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Get to know the River Falls School Board candidates

The River Falls Journal sent questionnaires to candidates running for River Falls School Board, of which there are six competing for four open board seats in the April 3 election.

READ MORE: April 3 election guide: Mayor, City Council, town boards, municipal judge

Those who responded have their answers recorded below. Incumbents are marked with an (i). 

Mike Miller (i)

Position for which you are running: River Falls School Board

Age: 50

Address: N8016 980th St., River Falls

Occupation: Self-employed

Family: Katie (wife); children: Allie (23) Nick (20) Jacob (17)

Prior elected offices: River Falls School Board — nine years

Civic involvement: River Falls Lions Club — Lion of the Year 2017, Board of Directors 12 years; Rhino's Foundation — Board of Directors & Treasurer; Tri4Grace — Board of Directors & Treasurer; River Falls High School volunteer coach — football 16 years and hockey four years; River Falls Youth Coach — baseball nine years and hockey 12 years; City of River Falls Business Improvement District (BID) Board of Directors — eight years; River Falls Area Hospital Foundation — past board member.

If you are an incumbent, discuss the committees on which you have served, review any accomplishments to which you feel you have made a particular contribution and share your intentions for involvement during the new term.

Many exciting things have happened during my nine years on the school board. Accomplishments include the hiring of Superintendent Benson, the development and implementation of two strategic plans, implementation of the 4K and community education programs, the successful passage of the $19 million referendum in 2011 and development of the current referendum. I have spent nine years and am currently chair of the Finance and Facilities committee. I was a member of the ad hoc committee that narrowed the facility needs included in the current referendum. If re-elected I hope to continue to chair the Finance and Facility committee. If the referendum passes, I will be on the committee that manages the implementation of the building projects through weekly project review meetings.

Identify and elaborate on any other issues facing the board/municipality which you feel to be important.

First and foremost, we need to continue to look for ways to keep our students and staff safe. The recent school shooting in Florida reinforces the need to find ways to prevent incidents like that from happening here. Another issue we need to address is the condition of our school buildings. If passed, the current referendum addresses safety and security, maintenance, space and technology issues. It creates schools that allow our teaching staff to implement personalized and flexible ways of delivering education to our students. Finally, we need to continue to look for ways to recruit and retain the very best teaching staff. A school district is only as good as the people in it, and we are lucky to have a highly motivated, experienced and engaged, and staff!

Kellen Wells-Mangold (i)

Position for which you are running: River Falls School Board

Age: 37

Address: River Falls

Occupation: Assistant Athletics Director — University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Family: Husband to Robyn and dad to Breyker and Willa

Prior elected offices: River Falls School Board

Civic involvement: Leadership River Falls, National College Athlete Honor Society Board of Directors, various community service projects in conjunction with UWRF Athletics

If you are an incumbent, discuss the committees on which you have served, review any accomplishments to which you feel you have made a particular contribution and share your intentions for involvement during the new term.

Currently I serve on the Personnel Committee and the Diversity and Equity Committee for the River Falls School District as a board member, to which I was appointed in November 2017. I will continue to serve on these but have a particular interest in the Finance and Facilities Committee due to my professional experiences. Diversity, inclusion and equity are important to me and I would like to help the district advance its efforts in these areas through supporting various initiatives already in place. It is also important that I use my position to support the community's interests above everything else. This means continuing to advance the district's strategic plan while also helping it remain fiscally responsible with the help of fellow board members.

Identify and elaborate on any other issues facing the board/municipality which you feel to be important.

An issue I feel that is important is the effort to retain our talented educators already in the district. This is not an issue that is unique to River Falls, but one that continues to be at the forefront of helping us reach the district's mission. Collaboration with everyone in the district is needed to identify possible ways we can continue to be a district of choice, not just for our students, but for our educators and staff as well. Another important aspect of the district I want to continue to support is the personalized learning efforts for our students. Students today learn in vastly different ways and our teachers understand this. Providing them with support and resources to continue these efforts is extremely important.

Michael Thompson

Position for which you are running: River Falls School Board

Age: 56

Address: 1913 Glacier Ave., River Falls

Occupation: Vice President Partner Development for Benson Hill Biosystems

Family: Wife (33 years); two daughters (ages 22 and 26)

Prior elected offices: none

Civic involvement: Rotary International; board committee member for the St. Croix Valley Foundation; United Methodist Church, long standing church member, Sunday School volunteer, finance committee member; River Falls running club, long standing participant

Explain how and why you chose to run for office and how you plan to make your municipality a better place.

When multiple trusted friends across different friend groups suggested I consider running for school board, I was compelled to explore it. After meeting with many people across our community, I confirmed our district was well managed and I decided there was no need to run unless there was an opening. One position in this election cycle is without an incumbent, so I decided to run. That's how I decided to run. Why I'm running is because I want to invest my passion, skills and energy to support our strong education system that enables and fosters everyone to find their passion, develop their skills and find their worth in a fulfilling life journey. I bring a collaborative approach, an ability to navigate complexity and fiscal responsibility.

Identify and elaborate on any other issues facing the board/municipality which you feel to be important.

Now more than ever, something is making it more difficult for young people to grow up with a sense of confidence, self-worth and utility (in other words to find and embrace their passions and skills). Based on 25 years of research on generational differences by Dr. Jean Twenge (www.jeantwenge.com/), today's young people report higher levels of feeling sad, hopeless, useless and left out. Years 2011-2015 saw a 50 percent increase in levels of clinical depression and a substantial increase in suicide rates. As a community we need to feed our young people with our genuine (electronics-free) connectional presence conveying that they are worth spending time with. Being comfortable in our own skin and sharing a bit of ourselves with them will go a long way.

