SENECA - Well, it’s shaping up to be an interesting election for the Seneca School Board this spring–there are three declared candidates running for the two open seats.
School board members Mark Johnson and Shawn Lenzendorf both had their seats come up for election. Lenzendorf works as a deputy for the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department and decided to not run for another term. Johnson, a long-serving board member and the current school board president, decided he would seek another term,
Joining Johnson in the race are two well-qualified newcomers to the board elections, Shelly Davidson and Britney Joy. Both women have a long association with the district.
Shelly Davidson is the daughter of longtime volleyball coach Dawn Ray, who retired as coach this year. Davidson, 38, is a physical education teacher for the LaCrosse Public School District, teaching at Emerson School
Davidson, 38, lives at 21139 State Highway 27 Eastman with her husband David and their three children Dawson, 13, Addison, 11 and Easton, 4. The older kids attend Seneca Schools and Easton is headed to Pre-K at Seneca next year.
Shelly graduated from Seneca High School in 1999 and then attended UW-LaCrosse, graduating in 2004 with physical education major. Since then, she earned a Master’s Degree in 2010 from St. Mary’s University in Rochester, Minnesota.
After graduating from college, Davidson taught K-3 at-risk students in Quincy, Illinois. Her undergraduate minor in adaptive phy ed helped her in this special education assignment. She has taught physical education in Lacrosse for 16 years.
In addition to teaching in LaCrosse, Shelly has coached Little League in Seneca for eight years.
While attending Seneca High School, Shelly Davidson played volleyball basketball and softball.
Davidson is running for the board because she believes it is valuable for the district to have the perspective of an educator.
“Are we doing what’s best for the kids?” is the question Davidson wants to raise. “I think what I offer is unique because I’m not just coming to board as community member, but as a teacher as well.”
Davidson believes that an issue which will begin to face the district in the near future is changing the name of the school mascot from the current name, Indians, to something else. She said she has heard that this will increasingly become more of an issue going forward.
Davidson also feels that the education being offered students must be more oriented toward helping a student succeed later in life.
“We need to prepare kids for real life and have options besides just preparing them for a four-year degree,” she explained. “We need to emphasize career readiness preparing some kids to work in trades and making them aware of apprenticeships that are available.”
Davidson would like to see more community involvement in the education being offered so that students they can see there are opportunities outside of simply getting a four-year degree.
To Shelly Davidson, it comes down to a couple of simple questions.
“What are we doing that’s best for the kids and are we supporting teachers to get everything they need to help kids?”
Fellow candidate Britney Joy is another Seneca High School graduate, who believes it’s time to give something back to the school.
Britney, 34, lives at 24101 Joy Road, Eastman with her husband Derek and their four children–Harper, 8, Ronan, 6, Keegan, 5, and Stella, 2 (now almost 3).
Joy graduated from Seneca in 2006. She attended UW-LaCrosse where she majored in business management and minored in information systems. In college, Joy interned with the Trane Corporation, where she continues work some 15 years later.
“I started as an intern and kept going,” Britney said. That’s modestly put. Joy is now employed by Trane as an IT professional.
In addition to working for Trane, Joy serves on the finance council of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Seneca. She is also active in the Seneca Community Club and has helped the Youth Leadership’s Christmas Gift Basket effort and with the Wellness Day event at Seneca Schools.
Why is Britney running for the Seneca School Board?
“I feel really blessed to have grown up in Seneca,” Joy said. “I take great pride in the school and the education that I received there. I’m grateful and I’m proud to have begun my education in Seneca.”
With children in the school, Britney feels she shares a unique connection with other parents, who tend to see more of the activity that goes on behind the scenes.
“It’s my turn to give back to the kids, the school and the community,” Joy said.
Britney believes that one of the biggest issues facing the school now is adapting to technology. She thinks that this especially true now that students have gone to distance learning after school was called off in response to the COVID 19 virus pandemic.
“With the schools shut down, the rural schools are hit harder because they lack significant technology resources in the rural area. It hurts both teachers and students.”
Joy pointed out that larger school districts have ‘virtual learning days.’ These days can be used to make up for snow days, when school must be cancelled.
