Editor's Note: The Courier reached out to all four candidates for Menno School Board and invited them to respond to this Q&A. Challenger Bryan Kludt declined. What follows are the responses from challenger Jon Schempp and incumbents Justin Plooster and Mary Schoenfish.
Occupation: District Superintendent for Northwestern Energy
Family: Carlotta, Kaylie, Salome’ and Julius
Occupation: Self employed @ JP Blade Runners
Husband - William
Children - Kari, Cassie (husband Ryan), Robert (wife Abby).
Grandchildren - Savanah, Valerie, Jensen ad Lillian
WHY ARE YOU RUNNING FOR ELECTION/RE-ELECTION?
Plooster: I am running for re-election to do my part in making the Menno School a wonderful learning environment for all the children who attend there. To help guide this school to the best that it can be.
Schempp: I would like our kids to have the same positive experience I had when I attended Menno Public School.
Schoenfish: I am running for re-election because I value education and its importance in our community. I want the Menno School District to continue to be top of the line and provide a good education for the future generations of Menno and South Dakota. I have three children who graduated from Menno and continue to live in the Menno school district. My husband and I both graduated from Menno and now the next generation of my grandchildren are attending school in Menno.
WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU/WOULD YOU BRING TO THE MENNO SCHOOL BOARD?
Plooster: I am a local businessman with a history of being a registered nurse as well as a journeyman lineman. I also an active member in the Salem Reformed Church, Menno Fire Dept., and the Menno Athletic Club. I believe our qualities are better measured by the character of person that we are to others. I will bring honesty and hard work to any of my positions.
Schempp: I have high expectations of administration and staff to improve student achievement. I believe boards should be accountability driven.
Schoenfish: I bring the quality of longevity to the board. I am a good listener and a critical thinker who will continue to seek the facts, consider alternatives and options, and vote with strong morals for the best options for our district. During my years on the board, I served under many different administrations with different styles and values. The first 2-3 years are just learning years on the board, but throughout my years of service, I have gained valuable experience and will continue to serve the community of Menno.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STATE OF THE MENNO SCHOOL DISTRICT?
Plooster: I believe the state of the Menno School District is good at the time. We are experiencing hard times as a world and a nation. We are navigating in troubled waters. But we are resilient and will get through these times. I feel we have an amazing school of teachers to lead our children into the future.
Schempp: From my point of view, the morale of teaching staff and students is not conducive to a positive learning environment. I make this point based on conversations with community members and students. Their feedback reflects there is room for improvement.
Schoenfish: Menno is a strong school district with a very high quality teaching staff and excellent support people. We all work well together and have gone through many improvements and changes over the past several years, all of which I believe have just made our district grow and become stronger. State Accreditation was a killer, very demanding, with many hoops to jump through and the fear of losing funding if we didn’t pass accreditation, but our teachers really stepped up and did what needed to be done and passed with flying colors. Menno was one of the first districts to be chosen for accreditation. Some of surrounding districts are facing this challenge this coming year and some will be farther in the future. So after weathering the storm, Menno School District became a much stronger, better, high quality district. My thanks to you (teachers)!!
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE CURRENTLY FACING THE DISTRICT?
Plooster: At this time I believe the state of our nation is the biggest challenge right now. Our children are not in school because of a rapid spreading virus in our country. We are not the only ones facing these troubles. But we are standing strong and still trying to teach our children by any means possible. I want to applaud the wonderful teachers we have in all they do to accomplish this. We definitely need to have faith at this time.
Schempp: Attracting and keeping qualified teachers that want to be a part of this community.
Schoenfish: Right now: providing education, support, stability and caring for our students during this COVID-19 pandemic. Before CoVid-19, I believe the biggest challenge is surviving in education under the new funding requirements, losing our other revenues and not receiving adequate support from the state, more and more unfunded state and federal mandates, and declining student numbers. Even if just two or three students leave the district, the financial impact is felt.
ATHLETIC COOPERATIVES AND SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION HAVE BEEN TRENDING IN THE LAST 20 YEARS. HOW CLOSELY SHOULD MENNO BE PAYING ATTENTION TO ONE, THE OTHER OR BOTH?
Plooster: Cooperatives and consolidation will always be talked about amongst smaller schools. At this time I believe we are sitting very well as a school but always have to be prepared for what the future has in store for us.
Schempp: Cooperatives and consolidations have been and will be a solid option for small schools trying to survive in shrinking rural communities.
Schoenfish: We have during the past 10 years or so, often discussed future options for consolidation. We have expanded our building, built a new Ag shop and will soon be updating the elementary wing with new windows. All these improvements put us in a good position to attract consolidation our way. Right now Menno or the surrounding school districts are not in dire need to consolidate. We are not in financial difficulty but in five to seven years, if funding continues the way it is, finances will be very tighter and districts may need to change drastically. Funding from the state now barely covers the salary increases that the funding formula requires us to make, so each year we are dipping into our fund balances more and more. Eventually the “well” gets too low. We continue to watch our financial situation very closely and will continue discussion. We currently co-op football with Marion and this has been a successful endeavor so that both of our schools can continue to offer football to our student athletes. It’s a creative way to preserve this sport and I’m glad it’s working so well. Football is one sport that is very difficult to practice and play without adequate numbers.
IS THERE A PIECE OF CURRICULUM THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE BOLSTERED OR PAID CLOSER ATTENTION TO? IF SO, WHAT?
Plooster: At this time, I feel we are doing very well as a small school. There is a lot more technology available to our children than when I was in school. I feel our teachers are doing a great job in teaching our children.
Schempp: Science, math, technology and skilled vocations.
Schoenfish: Our district has updated much of the curriculum during the past two years. We have a good balance of all subjects. I would personally like to see more attention put on handwriting in all grades. Although the world is definitely technology orientated, handwriting is still used in day to day living.
IS THERE PART OF THE PHYSICAL PLANT THAT NEED ATTENTION? IF SO, WHAT?
Plooster: Nothing comes to mind here. As you all know there has been a lot of changes to our school in the last few years and feel very blessed with the facilities we have to offer our students.
Schempp: No. Menno facilities are fantastic.
Schoenfish: I have served through many phases of expansion.
FINALLY, WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE THE VOTERS TO KNOW?
Schempp: If elected, I will be an engaged and committed board member working towards improving the Menno School experience.
Plooster: If I could say anything to the voters about this position it would be that no one is perfect. We all do the very best we can do to have a school that we can challenge our children to be the very best they can be. I have enjoyed my time on the school board and giving of myself to try and give the children of this district the best opportunity they can have for the future.
Schoenfish: No response.