Meet the candidates: Lead-Deadwood Schoolboard

Courtesy graphic

LEAD — Residents head to the polls on Tuesday, April 13 to elect candidates for the  Lead-Deadwood Schoolboard. The Black Hills Pioneer sent a candidate questionnaire to the individuals vying for two positions, which carry a three-year term.

The candidates’ answers are published below as received. When necessary, answers were edited slightly for length.


James Neill

Name and what do you do for a living?

My name is James Neill. I retired as a Major from the Army National Guard and am currently the Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency in Meade and Pennington Counties.

What motivated you to run for this office?

I was motivated to run for the school board as my wife is a teacher at the middle school and I have two children in the elementary school, two children in the middle school and one in the high school. With all the changes in the past year, I want to take a more active role in my children’s education.

Why do you think you are qualified for this position?

I graduated from SDSU in 2004 with a degree in Political Science, Military Science and Criminal Justice and was commissioned in the Army attaining the rank of Major. I have served in multiple leadership positions in the Army and National Guard. I have worked with various levels of agencies involving topics such as budget, logistics, security, reconstruction, support to civilian authorities and strategic planning. My position within the USDA involves direct coordination and delivery of various programs. With over 23 years of military and federal service, I believe that I have a broad depth of experience needed.

With regards to leadership, what other elected public or nonprofit offices have you held?

This is my first experience with running for an elected position. However, I have significant experience in leadership through my military, federal government and volunteer experience. My volunteer leadership experience includes: co-chair the Northern Hills Ag Fest through the city of Sturgis, Financial Secretary for the Knights of Columbus, past Treasurer for the Meade County Fair Board, and basketball coach for the Lead-Deadwood 5th grade boys basketball team.

How many school board meetings have you attended within the last year and during your candidacy?

I first began attending school board meetings in June of 2020. I was concerned about our students’ ability to attend in class learning and I wanted to become aware of the processes and decisions that were being made regarding my children’s education. Through this initial involvement, I decided that I needed to be more than a spectator in the policy decisions affecting my children.

Do you subscribe to your school district’s legal newspaper, the Black Hills Pioneer?

I get my news from multiple online sources such as Black Hills Pioneer, the Rapid City Journal as well as other news organizations to stay abreast of local, state and national news.

What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in your district?

The most important issue that needs to be addressed is continuity of education between grade levels. Based upon my interaction with the different schools in the district, students receive adequate instruction on subjects but the curriculum is not managed to provide benchmarks that are being built upon at the next level. A synchronized curriculum would benefit students, parents and teachers by allowing topics to be reviewed and built upon at each new level.

How do you intend to solve these issues?

I would solve these issues by Improving coordination in curriculum development within the content areas and placing emphasis on continuity. Currently, curriculum leadership is an additional duty that is rotated between teachers that focuses primarily on textbook purchasing. Curriculum standards must be clearly communicated to the parents and posted on the school website for consistent access. The administration must place an emphasis on curriculum development and communicating standards.

What do you believe is working for your district and how will you retain that progression?

Our district has shown exceptionality in classroom modernization and keeping up with technology. This can be maintained by adequate forecasting as part of a strategic plan that focuses on five-, ten- and 25-year initiatives that adjusts to a changing environment with continual evaluation. The school must ensure that the teachers receive adequate instruction in the use of technology and that the teachers have access to innovative technology that provides excellent learning opportunities.

What is the single most important stance you want to take if elected to the school board?

The most important stance I want to take is better communication and cooperation between the school, community and parents. Parents deserve to know what their children are being taught in the classroom. The school has a duty to inform parents if/when controversial ideas are presented to students. Parents must be empowered to know that they are ultimately responsible for their children’s education and that school is a partner in helping their children succeed.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

Improve communication and involvement between the school, parents and the community. We must have transparency in every topic being taught with expectations upon completion of a course or grade level. The community should know what types of services are being offered with the tax dollars given to the school as well as the results. Education is a three-legged stool consisting of the school administration, the parents and the community. If any leg of the stool fails, education becomes more difficult for the student. The school board is the point where all three meet and is responsible for facilitating cooperation.

What else do you want people to know about you?

I retired from the National Guard in June 2020 as a Major and I want to dedicate the additional time that I now have to improving education in our community. I firmly believe that parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children. The school has a duty to work with parents to facilitate learning to ensure the children’s success.

Do you have a personal affinity for any area of education and learning that you would like to focus on? If so, what?

I would like to improve access and development for high learners. All too often students are bored in the classroom while the instruction moves as the speed of the slowest students. By not offering services for our high learners, the school is failing to adequately identify and engage these students. Additionally, I would like to increase support for technological skills classes that increases access to jobs that are available within the local community.

