NewsCenter1 reached out to all 10 school board candidates with a short questionnaire.
The seven candidates that responded have their unedited answers listed below.
1) Name and Current occupation
My name is Megan Collier and am a Family Practice Nurse Practitioner.
Kara Flynn, Community Leader and School Board Member
Breanna Funke, Homemaker
Tatewin Means, Executive Director of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation
Curt Pochardt, current Board member (and Board President), part-time retail sales clerk.
My name is Jenny Read and I currently work as Executive Coordinator at Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board.
Natalie Slack – I’m a marketing professional, community organizer, and graphic artist.
2) Where are you from? How long have you lived here?
(Collier): I am was born in Marquette, MI, however, moved here at 9 days old with my parents as my father was in the Air Force. I have lived here since and absolutely love it!
(Flynn): I am a native South Dakotan. I grew up in Sioux Falls and have lived in Rapid City since 2004.
(Funke): I was born in am from Seymour, Indiana. Kentucky is where my husband and I met, but Rapid City, South Dakota is where we’ve made our home and are raising our three children.
(Means): This is my home and always has been! I grew up in Kyle, SD in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, just 80 miles southeast of Rapid City, until I was in the 6th grade. My mother and I then moved to Rapid City where I attended Canyon Lake Elementary, West Junior High and graduated from Rapid City Central High School. I’ve moved away from South Dakota two times and each time was to further my educational career – the first was to Stanford University, CA for undergraduate and the next was to the University of Minnesota Law School, in Minneapolis.
(Pochardt): I was born in Sioux Falls and have lived in RC for 35+ years.
(Read): I grew up west river in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where I graduated from high school. I have been in the Black Hills since 2004. Our two girls have been a part of the Rapid City Area School District for eight years now.
(Slack): I was born in Michigan and raised in northern Kentucky before my dad moved our family back to his beloved college town in 1997. I was thirteen then and stayed in Rapid City for high school and my freshman year of college at SDSMT. I moved to Minnesota from 2002-2004 and returned back to Rapid City after the birth of my first son, Christian, in August 2004.
3) Why are you running? What motivated you?
(Collier): I am running as I recognize a change is needed. I am wanting to help build a better working relationship among the board as well as with the RCAS administration, teachers and families in the community. I have been approached a few different times asking my political affiliation. This has motivated me to further my run for the school board as this is completely inappropriate for this position. This position is about making decisions for the community and our children!
(Flynn): I am running because I believe in the power of pubic education to change lives and build community. Every child deserves a chance to become a productive member of society and public school enables that to happen in our democracy. A dynamic school system benefits every member in the community. It is necessary to recruit professionals and businesses to the area and to meet the needs of a growing city (Ellsworth Air Force Base expansion etc). I want every child to be challenged, learn twenty first century skills and graduate with a plan for their future.
(Funke): I am running for school board to help give parents their voice back. So many parents feel silenced and ignored, and there needs to be a change. I want to make our schools the best they can be so parents can feel good about the education their child is receiving. I’m running for all of the parents who have children in the schools. Their voices deserve to be heard; they are their child’s most important advocate.
(Means): The world is coming at our kids fast and I’m committed to showing them that we believe in them by providing the education that they need to succeed. Although our district has many positives, our kids also lag behind as evidenced by our average testing scores compared to the rest of the state. Kids need us to advocate for them now – not ten years from now – and I have the experience to prioritize their needs with urgency, which includes an educational approach that cares for the whole child that also provides strong STEAM education opportunities. This is personal for me. I’m a product of this district and know how a strong foundation can serve not only the child, but the child’s future and community. I am currently a mother of a sixth grader at South Middle School and also have a son that went through all levels of our education system before graduating last year. My former experience as the Attorney General of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and current position as the Executive Director of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation means that I know how to work with the community, manage multi-million-dollar budgets, stretch dollars further and identify funding opportunities so that we can create the outcomes that our kids and our community deserves. I’m committed to working together for our kids, now.
(Pochardt): I am running for re-election to continue my service on the Board in support of high-quality public education to benefit our community and its future.
