Editor's note: This article has been revised since publication to include Steven Edwards' answers, which were missing from the original posting.
BENTON — Three residents of the Fairfield school district are asking for voter support to fill the District II school board position.
Sarah Elledge, 40, of Goshen, Steven Edwards of Goshen and Aaron M. Rink, of Goshen, are the candidates for the non-partisan position. Wayne Miller currently holds the board seat and decided not to seek re-election.
Steven Edwards, 49, is married to Sharon Edwards and has a Goshen address. They are parents to two sons. Edwards is employed as vice president of corporate solutions for New Paris Telephone Inc/Community Fiber Network.
He serves on the Elkhart County Plat Committee and the Elkhart County Plan Commission. He is also the president of the Fairfield Community Schools Building Corp.
Rink is married to Kim Rink. They are the parents of two daughters. Rink is the co-owner at Tycol Excavating.
Elledge is married to Chris Elledge. They are parents of two daughters and a son. She is employed as a substitute teacher in the Fairfield school district.
What goals will you set for the school district’s staff for educating children and how would you determine if progress on attaining those goals is being made?
EDWARDS: The role of the school board is to work with the superintendent and ensure that the superintendent’s position provides corporation-wide oversight to all programs. The school board does not directly work with individual staff but it does back the superintendent as well as holds that position accountable to meeting the school corporations’ various goals for teaching our students. I have various goals. One being that I would like to see the superintendent work personally and diligently to retain qualified faculty and staff as these persons are the start to the quality education that the Fairfield Community Schools offers.
ELLEDGE: I would like to see Fairfield Community Schools increase its mental health education and awareness to students, parents and the community. In addition, we need to equip teachers and staff with the necessary tools to assess and recognize students who are in need of support and services. This can be tracked through the quantity of support services that are being offered and used by students and parents through outside resources (such as the Bowen Center) and inside resources. I would also like to see more educational opportunities put into the hands of parents through such programs as Triple P Positive Parenting Programs that can be offered to parents and the community on mental health education and awareness.
RINK: Fairfield has been encouraging problem solving and critical thinking. My goal would be for teachers to continue their efforts in finding innovative ways to teach while understanding that not every student learns the same way. Some students have the ability to learn and excel that do not show up on a test score. Being aware of that opens a window to furthering that students education.
Local school boards are tasked with carrying out education and funding laws passed by the General Assembly. What would you tell state legislators they should be doing, or not doing, to help local school districts?
RINK: I would suggest to legislators that the communication with local school district leaders needs to be improved. If they don’t know the individual needs and values of local districts, how can they make the right decisions? The common goal is that they want to see kids succeed and be positive members of society. Help the local people, who know their kids, help those kids as they see fit.
ELLEDGE: As a former educator I see the value in keeping as much of the educational decisions as local as possible because every district throughout Indiana is very unique in its demographics and needs. The most recent state takeover of student instructional costs has enabled Indiana to provide flexibility to parents in deciding which school is best for their child. While this law has seen some positive benefits for Fairfield Community Schools because it has caused our enrollment to rise, thus providing more state funding for much needed programs. On the other hand, this has also led to the state moving to the next level, which is where the lawmakers are considering adopting a very controversial program known as “education savings accounts” or ESA.
EDWARDS: Funding is key. With separate budgets for staffing, maintenance, transportation, technology and so on I would like to see the state loosen up the separation of said budgets to allow the corporation to use a percentage of some funds in other than staffing areas to add needed staff to further lower the student-to-teacher ratio and offer more programs. I would like to see the state further prioritize their backing of school corporations, such as the Fairfield School Corp., to offer more programs to get students graduated and off to college, to technical trade schools or immediately into the workforce.
As a school board member, what else do you think the school board and school staff should be addressing?
ELLEDGE: The push from lawmakers regarding the new graduation requirements that could potentially negatively affect our school district and how the school board and administration is preparing our staff and students for this new change.
We should also be addressing the Every Student Succeeds Act and continuing to push for more local control, providing fairness and equity to all students in our district, and addressing some of the controversial spending/funding that comes with the ESSA.
Keeping a pulse on the newly revamped state mandated ISTEP-Plus test now called iLEARN and its effectiveness in truly showing academic growth in our students.
EDWARDS: I would like to see more parent and community attendance at school board meetings going forward. Having them present as budgets are being discussed, as programs are being discussed/developed and as student/parent concerns arise it can only be a good thing. The community being present for the boards interaction with the superintendent can only lead to a greater sense of ownership by our community at large. It is key that the board has an open ear to listening to parents of children in the Fairfield school corporation.
Parents, students and community should know when meetings are, feel welcome to attend and be welcomed at board meetings.
RINK: As a board, we need to be looking to support our staff even more now. In many cases they become more than just a teacher. They are being called on to be a counselor and someone who students depend on for advice. Too many single parent or splits homes have kids struggling to find that person to rely on. Single parents are working hard to provide and can be overwhelmed. We as a school and a community need to identify those that are struggling and see what assistance can be offered. These situations are community-wide issues and the school board, staff, students and parents need to work together to help others who need help.