EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of three articles looking at candidates in the Sept. 12 election for the Fort Madison School District Board of Directors.
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Preparing students for life after high school tops the list of the priorities for two candidates seeking a seat on the Fort Madison school board.
Tim Wondra, who is currently the Vice President of the Fort Madison Community School District Board of Directors, is seeking his third term on the board.
Wondra said he wants to continue the momentum the board has with respect to development and programming.
“My number one focus is to continue to improve the quality of education our students have and increase the opportunities our kids have to succeed in life,” Wondra said. “I feel we’ve made strides in the district in the past couple of years and I don’t want to lose that momentum.”
He cited the construction and welding programs as well as a culinary class that was added last year as evidence of the district’s focus on preparing kids for life after high school whether it’s college or a trade.
But Wondra said funding is the one thing that could get in the way of that progress if state revenues don’t improve and things get even tighter.
“Teachers are underpaid. Almost everyone feels that way, but at the same time when that takes up 80% of the budget you have to be cognizant of what you pay,” Wondra said.
“You don’t want to give big raises this year and then be forced to make cuts next year. That bumps up class sizes and you get to 27-28 students per class and that’s not good. I don’t even think those elementary schools could hold that many students. Being wise with the budget has to be the biggest hurdle we face.”
He said vouchers would also be a hardship on public schools making students very mobile.
“It makes it difficult to look into the crystal ball and see what you need for the next year because we always budget a year ahead ourselves.”
But building a new elementary school in Fort Madison is also a priority with Wondra. He said one of his biggest fears is for the safety of the students.
“We’ve got to have a new one. Even remodeling those schools, as expensive as that would be, you’re still not addressing the safety. The drop off locations at those schools are very dangerous. With all the distracted driving out there, we’re just lucky a student hasn’t been seriously hurt yet. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”
The 18-year Fort Madison resident is co-owner of Wondra Chiropractic with his wife Laurie. The couple have one daughter at Fort Madison High School and Wondra said he’s proud of the strides the board has made and the emphasis it’s put on its own development.
“I think we’ve made great strides the past couple of years,” Wondra said. “We felt this past year it was important that if we expect our staff to do professional development, we needed to do that, too, so we carved out the time to do that and be a better board. And…I think we did a darn good job finding a good superintendent.”
He said he would also encourage all those seeking a seat on the board to realize how much time is required of the job.
“We don’t get paid to do this. There are trainings, conventions, special sessions, and meetings. My fear is that we will get someone elected that won’t show up…and that hurts the kids.”
Jillian Troxel, who’s lived in the district for seven years with her husband Andy, also said preparing students for life after graduation is a key priority of hers.
The couple has a daughter starting kindergarten this year and a 3-year old boy at home. Troxel has a doctorate in physical therapy and works at Fort Madison Community Hospital. She said she’s just recently started thinking of running for the board.
“I had been contemplating this for about a month and was encouraged by some close friends,” she said. “I’m the daughter of an educator and education was always a high priority in our home. But you get a new perspective when your kids are coming up through the school. As a working parent I want to do everything I can for not only my kids, but for all the other kids in the district for what life is like after high school.”
Troxel said she thinks the current board has had great leadership for many years and the one thing that prompted her to run was to optimize representation of those parents with younger students in the district.
“I want to be involved with the direction the district takes in working with parents of younger students in the district.”
She said she would like to see the board overcome some of the challenges she sees in communicating with the community and being transparent in their work.
“We have to work as a team to produce students that have job ready skills, interview skills, customer service skills. We need to build that in our young adults and that starts from the bottom up.”
Like Renee Ehlers who is also seeking a seat on the board, Troxel has a spouse who is currently on staff in the district.
“I think having a spouse that works within the district helps to provide a unique perspective,” Troxel said. “In the time Andy and I have been here as a family we’ve been able to build relationships with some great colleagues through the FMHS system.
She said as a whole the district is trying to support our teachers with tools and technology that would promote the type of learning environment that would prepare our students for the real world.
“When they walk out of high school with a diploma, we need to make sure they are prepared for what their adulthood would be. Higher education may be something they want to do before the working world, but as technology has evolved, I think it’s hindered some of the social skills we need to be able to help our teenagers develop those other skills,” she said.
She said she would continue to support the construction of a new elementary school in the district.
“I certainly voted in support of the new building,” she said. Schools are one of the first things young professionals look at when they come to a new area. I think our school district has made so much progress with visits by the governor and sate education director. We have all this positive momentum and I would like to see what I could do to keep that going.”