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School Board seat up for grabs on March 9

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter
February 24, 2021
LANCASTER — Two candidates are seeking to fill the Lancaster seat on the SAU36 School Board. Those candidates are incumbent Kris Van-Bergen and challenger Craig Young. Both candidates expressed their thoughts on why each should earn your vote.

Young began telling voters they have an important choice to make on March 9.

He said, "Ask yourself these questions: Do you feel that you are listened to? Are you confident that your School Board Representative respects and supports your views, opinions, and interests regarding education within SAU 36?"

He went on to state, "How many families in SAU 36 would like more information about the School Board, its plans, and its budgetary decisions?"

Young shared his thoughts on communication, noting "Aside from posting information on a web site, how effectively has your School Board Representative communicated with you regarding plans, policies, and activities of the schools within SAU 36? Have your School Board Representative made themselves available to the community for two-way communication (in person, remote, and by phone) regarding input, suggestions, and complaints? When making policy and decisions, has your School Board Representative considered all stakeholders within the community?"

He went on to ask, "Consider that a third of your property taxes go to the school budget, are you confident that your School Board representative has voted for budgetary priorities in a way which matches decisions that your family would make? Can the School Board improve its communication with all stakeholders?"

Young went on to explain his viewpoint, "Providing the best education for our children does not involve a small, closed group of decision makers. We must involve other stakeholders, including our children, taxpayers, front line educators, and community/church leaders. We must provide two way communication for this process to be effective. There are some who claim that they have all the answers to the challenges which face us."

He added, "I will be the first to say, that I do not. However, I have learned that the best way to solve problems is to communicate with all stakeholders, and to listen to their input, engaging in two-way communication. The more invested community stakeholders who are involved, the better the solutions."

He went on to explain his initiatives if elected.

"I will organize a bi-weekly newsletter and mass e-mailing list for families who are interested in information about School Board meetings, decisions, and plans. I pledge to answer all input, and to forward all concerns to the School Board. I will commit to provide two-way communication to all constituents. In order to foster the opportunity to learn about civics and community involvement to our students, I will research methods to give our students a direct voice and participation in open school board meetings and activities. I will not 'rubber stamp' votes and decisions and am not afraid to say 'no.' My votes will be fiscally balanced, and match the budgetary priorities of families and stakeholders in SAU-36," he said.

Lastly, Young said, "Regardless of who you wish to support, I urge you to do two things. Please remember to vote in the local election on March 9, 2021. Make your voice heard! This is a chance for you to get involved on a local level, and make a difference in the lives of our children."

The other name on the ballot will be incumbent Kris Van Bergen.

The current School Board member said, "It's been an honor to serve as one of the two Lancaster representatives to the White Mountains Regional School District's Board of Education for the last three years."

She went on to say, "I was raised by two educators with a strong commitment to community and engagement, so feel strongly that the best way to ensure that our civic systems are working well is to be an active participant."

During her time on the School Board, Van Bergen served not only as one of Lancaster's representatives to the Board at large, but also as a member of the Policy, Personnel and Educational Programming and Curriculum Committees.

"More importantly, I sit with the experience of being a student of this district and a parent of children actively making their way through our schools. I know where we've come from, and am highly invested in the future of the district and its impact on my children and their peers," said Van-Bergen.

"As a member of the Personnel Committee, I was involved in the last round of full contract negotiations with the White Mountains Regional Educational Association - a negotiation that was satisfactory enough to both parties that when the negotiations opened up again this year, our teachers were willing to accept an extension of that contract for a year to ease our district's operations during the COVID-19 pandemic," explained Van Bergen.

She added, "While only on the Committee for a year, I learned a great deal from the process, and it has helped shape my perceptions and opinions regarding the way our educators are valued and compensated. I believe that our district's compensation and expectations for educators is fair when compared to districts around us, but also believe that this pandemic has shown all of us how undervalued our educators are."

Van Bergen went on to say, "We have heard much about how our schools provide not only academic content, but also a safe and trusted space for our kids to grow, a means to ensure that children are well nourished, and child care that allows our district's parents to be members of the area's workforce. Our schools, and the educators and staff within them, provide much more than we give them credit for."

Noting that the Policy Committee has a hefty workload, Van Bergen said, "The work of the Policy Committee is never-ending, and very well supported by the District staff who scour regulatory updates and inform the order in which our district's policies are reviewed and revised. My many years working in corporate compliance and risk management have allowed me to look at the broad set of policies our district has adopted with an eye to efficient and fair governance, while still providing our district staff with the latitude it needs to ensure that our individual students and staff are treated respectfully and fairly."

She stated that policy management requires a balance between adhering to the myriad of state and federal rules and regulations that govern the delivery of public education and maintaining local control and consideration for our regional experience.

"I believe that our team does this well, and adopts policies that are written broadly enough to allow for applications well into the future," she said.

"By far, my favorite contribution to the operations of the District has been my service to the Educational Programming and Curriculum Committee. This Committee, composed of both School Board representatives and members of the District Leadership Team, works collaboratively to address those pieces of the District's strategic plan related to the delivery of a high-quality education," said Van Bergen.

Further explaining her time on the Board, Van Bergen stated, "We have monitored and approved the development of standard and competency frameworks for our district's learners at all levels, provide input on the Program of Studies each year for our High School Students, and work with DLT to ensure that our most vulnerable learners continue to have the resources necessary to provide them with equal access to education."

She went on to state, "Throughout the pandemic, this group has also worked to evaluate and implement ways to deliver educational content in the remote and hybrid settings as well - something that was very new to our district. As with so many aspects of educational delivery in this district, we have been innovative and ahead of many other districts in our adoption of evidence-based practices that improve and enhance the learning experience, as well as the professional experience of our educational team."

Van Bergen feels she has a strong interest in the way information about our district is shared.

To that, she said, "Both within our schools and in outward facing ways to our community partners and constituents. Never was this more critical than when our entire educational system was upended by a pandemic. I am incredibly proud of all the hard work that our students, families, educators and support staff have done to help keep our schools safe and operational for the last year."

Stressing the importance of community engagement, Van Bergen said, "Communication regarding COVID-10 mitigation efforts, budgeting factors, and the many other roles our schools play beyond the delivery of academic content has needed to be frequent and clear. Meeting in virtual environments has actually increased the number of community members who view the School Board activities, and I have noticed an increase in the number of constituents who reach out with feedback and questions as our work has become more visible. I hope that this continues beyond the pandemic, with more modes and frequency of communication to our community members, and improved attendance at School Board meetings when we're finally able to return to in person sessions."

Lastly, Van Bergen shared her thoughts looking ahead, commenting "As I look to the next term, I sincerely hope that the voters of this district will once again entrust this work to me as one of their Lancaster representatives. We have a lot of really important work to do in the next few years, and I look forward to digging in. The district has begun shaping a recovery plan that maximizes the learning from our experience operating in the pandemic to fine-tune our operations and leverage technology in new ways."

She added, "The pandemic has had significant financial ramifications not only for individual households in our district, but for the municipal governments that are funded through tax dollars, just like the district. It is more important now than ever that our School Board work collaboratively with our town and county leaders to align major improvement projects to minimize the impact on taxpayers, and to work with our delegation to address the state's school funding mechanisms. This is a time for seasoned leadership, and I hope that our district's voters view my work on their behalf as being additive, and entrust me with their votes for a second term."

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