Competition looks to be stiff for two open seats on the Fulton School Board on April 3.
Veteran Dennis Depping is joined on the ballot by Kathy Brandon, David "Rob" Hunter and Kristi Donohue. Area residents will get the chance to hear from the candidates during the Fulton Certified Teachers Association's forum at 4 p.m. on Wednesday in the high school commons area.
Depping, who is wrapping up his second three-year term on the board, said he decided to seek another term because "I just want to make sure we do the best we can for every kid."
"I take a lot of pride in our district and our kids," Depping said. "After being in six years, I wish the public could take a walk in my shoes sometimes when we get to take tours or go on special visits (to the schools). It's unbelievable the amount of work going on in our school district every day to get to all of the kids."
Depping - who has had a son graduate from the district and a daughter who is a freshman at the high school - described Fulton's elementary system as being "as good as any elementary in the state," while calling the middle school and high school strong as well. He said he wants to help continue that.
Depping said that finances - and the district's ability to retain quality teachers - continue to be a concern.
"In the past three years our spending has been cut by over $2 million and we've had to make $1.7 million in cuts. I'm hoping that is over with," he said. "We need to continue to keep everything as tight as can be, but when we can we need to keep taking care of our employees.
"To me, the goal is always to keep our salary schedule going and not lose teachers."
Depping said he also would like to see the district continue with the early intervention programs it has been using to help at-risk students.
"It's so important to every child - we've got to catch them as soon as we can (when they're struggling) and keep them on track," he said.
Depping said he believes his experience makes him a strong candidate, adding that he would like the opportunity to continue serving the school district and its patrons.
"I hope people know my heart is in it for the right reasons. I've had to help make a lot of hard decisions, but you have to keep in mind what's best for the most people - every one of them I try to ask questions and do research," Depping said. "I hope the public knows I'm approachable and that I try to do whatever I can for them."
Brandon, who moved to Fulton several years ago, has daughters in the fourth and seventh grades and said it is observations as a parent in the district that prompted her to run.
"I just remain concerned that we need a better decision-making process - I see very little discussion (at board meetings)," she said. "Another concern is the elementary math program - at the begining of this school year we got a new edition of the same system."
Brandon said the district's justification for continuing with Everyday Math was that the majority of elementary teachers responded to a survey that they would like to continue with it.
"While it's true most did say to keep it, at the same time many of them said it was more difficult for our lower students because it moves so fast," she said, noting that middle school teachers do not like the program. "More time should have been taken."
Brandon said the board didn't get involved because there "seems to be this idea that board members are not supposed to get involved in classroom matters."
"If our board isn't willing to take these kinds of issues under advisement, as I parent I don't have anywhere else to go," she said. "Our board needs to feel free to step into those questions."
Brandon said her role as a concerned parent makes her a strong candidate for the board.
"Very simply, I'm a parent, and I see on a daily basis what works and what doesn't work for my students - I see the things they like and the things that frustrate them," Brandon said. "Being on the board is something I would take very seriously, and I would always be willing to discuss issues with district patrons."
David "Rob" Hunter
This is the third time Hunter, a physician psychiatrist at Fulton State Hospital, has run for the school board and he said he continues to be interested in the position because "I still think there are plenty of problems I could assist with. There are issues I know parents are concerned about that the board has done nothing with."
As in the past two elections, Hunter emphasized his displeasure with the early out Wednesdays.
"This is a fad, designed to supposedly give teachers more time to plan. It's just not doing this," Hunter said. "It has failed and been abandoned in Columbia and it costs us money because it adds days at the end of the school year.
"It also creates problems, especially for parents with small children."
He expressed displeasure with block scheduling as well, noting that he is pleased Fulton High School Principal Jason Whitt has planned to get away from it.
Like Brandon, Hunter is not impressed with the Everyday Math curriculum either.
"Everyday Math is a gimmick designed to sell curriculum and text books, and it's a dismal failure," Hunter said. "The middle school teachers do not like it - we have children leaving elementary school who can't do long division and don't know their multiplication tables.
"I don't know why we need all these new, slick, programs when the old methods work - our test scores were higher 40 years ago."
Like Depping, Hunter expressed concerns regarding staff retention.
"My daughter is a junior and she has received excellent instruction (over the years). We have a lot of very dedicated and talented teachers," Hunter said. "If we can't manage to budget a fair wage, we're going to lose quality teachers and our children are going to suffer."
After several years of attending board meetings and following district issues, he said he is "ready for the challenge," of serving on the board, adding that he would like to see a more diverse array of opinions on what he described as a "homogenous" board.
"I do pride myself on sampling viewpoints from the entire community when making decisions," Hunter said. "I just don't think all of the community's views are being represented. I want to carry on the tradition where we include the whole community."
Donohue - a licensed agent assistant at American Family Insurance - said she and her family moved to Fulton specifically for its schools, and she "just wanted to really be involved in the children's education."
"I want to be a little more aware of the decisions that are made," Donohue said, adding, "I'm not knowledgeable enough in any of the areas to say, "I'm not happy with the curriculum.'"
Like the other candidates, Donohue - the mother of two boys in the second and sixth grades - said she would be willing to find out what district patrons really want before making decisions.