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The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

School board election showcases polarization in battle for educational leadership

The+Pleasant+Valley+school+board+meets+regularly+to+discuss+district-wide+issues+and+make+decisions+concerning+the+PV+community.+Of+the+seven+positions%2C+four+are+currently+up+for+election+on+Nov.+7.+Photo+credit+to+Pleasant+Valley+School+District.%0A
The Pleasant Valley school board meets regularly to discuss district-wide issues and make decisions concerning the PV community. Of the seven positions, four are currently up for election on Nov. 7. Photo credit to Pleasant Valley School District.

There are approximately 5,700 students enrolled in the Pleasant Valley district, all under the authority of the PV School Board. For years, this group has flown under the radar, existing with little scrutiny or attention from the public.

This relative peace is coming to an end.

School board elections, to be held on Nov. 7, are shaking up the district, with the potential to have major impacts on school policy.

PV’s board has four positions open from districts three through six. Peter Olsen is challenging current Board President Nikhil Wagle, Danny Amaya takes on incumbent Vice President Molly Brockmann and Adrienne Wheeler faces Amy McCabe. Newcomer Jameson Smith runs unopposed due to a logistical error; current member Tracey Rivera is campaigning as a write-in candidate.

Amid the changing landscape of public education, elections like this one are more important than ever.

Wagle’s main concern is that political conflict will impact voters. “The environment of education, especially public education… has become quite polarized because it’s become so political,” he said. “I think that can potentially sometimes distract people from what the end goal is… what I don’t want is distractions to occur when it comes to public education.”

Numerous hot-button topics are at the forefront of this election, book-banning being among the most contentious.

Candidates Olsen, McCabe and Amaya are all in favor of bans.

“There’s a difference between expressing… relationships that happen between humans and gratuitous and very explicit, graphic, or hyper-sexualized [content] for the purpose of excitement,” said Olsen. He considers depictions of sexual assault to fall under this same category.

Rivera, Wagle and Wheeler are opposed to bans. 

“I feel that book banning is a form of censorship,” Wagle expressed. “If there’s a book and a family does not want that book to be read by their student… we have all the policies and protocols in place so that that child doesn’t read that book… If another family feels that book is an important resource for their child and they want access to it, they should be able to have access to it.”

 Curriculum content has also come under fire. Amaya particularly intends to target Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools.

“A lot of parents are fed up with [SEL and CRT], they don’t want to deal with it, they don’t want to hear it,” Amaya explained. “It’s incumbent on a district director to hear out the voice of the parents and take action.”

Numerous board candidates also intend to address the divisive issues surrounding gender identity if elected. For Olsen, this means upholding restrictions in women’s sports. “You’re seeing across the country many cases of boys who want to put on a dress and call themselves a girl,” he said, elaborating that, “You need to have some protection for women and girls in sports.”

Wagle’s priorities lie in making sure all students receive necessary support. “When it comes to students that are struggling with their identity… I feel that marginalizing those students is not the right approach. Every child, every student is important. They are loved. They should feel supported,” he said. 

Yet another point of division is the Educational Savings Act, an act that diverts state funds to private education. For Wagle, this is devastating. “Private school is taking public money now… and the estimated cost of this in four years is $850 million. [Private school] is getting that much and they don’t account for one penny,” he said.

Wheeler, Brockmann and Rivera put the importance of public school funding as one of their top priorities, too. McCabe, Smith, Olsen and Amaya have different priorities.

The educational community has been divided since the pandemic when the issue of masking first emerged as a polarizing force. Even though the relevance of this issue is no longer pertinent, the effects are still grounds for dispute among candidates, especially as politicians continue to rehash old debates. 

“There are two incumbents running for re-election that voted to continue to keep masks on our kids in May 2021,” wrote State Senator Chris Cournoyer in a recent Facebook post. Cournoyer went on to endorse Amaya, McCabe, Olsen and Smith.

Many voters are as concerned about candidates’ actions and behavior as they are about the platforms on which they are running. 