(Read): I am running for school board because I understand that new representation is needed for our Area 7. I have always been a very active member of our community. I have strong, communicative relationships with school educators and staff. I’d like to use my talents on the school board as I have extensive experience in budget planning and building project management.
(Slack): I’m a mom with three sons who are enrolled and active in the Rapid City Public Schools. As a community organizer, I’ve seen the opportunity and achievement challenges within RCAS and I’m concerned that oftentimes the students who need significant advocacy and care are missing that representation at the Board level. I want to bring a youthful perspective, a millennial understanding, and my current, lived experience as I parent highschoolers, as qualities of motivation for this School Board campaign. The people voting to make decisions for students, families, and teachers, should be people impacted by those decisions.
4) What do you think makes you qualified?
(Collier): I have several areas that I believe make me qualified. To start, my mother was a teacher for greater than 30 years, my grandfather a superintendent for several years. Education is a priority in our family. I also have a lot of experience with the IEP process. Lastly, my medical experience as a nurse for greater than 10 years and now an NP for greater than 4 years has helped me to be able to approach problems with an objective view. When a problem presents itself, you cannot approach it with only an emotional view, you have to be able to look at it objectively to make the best decision.
(Flynn): My experience in the schools at all levels—as a parent, volunteer, PTA member, Executive Director of the Public School Foundation, Member of the Core Planning Team for the RCAS Strategic Plan, Volunteer and Sign Coordinator for the Vote Yes Campaign for the RCAS School Bond, Coordinator of the district-wide bell cover and singers’ mask project (fall 2020 before I was on the board) to provide thousands of masks for instruments and singers so choir and band students could continue during COVID, School Board Member and advocate. I also have a professional history which includes developing public participation plans, redistricting, dealing with federal budgets and long-range planning for future goals using data and projections.
(Funke): I’m not a politician. I’m a concerned mother of 3 who believes that parents know what’s best for their children, not other politicians. I will listen to my constituents and let their concerns and ideas be heard through me. It’s what I would want from a school board member representing me, and it’s what we owe to all parents.
(Means): First and foremost, I’m a mother. My son just graduated last year and my daughter is currently a student at South Middle School. Because of that, I bring an intimate knowledge of the district and how it serves our kids in the here and now. I’m also a seasoned professional that has devoted my career to serving communities here in South Dakota. I understand the mechanisms of government, education, social systems and I know how to lead and participate within these often-complicated contexts. Lastly, I am a strong believer in education. I get this value from my mother who has dedicated her entire career to serving young people and community as a teacher, administrator and school counselor. I know that an educational journey can lead to tremendous opportunities as is evidenced by my journey – Environmental Engineering degree from Stanford University with a minor in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, juris doctor from the University of Minnesota Law School with a concentration in Human Rights Law, and a masters of arts degree in Lakota Leadership and Management from Oglala Lakota College.
(Pochardt): I have served for the past 3 years on the Board, including last year as 1st Vice-President and the current year as President. Experience in Board Leadership during this challenging period has prepared me to continue to provide the leadership and service Rapid City needs and deserves.
(Read): I have a background in budget planning and preparation, building project and management that will inevitably be needed as our community and school district grows. I also have strong communication skills, and the ability to listen to people and their needs without filtering it through my own opinions first. I care and I show up.
(Slack): As a small business owner, alongside my husband Brandon, for 17 years, I have learned how to create and manage budgets and projects, how to sit around a table with others and build something we are proud of, and how to communicate a message with intention and clarity. My qualifications are less papered and more experiential. I’m a prolific reader, I’m a lover of learning, I travel extensively, I’m an artist, I parent athletes, I have had kids in five local schools, I still have children in public school. My experiences have built a robust foundation for me to listen from and learn through, always looking forward.
5) What is the most important issue facing the school district?
(Collier): I feel the most important issue facing the school board is the lack of unity and ability to communicate reasoning for their decisions well. This needs to be fixed, then we can discuss the failing academics and structural concerns.
(Flynn): Funding and budgetary issues.
(Funke): While it’s hard to pick just one, I feel strongly about the education losses and gaps caused by online learning. We need to focus on getting students back on track, and working together to make plans with their parents to help them succeed.