Joy sees the day when the district can set a calendar and stick to it because virtual learning days can make up for the snow day.
However, she acknowledges there will be some work to get there in the rural area, where some families don't have the resources and don’t have access to the internet or computers to use it.
Nevertheless, Joy was impressed by the district’s ability to quickly convert to the current remote learning curriculum. The information technology professional noted that the staff took off Monday and by Tuesday had constructed and put in place a remote learning program.
So, Britney Joy wants to see the remote learning program already in place continue to develop and grow. She also wants to increase the available resources, particularly for distance learning and education and opportunities for students going into the trades. And she believes in improving communication by fostering a two-way communication and doing a better job communicating to the community and parents.
Britney Joy also believes that the issue of mental health must be better addressed.
“It’s sad but mental health issues are increasingly impacting students today,” Joy said. “A lot of mental health issues directly impact what’s going on in the classroom. Smaller schools don’t have the resources to deal with mental health on a day-to-day basis. This has directly impacted one of my kids.”
Then, there’s Mark Johnson, the long-serving school board member, who is running for another term.
Johnson, 59, lives at 24060 Highway 27 Eastman with his wife Anne. The couple have four adult step children– Carrissa, Tiffany, Jillian and Jacob. The kids were all graduates of Seneca High School.
Johnson graduated from Seneca High School as well and attended UW-Platteville, where he received a bachelor’s degree in economics.
Mark Johnson is the treasurer of the Holy Trinity of the Knights of Columbus Council and a member of Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in Seneca. Johnson organizes the lectures and servers at Saint Patrick’s.
Johnson works at the Great Lakes Educational Loan Services in Boscobel. He has worked for Great Lakes for more than 18 years, starting as a call center representative. Four years ago, he started working with the escalation team dealing with irritated callers. Increasingly, his job has centered on writing and for the last two years he is involved almost entirely in writing for Great Lakes.
Prior to his current job, Mark worked for 14 years for Johnson’s One Stop in Seneca, where he served in many phases of the business. It should be noted that while he shares the same last name, Mark Johnson is not related to the family that owns the store.
Johnson has served on the Seneca School board for 21 years and has been the president of the board for about 12 of those years. He has also served as the school district’s representative on the CESA #3 Board of Control for the past nine or ten years and is currently that board’s treasurer.
Johnson is running again for the Seneca School Board because he believes he has something to offer the district.
“I still have a passion to do it,” Johnson said. “I haven’t lost that. I enjoy helping the district to be the best it can be. No one person can do it. And, unless the administration implements it, it won’t work.”
Johnson said that over the many years he has served on the Seneca School Board, he has come to appreciate much more the contributions the professional and support staff make.
Mark Johnson believes one of the biggest issues facing the district is how to deal with the COVID19 virus pandemic and the school closures it has caused. The school board president, like many others, is pleased with the plan district administrator David Boland and the staff have put in place to allow the students to continue learning.
Johnson noted that the staff have to devote more time in many cases because there no longer is face-to-face learning. He said that for some this is much harder and for others it is like the teaching they already do. He feels it’s probably harder to have distance learning on the elementary level.
Like others, Johnson thinks the school will face a mandate coming down to eliminate using Native American nicknames for the school mascot–like the Indians.
Another issue facing the district, like other districts, is declining enrollment.
“Enrollment going down hits funding,” Johnson explained. “That will cause some hard choices. We’re doing our best…the district may have look to a referendum (if funding falls too low).
“Another issue facing the district is less people are going into education,” according to Johnson. “Teachers in certain disciplines are hard to find.”
However, the elephant in the room for the district is COVID 19, Johnson noted.
“We need to do the best wecan do until things return to normal again,” the school board president said.
Johnson also talked about the relationship between the school and the community.
“Obviously the school is the biggest employer,” Johnson said. “So, we need to be the best neighbors we can be.”
Well, there’s two positions open on the Seneca School Board and what appears to be three qualified candidates. There certainly are worse problems to have.(Editor’s Note: Due to constraints of working from home and other issues, there were no photos of the candidates taken.)