#childsafety | 7 candidates vying for 4 seats on Portage Public Schools board

PORTAGE, MI — There are seven candidates looking to win seats on the Portage Public Schools Board of Education.

Incumbents Kurt Droppers, Teresa Novaria, Rusty Rathburn and Bo Synder are challenged by two candidates, Kevin Hoffer and Dean Prowse, and write-in candidate Derek Dee for four seats on the board leading Portage schools.

Here is a look at the seven school board candidates:

  • Droppers, 63, is a senior vice president working in private wealth management. He has served on the Portage board for more than five years.
  • Hoffer, 46, is a network engineer. He has ran unsuccessfully for the Portage board in 2018.
  • Novaria, 64, is the current board vice president and has served on the board since 2014. She has been a parent in the district for 22 years and a volunteer for 30 years.
  • Prowse, 51, is a stay-at-home dad who spent a lot of time helping in the schools.
  • Rathburn, 55, is the president and owner of Rathco Safety Supply, Inc. He has more than 12 years of service to the board and has two kids currently attending school in the district.
  • Synder, 56, is a healthcare management consultant and president of a healthcare consulting company. He has served 11 years on the board and five years on the Portage Education Foundation Board.
  • Dee, 41, is an associate attorney at VA Disability Group. He worked 18 years teaching math in public school, nine of those at PPS. He has also served two years as the assistant treasurer for the Portage Soccer Club Board. Dee’s name will not appear on Portage ballots, but has filed as a write-in candidate.

Visit the Vote411 voter guide online for Dee’s responses, and to learn more about the all candidates and issues on your ballot. No other candidates have filed as write-ins for this race as of Friday, Oct. 2, according to the Kalamazoo County Clerk’s office.

MLive Media Group partnered with the League of Women Voters of Michigan to provide candidate information for readers. Each candidate was asked about their candidacy and policy issues. See how they responded below.

Information on all state and federal races and many of Michigan’s county and local races is available at Vote411.org, an online voter guide created by the League of Women Voters.

Why are you running for a board seat? What strengths or talents especially qualify you for that role?

Droppers:

I have been a school board trustee since February 2015,when I filled a vacant seat and then won re-election for my first term election seat. I am honored to have the opportunity to give back to the Portage Public Schools. I believe in the Portage Public Schools. My three sons, all graduates of the Portage Public Schools have successful careers and the educational foundation they received in Portage is one that I want as an opportunity for all children. It’s our duty to build future leaders.

Hoffer:

I have been very involved in my children’s education and our school buildings in Portage and want to continue to be involved in a bigger and better way.

Novaria:

As a 40+ year Portage resident, 22 year Portage school parent, 30 year volunteer for Portage Schools, and almost 7 years as a school board member, I have a uniquely thorough overall view of the needs of all of our students. I believe I’ve forged a good working relationship with teachers and administrators, and have broad recognition in the community that helps me hear concerns and work for the overall betterment of our schools to achieve success for all students. Both my experience and communication skills are essential to that success, especially now! I am a team player who will continue to work for continued educational success in Portage.

Prowse:

I spent the last decade volunteering in classes, going on field trips, training and traveling with the wrestling team, and working countless concession stand shifts. I know that I’m the underdog in this race. Few people will have heard of me, but I’m a hard worker and I listen to people and I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I may not have the same experience as others on the Board, but our world is changing quickly and maybe we could use someone who can think outside-the-box and wants to hear what everyone in the community has to say.

Rathburn:

I am running because I care about this community. I am a PPS Graduate. My wife and I chose PPS for the educational opportunities for our kids, two of which currently attend. (one has graduated). I ran for, and won, a Portage School Board seat over 12 years ago because I wanted to assure PPS continued on the path of Excellence. In my years of service, the Board has faced some major challenges and we have overcome these challenges. I feel my commitment to excellence, my love for this community and my 12+ years of experience qualify me for another term on the PPS Board of Education, especially when considering the current challenges we face.

