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Q and A with Chelsea School District Board of Education Candidates

By Crystal Hayduk

Voters will have the choice of four candidates—one a write-in—on Nov. 3 to fill two open seats on the Chelsea School District (CSD) Board of Education. Incumbents Dana Durst and Tammy Lehman are joined by newcomers Eric Wilkinson and Mark VanDeWege (the write-in candidate) in a race to serve the district for the six-year terms.

Chelsea Update asked the candidates to answer questions about key issues and to provide background information. In alphabetical order, candidate responses are below.  

Terris Ahrens, executive director of the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce, has confirmed plans to host a virtual public forum with the candidates in October. When a date and time are scheduled, an announcement will be published on Chelsea Update, as well as a request for questions to be submitted.

Courtesy photo. Dana Durst

Dana Durst

What is your occupation?

Director of Operations at Comfort Keepers, based out of Dexter. The Comfort Keepers mission is to provide the best in-home caregiving services to aging seniors who wish to maintain their independence.

What is your education?

Chelsea High School 1991, Michigan State University 1995

Have you previously been elected to office? 

Chelsea School District Board of Education trustee for six years.

 

Do you serve on any boards or committees in the community?

Chelsea School District Board of Education (BOE) liaison to Chelsea Senior Center and Beach Middle School

Girls Basketball representative for the Chelsea Athletic Boosters

What ideas do you have regarding COVID-19 response in the school district?

My hope is that we can bring our students back to our school community and our amazing educators, coaches, and staff safely and as soon as possible.

I trust that those tasked with these decisions are making tough choices with the best of intentions and will continue to openly listen to input from all stakeholders as well as medical professionals.

What are your thoughts about School of Choice at this point? 

I feel confident that our District has a good policy in place and mindfully reviews this process.

Key Issues: Briefly identify the top two issues of your campaign; why you are running for the Board of Education?

I choose to run for School Board so I can actively contribute to our school district.

Key issues evolve. I try to adapt accordingly and listen.

Summary: Can you explain how you will address the two key issues you’ve chosen?

I will continue to share my viewpoint as well as the viewpoints shared with me by members of our community to our Superintendent and School Board.

I will continue to listen to the viewpoints of others including, but not limited to, the other board members (and community member viewpoints shared with them) to our School Board and Superintendent.

I will continue to be grateful to those working hard to provide an amazing school community for our youth.

Do you have a website? 

No

Personal information: 

I am 46 years old, divorced, and have four children who are my favorite people:

Tyler (19) graduated from Chelsea in 2019 and is a sophomore at Grand Valley State University, Jessica (17) is a Senior at CHS, Brandon (16) is a Junior at CHS, and Courtney (15) is a Sophomore at CHS.


Courtesy photo. Tammy Lehman

Tammy Lehman

What is your occupation?

Associate Broker at Lehman & Scheffler Real Estate Services in Chelsea.  I manage the only small locally owned Real Estate Company in Chelsea with 7 full time REALTORS.   

What is your education?

Associates Degree at Washtenaw Community College, then I attended Eastern Michigan University to complete a Degree in Business. I received my REAL ESTATE LICENSE in 1998, my REAL ESTATE BROKERS License in 2014, and have completed many certifications as part of that including ABR & CRS CERTIFICATIONS.

Have you previously been elected to office?

I was first elected to Chelsea School Board in 2010, then re-elected in 2014. I am running for re-election for a new 6-year term. I am currently the Vice President of the Board as well as the Policy Committee Chair, the Chelsea High School Liaison, the Chelsea Student Board Liaison Chair and I also serve on the Bond Committee. Since 2010 I have served in many capacities; as a Chelsea School Board Trustee, the School Board Treasurer and also the School Board Vice President. I have also served on various committees including Negotiations, Policy, Finance, Reproductive Health, School Improvement & The Senior Center Board Liaison. I have also been liaisons to all of the schools in Chelsea including: North Creek, South Meadows and Beach Middle School. I was awarded the Award of Merit from the MASB (Michigan Association of School Boards) in March 2017 and awarded in January 2018 at a MASB conference and recognized at a later board meeting.

