By Crystal Hayduk
Six candidates running for three open Chelsea School District Board of Education seats attended a candidate forum on Oct. 5 in the chapel at the Chelsea Retirement Community (CRC).
The forum, moderated by Ann Kraft, was sponsored by CRC’s Social, Political, Environmental Issues Committee (SPEIC).
The candidates are running for six-year terms. Incumbents Laura Bush, Laurel McDevitt, and Steve Olsen, and newcomers Susie Catherman, Shawn Quilter, and Kristin van Reesema were given two minutes for opening statements, 90 seconds to answer questions, and one minute for closing statements. Candidates took turns being the first person to address the audience and answer each question.
Susie Catherman spoke about her 17 years as a Chelsea resident, married to the district’s band director and raising one daughter who is currently a freshman studying music at Western Michigan University. She comes from a family of educators, has worked in the field of education in various aspects (playground aide, library aide, athletic department, preschool) in South Haven and Chelsea. She’s volunteered for 25 years, but most recently with Meals on Wheels for six years, and currently works as a medical biller.
“I’m passionate about public education and I want to ensure that the students and teachers receive the respect that they deserve, and I would like all kids to get the same opportunities,” she said.
Laurel McDevitt said that she and all three of her children are products of Chelsea Schools. “Chelsea is a powerful, engaged, and motivated community, both in the school district and the larger community,” she said. McDevitt credited teachers for influencing her desire to move back to Chelsea.
Although she has been on the board for 13 years, McDevitt is running again because of the “time, energy, and effort” the board recently spent to hire a new superintendent. She believes that there is a strong foundation at this point, and looks forward to a good future.
Steve Olsen said he was born in Detroit and spent 1966-1972 in the United States Air Force. He graduated from the University of Michigan (U-M) Law School in 1976, and is still practicing law today. Olsen moved to Chelsea in 1986 and is married to a nurse who is employed at St. Joseph Mercy-Chelsea. Their son graduated from Chelsea High School in 2013 and is a senior at U-M studying engineering.
Olsen has served on the Chelsea School District Board of Education for 12 years, and is also a commissioner on the State Teacher Tenure Commission, with a term set to expire in 2019.
Shawn Quilter has lived in Chelsea for “a grand total of 19 years,” is married to Kelly and has two sons who are not yet old enough for school. He graduated from Chelsea High School in 1986. Over the last 20 years, he’s been a teacher, faculty member, and administrator in the College of Education at Eastern Michigan University (EMU).
Quilter listed three of his general goals and purpose for running for the board. “The first is to be a reflective and listening person who reflects community values and listens to what goes on and engages community,” he said. Quilter’s second goal is “to invigorate the district school improvement process,” a general process with which he has had experience. He said that his work with college students also offers him knowledge and perspectives about students who are coming out of high school.
Kristin van Reesema said that she believes she is “the best candidate for the school board” because she’s respectful of the community and can be a good representative for the school. She understands board processes and financial aspects through her service with the library board and her career as a mechanical engineer and project manager.
She has two children, a son who graduated from CHS and is now at Michigan State University, and a daughter who is currently a sophomore at the high school. She reviewed work she did on the library committee that helped to raise money for the new library and served on the board that hired the previous director.
Laura Bush has been on the school board for four years and has served on multiple committees. She was actively involved with hiring Dr. Julie Helber, the current superintendent who began her duties on July 1. Bush said that she has built a strong rapport with administration, teachers, and staff through her committee work and multiple involvements as a volunteer with the preschool, PTO, and on field trips.
She’s a pediatric nurse who works both at Mott Hospital and in a local pediatrician’s office. She and her husband have lived in Chelsea for 21 years and have three children – the oldest is in college and the younger two are attending Chelsea High School. “I want what’s best for the children of the community,” she said. “I’m committed to supporting our students and staff, and to provide the resources necessary to ensure that our students get the best education possible.”
Candidates addressed a total of six questions during the 90-minute event. They were asked to describe the top priority issues in education, policies for maintaining fiscal integrity and increasing student achievement, and their opinions about staffing schools with nurses, librarians, and counselors.
In light of October being Global Diversity Awareness Month, candidates were asked to provide their ideas for promoting diversity education in a community that isn’t very diverse.
