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By Caroline Downs
The Kenmare School District will hold an election on Tuesday, June 12th, in conjunction with the primary election taking place that day.
The election is open to all voters living in the Kenmare School District, including residents of the Donnybrook area. The only polling site will be at the Kenmare Memorial Hall, between the hours of 7 am and 7 pm.
A regular school board meeting will be held at 7:30 pm after the polls close, to conduct monthly business and canvass the votes.
Incumbent Lenny Rodin is running unopposed for his fourth term in an at-large position.
Incumbent Mike Zimmer, Doug Miller of Kenmare and Blaine Huff of Donnybrook have all filed as candidates for two open rural at-large positions.
Absentee ballots are available at the Kenmare High School and can be obtained from the business manager, Renae Murphy, during office hours. Absentee ballots must be returned by June 12th.
"I have an interest in our school district not only because I have kids in the school but because I taught school there for nine years, and I want kids to have opportunities to be successful," Lenny Rodin said about his bid for re-election. "We also need to provide them with a safe learning environment, one they can be excited about."
Rodin, a KHS graduate himself, and his wife Sue, employed as a classroom aide by the district, are the parents of Hunter who is soon to be an eighth grader, Jacob who will be entering seventh grade, and Brooklyn who will be a member of the third grade class in August. Rodin farms south and west of Kenmare, and continues coaching the seventh and eighth grade Honkers boys basketball teams, a position he has held since 1991.
He believes the school board will face several key issues in the coming years, starting with a project to change from coal to electric heat at Kenmare High School.
The outcome of Measure 2 on the North Dakota ballot in June also interests him because of the potential loss of property tax revenue for the district’s budget. If the measure passes, the district would have to rely on the state legislature’s decisions about providing the money needed to operate the schools. "I’m hoping we can continue to have local control over funding for the school district," Rodin said.
He wants to see the board continue supporting a low student-to-teacher ratio in every classroom. "For the most part, our classrooms have low numbers," he said, "but we have some classes that could grow. Should we be happy with 27 or 28 kids in an elementary classroom? I’m not happy with that. If we can afford to make a better situation with a lower student-to-teacher ratio, then we should want to do that."
Staffing needs are related to teacher recruitment, which involves the issue of housing in communities throughout the western half of the state as educators compete for housing with employees in the booming energy industry. The Kenmare school district has not yet built or purchased housing for staff members, but nearby communities Stanley and Bowbells have.
"We’re close to not finding teachers because of housing," Rodin said. "As a school board, we may have to plan ahead and get something started to address that."
He especially wants to see Kenmare maintain its standards of academic excellence, and he described the recent example of the Kenmare Elementary School Math Track Meet teams that claimed the championship among area schools competing for the title. "We are a top school for math," he said. "It’s fun to see what our enrichment programs can do."
He mentioned the opportunities now available to elementary students to improve their reading skills through daily break-out sessions where students work in small groups with teachers and other staff members on specific activities. "That’s why I’m frustrated that our students didn’t make AYP this year," he said, referring to the annual standardized tests measuring Adequate Yearly Progress among 4th, 8th and 11th grade students in reading and math.
The achievement goal in reading for the state’s fourth graders was set at 91.3 percent this year, with Kenmare fourth graders achieving 79.14 percent.
A similar result was seen in the district’s 8th and 11th grade students, with an achievement goal of 88.38 percent across the state and the Kenmare students performing lower at 77.78 percent.
"My goal is for us to make AYP next year," Rodin said. "We may need to do some heavy research into what we need to do with our students to make that happen."
Rodin laughed about being one of the more experienced board members now, with 10 years behind him. He also serves as a Deacon at Faith Baptist Church, a director on the SunPrairie Grain board, and a board member on the Northwest Health Care Foundation.
"Voters can have confidence I will be trying to do what’s best for the school and the kids," he said about his re-election bid. "In another term on the school board, I think we can see some great things happening in our school and our community."
"I feel like I’ve learned a lot," said incumbent Mike Zimmer after serving his first three-year term with the Kenmare school board. "I’ve gained a lot of experience, and I still want to be involved because my kids are involved with their education and school activities."
Zimmer is a 1988 graduate of Kenmare High School. These days he farms, owns a small business, referees basketball games throughout the region and does tax work for clients. He and his wife Kris, who operates Little Learners Preschool in Kenmare, are the parents of three children attending classes in Kenmare. Megan, age 10, will be a fourth grader; Kate, 8, will enter second grade; and Jack, 6, will start first grade.