Do you see any problems with staff, curriculum, policies, etc., in the district? If so, what?

I believe there are many challenges that prevent the school from producing the best outcome possible for the students. These challenges include infighting, favoritism, and inconsistent standard enforcement. These challenges are offset by several outstanding teachers and many outstanding students. I believe that we can do better by maintaining consistent standards that are clearly understood by all parties. By providing a dynamic, innovative, adaptive work environment, we can seek out and retain excellent teachers which benefits all students.

How can the district best adapt to the declining enrollment?

When families are looking to move to a new community, one of the most important factors in that decision is the school. Our school must excel in education opportunities and provide education that students and parents seek. With open enrollment, we can measure our effectiveness by the number of open enrolled students coming to the district. Student and parents moving to the area and those from the surrounding area should look to Lead-Deadwood to provide the best opportunity for students to be successful.


Suzanne Rogers

Name and what do you do for a living?

 Suzanne Rogers.  I am a dental hygienist.

What motivated you to run for this office?

I have been a member of the Lead-Deadwood School Board for 12 years.  This upcoming school year we will be welcoming a new Superintendent.  I believe it is important to have members with experience during this time of transition in administration.  Our district has a unique funding structure that is unlike most schools in SD.  My 12 years of experience will help with the transition to make it as seamless as possible.

Why do you think you are qualified for this position?

 My main qualification is experience.  Knowledge of how school districts operate, professional working relationships with administrators and staff, and being a native to Lead-Deadwood all help me to be well qualified for this position.

With regards to leadership, what other elected public or nonprofit offices have you held?

I am currently a member of the Days of 76 Executive Committee.  I have served on this committee for 5 years.  I am also a current board member for Black Hills Special Services.  

 

How many school board meetings have you attended within the last year and during your candidacy?

I have attended all but one regular monthly board meeting. I was unable to attend the meeting as it was rescheduled on a different day than our usual monthly meeting date.   I have also attended all of the special board meetings.  

 

Do you subscribe to your school district’s legal newspaper, the Black Hills Pioneer?  

Yes, I share a subscription

What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in your district?

Fiscal well being is always one of the most important issues the school district addresses every year.  It is an essential yet delicate balance between providing the best resources, facilities and staff to provide a top notch education for all of our students while remaining fiscally responsible with our taxpayer dollars.   

 

How do you intend to solve these issues?

We work all year long to be proactive in our decisions for the current year budget and beyond.  We are always looking a few years ahead to make sure the Lead-Deadwood School District is responsible with our spending.  We try to limit the tax levies that we have control over as much as possible to help keep the tax burden down.  We are also always looking at what programs would be of benefit to our students for their future beyond our school doors.

 

What do you believe is working for your district and how will you retain that progression?

The one to one computer programs is working well for our high school and middle school.  It is important that all students have access to computers for use at school and at home.  I think it is important to prepare our students for using the technology that is always changing and improving.  Our district is always looking for new classes, areas of study, and ways to improve our classroom experience as well.

 

What is the single most important stance you want to take if elected to the school board?

Striving to make sure the School Board is working towards helping our students to be successful while in school and in the community.  We have created a vision for our school district and I try to apply it when making decisions for our district.  Our Vision Statement is as follows:   

Our school district focuses on core academic subjects, while ensuring the development of the whole child through positive relationships, character, service, wellness, and community collaboration.

 

What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

I don’t have a specific idea or goal to accomplish.  I would like to continue working hard and doing my best to provide an educational environment that is welcoming and safe for all of our students.  Providing staff with necessary resources and students with quality education are my primary focus.

What else do you want people to know about you?

I attended school in Lead-Deadwood K-12.  My husband and I have chosen to raise our children here as well.  I believe we have all benefitted from a quality education that has provided many opportunities for my family.  I have been on the board for several years and have been the President for several years as well.  I work hard to be available for contact with all students, parents and staff.  I have the experience and knowledge to help keep the Lead-Deadwood School District heading in a positive direction both financially and academically.  

 

Do you have a personal affinity for any area of education and learning that you would like to focus on? If so, what?

I would like to continue the work we have started with CTE (Career and Technical Education).  This is an important path for all of our students no matter what their post high school plans involve...military, workforce, or college.  It is a great way to help prepare our students for success beyond the school doors.  Our new Superintendent Dr Erik Person has a great deal of knowledge and experience in expanding CTE programs.  I look forward to working with Dr Person and our staff and community to continue to grow our CTE.

Do you see any problems with staff, curriculum, policies, etc., in the district? If so, what?  