Bush said that students can learn about diversity from parents at home, but also with the help of teachers and the educational programming at school. She said that the Chelsea School District may not have a great deal of racial diversity, but does have socioeconomic diversity.
Catherman said that with Chelsea’s location near Ann Arbor, it would be possible to bring groups or leaders from other cultures to provide presentations in Chelsea schools. She said there are aspects of diversity in Chelsea beyond skin color.
McDevitt said that diversity education should not be limited to one month of the year, but be part of an ongoing curriculum that is supported through planned field trips. “The eighth grade Washington, D.C. trip took our kids into a large city and allowed them to experience a lot of diversity,” she said. Additionally, extracurricular activities like music, sports, theater, and art provide diversity education.
Olsen said, “The structure of public school as designated by the state is geographically defined, so there’s not much you can do about that.” School of Choice may have some impact on the diversity of a student population, however, Chelsea is not a School of Choice at the present time. “You need to live diversity before you learn it,” he said.
Quilter said that he works with college students, and he finds similar issues related to diversity with them. His advice is to spend time with students to develop empathy and listening skills, which he believes are shared values that will help people to function in a diverse world.
van Reesema said that diversity for children begins with “parents embracing diversity.” Her family has hosted six foreign exchange students since 2008, which has taught her children a great deal about diversity. Her children also have volunteered at the Jackson Interfaith Shelter.
The candidates were asked one final, lighthearted and unexpected question. “Educators encourage our children at all grade levels to spend time reading each day. What are you currently reading and can you tell us in a sentence what it’s about?”
Catherman said that she reads “real books, not on a Kindle.” Although she couldn’t remember the exact name of the book she’s reading right now, she said, “It’s a gory, detective legal thriller – it’s good.”
McDevitt is reading two books. One is a professional development book by Eli Goldratt, and the other is the first book in the Harry Potter series, which she is reading along with her daughter who is at Central Michigan University to help to stay connected.
Olsen is reading “Hamilton.” He said he is a history buff and the book is the basis for a Broadway show of the same name. “I like to read about the past because I think we can learn what might happen in the future,” said Olsen.
Quilter is reading an educational psychology textbook for work. He described it as “fun,” and said that he is using it to teach his first online human development course.
van Reesema is listening to “Sous Chef” as a book on CD during long drives as part of a book club that she belongs to. “It’s all about what it’s like to be a sous chef. I’ve learned that’s not me at all,” she said.
Bush is reading a work-related book about pediatric emergency nursing.
Each candidate had one minute to summarize a takeaway for the evening.
McDevitt would like to serve another term on the board because of the “foundation that we’ve built and the time and energy we spent to hire the new superintendent.” She would like to continue to support Dr. Helber’s transition to the district. She said she loves the community and has lived here all of her life except for her years in college.
Olsen feels that his background makes him well-qualified to continue on the board. He said he has the “intense desire that the children of Chelsea are provided the best opportunity they have to be become whatever they can be. My decisions have always been focused on the children. They are our first priority and I would continue with that priority.”
Quilter attended CSD from fourth grade to graduation, participated in band and theater, and his education “played a role long after school was over. I want the same things for my kids.” He noted his experience as a budget manager, advocate, and leader in higher education.
van Reesema said that Chelsea is a great community, she loves the schools and teachers, and has had a wonderful experience here. With her experience, she said, “I believe I can do a great job on the board, so I’m asking for your vote.”
Bush said that she’s shown her ability to work collaboratively and build relationships with staff, administration and other board members. “I’d love to continue to be an advocate for our staff and students, keeping them at the center of board decisions.” She said that her combination of experience on the board and as a parent makes her a good candidate. “I truly believe that we have something special here in Chelsea.”
Catherman said that if she’s elected, “I would be a strong advocate for the teachers, staff, and students in the district. Chelsea is a very strong district. I’d like everyone to remember what’s most important in a school district, and that’s the teachers and it’s all about the kids.”
Moderator Kraft told the audience to be sure to vote. “Remember that this election is not just about the national things,” said Kraft. “We have a lot of local decisions to make. Vote the entire ballot.” A non-partisan guide and sample ballot can be found at www.vote411.org.