The June 2 municipal election for the Cole R-1 (Russellville) School District Board of Education has eight candidates seeking four available seats.
Three three-year terms and a one-year term are available.
Incumbent Rodney Edwards is running for a third term, and Adam Weber, Aaron Wyss, Elaine Buschjost, Renee Bungart and Ritchie Jenkins also are running for three-year terms.
Jenifer Seaver and Jesse Farris are running for a one-year term to complete the term of former board president Jerry Schulte.
The election was originally scheduled for April 7, but Gov. Mike Parson postponed all municipal elections to June 2 in light of concerns surrounding COVID-19.
CMNI asked the candidates to answer the following questions.
Why are you running for the school board?
Aaron Wyss: "I want to help make sure that the school, which has a historically positive reputation, is a place where children can excel and have a good day-to-day experience. I'd also like to makes sure the finances are well-handled as the school grows."
Adam Weber: "I grew up in Russellville, and my wife and I always wanted our children to attend a smaller school like Russellville. I think we have many exceptional local teachers, and I hope to support the staff at Russellville and help make decisions that will benefit our children and our community. Academics are important to us, and I want to ensure the school district has what it needs to prepare students for success after graduation."
Elaine Buschjost: "Having dedicated my career to education, and serving as a principal at Cole R-1, my appreciation of the role of the school board is paramount. As demands increase, the role of the school board is critical in addressing them together with the superintendent, administrators and teachers with professionalism, transparency and accountability. I appreciate the trust my community has put in me to look after the best interests of our children and contribute to our community."
Renee Bungart: "I am passionate about making a difference and giving back to others through public service. I retired after working 31 years in communications on environmental issues across the state. Public service is a calling, and its greatest reward is the sense of self it has given me. I believe my skills in communications and public service will be an asset to the school board and will allow me to continue to serve our community."
Jesse Farris: "I am running for the school board because my family and I are invested in this community. My Grandma and Grandpa Farris were Russellville graduates, as were my parents and I. Currently, my children are enrolled, and I want the school, the heart of the community, to be the best it can be for a long time to come."
Ritchie Jenkins: "I am running for the school board to help ensure that there is a consistent and logical voice on the board and to make sure that the students best interests are the top priority."
Jenifer Seaver: "I have been a lifelong resident of Russellville, and now have three children in the school district. I enjoy being involved in the community and seeing how we can work together to make it the best small community it can be. Having a strong school district is a huge part of this."
What are the biggest opportunities facing the district?
Wyss: "I think the school has big opportunities to improve communication with parents and to ensure all students have the material presented to them in a way that helps them succeed. Related to that, I think they have opportunities to continue to improve their ability to support students with unique needs."
Weber: "First, there are many local families and teachers who care very much about the Russellville school district. This community is our home, and we truly want it to succeed. Also, the Russellville community is not declining. Our proximity to Jefferson City helps us stay relevant and will help us grow. Finally, technology can help provide opportunities a small community might not otherwise experience."
Buschjost: "1. One of the best opportunities for our school district is that it is currently experiencing growth and is slated to continue that growth trend in the coming years. 2. We have great opportunity to attract and retain high-quality teachers through a robust recruitment plan, and support for continued professional growth. 3. Finally, our school community possesses the greatest resources in their students and families."
Bungart: "The recent pandemic has provided everyone with the opportunity to make improvements. Teaching takes passion and dedication to ensure our students stay focused and reach their full potential. I'm very proud of our district and parents for staying connected and providing our students with curriculum and finding new ways to learn. I want to provide open and honest communication as we continue to work together to identify problems and find solutions to improve our community."
Farris: "We live in a great community with potential for growth. We have small-town values and lifelong friendships."
Jenkins: "We are starting to see new families move into the community based on the quality of the education that the district provides, and we have to figure out how to capitalize on that momentum. We are also seeing that same momentum when it comes to teachers looking at our district, and we have to be able to hire and retain the most qualified staff. Lastly, how do we incorporate distant learning opportunities into our curriculum?"
Seaver: "The biggest opportunities for our district are building and implementing new sports programs that make the district more desirable for those looking to move to a smaller district, employing high quality teachers who are involved and love this community as much as we do, and building an academic program that allows high school students to earn college credits toward furthering their education prior to graduation, or allowing them to begin trade school education prior to graduation."
What are the biggest challenges facing the district?
Wyss: "I think that currently the biggest challenges are retaining and finding high-quality staff, preparing for future growth and managing the funds the community has entrusted us with."
Weber: "The growth we have seen recently could extend the district beyond our current facilities and staff capabilities if it continues. It will be a challenge to utilize our facilities as efficiently as possible. Additionally, our school staff needs to keep pace with ever-changing technology so students are ready for college and careers. A small community like ours is also going to struggle with sufficient revenue, and we need to make effective use of funds."
Buschjost: "In recent years, budget cuts have created problems for public schools. Less funding means fewer staff, resources and fewer services and opportunities for students. Our district is not immune to this challenge and in many ways has responded by passing a bond issue and tax levy which allows facility improvements. However, there is always ample opportunity to creatively do more with less as we look at our existing resources and fully utilize them to meet educational goals."
Bungart: "Students today are faced with enormous pressure to succeed. We must continue to examine our curriculum and instructional methods to ensure our students have the knowledge necessary to reach their full potential. I believe our district must offer as much STEM skills as possible. STEM embraces teaching skills and subjects in a way that are necessary for the real world such as problem solving, analytical thinking and the ability to work independently."
Farris: "Maintain clear, concise expectations. We need to get better at recruiting and retaining teachers. I'd like to see improvements in how we communicate."
Jenkins: "Obviously, this answer is much different today than it was even two months ago. I would say we have to figure out how the reopening of school will be handled and look this fall. We also will have to deal with the budget cuts to the school's funding over the next couple of years. Finally, how we do we keep our students safe and healthy but still provide them a quality education?"
Seaver: "Some of the biggest challenges we face are growth within the district. We are growing quickly and will need to begin figuring out how to accommodate the growth. We have some of the lowest teacher salaries in the state, which makes finding and keeping quality teachers harder."
All candidates were given the opportunity to respond. CMNI did not receive responses from Rodney Edwards.