(Means): While there are many pressing challenges facing our district, whether it is the budget and deficit, achievement gap, or graduation rate/student retention, I believe the most pressing challenge is reaching the majority of our student population that are not engaged, not in athletics or other extracurricular activities. These opportunity students, or disconnected students, comprise the vast majority of our students and we must do better at reaching them. We have so many students on the periphery that are struggling to find their place in school, their families and society. If we want to create a 21st century workforce, we must reach these students. Some of these students find themselves in the school-to-prison pipeline that exists. We must find ways to engage them — to connect them — to their school, staff and teachers. If we want Rapid City to thrive, then we must create a place that our young people are proud of, where they want to live, work and raise a family and it begins with their connectedness to people and place. It begins with their experience in our school system.
(Pochardt): I believe the most pressing issue facing our schools is financial. The General Fund budget is currently balanced only through reliance on annual transfers from Capital Outlay funds. This poses long-term challenges because of the District’s aging infrastructure. Capital Outlay, of course, provides the funding for facility needs which cannot continue to be neglected due to shortages in that fund.
(Read): The extreme segregation of ideologies is placing undue strain on our education system, and on our children. We may not agree with each others politics, but that should not deter us from coming together to support our youth and our educators. We must listen to each other intently, and identify our similarities rather than what makes us oppositional.
(Slack): Access and opportunity – making sure all of our students have access to the resources they need to thrive. We talk a lot about the “achievement gap” but I see it more as an access or opportunity gap. Our schools do wonderful at educating those students who come from families with the time and resources to really curate their experiences: open enroll into this school, get this math teacher and take this history course. But so many of our families do not have those resources or abilities, and those kids do not have as great an educational experience. Our district is trying to create more equity for our students, and the board needs to send the message that this is a top priority in every aspect of district management.
6) If elected, what are the first three issues you would address?
(Collier): The issue above is #1 as well as curriculum for reading jointly with teachers and administrators as well as trying to solve the problem of structural concerns with a frugal mindset that allows these children to attend school in safe, clean and welcoming environments.
(Flynn): a) Community Outreach Improvement—The board has a role to play in sharing our Vision, assessing the needs of the community and talking about the pressing issues that affect our ability to meet our long-range plan goals. See answer 7 for how I will address that. b) Ensuring every child feels safe, honored and ready to learn in our schools. This includes both the educational suitability and safety of their physical school building and the school culture that creates the atmosphere in that building. It means addressing underserved populations and making meaningful plans to address performance inequities. And it means that families feel welcomed and encouraged to participate. c) Finally, the board needs to create excellence by supporting staff to implement the goals of the Strategic Plan. We can use results policies and new assessments that measure progress and not just proficiency in order to measure the districts success or failure. This way we can make sure that every child is CHALLENGED and progressing.
(Funke): First I would address the issue of board transparency and communication. The board members have a duty to be unbiased and to not have conflicting interests. The board members also have a duty to have conversations with their constituents. Second, I would address the mandates and systems that have been set in place by the superintendent, and give more power back to the board. Third, I would focus heavily on curriculum and making sure the schools are making sure our students are understanding and thriving in math, reading, and writing, building the foundation for success.
(Means): One of the first issues I would like to address is the district’s strategic plan. The plan is slated to be reviewed and updated this year, beginning in the fall, so planning for community and youth outreach must be one of the first steps. Another issue I would like to address is the district’s budget. With several board positions up for election I think it would be best to review all information pertaining to the budget, identify gaps, and develop strategies for revenue generation. The third issue I would like to address is developing a plan to reach our opportunity students. These opportunity students, or disconnected students, comprise the vast majority of our students and we must do better at reaching them. We have so many students on the periphery that are struggling to find their place in school, their families and society. If we want to create a 21st century workforce, we must reach these students.
(Pochardt): As noted above, the budget needs to be our first priority. Related to that is the issue of wages and salaries for District employees. RCAS needs to attract and retain the highest quality teachers and leaders and thus must offer competitive salaries. Third would be the issue of facilities.
