Voters who live in the Marshall School District boundaries have the opportunity to decide who will fill three board seats during the spring election. With two of the incumbents choosing not to seek out re-election, there will be a guaranteed pair of new faces on the board.
Board Clerk Heather Herschleb has decided to seek another term on the board, but faces multiple challengers.
Returning to the ballot is Justin E. Rodriguez, who ran for the school board in 2020 but was not elected. Joining him are newcomers Jeff Bettin, Allison Fuelling, and Tabitha Ramminger.
Candidate Christie Eilders said due to unforeseen circumstances, she is choosing not to continue with the election. However, her name will still appear on the ballot.
Each candidate was contacted to have a phone interview with The Courier; Ramminger did not reply to the request.
Herschleb, a human resources specialist for the DeForest Area School District, is finishing up her first term on the Marshall School Board. Rodriguez, a biomanufacturing associate, does not have any previous board experience. Fuelling, an instructional coach for Sun Prairie School District, currently serves on the Marshall Scholarship Committee Board, and Bettin, a vehicle salesman, had previously served on the first responders board of directors in the community of West Salem.
Herschleb is married and has two children, both of whom graduated from Marshall High School. Rodriguez is engaged and has two children, including a daughter who attends the Early Learning Center. Bettin is married and has three children, all of who are enrolled in the Marshall public schools. Fuelling is married and has two daughters – one who attends Marshall Middle School and one who is a student at Marshall High School.
Why are you running for a spot on the Marshall School Board?
Herschleb is seeking a second term “basically for the same reasons I ran for my first term.” Her children had different learning styles and both benefited from the academic programs provided by the district in addition to co-curriculars and extra-curriculars offered by the Marshall School District.
“I think it’s really important with the current economic state that we’re in, that we’re able to provide academically what every child needs to learn … and provide all the experiences that we can enrichment-wise to make sure they have a bunch of different experiences,” the incumbent said. “All of that put together kind of creates the whole package of allowing them to get the future that they want and encourages them to be life-long learners.”
Rodriguez decided to run for the board because of his daughter.
“I want to see a change with how things are going and want to see Marshall move forward,” he said. “And if you want to see the change, you have to be the change.”
Bettin is running because he has always tried to be involved with the community he lives in and find sways to give back. The candidate feels this is especially important for people who live in smaller communities as a way to get to know the other residents of the community.
“Besides that, with my two boys being in the special ed program, I feel like I want to try to help our district to serve them better,” Bettin said. “I feel like we spend a lot of time trying to get people with disabilities to adapt to our way of life… rather than spending a lot of time on how we’re going to get people not in the special ed program or don’t have IEPs (individual education plans) to adapt to the needs of people with disabilities.”
He would like to help the district implement policies or structures to possibly improve that area and help educate students and staff about people with disabilities.
Fuelling chose to run as she previously worked in the Marshall School District for 16 years and misses being able to have an influence in the district.
“I would like to use my experience in public education to benefit the students of Marshall who I fell in love with 20 years ago,” she said.
The candidate believes her diverse experience in K-12 education would be an asset to the board.
Other than the budget, what is the biggest challenge facing the Marshall School District and how would you address it?
Herschleb said in light of the pandemic, the mental health and wellness of students is going to be a challenge for the remainder of the current school year and next year.
“I think our students have experienced a wide-array of emotions and they’ve had to go through so many experiences that have impacted them,” the incumbent said. “I think the mental health awareness will have to be a really big focus.”
She believes addressing the challenge could including increasing the number of staff who work with students’ mental wellness such as counselors and psychologists in addition to looking at what other resources are available through the CESA. Herschleb also said student mental health could be addressed by having staff do more check-ins with students and identify possible mental health challenges early on.
Rodriguez said one of the challenges is keeping students interested in schooling, particularly after the pandemic has changed many things.
“Going off numbers from the previous year, it looked like kids, academic-wise, were falling behind in certain areas,” he said. “I think giving teachers the resources they need and giving the kids the resources they need so they can excel.”
The candidate said to address the challenge, he would like the school board to really listen to what the staff, students and parents believe will help students excel and not just throw money at the issue. Rodriguez said it would be important to be open to all possibilities.
Bettin said he would like to see more school funds spent on special education and creating a dual language program. He feels it would be beneficial for more staff and aids to be hired for the special education program.
Additionally, the candidate would like to see the district use money to create a dual-language program. His children previously attending Nuestro Mundo Community School, a dual-language charter school, where students were taught to speak, read and write in Spanish and English.
“I know 30% of the population in the Waterloo and Marshall area is Hispanic,” Bettin said. “And we don’t teach Spanish until seventh grade. I would like to see that at an earlier age.”
