Six seek 3 positions on NB school board

Six candidates are seeking three positions as members of the New Bloomfield R-3 Board of Education in the April 5 election.

Of the three openings on the board this year, two current members have filed for re-election and one has decided not to file for another term. Board President Leroy Wade, who has served on the board for 16 years, has decided not to seek re-election. Two current board members have filed for another three-year term on the board. They are Gracia Backer and Suzie Mattern. Both were first elected to the board three years ago.

Four other candidates have filed for the board of education. They include Craig Abbott, an environmental specialist seeking his first term; Patsy Suttles, a retired teacher and board member for 11 years; Debbie Cuno, another retired teacher seeking a first term; and Michele Heuman, a cattle auction and county road maintenance employee seeking a first term.

Three of the six candidates with the most votes will be elected to three-year terms on the board.

Gracia Backer

Backer has been a member of the New Bloomfield School Board since April of 2008. She grew up and has lived all her life within two miles of New Bloomfield. “I was born and raised here. It’s the town I love and it is a great honor for me to serve on the school board. Membership on the school board requires a lot of work and it is an extremely important board in our community,” Backer said.

“We have to depend upon others to provide us with accurate information. Sometimes that’s difficut. It’s been an interesting three years. I have enjoyed it greatly,” Backer said.

A 1968 graduate of New Bloomfield High School, Backer attended Southwest Missouri State University for three years and is a 1993 Bachelor of Arts graduate of William Woods University.

Backer served 18 years as a member of the Missouri House of Representatives from Callaway County from 1982 to 2000. She was the first woman to be named as majority floor leader of the Missouri House. She is now employed full time as director of the Missouri Division of Employment Security.

The superintendent, high school principal and special education director all resigned recently. Backer said she wishes them all well and the board will be working hard to bring in new leadership. “We want to work closely with the committee established to hire a new superintendent and other new administrators,” Backer said.

Backer said in order to retain good teachers she would like to see a mentoring program for first-year teachers established by veteran teachers at the school.

“Small school districts often have a high turnover of teaching staff because teachers see other great places to go. A mentoring program would show them we care about them. I believe a mentoring program will help us retain more good teachers. We want them to be supported. I don’t think that’s been happening as much as it should. We have some great teachers and we need to keep them,” Backer said.

Backer said she also wants to foster better communication between the school and local residents. She would like to see a communications committee established at the school that would include members of the administration, teachers and non-teaching staff. The committee could meet every two weeks or so. She said they need to communicate better with the local people about what is going on in the school. “They could express their concerns and problems and perhaps offer solutions. We desperately need to improve communication,” Backer said.

Suzie Mattern

Mattern has been a member of the board since 2008.

A 1983 graduate of Fayette High School, Mattern also is a graduate of William Woods University with a degree in computer information management. She is employed full time by the Missouri Department of Economic Development as a computer information technology specialist.

Mattern is married with three children and has lived in the New Bloomfield area for the last 20 years. “I have a son who is a senior this year and I have an eighth grader in New Bloomfield Junior High School. My oldest daughter graduated from New Bloomfield High School in 2004,” Mattern said.

Mattern said she filed for re-election because “the last three years have been a lot of work and a bit

of a challenge at times. But I think we are making great progress. The school is going in the right direction. I want to see that continue. I also want to have a chance to face both our opportunities and challenges head-on.”

“Our interim superintendent, Mr. Tom Baugh, has been wonderful. He possesses all of the skills needed for a successful superintendent in this district. It’s too bad he has retired. I would like to talk him out of retirement. He would be perfect for this district. He’s been a healer and a team builder who has a lot of common sense. He has given us a great example of what to look for in our next superintendent,” Mattern said.

“We have made a lot of progress in the district. The board directed the administration to implement a Positive Behavior Support system. We were one of the first school boards to direct the administration to start the Positive Behavior Support system. We are also working hard to become a fully integrated Professional Learning Community for our teachers. That gives them the tools they need implement what is needed throughout the school. One grade will be prepared for the next grade,” Mattern said.

“We also need to improve communications throughout the district. That has been a recurring theme for the last three years,” Mattern said.

“We, like most districts in the state, obviously will face financial challenges during the coming year and beyond,” Mattern said. “The board recently began working with a school finance expert in areas of budget development and budget review and we’ve already realized some improvements in the current year’s budget from this. The board also recently refinanced some of our bonds, resulting in interest savings of nearly $80,000 for the district. We must look at every way possible to make the most of our budget while ensuring we are meeting the needs of our students,”

Craig Abbott

Abbott said he filed for the school board for the first time in order to give back to his community at a time when the district needs help.

