By Lisa Carolin
Chelsea school board candidates spoke to a packed house in City Council Chambers Oct.17.
The forum provided an opportunity to get to know the four candidates vying for two open seats for six-year terms on the Chelsea School District Board of Education.
The forum was presented by the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce, and Paul Schissler, vice president of the chamber’s board of directors, was the moderator.
The candidates, Ryan Barney, James Parry Eyster, Marina Martinez-Kratz, and Keri Poulter, began by introducing themselves. (See Chelsea Update story about candidates’ backgrounds at https://chelseaupdate.com/meet-your-chelsea-boe-candidates/)
Schissler started with planned questions, and asked what the candidates feel the current challenges are facing public education in Michigan.
Both Martinez-Kratz and Barney said funding is a major challenge, and Barney also said, “Balancing what we want as a community with what is mandated by the government” is another big challenge.
“Preparing students for the changes in our future,” was Poulter’s response. “A lot of the jobs our children will face haven’t been created yet, and we need to know how to change curriculum to adjust to those changes.”
Eyster cited that students feel a loss of control and have more stress and anxiety than in the past.
“We can see it manifest itself with suicide and depression,” said Eyster. “We need to prevent losing a child, and get rid of more guidelines from the top and empower students.”
As far as what the candidates want to focus on improving, Poulter suggested helping students feel like their education is relevant and adding independent learning programs.
Eyster talked about improving the ability to reach out to families in the school district to make sure everyone’s needs are met.
Barney said, “I’d like to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and giving vocational opportunities.”
“The mental health of our students is a primary concern of mine,” said Martinez-Kratz. “We’ve lost several students in the last few years and need to address that.”
Schissler also brought up the topic of the current teacher contract negotiations, and asked the candidates what school board members can do to ease tensions in the community.
“It’s an emotional thing not having a contract,” said Martinez-Kratz. “You’re talking about their livelihood. It’s important for people to be able to express themselves freely.”
“Relationships need to be fostered frequently,” said Poulter. “Make sure accurate information is being shared. If you are sympathetic to other’s needs and listen, you can come together and make decisions.”
Eyster mentioned the importance of getting the viewpoints from people who feel they might not be heard, and Ryan said that it’s important for both sides to listen to the other side’s opinions and ideas.
Members of the audience provided their own questions to Schissler, at which point during the forum Martinez-Kratz had to leave. Among the questions from the audience was defining the primary purpose of a public school education.
Eyster emphasized the importance of providing a sense of community and continuity to young people. Poulter stressed the importance of preparing students to be community members, and Barney said, “It’s about learning to get along with others, to express ideas, overcome conflict, learn who you are, what you believe, and what kind of person you want to become.”
Another question from the audience was what the school district can do to improve inclusivity.
“I encourage my children to put themselves in another person’s shoes,” said Poulter. “It’s important for parents and educators to do that too.”
“Inclusivity comes from our example as parents, administrators and board members being respectful of others,” said Eyster.
Barney talked about sitting down with those students not involved in anything and encouraging them to get involved in various programs.
In response to the question about how to win the best candidates for teaching positions in Chelsea, Barney and Eyster stressed being financially competitive.
“Recruiting and attracting teachers boils down to teachers feeling valued and feeling that they have flexibility in how they teach and how they fit into the school district,” said Poulter.
As far as how the candidates plan to engage all the stakeholders, Poulter said by encouraging people to come to school board meetings and being a part of the process.
Barney said by communicating to all the stakeholders and by being available.
“By creating liaisons to share issues,” said Eyster, citing a recent decision at one of the district’s elementary schools not to let parents come into the classrooms with children. “All stakeholders should be formally introduced to these important issues.”