Do you serve on any boards or committees in the community?

I am very engaged and involved in the community and have served and sponsored many different events in Chelsea, including the Chelsea Community Fair, Chelsea Livestock Auction, Smoke & Ale Festival, CEF (Chelsea Education Foundation), United Way, Faith in Action, Chelsea Recreation Department, Chelsea Athletic Boosters, Sounds & Sights on Thursday Nights as well as community events both at the Chelsea Library and Senior Center. Currently I am a member of the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) where I was appointed by the City of Chelsea. I am a current member of the Sounds & Sights Festival Committee and have served on the Senior Center Board.

What ideas do you have regarding COVID-19 response in the school district?

I was disappointed that the district didn’t go with the hybrid system so the students and parents had the choice to go in person, all virtual or a combination of in person and virtual.

What are your thoughts about School of Choice at this point?

Chelsea is School of Choice. I was against School of Choice originally because an administrator at an adjoining district approached me when we first started talking in community forums. This administrator from another district had concerns that her struggling district would be devastated and they would have to make cuts to programming and lay off teachers if Chelsea opened to School of Choice. Her concerns were that parents that had the means would absolutely move their children to Chelsea given the opportunity. And what would remain would be the kids without the ability or means to get to Chelsea. With less foundation allowance, their district would face devastating cuts and might not survive. My second reason was because I don’t think education should be competitive, I don’t think that districts need to “steal” children away from adjoining districts that are less/under served. Lastly, because I believe that students and parents living in the district are more engaged and involved in the community as a whole. They volunteer time and want to make the community in which they live better. Although I absolutely agree that Chelsea made the right decision in how they implemented School of Choice and by limiting School of Choice enrollment they protected the communities around them from financial burden. Keeping numbers small was definitely the best choice and I support that decision.

Key Issues: Briefly identify the top two issues of your campaign; why you are running for the Board of Education?

Definitely hard to give two key issues. There are many more including virtual learning, the back to school and hybrid options going forward. These plans will continue to be fluid as the state and CDC recommendations change and the administration finds the best way to support our students through the next several months in both virtual/home environments and the addition of in hybrid/in school options going forward.

One of the reasons I am running for school board again is because I want to finish up the work with the Bond Committee. The last several years we have been working to run a successful bond campaign. That campaign brought together stakeholders, students and parents to run and pass an $81 million bond which will improve each and every building in the district. These improvements in consortium, tech space, improvements in technology, classroom furnishings, labs, gym space, transportation, adding STEAM space, adding outdoor learning areas, and most importantly adding safety features at the buildings by secured entry points will bring our buildings in the 21st century will be extensive. I feel I have a unique advantage to help since I was involved with the planning, the community focus groups, the bidding and construction meetings since day one. I want to ensure the residents of Chelsea that I will do everything in my power to make sure that the money is well spent.  I want to ensure that we are doing what the taxpayers entrusted us to do.

Secondly, I feel that my expertise and ability to engage with the community has been beneficial to the board. I have and continue to make sure that the residents of the district have a voice in all aspects including policy, programming, enrichments, athletics and extracurriculars. I will continue to advocate for the residents and students of Chelsea to ensure that their needs are being met and that we remain a community with an exceptional school system.

Summary: Can you explain how you will address the two key issues you’ve chosen?

Continue my work on bond by attending construction and planning meetings.

Continue to reach out on important topics to help foster discussion and communication with the staff, administration and families of the school district. 

Do you have a website? 

https://www.facebook.com/TammyLehmanChelseaSchoolBoard/

Personal information:

I am 46 and I am married and have one daughter who graduated from Chelsea High School this year.


Courtesy photo. Mark VanDeWege

Mark VanDeWege (Write-in candidate; official paperwork filed with Washtenaw County Clerk’s office on Sept. 9.)

What is your occupation?

Managing Partner at Anthony Wilder Design/Build, Inc. in Cabin John, MD (suburb of Washington, DC).

What is your education?

Calvin Christian High School (Grandville, MI) Class of 1995

B.A. Psychology from The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Class of 1999 

Have you previously been elected to office?