(Read): Bullying – I would like to see this topic become addressed from the very beginning – in the elementary years and addressed each year consistently with added emphasis during middle school when it is most prevalent. As the world was forced to reset, I would like to see us capitalize on the opportunity to explore ways to encourage students to take ownership of their educational experience with passion. For a long time, many students have simply gone through the motions and participated for the grade. Our hunger for learning has been diminished by our hunger for consuming pop culture. We need to balance the scales again and get our kids to empower themselves through learning and exploration. If elected, I would be a consistent advocate for this principle. I would also like to address the educational gap between our Native and non-Native students. This is going to be a difficult topic to take on, but it must be approached with urgency and commitment.
(Slack): Because this board will likely have some turnover, I would first undertake a board-led modification of the district’s strategic plan. The superintendent uses the strategic plan to guide every one of her decisions. It is essential that the plan represents the priorities of the community via the board members the community has elected. I would continue the work that the current board is doing to establish a clear board governance plan. The work of the board is to set guiding principles and goals for the district, and then to hold the superintendent accountable for reaching those goals. Every board meeting should include an update from the superintendent and her leadership team on the progress the district is making towards board-specified goals. Finally, I would work to improve the visibility of the board in the public. Board members should be holding regular public forums on topics that concern the district and the community. The only way to know what parents and students want and need is to actively engage in discourse and listening. I’m here for both.
7) How do you plan to involve parents in the decision-making process?
(Collier): This is imperative and I would plan to develop a Facebook page that keeps parents informed for Area 7 (anyone could access this, however) and allow parents to give constructive feedback.
(Flynn): Shortly after I was selected to be on the board, I helped form the community outreach committee as a way to create direct public input to the board and to educate the public about the realities of the district so when we ask for their support, they understand the need. This is a three-tiered approach which includes a 1) Board Corner column in the monthly RCAS Reporter newsletter and op-eds in the Rapid City Journal, 2) a video series from the board on important issues and the 3) formation of a Board Outreach Committee this summer to start meeting in August as a way for parents, business people, non-profits and community members to interact with the board. We will also formalize a town hall type meeting structure to be used when big issues come before the board. I also am visiting schools, talking to parents and responding to emails. People know me as an involved member of the school community and reach out to me for information, input and advice.
(Funke): When a parent or concerned member of the public takes time out of their day to send an email, make a phone call, or speak at a board meeting, they should be listened to, understood and responded to. Parents are the most valuable resource the school has, and we aren’t making them a part of the process in their children’s education. We need to hear from parents to improve.
(Means): First, we must not be limited in our definition of “parents” as that would exclude some of our district families. Some of our kids are raised by aunts, uncles, grandparents, or other caring adults so we must be as inclusive as possible in the language we use regarding our families. The district has an amazing opportunity to engage stakeholders (parents, guardians, youth, teachers/staff, etc.) this coming year with the development of the district’s strategic plan. It is important to have community voices represented and heard in that process, especially our youth. There are a variety of ways to engage the community but I’ve found direct and face-to-face engagements are most effective. These engagements can be larger community conversations, public presentations with comment periods, focus groups, one on one interviews, and surveys. We must be committed to the time it takes to meaningfully engage our community — it simply can’t be a surface exercise — we must build trust with the community so they know their participation will be valued and incorporated into the actions of the district. Specifically with respect to parents and guardians, beyond involvement in broader, district-wide decisions, we must be clear as to which decisions we are referencing. Decisions regarding their students’ education, health and well-being, and access to resources should be parent and student-led but also collaborative with school staff. As parents and guardians, we entrust the well-being and safety of our kids with school staff for a substantial portion of their days, so building consistent and effective lines of communication are essential in supporting our kids and families.
(Pochardt): Parental involvement in education is crucial to student success. Parental involvement in the decision-making process depends on their willingness to be involved. There are many opportunities for parents to participate in shaping District policy both at the individual building level and District-wide. Perhaps the District needs to better communicate the fact that such opportunities are available.
(Read): I will make myself available to speak with parents through email, as well as participating in PTA and taking opportunities to attend various school events and functions. Council and board members I have always appreciated the most were the ones that showed up to public gatherings. They were the most accessible and the most integrated into the community. That’s what I have been and strive to be.