Snyder:

I prefer the term engagement over involvement. I want parents and the community engaged in our district. Engagement can be challenging at times, especially in the changing ways citizens receive news. The Board’s Policy Governance model allows for an Owners Linkage Committee. The board has recognized that Parent and Community engagement strategies are changing. In the coming years it is this Board’s intention to maximize Engagement through Owners Linkage strategies that involve direct outreach and use of social media.

What specific steps should the board take to ensure that students have a safe and successful academic year in view of Covid-19?

Droppers:

There is no doubt that COVID has changed the way that we live and interact. Our Portage School administrators have done a fantastic job of working with local officials to research the science and stay on top of the directives from the governmental health guidelines. It is an ever-changing conversation and we need to work with the administrators, the staff, teachers, parents and students to blend a support system that will present a safe environment for learning. We have a duty and a responsibility to create and implement the platforms for learning that can ensure educational success for all of our students.

Hoffer:

I believe we need to be safe and take precautions, I also believe our students deserve the best possible education we can provide. We need to find a balance between safety and learning. I believe its in our districts best interest to keep a open line of communication with parents and give them the choice if their child will benefit from in class education or virtual learning. I also know this presents several challenges middle and high school environment and I believe we need to find a way to make the balance acceptable for students.

Novaria:

Our Portage School school administrators have done an amazing job of researching the science and following our government health guidelines to come up with an education plan that safely offers choices unique to our students and their families. As the situation continues to evolve, our board will continue to support administrative decisions that provide a safe environment, along with platforms for learning that can ensure the educational success and achievement for all of our students.

Prowse:

Covid has given us a great opportunity to expand our thinking about educating kids. Whether or not kids are in a building each day, provide them with the technology they need to stay connected and give them more opportunities to get additional help, to report bullying, and to report issues at home. Let’s show kids that we care about whether they are healthy, happy, and educated, and that location or time of day doesn’t change that. It’s also an opportunity to reinforce good hygiene. How much class time do we lose each year from illness that might be mitigated with better hygiene? How much work do parents lose because of illnesses from kids?

Rathburn:

I believe the Board and Administrative team have developed a solid Covid-19 “Return to Learn” plan assuring safety while maximizing educational opportunities. Every child’s safety and educational needs are different, as are family needs. The PPS Board of Education has considered all aspects of safety, educational and family needs. We have effectively balanced the dichotomies of safety and educational outcomes to maximize learning while minimizing the threat of illness. At the same time, we must assure kids have hope. While learning is paramount, engaging kids, empowering kids and giving them hope is key to assuring kids on the future.

Snyder:

The fact that we have an experienced, well-functioning, cohesive board has been key to making good decisions in a time of uncertainty and unprecedented challenge. We will continue to proceed with care, listening to the CDC, the Governor’s office, the county health department, our superintendent, and other experts as we navigate the safest ways to educate students in a pandemic. We will also continue to consider and balance the needs of all students—including those who are vulnerable—as well as the needs of parents, teachers, staff, and the community.

What are the most positive characteristics or qualities of the school district — ones that support student academic achievement and personal development? What are the opportunities for improvement?

Droppers:

It is through the dedication of so many people, businesses, nonprofits, and the City of Portage, that our school district continues to be a leader and one of the top performing districts in our area. As a school board member and a collaborative partner with the people I serve with, we have created goals, action steps, and outcomes that support our educational mission. We are committed to creating fiscal responsibility while developing the support system for our administration to create an educational learning system for all students.

Hoffer:

Student academic achievement is the key characteristic of a quality school district. Providing the support our students need to achieve their greatest potential creates a good environment for our students.

Novaria:

Portage has historically been viewed as a top performing district in the area. Our goals, actions, and outcomes continue to support that. We are focused on providing challenging and applicable learning for all students – from top achievers through our IB program, to help for students who need it. Portage is also highly committed to students being ethically aware, culturally sensitive, and living as responsible citizens. This means a clear understanding of right and wrong, an appreciation for cultures, beliefs, and ethnicities different than their own, and a commitment of service to community and others.