Abbott said his parents are graduates of New Bloomfield High School. He is a 1992 New Bloomfield graduate and his wife Kim is a 1993 graduate. He also is a 1997 graduate of Lincoln University.

“I have a vested interest in New Bloomfield. My wife and I have two children in elementary school in New Bloomfield,” Abbott said.

Abbott is in charge of environmental compliance at Allied Waste and Republic Services. He supervises environmental issues involving millions of dollars in Allied Waste property throughout Missouri and Kansas.

“My highest priority as a member of the board would be to increase student achievement at the school. I also would like to get more members of the community directly involved. People are a little dissatisfied with the way things have been going and the resignations of the superintendent and other administrators,” Abbott said.

“The district is in some trying times. If elected, I would make it a point to open the lines of communication within our district. I will work to boost morale within our school and promote school pride. Our school is the largest and most important employer in the district and everyone should be proud of what we have. I have strong financial management skills and common sense,” Abbott said.

Abbott said as a new member of the board he would participate in hiring of a new superintendent. “I would want someone who is a leader of improvement and not satisfied with the status quo,” Abbott said.

Debbie Cuno

Cuno, a retired New Bloomfield School District teacher, said she is a lifetime resident of New Bloomfield.

“I believe financial issues are the biggest problems facing the New Bloomfield School District,” Cuno said.

A 1974 graduate of New Bloomfield High School, Cuno received a bachelor’s degree in secondary education in 1978 from William Woods University in Fulton and a master’s degree in library and informational science from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Cuno said she is a candidate for the school board because as a student, parent and an employee of the district, she cares deeply about the students of the district and the community as a whole. “I feel my background can bring a different perspective to the board,” Cuno said.

Cuno retired recently from the New Bloomfield School District after teaching 31 years in the district. She taught high school speech and junior high English. After receiving a Master’s Degree in Library Science from the University of Missouri, she became the district’s librarian. “More recently I was the librarian just in the high school after the school hired an elementary school librarian,” Cuno said.

In seeking a new superintendent, Cuno said “I think we need to find someone who is honest, trustworthy and has a lot of common sense. But that isn’t something that will pop out on a resumé. So if you are looking at a resumé, I think I would be looking for someone who is a strong financial leader. With funding the way it is in our district and all of the other districts around the state, I think that’s going to be vitally important to us in the future.”

“The major issues facing the school board are going to be financial matters. Because of what is going on at state and federal levels, money is going to become a major issue. Important decisions are going to have to be made for the education of our children,” Cuno said.

Student achievement, she said, should be a top priority of any school district. “That’s an important issue but I think the financial issues will outweigh some other things right now. But nevertheless student achievement is the top priority. That’s why we are there,” Cuno said.

“I would love to find a way to increase salaries for teachers. But financially, we will have to do the best we can. Hopefully, a new superintendent will be able to come in and figure out ways to get our teachers an increase,” Cuno said.

Michele Heuman

Heuman is a graduate of Glasgow High School and said she has held two full-time jobs for several years.

Since 1998 she has worked at Callaway Livestock Center where she checks in and loads livestock. She also is employed by the Cole County Road and Bridge Department where she works on road maintenance, including laying asphalt, road repairs, plowing snow, and spraying for mosquitoes.

This is her first time filing for the New Bloomfield Board of Education. “I am unmarried and I have no children but the board has a lot of issues that need to be taken care of. They had a superintendent on administrative leave for a long time and that is not acceptable. It’s also unacceptable to have security that locks parents out of the school and they have to be escorted into the school to pick up their children. The score levels that the kids have in school also are not acceptable. Basketball should not be a priority over education and that’s the way it is at New Bloomfield,” Heuman said.

Patsy Suttles

Suttles is another former New Bloomfield school teacher who has filed for the school board. She had served as a member of the board for 11 years until she was defeated in the April, 2010, school board election.

Suttles taught for 30 years in the New Bloomfield School District, teaching students at all levels in grade through high school.

A 1962 graduate of Poplar Bluff High School, Suttles is a graduate of the College of the Ozarks and also Southwest Missouri State University in 1966.

“I started teaching at New Bloomfield for 30 years. In addition after that I worked as a substitute teacher in the Jefferson City and North Callaway school districts,” Suttles said.

“One of my major concerns is achievement of students. I believe we need to work especially hard on student achievement,” Suttles said.

In seeking a new superintendent, Suttles said she believes the district needs a good leader. “We need someone who will get the district going in the right direction,” she said.

“It seems as though all schools in Callaway County have had problems this year,” Suttles said.

“We need to get our schools back on track,” Suttles said.

“I believe I have the background as a former member of the school board and my education qualifies me to be an effective member of the school board,” Suttles said.

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