(Slack): I actually have seen the district reach out to parents in multiple ways for input, including online surveys, parent committees, and public forums. The problem is that parents are unaware of these opportunities, then they are rightfully upset because it seems like decisions are made without any parent input. The district needs to do a better job of meeting parents where they are: at sporting events, in community gatherings, at festivals downtown, at Elevate mixers. The board can and should help in this.
8) Where do you stand on the role of government and politics in schools?
(Collier): We need to teach government and politics in schools. We need to recognize the government does play a role in the decision making of the school board commonly as there are certain topics that are only changed through the supreme court. There are areas that the board needs to uphold lawfully. The primary role of the government should be to ensure no one’s rights are being infringed upon.
(Flynn): Politics have no place in the schools. I do not want curriculum developed from either side of the political spectrum. We have qualified teachers who are capable of teaching history from multiple perspectives without promoting or endorsing either. This teaches critical thinking and provides a forum for civil discourse—our kids need to learn how to do this. Government is involved in schools through the setting of standards and funding.
(Funke): Schools should teach how the government works so students can then apply that knowledge to shape how they feel about politics. There is no reason for schools to be pushing political views or agendas. It’s a disservice to students to be teaching biased lessons and learning from biased curriculum. I believe we should stick to the facts, build foundations, and let students decide for themselves how they feel about the world.
(Means): A primary role for government in education is the allocation of resources. It is important for governments to develop equitable mechanisms for the distribution of funds and allocation of resources. It is also important for governments to provide mechanisms to address inequities and violations of law with respect to educational institutions. Partisan politics have no place in our schools, but we see evidence of this every day and even in this election. We already know a two-party political system does not effectively represent all our community members, and mob, or majority, rule does not sufficiently provide for those in our community in need of the most protection and advocacy. Making schools, educational systems, and school board elections political, entrenches people in “being right” instead of doing what is right and coming from a place of understanding and compassion. It takes the focus off our kids and centers it on adults, egos and maintaining the status quo. If we continue to lose sight of our kids because of politics, we will continue to see the same failings in our school system that have been present for decades.
(Pochardt): The District has strict policies prohibiting staff from advocating their own political agenda in the classroom. That is as it should be. Students should be encouraged to study and explore the structure and philosophy of various forms of government, and to learn history and current events.
(Read): The role of government in schools has long been determined and established. Current political tension has turned this into a hot button topic, but government’s role in education is the same as it was 30+ years ago- to fund public education and develop a base expectation for students to achieve that keeps us competitive with other countries. In regards to the current frenzy around the value systems our schools instill or don’t instill in our youth, as a parent of two children in the district, the only value system they have been taught is to be kind, look out for your classmates, and look for opportunities to achieve, always striving to be the best version of yourself.
(Slack): Funding for and regulation of schools is definitely a complicated subject. The federal government provides some funding, and also sets some standards. The state government provides a larger percentage of funding, and also sets standards. And then the local government provides funding (via property taxes) and provides oversight (via the school board). It’s hard to say exactly where I stand on this subject, except to say that a board member has to be a critical thinker who can wrap her mind around many complex formulas. I am fully capable of this, as demonstrated by my experience in grant writing, helping to launch a nonprofit organization for youth, and owning a small business. As for politics in schools, I believe that our schools and teachers need to stay as apolitical as possible. My own kids do not know the political views of most of their teachers, and that is as it should be. That said, I also expect that our graduating seniors have a strong sense of their role in a democracy and of the various political parties and factions. It is absolutely essential that our students are able to have respectful, informed discussions with people who disagree with them.
9) If there was a $1 million grant available to the school district, how would you spend it and why?
(Collier): I believe we need to look at structural concerns and our growing community to develop additional schools that are needed. It is a good thing we are growing, now we need more space and to update the space we do have. I know $1 million would likely not cover all these costs, therefore, I would look at all the concerns and prioritize them.
(Flynn): One time money is tricky. You want it to have a lasting impact but not to create an unfunded program that we can’t afford in the future. I would survey teachers to find out what their critical needs are to teach our current programs. One time money should be used for something that has a lasting impact.
