowns. Creating a competitive compensation package that helps to retain current, and attract new, teachers.

 

Christopher Wright I believe that communication is a big challenge. In my opinion OASD Leadership has failed to provide timely communication not only to the Oshkosh Community but to our school administrators, educators and staff alike and I believe it is paramount to improve communication all around. We need to start communicating our successes as a district on a regular basis. Also in the last 2 1/2 years OASD students have left our district at an alarming, increasing rate. This year alone over 600 OASD students have enrolled with other area school districts, which represents a very large loss in funding. We need to try to get those students back into the district. I believe we should be using the expertise of more mental health providers and making that a collaborative effort. So many of our students, staff and teachers have experienced so much in this past year. We should not expect teachers to be behavioral and mental health experts, we should be supporting them with mental health professionals willing to work with OASD.

 

What are your areas of concern regarding OASD student achievement?

 

Jim Evans

Language arts reading is a great concern of this board. We are going to be taking a closer look at what is happening and how to correct this area.

 

Kristopher Karns

I believe this is an area for me to learn what we can do as a board to better support our students. I have spent some time on WISE dash and learned about issues with equity and equality and there are definitely areas we can improve when it comes to diversity and accountability. Having been in Oshkosh for almost 40 years there is a difference from North side to West side. We do need to make sure all schools have access to the same resources. A student at Merrill should have the same support and opportunities as a student at Traeger. We are only as strong as our weakest school (and student) and making sure we understand issues on the North side do affect the West side, and vice versa. There are definitely areas we can improve.

 

Elizabeth Wyman Failure rates and learning deficiencies need to be addressed. Upon returning to school each student should be reevaluated to determine a level of understanding and knowledge. Virtual learning has made it difficult for some students to learn in a manner which is best suited for them. Ineffective assessing tools may also play a role in reported failure rates. Overall reading satisfaction is too low. I understand that the district is determining if the current program should continue.

 

Robert Rigoni

The fact that only 40 percent of our students are proficient in reading and mathematics. We need to find a way to close the learning gaps.

 

Christopher Wright I think that we need to look at different literacy programs that are working in communities of similar demographics to our community. Putting the correct curriculum in place will are vital to closing our achievement gaps. Right now only 40 percent of all OASD children are performing at a proficient level in literacy and that isn’t acceptable.

How would you improve any/all of those?

 

Jim Evans

The current thinking that hear is the program we are using has fallen out of favor at the CESA 6 and state levels. A major curriculum change is expensive but I think that we are headed in that direction.

 

Kristopher Karns

(no answer given) 

 

Elizabeth Wyman I would like to see a community coalition. Much like the Oshkosh4Education Community Agreement, which was signed in 2013, it is time to answer, “Who are we and where do we want to go?”. Yes, we have the strategic plan in place, but in recent years it is not as active as it once was. We need everyone in the community to be on board with our district’s plan for the future. Our community needs to see academic success from our students and only then will the communtiy and businesses invest time and dollars to improve our school district. Investors want to invest in a winner and we need to prove as a district that we can be just that. All stakeholders want to feel welcome, respected and part of something bigger.

 

Robert Rigoni

I would seek out the experts in the respective fields. I am a trained pharmacist and not an expert on literacy coaching or mathematics coaching. I will lean on my close friends and family members who are experts in those fields. I will make an effort to familiarize myself with the topics. One thing I do know is, if we want to increase our literacy rates we need to change the apathy towards reading in our community and society. Studies have shown that children who grow up in homes where there are books are far more likely to excel in reading and become lifelong readers. We need to encourage our adults in society to read more as well. Studies have shown that children and adults who take up the practice of reading actually have positive changes to their brains, both physically and cognitively.

 

Christopher Wright Through community collaboration, good communication and by getting the community to buy into the boards strategic vision. We will utilize experts to get the best curriculum options in place for our students and we will ensure that we have buy in from the community.

 

What are the characteristics of a district superintendent that you will look for if elected to the board?

 

Jim Evans

I think that we will be looking for candidates who can recognize the things that make us unique and has the experience to work with this and refocus our efforts in better ways for the district. I also feel that this person will have to work with different groups many of which have different viewpoints and wished fir outcomes. Someone that can carry on Dr. Cartwright’s work with diversity and inheriting two successful referenda. Contrary to what I’v read elsewhere I think we need to do a national search and if the best candidate happens to be local great but we need to look across this country for the perfect fit.

 

Kristopher Karns

I think the most important characteristic is the ability to listen. We need to make sure we are hiring someone that is not afraid to have those sit down meetings and is willing to listen to everyone that will be affected by a decision so they are able to make the best, most informed decision possible. Leadership is about being able to lead. It doesn't mean you have to be the smartest person in the room. It is also important for the person to have a strong sense of humility and know that mistakes will happen, but it is how we handle those situations that will show the integrity of the person and the position.

 

Elizabeth Wyman

(no answer given) 

 

Robert Rigoni

The current Board of Education has begun the process of procuring a search firm to aid them in their selection for a new Superintendent. Not only is it expensive, but there is an inherent risk of hiring some of these "professional" superintendents who once they land a position in a district, they are always looking for another superintendency and more often than not many of these search firms "Head Hunters" if you will, put these "professional" superintendents' name into almost every job opening in the country. These firms have financial incentives to do so. During the pharmacist shortage, a few years back, I was involved in hiring pharmacists and we used search firms "head hunters'. The results were mixed at best. We did get some 'professional" pharmacists who were always looking to jump ship in order to collect sign on bonuses etc. We in Oshkosh need a proven superintendent who has had several years of experience in a mid-size district right here in Wisconsin, who is now ready for a bigger and more challenging opportunity. We need a superintendent who understand our ideals and our culture. We need a visionary who is committed to the community, our students, and our teachers. Also, we need a superintendent who has great communication skills, is empathetic, collaborative, and is willing to take a cross-disciplinary approach to big problems. We have some of the best Universities and Education think-tanks in the country. The search should start right here in Wisconsin!

 

Christopher Wright Someone who has a proven track record of leading a successful school district. An individual who looks for opportunities to connect the community to our schools and who looks for collaborative solutions to problems. An understanding of how of different types of curriculum can be used to bridge achievement gaps. A person who has the leadership skills to heal fractured relationships within the district. These are some of the characteristics that I will be looking for.