School board selects Angela Mitchell to fill vacant seat

After two nights of interviews with nine candidates, the Oxford Board of Education unanimously appointed Angela Mitchell to replace Trustee Bill Keenist, who resigned earlier this month.
Mitchell and her husband have been residents of the Oxford community for 14 years. They have two children, a fourth grade daughter at Oxford Elementary and a sixth grade son at Oxford Middle School. Following her swearing in at the May 14 regular school board meeting, Mitchell said she is ‘very excited.?
‘I was getting ready to run for the election in November,? she said. ‘Then I heard that Mr. Keenist was retiring (from the board) so I was really excited to have the opportunity to get out there a little bit earlier and serve the community.?
The process
Along with Mitchell, Pam Phelps, Scott Dolata, Molli Boyd, Shawn Beach, Sandy Lavender, Michael Nelson, John VanLoon and Mark Stepek tossed their hats into the ring of hopeful candidates.
Each candidate was asked four questions, the first was ‘How do you work towards a consensus with different opinions and who do you see the board accountable too??
To reaching a consensus, all the candidates in one form or another said ‘listening to everybody’s viewpoint and being objective and understanding the other perspective.?
All candidates felt the board is ultimately accountable to the community, students, teachers and the parents.
The second question was ‘What do you see as the biggest improvements or accomplishments the school district has made??
Answers included the International Baccalaureate program, both Chinese and Spanish Language programs, blue turf and ‘being able to grow during the tough economic storm.?
Question three was the opposite ‘Where do you think the district needs improvement and examples of that? Topics included more teacher/parent communication and interaction, especially at the high school level, more teacher evaluations on enthusiasm, more vocational classes, Maymester, the ‘perception of the schools? as it relates to state standardized tests and the biggest one was the high school’s final exam policy.
Under the current policy as long as a student has at least a 68 percent grade in the class and has not missed more than three days of school, the student is exempt from having to take the final exam. However, students have the option to take it if they want and parents have the option to urge their child to take them anyway.
The high school’s cameras and school security system was another concern. Stepek felt there needed be a policy in place to save important events.
Skilling said that they do have a system in place and that video is saved for 30 days.
Board Vice President Carol Mitchell said she’d like the board to follow up on the concerns of the exam policy, security systems and the parent/teacher interactions.
‘They were very valid concerns and it was nice hearing it,? she said.
The fourth question was ‘If changes needed to be made in the district what is a board member’s role in implementing those changes and how do you see your role in doing that? All felt in order to implement change there needs to be ‘communication,? whether it’s sharing their own personal view point on a topic, communicating with teachers and administrators or listening to other board members in order to reach compromise.
At the end candidates were given opportunity to ask whatever questions they had of the board. One of those questions was, ‘What are the next steps/goals of the board and what challenges do they currently face??
In short, Skilling said their main goal is focusing more on interventions for their at-risk students as it relates to ‘numeracy and literacy.?
‘This is probably our weakest area,? he said. ‘Not that we haven’t done a lot, because we have, but we need to do more.?
As a part of the interview process each board member filled out a tally sheet ranking each candidate in several areas including focused on students, understand budgets and finance, familiar with education and policy, displays leadership, values community input, expects accountability, demonstrates integrity, appreciates diversity of cultures and communicates role of board.
The rankings were 1 (candidate did not communicate relevant examples or explanations), 2 (candidate communicated some relative examples or explanations) and 3 (candidate communicated clear examples or explanations).
The top three point getters were Mitchell with 138 points, Stepek with 131 points and VanLoon with 122 points.
‘I find it interesting the last three candidates (we interviewed) got the highest scores,? D’Alessandro said and wondered if those candidates being the last interviews had anything to do with it.
Board President Colleen Schultz didn’t think so.
‘I tried to watch our body language and how we interacted with the candidates. The two top candidates (Angela and Mark) were the two candidates that we all interacted with much calmer and had a much greater interaction with,? she said. ‘We chatted very freely with them. Everybody’s body language was relaxed and engaged. I don’t think it has to do with the last two, (I just think the) top two are a really good fit for us.?
Schultz said she scored both Mitchell and Stepek very high.
I think the top candidate (Mitchell) is great and she offers a lot and she has young kids,? she added. ‘I like that they all have young kids. I think that is so wonderful.?
Board Secretary Jim Reis had Stepek as his first choice.
‘I thought about Mark because he’s already been through elementary level and he’s had connections with so many people through out the elementary, through the middle school and now he’s working as Booster (Club) president has all these connections (with) people up at the high school,? Reis said. ‘He already knows administrators and has already dealt with them. That’s the only thing I’m thinking of.?
On the flip side Trustee Kim Shumaker liked that Mitchell ‘would know different people we don’t know.?
Shumaker had both Mitchell and VanLoon in her personal top three.
‘I just feel she is going to bring something different with lower elementary (children). She seemed to know a lot (and) she’s done her homework,? Shumaker said. ‘I like that she’s talking to people and asking the question. ‘What do other people think of me?? I think that sometimes is a really difficult thing to ask and for someone to be honest with you, so she seems open.?
Schultz also liked that Mitchell used the word ‘our.?
‘She talked very broad. Some candidates didn’t speak as broad. They spoke about their own children,? noted Schultz. ‘She just seemed calm, relaxed (and) thoughtful. That’s how she came across to me.?
Trustee Robert Martin also liked how Mitchell ‘took a moment to think about her answers before giving them.?
When it came time to vote Schultz said she’d be happy ‘with either of the top two candidates.? Shumaker would be okay with either Mitchell or VanLoon, D’Alessandro said he was ‘good with almost all the candidates? and Reis could ‘be okay with any of them.?
Running in November?
Of the nine candidates Mitchell, Beach, Nelson, Stepek, Boyd and Dolata all said they plan on running in November. Meanwhile Beach, Phelps and Lavender were on the ‘maybe? fence.

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