No

Do you serve on any boards or committees in the community?

Phi Alpha Kappa Fraternity (The Dutch House) Alumni Board 2018 – Present

Staff-Parish Relations Committee at Chelsea First United Methodist Church 2020 – Present (3-year term)

Nursery and Sunday School volunteer at Chelsea First United Methodist Church 2015 – Present

What ideas do you have regarding COVID-19 response in the school district?

I do not envy the schoolteachers, administrators, or students who have to deal with this. All three groups deserve to work in a safe and healthy environment where they feel as protected as possible. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. In-person education is obviously the best way for our kids to learn, but how is that accomplished in a way that everyone feels safe? The schools, teachers, parents, and students have to be willing to be flexible and be ready to accept that change is going to be a part of this school year. I know there are families where the parents work and virtual learning is incredibly difficult to accommodate. I know there are families without suitable broadband internet at home, making remote learning virtually impossible. I know there are families with vulnerable family members at home and going to in-class school isn’t an option they can consider. I know that the kids aren’t going to have some of the same wonderful memories I have of my school years because they’re missing out on spending this time in class with friends. Even when a vaccine becomes available, I know there are families who won’t be comfortable getting their kids vaccinated at first and maybe not ever.

All of this uncertainty means that we all need to be flexible and empathetic to others’ situations. In addition to being flexible and empathetic, this also gives us the opportunity to make technology, such as broadband internet access, more widely available to all students. It’s a necessary investment now to give all students equal access to effective virtual learning, but the positive effects will outlast COVID-19, which will eventually come to an end even though it feels like it’s been going on forever.

What are your thoughts about School of Choice at this point?

I support Schools of Choice and expanding it from its current level. Chelsea students will benefit by being exposed to people, cultures, and ideas that are different from what they’ll find in Chelsea. For those students who will go on to college, join the military, or do something else that will lead them beyond Chelsea, it is beneficial to see more of what the rest of our world is like.

Chelsea Public Schools offer a terrific educational opportunity and I think we have a moral obligation to help other children get an education that’s as good as the one we offer our children in Chelsea and Schools of Choice is one small way we can do that. In addition to what you know, who you know is a precursor to having a great career. There are plenty of knowledgeable and successful small business owners, professionals, and tradespeople in Chelsea who can help our children, regardless of where they are from, succeed in their future endeavors.

Key Issues: Briefly identify the top two issues of your campaign; why you are running for the Board of Education?

I am running to be a voice for ALL students. In discussions with teachers, it has been a common theme – ALL students need to feel that they are important and valued. Harassment of students based on their race, gender, religion, or sexual/gender identity has no place in our community or our schools.

One of my biggest concerns as a parent of a child entering the Chelsea school system is the high number of kids dying by suicide. Mental health awareness needs to be talked about and talked about. The effects of the pandemic on our children’s mental health need to be studied and addressed and worked on.

Summary: Can you explain how you will address the two key issues you’ve chosen?

There has to be zero tolerance for ANY harassment. No more turning a blind eye or a deaf ear when these episodes occur, consequences are necessary. I propose adopting some of ARCY’s (Anti-Racist Chelsea Youth) curriculum suggestions, such as incorporating the works of minority playwrights and musicians in our schools.

We need to increase the mental health offerings at Chelsea schools. The anxiety and stress caused by living through a pandemic and missing out on the social activities with friends and classmates is something we need to get ahead of as a community by consulting with experts on the best course of action and then developing and incorporating a plan to prevent this drastic undoable act of last resort.

Do you have a website? 

https://www.facebook.com/mvandewege

Personal information:

I am 43 years old, married with two children. Our daughter is 6 and in Kindergarten at North Creek Elementary and our son will be 4 on September 12. He will attend Young 5s at North Creek in September 2021.


Courtesy photo. Eric Wilkinson.

Eric Wilkinson

What is your occupation?

Product and marketing manager

What is your education?

Central High School, Macon, GA – 1998

US Military Academy, West Point, NY – BS Geography 2002

Pennsylvania State University – MBA 2010

Have you previously been elected to office?

This is my first time running for elected office.