Prowse:

I want a school district where teachers are involved and empowered. To do that, we need to make sure they aren’t overworked or stressed over things they cannot control, and that their voices have power. I want a school district where the community is more involved with mentoring programs. I think we often look at mentoring programs as ways to help academically superior or disadvantaged students, but a large community-based mentoring program can also be a great way to displace some of that work and stress on teachers by extending the circle of adults that kids can rely on.

Rathburn:

There are too many PPS positive characteristics to fully cover them here. To start, our facilities are on the path to be near the Top in Michigan. Beyond facilities, Portage is fortunate to land in a sweet spot for student population. The PPS student population is large enough where we can offer and array of opportunities for each and every child and we’re small enough where we can focus on the needs of each and every child. These unique characteristics give staff the opportunity to empower kids to reach their goals. Our most pressing opportunity for improvement is finding an economically sound plan to finalize our facilities plan.

Snyder:

The fact that we have an experienced, well-functioning, cohesive board has been key to making good decisions in a time of uncertainty and unprecedented challenge. We will continue to proceed with care, listening to the CDC, the Governor’s office, the county health department, our superintendent, and other experts as we navigate the safest ways to educate students in a pandemic. We will also continue to consider and balance the needs of all students—including those who are vulnerable—as well as the needs of parents, teachers, staff, and the community.

What actions will you take to promote further parental or community involvement in schools?

Droppers:

Communication is critical to how we not only connect with our parents, but how we connect with the community as a whole. For so many of our parents, it is difficult to find the time to be involved. But, my advice has always been to do what you can because it will help you learn and understand that your voice and opinion is critical to the success of our educational initiatives. Education matters, how we engage the community to join together to make a difference in a child’s life will provide dividends that will pay off for their future and our future in the Portage Public Schools.

Hoffer:

Dealing with COVID 19 has created challenges as it relates to community and parental involvement, however I will continue to encourage parental involvement, because I feel when our parents and community are involved it shows our students their parents and community want what is best for them.

Novaria:

There is a saying that “good communities make good schools, and good schools make good communities”. A long time Portage parent and volunteer myself, I encourage parents I talk with to be involved at whatever level they can be in their child’s education. Knowing your child’s teachers, coaches, and other parents is a huge step in supporting your student’s success in education, as well as their social and emotional success. By being there, you tell your child that they, and their education, matter. Your involvement provides shared experiences with your children, great memories, and relationships with others in the community that are invaluable.

Prowse:

I think we could greatly increase parental and community involvement by enacting a broad community-based mentoring program. Let’s provide our teachers with two days per month to catch up on work and have people from the community (including parents) teach those days. Invite local chefs to come in and teach their favorite meal. Encourage local health providers to come in and teach kids about staying healthy. Local engineers could visit physics classes to discuss a project they just completed. Real-world examples are instrumental in helping reinforce what kids are learning, and having local examples shows kids that those careers are attainable.

Rathburn:

I prefer the term engagement over involvement. I want parents and the community engaged in our district. Engagement can be challenging at times, especially in the changing ways citizens receive news. The Board’s Policy Governance model allows for an Owners Linkage Committee. The board has recognized that Parent and Community engagement strategies are changing. In the coming years it is this Board’s intention to maximize Engagement through Owners Linkage strategies that involve direct outreach and use of social media.

Snyder:

One silver lining of COVID-19 is that we have seen increased community engagement with our board. We’ve implemented a new, safe way for the community to reach out at board meetings to provide input, and teachers and parents have responded thoughtfully and in huge numbers with concerns, ideas, suggestions, and support. Board members appreciate and absorb this input, which has impacted our thinking. We must learn from this experience and continue to find innovative ways to promote engagement that will continue after the pandemic is over.

Click here for more of MLive’s Election Day coverage from across the state, or here for full coverage of Kalamazoo-area elections.

Also on MLive:

5 candidates vying for 3, six-year seats on the Kalamazoo School Board

16 candidates square off for 8 seats on Kalamazoo County board

Portage students get library card through new partnership


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