Eight seeking three seats in Oconomowoc Area School District
Write-ins and newcomers challenge incumbents in Tuesday election

By ASHLEY HAYNES - Freeman Staff

March 31, 2018

OCONOMOWOC - The race for three seats on the Oconomowoc Area School Board just got a little more lively. Originally, incumbents Don Wiemer (president), Jessica K a r n o w s k i (clerk) and John Suttner (treasurer) were seeking re-election against two newcomers - James Wood and Juliet Steitzer. Now, three more write-in candidates have thrown their hats into the ring. Here’s what all eight candidates had to say on what would be their top priorities if elected on Tuesday.

Jessica Karnowski (i)

Karnowski, current board clerk, says she is looking forward to finishing the difficult work she has started. She aims to serve the community in the greatest capacity, by working to ensure that all academic, social and emotional needs of all children are met. This work drives her. She says perseverance is a value held by the community and her dedication to the board is evidence to that.

“I am tenacious, approachable and a good communicator. I work hard to understand all facets of an issue, and have the drive and conviction to see things through to completion,” Karnowski said.

She says that through her work in the CIA committee, she has built strong relationships with administration and staff and helped guide rigorous academics that support the growth of students as a whole person. Karnowski says there’s still work to do in this area, including creating innovative practices that support the needs of all learners.

Along the lines of improvement, she says the district can listen to stakeholders, parents and teachers to see how current policies and past decisions have impacted them. She says the greatest strength of OASD is the dedicated community.

“We have teachers and support staff who do whatever it takes to promote student achievement,” Karnowski said. “We have a community dedicated to upholding the values of inclusion, collaboration, dedication, and hard work.”

Jason Kelly

Kelly is another write-in candidate who has tried to make it onto the School Board in the past. He too is concerned with what he terms a “lack of transparency” in the district and test scores not being as high as he would like to see. He did acknowledge that by allowing all students to take an AP test, regardless of whether or not they are in the corresponding class, AP test scores will be lower, which he is OK with.

“I’m a great communicator. Communication I think for me comes very easily. I’m very metric-oriented. When the district sets goals, I can help them meet them. I’m also a good listener, which is something I think has been lacking in the district over the last few years,” Kelly said.

He says that by having more transparency through the administration down and really advertising the positive aspects of OASD, positive growth can happen.

“We have great families that are involved in their kids’ education. We really do have great teachers that are just as involved in doing the right thing. I just think we need to listen to them a little bit better,” Kelly said.

Jason Laatsch

Newcomer Jason Laatsch has decided to run for a seat on the board after he says he started questioning communication between administration and families after the resignation of previous Oconomowoc High School theater teacher Tom Klubertanz.

“Emails and messages weren’t being replied to for a long period of time and we thought it wasn’t right. I decided to do what I can for my kids and kids coming up through the district,” Laatsch said.

He says transparency is a key component of his campaign. He wants to be a voice between parents and teachers on the board. Over the last month-and-a-half, the positive things happening in OASD have not been heard and Laatsch says the district really doesn’t have the issues media has brought to the schools.

“Think we all see a need for change on the board. I have passion, a great love for the teachers and students of our community,” Laatsch said.

Keeping and retaining quality teachers and maintaining a strong curriculum are also key points in his campaign.

Penny Osmon Bahr

New to the race as a writein candidate, Osmon Bahr has considered becoming a part of the board for years, but could not find the right timing. Now, as a parent of an OASD student and a district taxpayer, she wants to take the next step in being involved. As a health care consultant, she has worked with boards in the past in an industry she says is parallel to education.

“I think you have a very engaged community. We’ve got really amazing parents in this community. One of the strengths is the diversity of students that go to OHS. Elementary school report cards are improving .. that is happening,” said Osmon Bahr.

She thinks students open enrolling out of OASD and losing educators are two of the biggest issues the district faces right now. Osmon Bahr believes it is critical that Oconomowoc become a destination where teachers want to stay.

Also, she sees the current conversation on diversity education in schools becoming a key factor in the district in the coming years.

“It’s the only topic that people can talk about and I agree that diversity is going to be very important — is very important. That’s something we have to consider when it comes to incorporating it into our curriculum.”

Juliet Steitzer

Steitzer is another parent in the school district who decided to run because she has seen more and more students choose to open enroll out of OASD. She believes it is important for the district to step up and meet the needs of all students. With two special needs children, she knows what these needs sometimes entail. As an online teacher, she also has a greater knowledge to pull from when it comes to that side of education.

“The district has adopted a philosophy of personalized education, but delivers it in a top-down mandate. What happens when you talk about effectively personalizing for kids, ideas have to come from the bottom up. The best ideas come from the parents and teacher who are working with that child,” Steitzer said.

She says she is in favor of public school choice, as it makes sure districts are held accountable and fosters healthy competition. She also says the facilities in OASD are top-tier and that the district does a very good job of securing kids. Coordination with the police department in the future to secure monies from recently available state grants would be something she would consider when it comes to school safety.

John Suttner (i)

The current school board treasurer, Suttner says that there is ongoing work that needs to be completed, including finishing referendum work and making sure the school district continues on with a balanced budget and strong curriculum.

“I think that I bring more of a business-mind to things. What I mean by that, yes I have children in the school(s), but I look at things from a business approach. I make sure the books are balanced. I’m generally a conservative, so I like us to remember our history,” Suttner said.

He says one area OASD is doing well is having a strong administration that is pushing the envelope. The district has a plan and mission in place that keeps them on track.

Suttner says the district can continue to improve test scores, look for the best facilities possible and look for the best educators possible.

“You can’t achieve goals if you don’t have them,” Suttner said.

Don Wiemer (i)

Wiemer, current board president, also says that there is work happening in the district that he wants to continue to oversee. With activity happening at the high school main campus, east campus and Meadow View Elementary, completing construction efforts is at the front of his mind as he helps lead OASD forward.

“As a board, everybody brings their own specialty to the table. What I bring to the board is, I believe, leadership qualities. I’ve been president of the board for over 13 years ... and (I have) those abilities needed to lead the district forward,” Wiemer said.

He says OASD is strong in the quality of its administrators and the quality of teachers and staff. The district is now becoming a district of choice thanks to their work.

As far as growth, Wiemer says the district is growing both by the number of developments in the city and in the level of student test scores.

“The improvement in our kids’ test scores that we’ve been seeing in the last yearand- a-half has been outstanding and that needs to continue,” Wiemer said.

James Wood

Through his involvement with the board over the last three years by attending Facilities Advisory Committee meetings, Wood says he is now “jazzed up” on being involved with the moves the district is making strategically. He has a background in security, which he says will help him lend continual improvement resources to the school district. He aims to make sure students are exposed to different career paths, whether they are in the trades or not. Making sure each building is modernized and appropriate for today’s era of learning and improving security are also some of his priorities.

“I work for a contractor and we do a lot of teaching on the job. We have to get the kids excited about the trades and the opportunities available out there. That’s why I’m so excited about the East campus,” Wood said.

He says OASD is strong in its growth planning and curriculum and instruction. Rebuilding transparency and trust between the district is a must, as well as continuing to keep an eye on test score data.

“I think it’s nothing but a good thing to put (candidate) options out there from experienced to just fired up,” Wood said.

Contact: ahaynes@conleynet.com  262-513-2681