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Voters will select three of five candidates to serve on school board
North Crawford
North Crawford

NORTH CRAWFORD - On Tuesday, April 4, five candidates will vie for three open seats on the North Crawford School Board. The top two vote getters will serve three-year terms, and the third place vote getter will serve a two-year term.

Those five candidates are incumbents Ed Heisz, Jesse Swenson and Charissa Richter, and challengers Mark Fredelake and Cody Brockway.
NCSB 2023 candidates_Ed Heisz
Ed Heisz

Ed Heisz

If elected, this would be Ed Heisz’s second term on the North Crawford School Board. Heisz grew up on his family farm in rural Gays Mills, where his parents ran a diversified farm business, including crops, dairy and hogs.

Heisz graduated from North Crawford High School in 1974, and after serving three years in the U.S. Army, spent almost 19 years as a civilian employee for Wisconsin National Guard in Viroqua and Fort McCoy.

Today, he raises crops and beef cattle on the family farm. His three children all attended North Crawford Schools, as well as his seven grandchildren, some of whom are currently students at the school.

“I ran for the school board because I want the children in our community to have access to a good education and all that the school can offer them,” Heisz said. “I am seeking re-election in order to help ensure that we can continue to help our students by upgrading the school building and grounds using funds approved in the referendum.”

When asked what he thought the school board had done well in his years on the board, Heisz responded that “we handled the pandemic as well as it could have been handled.” He said that some things could have been done better, but overall “it went pretty well.”

In terms of what the board and district could have done better, Heisz pointed toward the virtual learning option.

“If we had understood virtual learning better, we could have helped our students more during the pandemic,” Heisz said. “It’s something that could benefit the district even when there isn’t a pandemic, for instance in a winter with a lot of snow days like we had this year – that way students and staff wouldn’t have to make up any lost work or instructional time.”

Heisz said that he doesn’t want to see virtual learning where the teacher just spends a few minutes with the kids each day, but rather where the teachers are live all day actually teaching the students. He said that access to internet, and ensuring the kids have a device at home are crucial to being able to offer virtual instruction.

Heisz says he sees the top priorities for the new school board as recruiting and retaining qualified staff, and operating within the district’s budget. He says the district needs to understand why it is losing students to open enrollment, and supports operation of the district’s daycare as a means to recruit staff and attract new families to the district.

“This school has educated all the members of my family, and is deep in my heart,” Heisz said.

Jesse Swenson

Jesse Swenson graduated from North Crawford High School in 1997, and her husband, Kurt Swenson, is also an alumnus of the school, as is his mother. The two own Crooked Creek Construction, and farm on a sesquicentennial farm in Star Valley, raising Shorthorn beef cattle.

“As an alumni of North Crawford, I've always loved my school and been passionate about making it the best it can be,” Swenson said. “My kids also attend North Crawford, so I definitely have an interest in their school district providing them the best opportunities they can get to succeed after they graduate.”

 Swenson said that she also believes that parents are a school's biggest allies. In seeking another term on the board, she says she hopes to make a difference, and offer the voice of a parent while on the school board.

When asked what she thinks the North Crawford School Board has done well in the last few years, Swenson said that the school board did a good job with the referendum held in November of 2022.

“It was big, it was scary, and the board really did the research, took the time, went to the meetings,” Swenson said. “Now, it's time to implement, and follow what the polls and voters want.”

When asked what she thinks the board could have done better in the last few years, Swenson’s unequivocal answer was “COVID.”

“That's an easy answer for me,” Swenson said. “I don't think a school district or school board has the right to make health decisions for parents, and I think a lot of harm was done by closing the doors and keeping kids virtual. We have a lot of ground to make up.”

Swenson said that her top priority for the board in the next two-to-three years would be spending referendum money responsibly.

“I don't just mean not overpaying for things. I mean the best return on our investment,” Swenson said. “Once the repairs to the school are done, then the dollars really matter. We need to invest in our programs that WILL make students college, career and life ready.”

Swenson stated that she is a strong believer in the trades, and obviously agriculture, and said the district needs to do more to support programs that help students interested in that path.

Another priority for Swenson is ensuring that the district’s teachers feel valued and respected, and that their ideas are welcome.

“The teachers truly understand what students need to succeed. I want to make sure the board hears that,” Swenson said. “Teacher leadership is very attractive.”

 She said she also wants to focus on real education, and has felt in the past the focus was successful test scores instead of true subject knowledge. 