Alan Tuchtenhagen (i)

Position for which you are running: River Falls School Board

Age: 66

Address: N8554 1205th St. (Clifton Township), River Falls

Occupation: University Administrator and consultant

Family: Wife - Cindy Gandrud; sons, John, Daniel, and William Tuchtenhagen

Prior elected offices: River Falls School Board. Currently chair the Education Programs Committee and serve as the Board Clerk.

Civic involvement: Active member of First Congregational UCC Church River Falls, Community Education teacher, Boy Scout leader and merit badge counselor, RFHS Band Boosters, etc.

If you are an incumbent, discuss the committees on which you have served, review any accomplishments to which you feel you have made a particular contribution and share your intentions for involvement during the new term.

I have served on all Board committees — formal and ad hoc. I currently chair the Education Programs Committee and am board clerk. There have been many changes in my time on the board. Important ones include adding 4-year-old kindergarten and keeping the District on a solid financial path (reflected in part by our excellent bond rating). We weathered the devastating budget cuts that resulted from ACT 10 in Wisconsin by working with the administration and faculty to avoid devastating layoffs. River Falls continues to be one of the top performing districts in Wisconsin. We have a committed and responsive school system that puts kids and their families first. The community supports its teachers and schools and I am proud to serve on this board.

Identify and elaborate on any other issues facing the board/municipality which you feel to be important.

Ensuring that our students are successful is the most important issue. We do this by supporting teachers with adequate compensation, working environment, advocacy, and engaging them in our planning. We must remain financially stable. This has been a challenge in recent years with little or no increases in state aid — until this year. We are one of the few Wisconsin districts that can count on stable enrollment with the probability of growth. Modest growth brings additional state support allowing us to be more effective in our program and facility planning. Continue to develop trust from the community through transparency of our actions and being open to input and participation. Getting the current referendum passed will relieve some of the pressure to divert future budget dollars to maintenance.

Todd Andrews

Position for which you are running: Board of Education

Age: 44

Address: 408 Devin Lane, River Falls, WI 54022

Occupation: Global Sales & Business Development Manager, Bioprocessing AND professional comedian

Family: Holly (Wife); Quinlan (10, fifth grader at Rocky Branch) and Ashlynn (6, Kindergartener at Rocky Branch)

Prior elected offices: N/A

Civic involvement: Organized and performed at a comedy show fundraiser for the Tri-Angels Playground Fund in which all proceeds from the event went directly to the fund (over $5,000).

Donated my time for various speaking events for the community such as River Falls Days, Bacon Bash and Foster Foundation's Lies & Lures. Coached various youth sports including soccer, baseball and football. Volunteer at various Rocky Branch Elementary events.

Explain how and why you chose to run for office and how you plan to make your municipality a better place.

I'm very excited about the opportunity to give back to my wonderful community and make a positive impact, especially now that I have two young children in the school district. I feel it is advantageous to have board members who have children in the school district to ensure the members have "skin in the game." With my experience in the private sector, I have developed extensive experience with project management, project prioritization, cross-functional teamwork and budget maintenance. This experience is beneficial to ensure efficiency with the various projects the board is entrusted with. Being an open, honest and approachable person, I will work hard to have an open mind and listen to the community to ensure everyone has a voice — teachers, faculty, parents, etc.

Identify and elaborate on any other issues facing the board/municipality which you feel to be important.

The biggest issue facing our school district is limited funding for education. There is a struggle to maximize these limited dollars that are available to our school district. It is extremely important to ensure the district is properly and effectively managing these funds to ensure as many key priorities as possible are being addressed. If the funds are managed effectively, it should free up more opportunities to address items that previously may not have been addressed. Additionally, effective project management will be critical if the referendum passes. The taxpayers want to be sure that the funds are being well managed. The community can feel confident in my abilities as I have over a decade of comprehensive experience managing multiple, complex projects simultaneously and within budget.

Cindy Holbrook

Position for which you are running: River Falls School Board

Age: 45

Address: South Ridge Road, River Falls

Occupation: Teacher/Senior Lecturer and Head Women's Basketball Coach at UW-River Falls

Family: I have three young children that attend elementary school in the River Falls School District

Prior elected offices: -

Civic involvement: UWRF Athletics and our Women's Basketball Program are involved in many community service projects. We have done the Greenwood Elementary Kindness Retreat, Allina's Free Bikes 4 Kidz, drives for the River Falls Food Shelf, community clean-up, and many more. I work closely with the River Falls Youth Girls Basketball Association, I also volunteer as a parent with the River Falls Public Montessori Elementary School.

Explain how and why you chose to run for office and how you plan to make your municipality a better place.

My children attend school in River Falls. I'm passionate about every student having a great experience, both in the process and outcome. I'm a teacher and coach at UW-River Falls so I understand the unique challenges and rewards that come with working directly with students. Policies on paper can be different than what's effective in actual classrooms. I'm interested in real experiences and success for students. I'm thoughtful, ask questions, and genuinely care about different experiences and ideas. I think about issues and ideas from multiple angles and don't rush into big decisions without all the information. I believe in being responsible, responsive, inclusive, and transparent. Given the opportunity, I'll learn and do my best to be a dynamic leader for this district and community.

Identify and elaborate on any other issues facing the board/municipality which you feel to be important.

Whether the referendum passes or not, the facility needs of our district will be a primary discussion. If it passes, the discussion will shift to the details of creating the best possible spaces for each of our schools. If it doesn't, discussions about where to find the finances to do the absolute necessary items will be extremely difficult. The community was directly involved in developing the goals for our district. Planning, maintaining, and upgrading our facilities is central to reaching many of those goals. I have to believe the other immediate issue facing the board will be surrounding school safety. It's a national discussion and one that unfortunately has to be faced in every district.

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