Nyssa school board openings draw dozen hopefuls

NYSSA – A lot of people want to serve on the Nyssa School Board.

Twelve candidates are competing for five spots on a seven-person board in the May 18 election. 

All five incumbents – Brett Johnson, Pat Morinaka, Bob Fehlman, Torie Ramirez, and Kim Stipe – are facing a challenger. That’s unusual in a county where school board races are often uncontested, or require write-in votes to fill empty seats. And none of the incumbents responded to a list of detailed questions from the Enterprise.

In the first race, Nyssa Police Chief Ray Rau is running to unseat Johnson. Rau said he has been endorsed by the Nyssa School District Teachers Association. 

Rau cited a “disconnect” between school board members and school staff as one of the issues that he would hope to address during his tenure. 

“It’s concerning that many teachers, staff, and other members of the community do not know many of the members currently serving on the school board. They do not see very many of them in the schools or at many events,” he said. 

Rau said that if elected, he wouldn’t allow distance to grow between himself and the community.

“I will continue to be engaged within our community and volunteer at many of the same events that I currently participate in,” he said. “It is important to me that a school board member regularly visit the schools so they can talk to the teachers, administrators, and students to develop a full understanding of what the potential issues and challenges are and then be able to make an informed decision by asking the people who are doing the job for answers.” 

Rau said that his experience as police chief, which includes handling a multimillion dollar budget, human resources issues, and a labor agreement, was also sure to come in handy.

About the issue of equity for underserved students, Rau said that his mantra would be that “everybody counts, or nobody counts.” 

“I would need to research with administration, teachers, parents and students to determine whether this is an issue,” Rau said. 

Some 66% of students in Nyssa are Latinx, but white students are 10 times more likely to be enrolled in the district’s gifted/talented program, according to data from ProPublica. And 72% of Nyssastudents qualify for free or reduced lunch because of local poverty levels. 

Morinaka is running against Tammie Briner, a dental hygienist, Girl Scout leader, and district parent who has lived in the area for 18 years. Briner offered the Enterprise a brief statement in lieu of answering a list of detailed questions. 

“I am very passionate about giving children the best opportunities,” she said. “I am aware that there are many challenges that school districts face from budgets, contract negotiations, parental input, and the present climate of Covid.”

She pledged to research issues.

“I want to build a better relationship between the board, administration, teachers, and parents so that together we can do what is right for our children,” she wrote. 

Fehlman, current board chair, is facing Megan Robbins, a special education teacher. Neither Fehlman nor Robbins responded to questions from the Enterprise. 

Ramirez, a bank branch manager and the only current Hispanic member of the Nyssa School Board, faces Greg Armenta, a patrol sergeant with the Nyssa Police Department, and Susan Ramos, a retired district teacher and former district parent. Ramirez and Armenta did not respond to questions from the Enterprise. 

Ramos said that as a board member, she would focus on supporting teachers and staff, believing that doing so would lead to greater student success as well. 

“I know right now that the board is feared and they talk down to the staff, and that’s not what we need to do,” she said. “We need to do it in a positive way. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. People need to be a little bit kinder and just say things in a positive manner. I think that’s something that’s not being done right now.”

Ramos said that her experiences as a deaconess at church and as a food pantry volunteer, as well as her leadership during her years as a teacher, had prepared her well for the role of school board member. 

“I didn’t like to just sit back. I like to step up and get things done,” she said.

Ramos said that she “understands the struggle” for equity. Her husband was raised in a migrant family, and their daughter has a learning disability.

“I had to fight every year” to get her the services she needed, Ramos said.

As such, Ramos said that parent involvement would be key to achieving equity. 

“You have to remember that each child is different and each child learns differently. I think if we involve the parents more, especially some of the parents that don’t speak English, there are a lot of parents that are afraid to come. We have to get somebody that’s bilingual and invite them in and include them, and I think if you do that, then you’ll be more successful.”

Stipe is running against Alesha Munk, a district parent, and Jason Berry, an HVAC technician. Berry and Stipe did not answer questions from the Enterprise. 

Munk said she was motivated to run for school board by concern that the teachers didn’t have a voice. 

“They do not know the board members or feel that the board members know them,” she said. “They do not feel appreciated and respected. I plan to meet with the teachers in person, face to face, to show them that I care. I want to know the issues they are facing and find solutions from the front lines on how to best provide for our students.” 

Munk said that as an “outsider” not raised in Nyssa, she holds a certain advantage as a team player. 

“I am able to consider all opinions, and work with all people, regardless of their family name or social status,” she said. “I have no loyalties to anyone and I hope to create a board that is cooperative and respectful to all.” 

Munk said that her work in a Scripture-based after school class for girls exemplified her leadership. 

“I believe that qualities such as honesty, virtue and kindness are just as important as traditional school subjects,” she said. “My ongoing goal is to help create a rising generation of God-fearing young women who will be Nyssa’s leaders one day.” 

On the topic of equity for underserved students, Munk expressed a need for more information before she could offer an adequately informed opinion.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

QUESTIONS: Here are questions sent by email to all of the school board candidates:

*Why do you consider yourself an effective leader?

*Describe one work or volunteer experience where you acted as a leader to accomplish a specific goal. If you’ve already served on the Nyssa School Board, please describe an experience from your tenure as Board Director:

*Why do you consider yourself an effective team player?

*Describe one work or volunteer experience where you acted as a team player to accomplish a specific goal. If you’ve already served on the Nyssa School Board, please describe an experience from your tenure as Board Director:

*Why are you running for school board? What are your goals for Nyssa School District?

*Students have had a tough year, both in terms of mental health and academics, thanks to the pandemic and distance learning. What issues related to the pandemic would you plan to address as a board member, and how?

*A large portion of the Nyssa school board is up for (re)election this year. How would you plan to integrate your vision into a potentially very different version of the school board? 

*What proposal do you have to advance the goal of equity for underserved students?


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