Olsen’s behavior at a book ban deliberation last year has come into question, but he stands by his actions: “I stood up and spoke the truth: that we put rubbish… into our libraries.” Many attendees remember his actions differently; the meeting was closed to the public after Olsen allegedly threatened the committee.

Allegations of partisanship have also spread despite school board elections being non-partisan. Amaya, McCabe, Olsen and Smith are all funded by the PV School Board PAC, a local Political Action Committee which was formed in anticipation of this election. These candidates have also been publicly supported by Scott County Republican Women.

McCabe rejects assumptions that she is affiliated with a political party. “I would love for nothing more than to keep the politics out of the schools,” she said. 

This statement was echoed by Amaya. “This is a nonpartisan race, we need to keep it that way,” he shared.

Olsen is proudly conservative and believes this affiliation will benefit the school board by providing diversity of viewpoint.

Even the methods some candidates are using to promote themselves is a point of contention. At Riverdale Heights Elementary School’s Trunk or Treat event, candidates gave out cups with the names of Amaya, McCabe, Olsen and Smith on them. 

Superintendent Brian Strusz is hopeful that, above all, the new school board will be collaborative. “A school board is like a team. It only works as good as everyone working together understanding the common vision and goal.”

As tensions continue to rise, PV families have a grave task before them. Voter turnout at local elections is historically low, meaning every single vote carries significant weight. The district map can be found here, and voters can exercise their important duty on Nov. 7.

“I think what’s most important is making sure that everybody does their homework on each of the candidates and votes for the person whose views align with them,” Wagle concluded. “Vote for the candidates that they feel are going to bring to the school board an added perspective, a collaborative perspective, and a nonpartisan view.”

Jameson Smith declined to be interviewed for this piece.

Peter Olsen requested that the full recording of his interview be made available. It can be found in full here

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  • S

    Sue SampsonNov 7, 2023 at 2:41 pm

    One thing that would be even more helpful would be to site that Chris Conouyer is not only a state senator but also was a former school board member and president of the board before she left.

    Reply
  • B

    Bradyn FairmanNov 5, 2023 at 5:41 pm

    I think the school board needs to focus on bigger matters.Including hiring back mr.Erickson and reenforcing core American values that will make this country great again.

    Reply
  • M

    Mary Paige WithersNov 3, 2023 at 9:16 am

    Moving forward, I hope the school board doesn’t get too involved in politics and remain how they previously have been in the past. Getting too involved in politics could potentially ruin the efficiently run system we already have.

    Reply
  • E

    Eugene Mattecheck JrNov 3, 2023 at 8:23 am

    Just a heads-up, your not-so-subtle pushing of an agenda is showing.

    Reply
  • R

    Robert CurtisNov 2, 2023 at 12:33 pm

    I hope that the school board doesn’t get heavy into politics when they are making decisions. I also hope that everyone doesn’t just stick to their own views and not listen to the others on the board.

    Reply
  • S

    Susan LewisOct 31, 2023 at 8:53 pm

    This article was more enlightening than anything I read in the local newspaper. It is so encouraging to see a high school student reporting at such a high level on an extremely important issue, that being the election of school board directors.

    Reply
  • P

    Patrice XuerebOct 31, 2023 at 5:29 pm

    Thank you for this informative article
    about the School Board Election next
    week. This article will help me make an informed decision.

    Reply
  • W

    Wendy ReyesOct 28, 2023 at 7:22 pm

    Excellent student journalism, Jae! Taking on the tough issues like a champ. You have a great future ahead.

    Reply
  • C

    Chelsea StClaireOct 27, 2023 at 6:48 pm

    Well written and obviously this reporter did an excellent job of gathering information and presenting the perspectives and implications for policies on the board from both sides . Love the call to action for all to participate in the process by voting ! Well done reporting as usual from the Spartan Shield and PV High School Student reporters . Another example of excellence!

    Reply
  • P

    Phyllis AhlstrandOct 27, 2023 at 10:51 am

    Very well written/thought provoking article, Jae. You are an example of the great education available at Pleasant Valley.

    Reply