“I'd like to focus on what tools kids ACTUALLY need to succeed. To become good, successful humans able to give back to their community,” Swenson said. “Or, at least know what they're bringing to the table in the workforce.”

Overall, Swenson said she thinks the board has gotten away from looking around the school district and saying, "what can we teach students so they can succeed here?"

“We don't want to teach kids they need to leave,” Swenson said. “This district is amazing, and there's so many opportunities if you're not afraid to work a little. We will never increase student enrollment if we don't teach students how to stay.”

NCSB 2023 candidates_Charissa Richter
Charissa Richter

Charissa Richter

Charissa Richter has served one, one-year, term on the North Crawford School Board, and is seeking another term in the April 4 election. Her son Cecil is a first grade student in the district.

Richter grew up in small-town, Ohio and then moved to Cincinnati to attend college where she met her husband, Jimmy, and attended graduate school for occupational therapy at Xavier University. After graduation, she and her husband moved to Colorado, where they lived for several years. In Colorado, she began her career as an occupational therapist, and they welcomed their son into the family.

“Two years ago, we decided to move to Gays Mills and have not looked back,” Richter said. “We very much enjoy this area, and have embraced this community whole-heartedly.”

 Richter is currently employed at Gundersen Hospital in Boscobel, as well as helping her husband with their vintage/antique shop, Little Boxes Vintage, in Gays Mills.

“I had the pleasure of filling a school board seat in last spring's election, and have thoroughly enjoyed it,” Richter said. “I have learned so much over the past year that would serve as a foundation to continue serving in this position. It would be my honor to continue to serve on the board.”

Richter said that the past few years were rough for everyone, while working their way through the pandemic “the best that we could.”

“There were many hard decisions to be made, and many conflicting opinions about the best way to wade through,” Richter said. “Over the past year, serving on the board, I have witnessed a cohesive school board pulling together to continue to build a strong school district and clean up the pieces left behind by the pandemic. This year, the school board worked diligently to pull together a referendum that would meet the needs of the district in the future, as well as work within the financial budget of our constituents.”

Richter expressed pride in the decisions to welcome the therapy dog into the school, provide fair wages to support staff, and develop plans to address academic concerns within the district.

“We supported a new sheep grazing program, at no cost to the district, that will allow learning opportunities for our students, as well as save the time and expense of mowing,” Richter pointed out.  “I am also part of the open enrollment committee that is developing a plan to promote enrollment into our school district. There is much to be done in the next few years and I am excited to be a part of that process!”

Richter sees student academic recovery, staff satisfaction and retention, and building a culture at the school to encourage a sense of community for students as top priorities for the board in the next few years.

“I would like to continue to focus on academic recovery from the pandemic,” Richter said. “We are currently looking at our test scores, and developing plans to ensure our students are able to get back on track to meet their academic goals, particularly in reading and math.”

She said she would also like to focus on staff satisfaction and retention.

“Our teachers are vital to the success of our school,” Richter said. “It is important that they have the resources and support that they need to effectively teach our children, as well as promoting a positive work environment that leaves them feeling fulfilled and eager to come to work each day.”

Lastly, Richter said she would like to build a culture at the school that encourages a sense of community for the kids.

“I think this will have a direct correlation to their academic scores and participation in class, as well as extracurricular activities,” Richter explained. “There are so many mental health concerns that plague our children in this current climate. Creating a safe, positive environment where the kids feel valued and are able to develop a sense of identity and self-confidence will help guide them toward a successful future.”

NCSB 2023 candidates_Mark Fredelake
Mark Fredelake

Mark Fredelake

Mark Fredelake was born and raised in Milwaukee, where he resided until June of 2021. At that time, he and his wife Sara moved their family to the area. They have three daughters at North Crawford, two in the elementary school and the youngest in the daycare.

Fredelake graduated from Dominican High School in 2002. His mom is a retired special education and diagnostic teacher for Milwaukee Public Schools, and his dad worked as a marketing director for a large retirement community. He attended UW-Milwaukee as a non-traditional student (returning adult), and graduated with a B.S. in Criminology. He is currently a Senior Business Analyst in IBM's Salesforce consulting practice. He explained that a big part of his job is to listen to clients, and develop solutions that best meet their needs and budget. He says that this is a skill he would use as a school board member.

