Meet the School Board Candidates
Name: Kevin Sommers
Bio: Graduated in 2010 from Oregon, Wi. Went to the Marines for 5 years with two deployments. Got out and joined the family business completing my Apprentiship program to become an electrician. Coached wrestling for 4 years at the High School level. Married to my wonderful wife.
Why are you running for a seat on the Mount Horeb Area Board of Education?
Sommers: I’m starting a family in the community and want to do my part to ensure my children and other children in the community grow up in a great place to live.
Which qualities, skills and/or experiences make you the right candidate for the job?
Sommers: I have a unique ability to connect with all types of people regardless of background or political views. I have an extensive history of being a team member and collaborating with others to achieve challenging goals. I recognize that being apart of the school board involves connecting with a multitude of perspectives and something I feel very strong in my ability to do.
The past two years have been difficult for everyone, including children and teens in the Mount Horeb Area School District. What has the school district done right during the pandemic, and what should it do differently moving forward?
Sommers: The district has done many things right when it comes to the pandemic response. They have taken the data and recommendations that has been presented to them and made policy based on that data. For hindsight is 20/20, some of the “recommendations” from governing bodies were just wrong and being discussed while the district was putting covid measures into place. Where we cannot throw data out the window, we should be working to get the district back to pre-pandemic policies.
The physical toll of the COVID pandemic is clear and fairly easy to quantify. The long-term developmental, psychological and emotional damage caused by the pandemic (and the steps taken to try to fight it) are much harder to gauge. But it’s clear that people – particularly children – are increasingly isolated and fearful, and that learning outcomes have suffered, in Mount Horeb and across the country. How can the school board balance the risk of physical harm from COVID with the amorphous problems the fight against the pandemic can cause?
Sommers: More engaging and accountable virtual schooling. More positive and encouraging messaging. More positive incentives for those who accomplish academic goals. Common sense risk mitigation for COVID outbreaks.
The local school district includes about 2,500 students and serves eight communities. It receives $30 million in funding annually, and receives 40 percent of the local tax bill. Talk about the current state of school funding, and your vision for its future?
Sommers: First we need to maximize the $30M of funding we receive today. Ensure it is going towards the most productive and effective uses to better the lives of the most people while taking care of those who are being left behind. Once we understand where our current funding is going and maximizing it’s direction, we can focus on if we need more funding and fighting for a higher allocation.
What, as you understand them, are the responsibilities of a local school board member? What is the scope of your responsibilities if elected? Local issues? County issues? State issues? National ones?
Sommers: As far as I see them, the responsibility as a school board member is to help guide the district to be a place everyone wants to be a part of. A district families come to. A district that teachers want to be a part of our team. Being a destination district will bring business and people to our area helping drive in revenue.
Who are school board members elected to represent? With the complexities and problems of the pandemic thrust upon everyone in a way that was maddening for pretty much everyone, the community debated whose interests the school board should be looking out for, particularly because those interests do not always run in tandem. Students? Teachers? Parents? Taxpayers?
Sommers: Students and parents are being representing by the school board. You can’t favor anyone over anyone else. Need to do what is best for the most amount of people while ensuring no one is left behind.
What can the school board do to promote and protect local government transparency?
Sommers: Social media posts. More media being let in to record meetings/decisions. It’s hard to be as transparent with the public about conversations that are being had daily on the issues plaguing the board by private email and phone calls. Being transparent would require having someone creating a transcript of your everyday conversation. That just cannot do at the local school board level. What the board can do is be open to being asked by the public, parents, students, staff, whomever, hard questions about their beliefs, values, and policy. Being open to responding to emails and calls, not as an entire board position, but as your positions that is a member of the board.
How do you define Critical Race Theory and what do you feel its role, if any, should be in the classroom?
Sommers: It’s important to understand where both sides of the issue is coming from when discussing this topic. There is a lot of word play from both sides that occurs. Critical Race Theory (or CRT for short) is only kind of being taught in the district. It’s the theory of looking at every disparity/issue through the lens of race. It is a theory that is taught just as many other theories are presented to kids in school. What we are actually discussing is Critical Race Applied Practice. It’s where the curriculum, books, speakers itself is peppered with the ideas that CRT lead to. Like phrases that “all white people are racist” or even ideas that state, “because you are a minority, you need extra help.” Those statements stem from CRT and are both bad. Some people say that if you oppose CRT that you don’t want to teach history. That is not an argument that holds much water. Everyone can agree that teaching true history is what we want everyone to learn, the good and the bad. History with context added to it. I know it’s long but you have to acknowledge it all to get anywhere in a conversation. Now for a role in the classroom. CRT and how it’s currently presenting itself is not what we want in the classroom. We want people to learn the disparities of today, and be able to look at the whole history of what is causing the disparities. All this is a complex topic, but most things are.
If elected, what are your top priorities?
Sommers: My top priorities is to get teachers everything they need from the board to be a successful teacher. To have a school that maximizes the learning for students, knowing what students of today are dealing with. Finally, to create a destination district for families, teachers, and coaches to want to be a part of our culture here.
What are the school district’s biggest challenges in 2022 and beyond?
Sommers: Immediate challenges besides COVID is teachers. Getting teachers to join the district with a state/national teacher shortage. Having teachers join the district and stay is going to be a challenge at first, but hopefully speak for itself later on.
What are its greatest opportunities?
Sommers: We are down the road from epic. As epics employee come in and want to start families, we want them to look this way for the community to join. The districts greatest opportunity is being a small town people want to raise their families here and growing that idea for more and more to join our community.
What role can/should local schools play in addressing mental health issues in the community?
Sommers: This is a hard question. The people we are directing this question most at are teachers. Teachers already have a huge role they play for many of their students ranging from teacher, role model, mentor, coach, friend, therapist, etc. Teachers already fill so many hats to try and keep kids in a healthy environment. What I do know is the school district is not a home nor a parent. It is doing what they deem as best for kids. With that in mind I don’t know what more the district can do besides possible having a paid therapist on site, but even that might be over stepping the role of the district.
Three years ago, the Mount Horeb Area School District completed work on $38.5 million in building expansions and upgrades approved and paid for through a voter referendum. It was the largest successful referendum in district history, and future referenda are currently in the works. What role should these ballot measures play in funding the district going forward?
Sommers: We need to make sure we are maximizing the current funding before asking for more funding from our community. Once we maximize current funding, and we find other productive programs that we need to fund, then we should conduct a voter referendum to increase funding. Should be minimized though.
What is the district currently doing well?
Sommers: Currently we are ranking well compared to other districts in the top Wisconsin School district list being #51 in best districts. But what needs to be highlighted is the teachers and staff in the district. They have a clear dedication to the students and creating a positive learning environment, even through unprecedented times.
In what areas could it improve?
Sommers: While #51 is a high ranking compared to so many other districts in the state and something to be proud of, there is room for us to grow and rank higher on the list for Wisconsin. We want to be a community that teachers, coaches, and families are drawn to.
In a very crowded field of candidates, what message would you like to make sure voters hear about you and the job you would do on the board if elected?
Sommers: I’m a team player and bring fresh ideas to improve as many lives as possible. I’m willing to compromise to get things done. I want to connect with everyone and make sure all voices are heard.