BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With most incumbents running unopposed in the upcoming general city/school election on Nov. 2, the Fort Madison School board is one race with an abundance of candidates.
The school board has three openings with two incumbents running and Tim Wondra deciding to not seek election to the at-large board.
Current board members Brad Menke and Brian Steffensmeier both turned in papers for another 4-year term on the board.
With three positions on the board open, five new faces have come forward to challenge Menke and Steffensmeier.
David Allen, Mio Santiago, Paul Wilkerson, Aleena Garr, and Jadi Zioui are all entering the race for the first time.
Allen and Garr are featured in this preview, while Wilkerson, Santiago, and Zioui will be highlighted in an upcoming candidate preview. The incumbents, Menke and Steffensmeier, will also be featured in a separate article.
Allen, is semi-retired and moved to the area about five years ago. After working in Columbus Junction for about three years, he entered into partial retirement and moved into the district.
Now he’s trying to get a small poultry farm up and running, saying the extra income is handy with Social Security not going as far as it used to.
Allen said he wants to get on the board to help usher in the changes in the physical landscape of the district with new construction and retirement of the elementary schools.
“I’ve worked in the trades and built my own house a couple times and I’m in the process of doing it again. I have general construction skills,” Allen said.
“From what I hear from teachers at the middle school, it is not ADA compliant. No doors that open by themselves so a student in a wheelchair has to wait outside for a teacher or staff to open it.
“It’s things like that. There are solutions out there, and things like that should have been taken care of when it was built. We’re hearing about leaking roofs and floors. I would be aware of things along those lines. I’ve had that breadth of experience in related areas.”
Allen said the state’s revamping of negotiation rights means teachers need additional support. With new common core criteria being established the board needs to provide oversight during the transition.
“I’m not sure how well they’re being implemented and how much support the teachers are getting,” he said.
Vocational programming takes a front seat in Allen’s campaign. He said every student should know a trade coming out of high school.
“One of the principles a school board should espouse is to give children schooling they need to operate in life. But I’ve talked to students out of high school who can’t change a tire, clear a toilet, or cook a meal. They don’t have the tools to function in life,” Allen said.
“Every student coming out of school needs to know a trade to function. My grandfather and great-grandfather taught me trades. I’ve worked in oil fields, been a type setter, worked in pharmaceuticals.”
Allen said this is the first time he’s been on a ballot, but had considered it before because he believes in public service.
Garr works for Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation under the Department of Education. She’s built a career working with state education officials and has helped transition disabled students out of the school system into the workforce.
“I help them find their career pathway, whether that’s higher education or entering the workforce immediately. I get the pleasure of working with FMHS students and SCC students, and in that work we partner with businesses and the community college,” she said.
Garr said she’s in the trenches with federal and state officials and is up to speed on what’s coming through the legislature.
“I feel like I could bring resources and the knowledge I’ve gained regarding those issues to the board. I could bring a unique perspective in the area of the Department of Education as well as the Department of Labor. There are just a whole bunch of agencies we partner with that I’ve had exposure too,” she said.
Her career environment has also exposed her to collaborative efforts and progress through teamwork. Garr said that’s critical as people at all levels deal with the pandemic and supply chain shortages.
“I’m all about collaboration. This board has been trying to move things forward, but there’s a different dynamic for them now with all they’re up against, and things going on around us that are out of our control,” she said.
“They’ve done what they can do with those challenges and opportunities.”
She’s currently working with state and economic development officials on registered apprenticeships and Career Training Education programs. That work has helped her advocate for opportunities that exist between high schools and business and industry.
“There are some really cool things happening across the state with lots of opportunity there,” Garr said.
She said running for school board is a way for her to give back to an educational community that has provided so much for her. She wants to be part of policy making and keeping the district up to speed with what the state and federal legislators are doing.
“My running for this is a way to give back and make change in our local community. I enjoy looking at policies and procedures and, when those need to change, I’ve already been a part of that at the state level with our agency. I would take that very serious because it keeps things up to date. If something hasn’t changed for a while, it’s not adapting,” she said.
“I’m a firm believer in public service and giving back to our community. Our education system, when thriving, determines whether our community is thriving.”