Zimmer believes the school board should continue to focus on buildings and grounds projects that have been in discussion lately, including the installation of an electric furnace at the high school, the removal and replacement of old ceiling tiles in the high school commons area, and the potential for constructing a new gymnasium/wellness center.
He remains concerned about the students’ well-being, with an emphasis on disciplinary issues. He was also frustrated with the district’s AYP performance this year, which marked the third time in four years the elementary students did not meet the achievement goal established by the state.
Zimmer is hoping the addition of a new administrator can address that deficiency. “We want to make a decision on hiring an elementary principal,” he said, “and we’ll see if he or she can help us meet [AYP].”
Other staffing needs are a board concern as well, as the student population grows in the lower grades. “I hope we continue to have more students,” he said, “and I hope our town keeps growing. It would be nice if it kept on at the pace it’s going now, with a slight increase every year. It wasn’t all that long ago we were looking at a decrease in students every year.”
Zimmer also stays busy as a volunteer with the youth basketball program in town for kids in grades kindergarten through two, a similar program for third and fourth graders, and now the youth baseball program, where he and Kris are coaching the T-ball players this summer.
He described his business background as an asset for serving on the school board. “I’d appreciate the votes because I think I’ve gained a lot of experience over the last three years,” he said, “and having three kids in school has been a good resource for me. I know what’s happening there.”
Blaine Huff is a farmer and rancher south of Donnybrook, and a 1993 graduate of Kenmare High School. He and his wife Dorinda have three grown children and one daughter who will begin school in the kindergarten class at Kenmare this fall.
“Having a child in school myself now, I want to see that the children get the right type of education,” Huff said about his interest in joining the board.
Huff wants to continue the tradition of having representation from the Donnybrook area, with longtime member Roger Johnson retiring from the school board this year. “My dad [Dennis Huff] was on the school board from this area before Roger was,” he said, “and I went to grade school in Donnybrook. It would be nice to have somebody representing the parents down here.”
Huff is interested in the continued increase in student enrollment, especially as activity in the state’s oilfields continues to expand. “We need to keep ahead of the drilling game and the kids coming in,” he said. “The numbers are going up all the time, and we need to have room for those students.”
As a resident of the Donnybrook area, the district’s continued use of the Community Center and gym in Donnybrook is of interest to Huff.
He also wants the district to maintain its commitment to the use of technology in education. “Technology is growing by leaps and bounds, and we definitely want to stay ahead of that game,” he said.
Huff, who currently serves as chairman of Carbondale Township, said he had been interested in running for the Kenmare school board for a while, including when he worked at Gooseneck Implement a few years ago. The time has come now to act on that interest with his daughter entering school.
“I’ve lived here my whole life,” he said, “and I have a pretty good view of what’s changed over the years.”
As a 1991 graduate of KHS and an active participant in a variety of the school’s extracurricular programs, Doug Miller of Kenmare has been a long-time supporter of the district.
Now, however, together with wife Laura, the Millers are parents to one child on the way, daughter Mersadie, 1 1/2, son Mavrick, 3, and daughter Mashae, 5, who will join the kindergarten class this fall.
“That’s exciting,” Miller said about his oldest child starting school, “and it’s a motivator to be on the school board.”
Miller is a full-time grain cleaner throughout the northwest region of the state. He farms part-time and works part-time as a dealer for Shur-Co products. He has also been involved as a member of the local Knights of Columbus and serves as the district deputy for North Dakota’s Knights of Columbus organization.
While his schedule is busy, he is ready to make time to get involved in the education of his children and their peers as a member of the school board.
One issue of concern to him has been the declining number of students who participate in any of the school’s extra programs. “I’m all about education and the extra-curricular activities,” he said. “All these really mold our children for the next step in life. I was involved in all kinds of activities when I was in high school, and I believe that helped me be a leader when I went to college.”
As he checked his own device for the day’s early grain market report, Miller commented on the need for the school district to continue integrating technology into every class for students. “We have computers and smartphones for everything,” he said. “We can look up information so fast, and we have to put this to use.”
He continued, “I hope we can keep top-notch kids coming out of the Kenmare school, and that means we need to provide them with the best we can offer.”