Do you serve on any boards or committees in the community?

I am active in my church (Dexter United Methodist Church) and serve on a church committee focused on our children services.

What ideas do you have regarding COVID-19 response in the school district?

I think it is imperative that we return to face-to-face learning as quickly as possible and in a manner that is as safe as possible. I am worried by how far our students may have fallen behind with the long gap between now and when school was suspended in March. I don’t believe that remote learning can meet the needs of all of our students especially when so many in the district do not have access to reliable high-speed internet.

As much as I want the schools to return to face-to-face learning, I recognize that remote learning will likely be a necessity for much of this school year. It is critical that the district ensures that children are being instructed to the standards of the curriculum.

What are your thoughts about School of Choice at this point?

I think school choice can be beneficial for both students, parents and the district.

I grew up in a large school district where school choice did not exist. There was a wide disparity between the best and worst schools. I have seen how school choice helps to create a climate that reduces this disparity.

Parents are ultimately the ones responsible for the education of their children. They generally best understand their children’s needs and strengths. I believe that school choice provides parents and students with the opportunity to find the school and educational environment that will be the best fit for them.

I think the exercise of this choice leads to school districts being more responsive and flexible to the educational needs of the children in the district. In doing so, the district as a whole can be bettered.

From a financial standpoint, the board’s policy should support school choice but in a way that does not unduly burden the taxpayers of our district. The overall capacity and capital expenditures should be based on the district’s current and future population; however, school choice can and should be used to help to even out fluctuations that might occur between different year groups.

Key Issues: Briefly identify the top two issues of your campaign; why you are running for the Board of Education?

Providing a quality education for all students in our community.

Providing a safe and welcoming environment.

Summary: Can you explain how you will address the two key issues you’ve chosen?

I will work to ensure that we are setting the right goals and direction for the district and that the district is meeting our commitment to providing a quality education to all of our students. This is especially critical as we recover from the effects of the COVID lockdown.

We cannot expect to be successful in our educational goals if there is not a safe and welcoming environment for our children to learn. I will work to ensure that the district continues to maintain a safe environment through ever changing threats like COVID.

Do you have a website?

www.voteforericwilkinson.com

https://www.facebook.com/WilkinsonforChelseaSchools

Personal information:

I grew up in Macon, GA, where I lived with my parents and brother. I grew up in a family where education was important and watched the challenges my mother faced as a public-school teacher for 30 years. After graduating from high school, I earned a bachelor’s degree in Geography from the US Military Academy at West Point. I served in the Army for 6 years as an Armor officer including three overseas deployments to Kosovo and Iraq twice.

Since leaving active duty, I have had various product management and marketing roles within the mining and construction industry. I have managed multimillion-dollar product portfolios which provides me with fiscal experience needed as a board member.

I am 40 years old and live in Sylvan Township. I have been married to my lovely wife, Lacey, for almost 15 years and we are raising our three boys (10, 8, and 3). Our oldest two sons are enrolled in Chelsea schools.

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4 thoughts on “Q and A with Chelsea School District Board of Education Candidates”

  1. I wonder if Dana Durst will get more voting attention because she is the main picture for this article?

    All in all, I appreciate these types of articles where you get to know a bit more about the person you are voting for rather than looking at the voting sheet and going.. who are these people..

    Thanks Chelsea Update and Crystal Hayduk for providing these articles!

    • As the article states, the candidates were listed alphabetically therefore her photo went with her information.

  2. Lisa,

    Yes, the photo should go with there information. That isn’t what I was referring to. The main photo for the whole article, when you scroll through all the articles on the main page, has just her photo.

    My question was if there is a subconscious phycological relationship between the main picture subject and who people will be inclined to vote for. Kind of like watching a movie and you see the main protagonist drinking a particular brand of beverage.

    Just a passing thought… have a great one!

  3. I have a question regarding Tammy Lehman’s education. She listed: “Associates Degree at Washtenaw Community College, then I attended Eastern Michigan University to complete a Degree in Business.”

    Did she receive a business degree from the EMU College of Business? The wording would indicate she did not graduate but attended. The inference is that she graduated. Can you clarify?

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