Vale High School. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)

VALE – The Vale School Board race this year features four out of five seats up for grabs in the May 18 election. 

Incumbents Darlene McConnell and Jason Chamberlain are running for reelection unopposed and Jason Johnson, a cattle rancher, is unopposed to fill the seat being vacated by Randy Seals.

And in the final race, Ryan Bates, a district parent and civil engineer for the Bureau of Land Management, faces Jessica Kulm, a district parent who works in food safety at Standage Farms and as a yoga teacher at Bliss Yoga Studio. 

Both responded to a list of detailed questions from the Enterprise. 

Bates said that leadership is rooted in experience and a willingness to perform the same tasks one asks of others, as well as the ability to make difficult decisions with a larger goal in mind. 

“I've worked with many groups of people in various capacities, with many backgrounds, and most of the time people gravitate to those who lead by example, are willing to help, and develop options and alternatives in order to solve problems,” he said. “I've spent the better part of 20 years attempting to do this in my personal and professional life.”

Kulm said that “the leaders within my life have been skilled and nonjudgmental listeners who are also willing to speak up and discuss hard concepts when necessary. As a mother, business owner and friend these skills are also present in my daily life.”

As a leader, Kulm said one of her most valuable experiences had been “designing, implementing and evaluating a targeted after-school program for at-risk youth.” 

Bates cited his work experience as a leader within the BLM engineering group. 

And both said that they were capable team players as well. 

"Teamwork is only possible if all members of a team work as a unit to achieve any given goal and/or objective,” said Bates. “My willingness to help out in any capacity that I can in order to achieve a desired result, I hope makes me a valuable team member.”

Kulm said that she was motivated to run for office by witnessing how Vale has shepherded students and staff through the pandemic. 

“I would like an opportunity to continue to support those efforts by bringing my personal experiences as a supportive active parent who has prior positive school experiences to our district,” she said. 

Defining his goals on the board, Bates said “my preference is to see all Vale School District students back in the classrooms, where they have an effective chance at a valuable education, and ensure everything that can be done to influence educational decisions for our students is derived at local and community levels.”

Kulm and Bates presented slightly different visions of how they hoped the school board would proceed concerning pandemic restrictions. 

“We need to find the best ways to support our school community while maintaining the integrity and guidance that the state requires our schools to follow,” said Kulm. “Although the year previous has been difficult, I also think it has presented new ideas and diversity within our schools. It could lead to interesting options to move forward into new methods of instruction in areas that the school hasn't been able to provide because of funding.”

Bates was critical of the state’s interventions. 

“The issue of personal choice and responsibility with regard to distance learning and mandatory mask mandates for students, both in the classroom and out, needs to be addressed at the local level,” he said. “If further discussions and/or negotiations with local and state leadership is necessary and the school board can assist in this capacity, they should be willing to do that.”

As for the issue of equity for underserved students, both Kulm and Bates took issue with the term “underserved.” 

“All children enrolled in the Vale School District system are students, regardless of identity and should be addressed and/or treated equally and not with ‘equity.’ There should be no underserved students,” said Bates. “If such a situation does exist, a determination of how and why this is occurring should be discussed before actions are taken.”

“All students/parents at some point and time feel they are underserved in some way,” said Bates. “The goal of any program should be to provide opportunity for those who are willing to apply the time and energy to receive.”

Johnson and Chamberlain didn’t respond to the Enterprise’s questions.

McConnell offered only a general comment regarding her candidacy.

“I have lived in the Vale School District for nearly 40 years. I worked for the Vale School District for 31 years, serving as a teacher and elementary school principal retiring in 2009,” she said. “In 2010 I was appointed to the Vale School District budget committee and continued to serve until my appointment to the board of directors in August of 2020..”

“My experiences in the world of education have been diverse and will help strengthen the Vale School District Board,” she said.

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

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