Three Waunakee schoolboard candidates filed nomination papers with the district clerk this year and will appear on the ballot as Waunakee Community School District residents cast their votes in April.
Incumbent Mark Hetzel was the lone candidate to file papers for the Town of Vienna seat and is running unopposed in the spring election. Parents Ted Frey and Anne Luebke filed for the seat representing the Town Westport, the City of Madison and the City of Middleton, and will face off against each other on April 6.
Both seats are voted on at-large by Waunakee school district electors.
Town of Vienna
Mark Hetzel has served as a member of the Waunakee school board since 2015 and is running for a third term with the belief that his experience offers a unique perspective.
“I feel that I have a different skill set that actually proves beneficial to serving on the board,” said Hetzel, a retired Waunakee High School instructor who turns 70 this month. “With my educational background, the leadership roles I’ve held within the school as a teacher, my deep commitment to education and the skills I’ve developed over the past five and a half years, I feel that I still have something meaningful to offer the community.”
Hetzel graduated from Marion College in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in English education and went on teach at Tomah High School, in Colorado and at Portage High School before joining the Waunakee school district in 1981. He then began an 11-year tenure as boys’ basketball coach and a nearly three-decade-long career as high school English teacher.
Hetzel retired from teaching in 2008, and was named a Crystal Apple Award recipient the following spring.
Hetzel said his decision to run for school board six years ago stemmed from a desire to serve the community and the knowledge that there would be a vacancy on the board if no one stepped up.
“I knew our board rep in Vienna was not running for the next term, and I’d been looking for a meaningful way to do some significant community service. And I thought this would be a great opportunity for that,” Hetzel said. “And I feel very privileged to have represented not just town of Vienna residents, but district residents as a whole.”
Now seeking a third consecutive term, Hetzel sat down with the Waunakee Tribune recently to discuss his platform and the topics that he would like to see addressed over the next three years.
“I’m not running on any issues,” Hetzel said. “What I’m running on is trying to do the best we can for our kids and for the community. As everybody knows, this is a really difficult time that we’ve been in through the pandemic. So there are significant things that we face going forward, from how we come out of the pandemic and return to a complete full-time educational program, to how we help the kids who have lost some ground, to what we’ve learned from it and using that to enhance our district.”
Waunakee schools closed their doors in March 2020, following the statewide closure, and have operated via remote and hybrid instruction since. Hetzel said despite the challenges that the pandemic has presented, he is optimistic that schools will be able to fully reopen come fall.
“Our administrative teams have been working hard in preparation and anticipation of this,” Hetzel said. “And I really support being able to move forward, as long as we can do it safely for the kids, for the staff and for the community…So I’m looking forward to moving forward. I think that the kids need it, that the families need it, and that the community needs it.”
The incumbent noted the district must focus on other goals as well, such as promoting diversity and inclusion throughout the school community at large.
“There’s significant issues with regard to equity, diversity and inclusion that we’ve just begun to work on. We started that about 18 months to two years ago, and we still have a long way to go. But we’ve made a good step,” Hetzel said. “We created the equity, diversity and inclusion committee. The preliminary work they’re doing is outstanding in providing us a footprint for where we need to go forward.”
Hetzel said the ultimate objective is to create a culture in which all students and staff feel welcome.
In addition to DEI concerns, Hetzel said facility needs will have to be addressed in the near future. He cited referendum efforts that had been placed on hold, that need to be looked at once again.
“There’s resource issues,” Hetzel said. “Right before the pandemic struck, we were looking at a facility-maintenance and operations referendum of significance because of things needing replacement and expanded room. So there’s a myriad of things facing the district for us to move forward, and I’m looking forward to working on all of those.”
Hetzel was then asked about the recent recall effort directed at school-board president Dave Boetcher, and said his stance on the matter was simple.
“Recall is a legal option available to the public,” Hetzel said. “As such, I respect the rights of citizens to use it.”
Hetzel lives in Vienna with his wife, Chris, who is the former principal of Waunakee Intermediate School.
Town of Westport, City of Middleton, City of Madison seat
Ted Frey has sent four children through the Waunakee public school system, and is running for school board to be an advocate for families who have children in the district today.
“I’ve experienced the greatness that Waunakee schools are,” said Frey, a 50-year-old engineer at Ennovation. “And being a parent with kids still in there, I can be an advocate for the parents as well as their kids. I can also get a better insight as to some of the decisions that the board makes and how that impacts them, because the board’s ultimately there to provide a vision and a path for students to learn. And I want to be a part of that.”
Frey moved to Westport with his wife, Rebecca, in 1997. The couple had no children at the time, but were planning to start a family and knew that Waunakee schools had an excellent reputation.
They bought a home in the Mary Lake subdivision, and have remained there the past 24 years.
Frey said his decision to run for school board this year was based on the experience provided to his children, two Waunakee alumni and two still in school, and the desire to ensure other families are provided similar opportunities.
“I really think our children have benefited greatly from the schools,” Frey said. “They’ve really contributed to the success of our kids. And for that reason, I want to give back and make sure that the schools continue with the experiences they had. I think it’d be great if I could help in that way.”
The Tribune reached out to the candidate recently to discuss his platform and the approach he planned to take if elected to the board.
Frey acknowledged he had never held public office and was not an expert in school governance. One of the first things he did after deciding to run was reach out to school administrators and other district officials to gather a sense of what a job on the school board entailed.