I do not see any current problems with these areas.  However, we are always looking to improve with Professional Development, reviewing our policies, and updating our curriculum.  This past year has presented us with many challenges.  Our staff has risen to the challenge and faced them head on.  We have learned some really good things that are working for us and some that were not so great.  Growth is important in any field and we are always looking to improve.

 

How can the district best adapt to the declining enrollment?

The Lead-Deadwood School District has been studying and working with consultants for the past several years to help adapt to declining enrollment.  We have a strong long term plan and outlook to help guide what changes will need to be made and at what point.  Fortunately, we have not had as large of a decrease in enrollment as we had anticipated by this point so we do not have any plans in the near future for any changes.  No matter how small the classes get, it is very important to maintain quality teaching staff and class resources which are both priorities for our district.    


Tim Madsen

Name and what do you do for a living?

Timothy Madsen and I am a manager at Black Hills Energy.

What motivated you to run for this office?

I am concerned with providing an excellent education to our children. It is important to our country, state, and community that we provide an excellent education to our students whether they plan to join the work force out of high school, join the military, or attend vocational school or university.

Why do you think you are qualified for this position?

I feel that the last nine years as a part of the Lead Deadwood School Board has provided me a particular view of the challenges facing our school district. During that time, we have faced many trials from budgetary challenges and administration changes to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With regards to leadership, what other elected public or nonprofit offices have you held?

I have held many leadership positions during my career from owning multiple businesses to managing multiple million-dollar budgets. I have been an active member of my church for nearly 25 years, served on my church board as an elected member, and I have gone on many mission trips to foreign countries where we have planned and constructed projects.

How many school board meetings have you attended within the last year and during your candidacy?

During my time as an elected board member, I have attended over a hundred meetings. I have also attended many school board training sessions conducted by the Associated School Board of South Dakota.

Do you subscribe to your school district’s legal newspaper, the Black Hills Pioneer?

I purchase the Black Hills Pioneer daily from a nearby location as mail delivery is a day later than the stand.

What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in your district?

There are many concerns facing our Lead Deadwood School District like the fluctuations in enrollment, budgetary concerns and constraints, a change in administration leadership with a new Superintendent, as well as completion of our building projects. It is hard to say which of these concerns are the most important they are all interrelated needing knowledgeable, consistent, and experienced leadership.

How do you intend to solve these issues?

The school board has done an good job managing the budget and have increased teacher wages every year in contrast to other districts. Also, the board has provided excellent educational programing that many schools our size have not provided all while keeping in mind that the taxpayer’s interest must always be considered.

What do you believe is working for your district and how will you retain that progression?

As a school district we must have a vision of the future in an ever-changing world without forgetting the lessons and techniques of the past. The educational directions have provided many opportunities for our students, but we need to continue to consider additional avenues of programing to prepare our students for success after they leave the Lead Deadwood School District.

What is the single most important stance you want to take if elected to the school board?

The unity the present board displays is especially important to good governance, and, even though the board does not always agree, we have had spirited discussions. Throughout these discussions I believe we have done good job leading our district and changing that dynamic could potentially damage what has been accomplished.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

If re-elected, I plan to continue with the progress that the board has made over the last nearly nine years with excellent budgetary management and educational programing as well as support for our teachers and staff.

What else do you want people to know about you?

Many people may already know that I have lived in the Lead Deadwood School district most of my life. I attended elementary school in Lead, junior high in Deadwood and graduated from the Lead-Deadwood high school. My father was both a teacher and an administrator and two of my aunts were teachers within the district. The Lead Deadwood School District has been and continues to be very important to me personally.

Do you have a personal affinity for any area of education and learning that you would like to focus on? If so, what?

As technology improves, I would like to continue to support the efforts for our students to experience these improvements through school clubs, classes, speakers, and the like. In the end we must prepare the students to be successful when they graduate from Lead High School.

Do you see any problems with staff, curriculum, policies, etc., in the district? If so, what?

As with all school districts, balancing the desires of the educators and the needs of the students presents a budgetary challenge. Attempting to upgrade the district buildings to current codes, meeting the needs of technology of the students as well as maintaining healthy salaries for staff within budgets can create unintended tensions. I think it is important to provide value to our taxpayer’s as well as meet the needs of district.

How can the district best adapt to the declining enrollment?

The potential for a decline in student enrollment is a real challenge as it is affected by many variables outside of the schools control. For example, a few factors in enrollment numbers are affordable housing within our district as well as strong wages for our taxpayers and stakeholders.

To read all of today's stories, Click here or call 642-2761 to subscribe to our e-edition or home delivery.

0
0
0
0
0

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.