(Funke): I think any way that directly funds students and their studies must be the spending priority. The schools are there for the students, and we need to invest in them first.
(Means): My first question would be what is the term of the grant – is this a one-year or multi-year grant? Assuming this is a one-year grant, with no limitations as to expenditure type (capital projects, programmatic funding, etc.), and a general operating grant, I would first look to our strategic plan and our progress in each goal area. If there is a particular goal area that needs support in reaching benchmarks, then that goal would be prioritized in funding allocation. I would also involve administrative staff at each school to determine highest need, other funding opportunities on the horizon, and initiatives ready to launch with this particular funding. We want to ensure access to resources is equitable and inclusive.
(Pochardt): A $1 million grant would be most useful if directed toward pre-K educational programs. Some of our students arrive at Kindergarten well prepared and ready to learn. Others do not and those students tend to struggle to catch up to their peers. Regrettably, some never do. If we could provide a solid foundation for every student entering our school system, our entire community would benefit greatly.
(Read): Some of our schools within the district are in dire need of building improvement. Spending funds now on critical improvement needs is a common sense factor, not in ten years when improvements become more costly.
(Slack): $1 million is, in the grand scheme of budgets for a district this size, almost nothing. I imagine this fictitious money can’t be spent on salaries because it’s not ongoing funding. Perhaps this could be spent on capital projects like electric school buses, creating a districtwide community learning garden, or arts initiatives for after-school extracurriculars.
10) What programs (educational or extracurricular) would you like to see the district explore?
(Collier): I am a supporter of the Pathways program. I would love to explore more areas educationally and extracurricularly, however, my focus will remain on getting out district to reading level. I would be open to other input on ideas to improve our academics.
(Flynn): We are embarking on a new online school pilot project and a Lakota Immersion Kindergarten pilot next year. These will both fulfill unmet needs in the district and also help us maintain and increase our student enrollment which will help our funding.
(Funke): Internship programs are an amazing opportunities for students. Any program for students who want to learn a trade instead of going to a 4-year college is also a worthy cause. Students need to have options, all well-funded and supported.
(Means): I would like to the district to explore the expansion of the whole child initiative that currently exists. We have a long way to go as a district and community in meeting our young people and families where they are at. We must strive to not only be trauma-informed in our approach to education and community-building, but we must also be healing-informed in our approaches. Additionally, in conversations with the Rapid City Chief of Police, I know there is tremendous potential in redefining the relationship between the school district and the police department that better serves our kids. We must actively work to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline and prioritize resources in creating a school-to- opportunity pipeline, whether those opportunities are higher education, workforce, or other opportunities. Lastly, I am excited for the launch of the Kindergarten Lakota Immersion pilot program this fall at Canyon Lake Elementary. The first step in eliminating the long-standing achievement gap and declining graduation rate of our Indigenous students is providing immersion. The data and research exist, internationally, nationally and locally, that total immersion has numerous benefits for the students, families and broader community. Specifically, to Lakota children, reconnecting Lakota kids to their identity through language and life ways is how we will begin the process of healing and achievement.
(Pochardt): I do not believe our District suffers from lack of availability of educational or extra-curricular opportunities. I believe RCAS should focus on strengthening the programs we offer and promoting excellence in teaching and learning.
(Read): I would like to see us offer more Lakota culture and language offerings at all grade levels. Communities that place value in their history are more apt to achieve and succeed together.
(Slack): I’d love to see emotional intelligence learning at the elementary level. Today’s kids need to be given opportunities to learn how to listen and dialogue, to discern and research facts and understand opinions. Logic and philosophy would be valuable courses at the high school level. Additionally, I think we need more programs for dual enrollment and post-secondary learning for high school students. It would be great if students could graduate high school with a diploma and an associates degree from WDT. Partnering with local barber or cosmetology schools and with trade programs for apprenticeships will open doors for Rapid City’s kids who may not be immediately looking to a four year university program. I do think it’d be interesting to have an enrollment level that works for hybrid-homeschool families too. The pandemic taught us that some kids do really well with part-time in-person learning and some home education days. Flexibility as we look into the future is key to accommodate special and individual needs while increasing opportunity and access for all!