“I thought I really needed to educate myself on it,” Frey said. “So I contacted all of the principals in the district, and just met with them to introduce myself and get advice, or see any kind of issues that they may have. I also met with a number of teachers and other staff in the district, as well as past and current board members, just introducing myself to really get more of a feel of what I’m getting into.”
Frey said one of the issues brought up in those conversation was student behavior.
“When I was growing up, I never had a sense that there was a lack of respect,” Frey said. “And what I’m running on is, I want to have that level of respect in school because disruptive behavior disrupts learning in general. Why I bring that up is, I’ve heard of different instances that surprised me. There is more of that that’s filtered into some of the elementary schools. This is coming from people who work there, or other students. And it just made me think. I don’t know where it’s coming from, and maybe the board can look at some of those issues.”
Waunakee school-board members have devoted much of their recent time and energy to school reopening, a process that has elicited a wide range of viewpoints from parents in the community.
Asked about the pace at which the district has been getting students back inside the classroom, Frey said he would like to see schools fully reopen sooner rather than later.
“The optimal learning is going to be in-person learning. We need to get back to that as soon as possible,” Frey said. “The biggest aspect that hasn’t been accounted for here, by far, is mental health. We’re getting past the point where that metric, which hasn’t been measured enough, is kind of topping out here. We’re getting to a point where we’re losing some things here, and that whole aspect is really concerning. So we really have to push to get back to normal.”
Frey was asked for his specific thoughts regarding the district’s pursuit to provide professional mental-health services for students. Frey said he was “torn” on the matter.
“It’s not something that we’d need to have in place if we were all open,” Frey said. “I mean, this whole fact that we’re closed has really brought the spike to this, which is unfortunate. If that wasn’t there, I don’t know that we’d have the issue. I don’t think we should be in the place of having to deal with providing mental health. But I think it’s a service that, because we’ve kind of caused a problem, we better have some sort of resource to deal with that.”
Like his opponents, Frey was then asked about his thoughts regarding the attempt to remove school-board president Dave Boetcher from office, to which he provided the following response.
“It was an issue that divided parents,” Frey said, “and I personally don’t have a comment on it.”
Those seeking further information about Frey’s platform can visit tedfreyforschoolboard.com.
Anne Luebke has worked as a technician in various science labs throughout her career and hopes to lend her expertise to the school district as it navigates the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think I can help,” said Luebke, a 44-year-old quality control analyst at Scientific Protein Labs. “I understand how frustrated people are. Myself, I had to switch to working nights in order to have my son home during the day. And it was hard. So I understand the anger, and I understand the frustration. But I do think that the school board has made the right decisions, and that those decisions weren’t easy for them because they know how hard it is to close schools.”
Luebke moved to the Waunakee area in 2016, while pregnant with her son Victor. Having grown up in Beaver Dam, she knew that Waunakee would offer him a good education when he got older.
The medical professional said her decision to run for school board dates back to the spring 2018 election.
“I was voting in the election, and I noticed that there wasn’t anyone on the ballot for the Town of Westport seat,” Luebke said. “And that was disappointing to me, that no one cared enough to get their name on the ballot. So I thought, if no one else wants to do, then I will.”
Luebke sat down for an interview with the Waunakee Tribune recently, to discuss the issues that mattered to her and some of the changes she would like to see implemented over the next few years.
She said one thing she would like to see introduced in the district is gender-inclusive restrooms.
“Once everything calms down,” Luebke said, “I’d like to change the bathrooms so that they have more privacy, and then make them gender-neutral so that our students don’t have to think about which bathroom to use. Transgender students have a really tough time, and they should not have to think about the bathroom.”
Luebke identified district communication as an area in need of improvement as well.
“Communication, I think, is the one thing that has been very important from the beginning of this,” Luebke said. “They just need to keep everyone informed, not only of what’s going on, but why they are doing the responses that they’re doing through the pandemic. I know that’s been difficult, but I am hoping that going forward we can do better on that. And part of it is just that we need a second to breathe and figure out what we’re doing next year. Hopefully by this summer, we’ll have a better idea of what’s going to happening in the fall and we’ll be able to communicate that to everyone in the district in an easily understood manner.”
Reopening schools has been a topic of lengthy discussion and debate throughout the pandemic, Luebke added, and doing so safely would likely be the most immediate challenge to address.
“Honestly, I was worried that they were doing it a little bit too early,” Luebke said. “But they’ve made a lot of accommodations and have done things really well. I’ve been impressed with it. My only criticism is that I wish they had told people earlier in the fall that they were going to close the schools. I felt like that decision came very suddenly. Of course, it’s easy to say that in hindsight.”
Luebke noted that student mental health has been largely affected by the closure of schools.
She said providing professional mental-health services to students would be necessary as the district continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and operate in a non-traditional fashion.
“Mental health is so important to students,” Luebke said. “And it’s actually something that really helps our students who are economically disadvantaged, because they often don’t have access to therapy through their insurance, or it’s ridiculously expensive with all the copays and things. So I believe that mental-health services and therapy through the schools is really important.”
Luebke said another initiative she would like to see the district advocate for is subsidized internet for low-income families, noting that students relied upon technology for much of their education.
Asked about the recent recall attempt of school-board president Dave Boetcher, Luebke said she opposed the effort to remove Boetcher from office.
“I really thought that the decisions being made were done in the best interests of students and the community,” Luebke said.
Those seeking further information about Luebke or looking to contact Luebke should visit her campaign website at anneluebke.com.