He feels this would not only help give students a leg up when they look for careers later in life, it creates a more welcoming school and community environment for people of other cultures.
Fuelling believes the biggest challenge facing the district in the short-term is having students and staff returning to in-person instruction and rebuilding in a way that takes what the district has learned during the pandemic to build a district where all students will succeed.
“Recovery and rebuilding and not necessarily going back to normal but we now face different challenges because the pandemic has effected people of different income levels differently and the school serves everyone of those kids,” the former district employee said. “How do you build a system that serves what all kids need.”
The long-term challenge Fuelling feels the district faces is equitable student achievement.
The candidate feels both can be addressed by figuring out how many students did better in a distance learning situation and deciding what new instructional strategies served all children better.
Furthermore, Fuelling feels the district needs to reach out to families whose student struggled with distance learning and even lost contact with the Marshall schools. The candidate would like the schools to reach out to those students and families and listen to what the children need.
If elected to the school board, what would be your two priorities and why?
Herschleb said her first priority would be the district’s budget; she thinks the Marshall School District has a strong commitment to retaining staff and keeping programs in the district running as best as it can.
“The community has always said that’s a focus,” she said. “I think we’re going to have to be very creative in looking at our budget.”
The incumbent said the second priority would be ensuing the district stay on top of retaining staff – making sure the salaries are in line, meeting their training needs, and making sure the staff are being supported in the classroom.
“It’s not always financial, it’s about training and learning groups in the school and making sure the admin team is aware of what they need,” Herschleb said.
Rodriguez said his first priority would be ensuring teachers and students have the proper resources.
“I believe if we keep our teachers happy, we can keep all the great teachers in our school district, which will reflect on their teaching to the kids and make the kids enjoy learning,” he said, noting personally some of his best teachers were ones who enjoyed teaching.
The candidate’s second priority would be making sure the school continues to have proper funding. This continues along the line of ensuring teachers can have the resources necessary to educate students.
Bettin said in addition to put more funding toward special education and dual-language programs, he would like to see the district create policies that make it more welcoming to people of different culture, races, religions, etc.
“I was really proud of Nuestro Mundo because they were the 13th in the nation for being one of the most welcoming schools,” the candidate said. “They had a less than zero tolerance for any kind of bullying or racial slurs. I would like to see that happen with Marshall.”
Bettin said Marshall already does have policies in place regarding bullying but feels there can always be improvements.
Fuelling said her top priority would be building policies to support increased student achievement and reduce the equity gap between groups.
“I think it is the moral imperative that we have in K-12 education is create the world in which there are no opportunity gaps,” she said.
Her second priority would be looking at decreasing student enrollment and the impact it has on the district’s budget. She would encourage fiscal responsibility and looking at creative ways for the district to become more economically secure.
“It is quite demoralizing to be in a system … where depending on the budget, where it’s constantly in a state of cutting and that’s hard on all the people in the school,” Fuelling said.
What are two of your skills or traits that would be beneficial to the Marshall School Board and why?
Herschleb said her overall experience with school districts would benefit the board because she has the insight of a parent and working for a school district. She was a regular volunteer in the schools while her children attended and even served as a substitute for more than five years. Currently, she works in the DeForest School District’s office.
“I think that has given me a very good overview of not only personnel and the payroll side but also in curriculum and how school districts work in general,” the incumbent said.
Herschleb said she also considers herself as a very positive and thoughtful person who comes to the meetings prepared and really consider everyone’s side of the issues. She also tries to not rush to judgment and makes sure she makes decisions based on what the community would like to see in addition to what will work best for the schools.
Rodriguez said he has the ability to adapt in all situations.
“My belief is that the board should be a living and breathing organism that is able to adapt to the needs of teachers and students,” the candidate said.
He would also bring a belief in the power of organization and understands the voices of the people who elect him should be heard; Rodriguez would use his seat on the board to share what the people who reside in the district would like to see happen in the schools.
Bettin said as the parent of children who have autism and ADHD allow him to bring real life experience of working with the needs of people with disabilities and can provide insight in to that area of the district.
“Sometimes the life experience is even better than going to college for four years,” he said. “I’ve lived this for years as a parent.”
The candidate believes his overall life experience of working in the sales field has provided him managerial opportunities and experience in working with other people. Bettin also said his experience has allowed him to learn how to make his opinions known without offending others.
Fuelling said as a scientist and former science teacher, she approaches problems very analytically and bases conclusions on data and not emotions. She feels this results in more strategic solutions.
She also brings a diverse background in public education as a former teacher in the district serving multiple grades and now working in the Sun Prairie district.
“I have a pretty strong systems knowledge of Marshall Public Schools … I have a strong network of educators who I talk to in different districts,” Fuelling said.