“I have also gone through six acquisitions where my employer was bought by another company,” Fredelake said. “This has provided me with a solid understanding of how changes impact people, and equipped me with the tools to manage change efficiently.”

Fredelake’s top motivator to run for the school board is that he wants to be an advocate for the students of the community.

“I want them to have an educational experience that builds a solid foundation which will allow them to be successful in whatever they want to do with their lives,” Fredelake said.

In answer to the question about what the board has done well in the last few years, Fredelake said he thinks that the school board has done a great job with the difficult task of keeping a balanced budget. He said they have also retained and hired the passionate and talented group of faculty and staff that the school district has today. 

Fredelake explained that he has been attending the school board meetings for the past nine months, and overall, thinks they are doing a good job.

“As an observer, there are some instances when the board brought an issue to a vote, and I felt that additional information or perspectives were needed to make a more informed decision,” Fredelake said.

Fredelake says that over the next two-to-three years, he wants the school district to offer children in the community a well-rounded education with high academic standards, with offerings that are specific to the community’s needs.

“Balancing the need for greater enrollment, with maintaining what works in our school will require a lot of investigating into how our community wants to care for our children and prepare them for adulthood,” Fredelake said. “Making sure any projects or initiatives are effective, sustainable, and budget conscious can be a difficult job.”

Fredelake said that if elected, his top priorities for the district would be to support a strong education experience, build a culture focused on well being, and ensure fiscal responsibility.

“I want to make sure the kids in our community have a strong educational experience here in our district, one that not only gives them the tools to learn, but the environment to love to learn,” Fredelake said.

He says he also wants to continue to build a culture that focuses on the wellbeing of the people in our school district.

“This means providing support systems to students who need additional assistance,” Fredelake explained. “It also means making sure that teachers have the tools, support, and time that they need to effectively educate the students while also being able to focus on career development.”

When making a decision, Fredelake says he does his best to obtain as much information and as many different perspectives as possible.

“Before deciding to run for the school board, I had many conversations with parents, teachers, board members, and members of the community about their perspectives in regards to the school district,” Fredelake said. “Attending school board meetings has allowed me to better understand and prepare for the roles and responsibilities of board members, and understand the challenges they face.”

NCSB 2023 candidates_Cody Brockway
Cody Brockway

Cody Brockway

Cody Brockway is a 2000 graduate of North Crawford. He and his wife Katie have three children enrolled in the district -  Jace (10), Avyn (7), and Ellie (7). Brockway has worked at CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley in La Farge, for 19 years as the Director of the Egg Program,

“I believe that my job has given me skills that will prove valuable as a school board member,” Brockway said.  “I work with farmers, various committees, and board members in a very democratic process every day. I’m an analytical person that likes to see data, a methodical thinker that enjoys searching for out of the box solutions, and someone that takes the time to listen and understand different viewpoints.”

Brockway says he is running for a seat on the board because he has a strong desire to serve the community, and wants to continue to see the North Crawford School District thrive. He says he believes in a quality education for current and future students.

“Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my time and talents through coaching youth basketball, baseball, and football at North Crawford,” Brockway said. “Additionally, I was a part of the Advisory Task Force aimed at steering decisions around the most recently approved November 2022 referendum, and I’m currently serving on the Enrollment Advisory Task Force.”

 Brockway says he enjoys representing different groups in the community, and ensuring that others have a voice in making educational and administrative decisions. He says he is appreciative of these task forces as platforms for community members to get involved, be heard, and help guide the board.

“I appreciate the current School Board’s willingness to try new and untraditional ways to attract and retain students and teachers,” Brockway said. “Recent examples are the school daycare and exploration of farm animals on school grounds. Status quo needs to continue to be challenged for continuous improvement of our school.” 

Brockway says he understands the challenges the School Board faced with COVID and the recent referendum.

“Community involvement is key, especially during these times. I want to help influence the budget, and ensure voter taxpayer money is being spent wisely,” Brockway explained. “I’d like to see more proactive decisions, along with short and long-term strategies. I also want to see a safe and worry-free environment, that enables all our children and young adults to get the most out of their experience at North Crawford.”

Brockway says he would greatly appreciate voter support in running for a seat on the North Crawford School Board, welcomes feedback, and would actively listen to ideas, comments, and concerns from the community.

“I would stand strong on tough issues with the best interest of our school, students, administration, and community in mind,” Brockway said. “I’m up for the challenge to further our academic success, promote community engagement, and provide resources to achieve winning results.”