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Two vying for vacant seat on Willmar School Board

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Villars2 / 3
Amon3 / 3

WILLMAR — Voters in the Willmar School District will choose a new School Board member in an Aug. 22 special election.

Three candidates are on the ballot, but only two are still seeking the office — Mary Amon, a Willmar physician, and Monica Villars, an artist and retired teacher. The third candidate, Katherine McGill, withdrew from the race a week ago for personal reasons.

Absentee voting has started already. Ballots may be cast at the school district offices at the Willmar Education and Arts Center, 611 Fifth St. S.W., during regular business hours.

The district will have one polling place for voters in the entire school district on Aug. 22. The hours will be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and eligible voters who are not registered are able to register at the polls.

The person who wins the election will succeed Jared Anez, who died in March.

The candidates submitted answers to questions from the Tribune.

Why are you running for the school board in this special election?

Amon: Through my involvement in 4-H in high school, I became interested in government and public office. I have been considering a school board position for several years. However, given the ages of our children and the nature of our careers, it was difficult for me to participate. We are at the point in our family life where I have the time to be involved, as our youngest child is now of driving age. I am interested in keeping Willmar and the school district a strong presence in west central Minnesota. The community will continue to grow in the right direction if the school can continue to successfully educate its students to participate in a wide variety of employment opportunities and be contributing members to the city.

Villars: I am running for the board because I care about the education of Willmar's children and support Willmar public education. I have taught students in the Willmar district, I have taught teachers, and I have worked with other teachers statewide on content and the rigor of what we teach. Being a board member is another window to view education from and for me bring another viewpoint to the conversation. I am also a community member who is deeply concerned about the loss of the "arts" in the Willmar schools.

Please name the top two or three issues you believe the Willmar School Board is facing?

Amon: Recruitment and retention of staff: We need to keep our district attractive to young teachers and need to retain good teachers, as it is expensive to have them move in and out. Employees need good equipment and safe places to work. The community is to be congratulated for making district buildings a priority. The new Lakeland Elementary is an example of that.

Fiscal responsibility: As a community, we want children to have the most of their educational experience here, no matter what their abilities and possibilities are. We so need to keep options for extracurricular activities available, as they supplement education and shape students into well rounded citizens.

Educate the public: While the priority is educating children, the board needs to continue to educate those living in and around our district about education in outstate Minnesota and about the needs of students of 2017 and beyond.

Villars: - Finances/ teacher negotiations

- Supporting district staff

- Communications getting and keeping the best teachers in Willmar

How would you like to see the board handle the​ ​​issues you listed above?

Amon: There are many approaches that can be taken to address the issues above. Open communication with the teachers regarding retention issues is needed. Timely contract negotiations is necessary so the focus can be on students' needs in the district. I believe a school board member visiting with teachers and staff directly in their building can allow honest dialogue about pertinent issues even when opinions differ. We need to understand why parents choose to open-enroll their children in other public school districts and why high school students choose the PSEO options. Financially, the district budget is tight. The board has the duty to be honest and open with the taxpayers of the district about the needs of the students. The school board needs to maintain working relationships with area legislators so the needs of outstate Minnesota educators is understood when budgeting and allocation occurs in the state legislature.

Villars: I believe conversations, research and compromise are keys to finding answers.

Finances/ teacher negotiations: I do not think it is necessary to spend money for a lawyer to settle teacher contracts.

Supporting district staff: During the 17/18 school year some teachers/staff will be required to move to another building without compensation. As a board member I would volunteer my help to staff with that process.

Communications: I would like to see each board member adopt a school site and visit with all staff during the school year. I would like to see a "search" box on the district's web site for easier access for the community and staff. If possible I would sit in on the "Meet & Confer" meetings. I think at least 2 board members should be at each meeting. This is a built in opportunity for face to face communication between board members and teachers.

Background information

Name: Monica Villars

Age: 60

Family: I have a supportive extended family

Education: U of Wisconsin-River Falls, K-12 Art Education; Mankato State University, K-12 Special Education; Minneapolis College of Art & Design, Masters in Fine Arts; S.E.E.D. Training, Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity in the classroom.

Occupation: Visual artist, co-founder of DEMO Inc. (Developing Exploring Maintaining Originality through the ARTS), 501c3 organization; retired teacher

Community involvement: Awards & Grants — WEM Outstanding Educator Award "Ethics in Education" Award 2006; Fulbright Education - Japan Education Exchange; SMAC - Southwestern Minnesota ARTS council Art Education in the the classroom; Taiko Drumming - Theatre Mu; Theatre & Music/diversity - Stepping Stone Theatre; board president of DEMO inc;

Mentor youth who are completing community service hours; face painter at the annual Willmar Fest & Celebrate Art community events; served on Kandiyohi County Diversion board; Kandiyohi County foster parent 10+ years' Southwest Minnesota ARTS Council; served on the Minnesota Department of Education Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Accountability Committee

Name: Mary M. Amon, MD

Age: 52

Family: Husband Anthony Amon, MD; children Gabriel, 24, Amelia, 21, Natalie, 18, and Dominic, 16

Education: Breckenridge Senior High School, 1979-1983; Concordia College, Moorhead, BA Biology, 1983-1987; medical school — University of Minnesota, Duluth 1987-1989, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MD degree 1989-1991; Graduate Medical Education: Sioux Falls Family Medicine Residency 1991-1994

Occupation: Family medicine physician, Family Practice Medical Center, 1994-present, active medical staff member, Rice Memorial Hospital, 1994-present; professional organizations — American Medical Association, Minnesota Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians

Community Involvement: YMCA Board 2017-present; Cardinal Pride Board, 2008-2014, past president 3 terms; various other committees and volunteer positions through children's school activities; Church of St. Mary, past Sunday School and Faith Formation teacher; Girl Scout leader 2001-2011

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340