Four candidates will vie for three open seats on the Union R-XI School Board in the April 4 election.
The candidates include three incumbents: Dr. Virgil Weideman, Aaron Bockhorst and Amy Hall; and one newcomer, Keith Ragsdale. Terms are three years.
Donald “Donnie” Schuttenberg also will be listed on the ballot, but said he won’t campaign and wishes not to be elected.
Schuttenberg told The Missourian that he wanted to withdraw from the race for personal reasons, however, it was too late to have his name removed from the ballot and that he will not accept the position if he wins the election.
The Missourian met with each of the candidates to hear why they are seeking election to the board, and their qualifications to serve on the board. The
Candidates are in alphabetical order.
Aaron Bockhorst, 36, is a firefighter with the Ferguson Fire Department and a program director for the fire sciences program at Jefferson College Area Technical School.
He earned an associate’s degree in paramedic technology from East Central College and is a graduate of the St. Louis County Fire Academy.
He also has several certifications through the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute.
He is a member of the Sons of the American Legion.
He and his wife, Laura, have two children, Tyler, 15, and Kirsten, 12.
Bockhorst is completing his first term on the school board.
He said he is glad to have served on the board during the recent administration transition.
“The administration we have in place now are some of the best of the best. I want to keep that going,” he said, adding that the district also has a good team of board members.
Bockhorst said his children have driven him to be more involved.
The biggest priority will be increasing the district’s test scores.
“We’re heading in the right direction, but there are still some things we need to get accomplished with that,” he said.
Budget cuts at the state level will continue to be an issue.
“We have to learn to do more with less while still recruiting the best staff we can, which I think we do a pretty good job of (already)” he said.
Bockhorst said that as an educator, he understands the budget cuts and that the state is in a budget crisis.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to depend on that federal and state money as much as we do, but it does keep our local taxes down,” he said, noting that Superintendent Dr. Steve Weinhold does a great job with the district’s budgeting.
Bockhorst said the board needs to work to keep programs like Project Lead the Way and the district’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) initiatives intact even with the budget cuts.
“A lot of school districts around the St. Louis County region have started cutting sports and nonessential programs, and that’s one thing I hope we can avoid,” he said.
Another issue Bockhorst said he’d like to focus on is bullying. While the district is meeting state standards, there’s always more that could be done, he said.
Amy Hall, 42, has been a math teacher at Rockwood Valley Middle School for the past 17 years and an educator for 20 years.
She and her husband, Aaron, have two sons, Evan, 14, and Peyton, 10.
Hall earned a bachelor’s degree in math education from Missouri Baptist University and a master’s degree in educational administration from Southwest Baptist University.
She is a member of First Baptist Church, Union, and the Franklin Baptist Association.
Hall is completing the unexpired term of Tammy Weinhold, who resigned when her husband was selected as the superintendent.
Hall has been on the board for one year.
Priorities for the district, she said, will be using funds efficiently, as well as long-term planning in terms of buildings and land use.
The district recently partnered with a company to perform an energy audit to help look at potential energy savings and to ensure that the district is using its utilities in the best way.
She complimented Assistant Superintendent Mike Mabe on his work toward the energy audit.
Hall also lauded Assistant Superintendent Dr. Scott Hayes for his work with the district’s math and English language arts curriculum coordinating council, which is working to help align curriculum with standardized testing.
“That’s one of our biggest things right now, we need to improve our scores,” she said. “We are heading in the right direction.”
Other top priorities include continuing with the district’s One to World Device initiative, which is underway. All students in the district will have a device in the next two years.
“We need to make sure teachers have (tools to utilize the Chromebooks) in the best way possible,” she said.
Keith Ragsdale, 76, spent 10 years as a minister of education for Jewell Baptist Church, St. Louis and First Baptist Church, St. Clair.
Ragsdale is married to Joy and has four grown children.
He earned a Bachelor of Arts in church music from Missouri Baptist College.
Originally from Kansas City, Ragsdale lived in Independence before moving to South St. Louis County in 1951. He moved to St. Clair in 1984 and Union in 1991.
In the past, Ragsdale has worked in warehouse jobs, at a center for autistic students who had aged out of the state school system, as a janitor in the St. Clair School District and as a bus driver and monitor in the St. Clair School District.
Ragsdale said he is interested in education, as well as the breakdown of families.
“I think school can be an agent in reversing that,” he said.
Ragsdale said he is a strong proponent of reading and reading comprehension at a young age. He also is an advocate of a liberal-arts education, including subjects like Latin, history, sciences and math.
“Students need to learn skills such as how to apply themselves, rather than just the answers to a test. Just studying for answers, if anything, is a short-term fix,” he said.
Skills students learn can be adapted to various careers, Ragsdale said, adding that he applies things he never thought he’d use into his daily life.
The biggest issue the district will face, he said, is dealing with funding conditions at the local, state and federal levels.
Ragsdale added that micro-management and political correctness have negatively impacted schools.
“Micromanagement deadens creativity, and I see that happening in our school system,” he said, adding that it usurps parental authority in subtle ways.
Parents should have the opportunity to help choose curriculum, he said.
“The more power that’s centralized, the less power parents have. Rules should be simple, easily grasped and enforced,” he said.
Ragsdale said he failed out of Washington University because he was ill-prepared for college.
Top priorities for the district, he said, will include getting out from under conditions of funding, as well as supporting the superintendent with those conditions; increasing parental involvement; helping students find their self-worth and identity; and working toward reading comprehension.
Programs like Washington’s NJROTC and Union’s STEM initiatives help students identify who they are and to test their thoughts against reality at a young age, Ragsdale said.
Virgil Weideman, 67, is currently the school board president.
He is the finance officer for the Union Sons of the American Legion, treasurer of the board of directors of the American Legion Home Association, and is a member of the American Legion Honor Guard, the Union Area Chamber of Commerce and Immaculate Conception Parish.
Weideman is married to Joan, and is the owner of Doc’s Imports, LLC.
He earned a master’s degree in business administration and management and a doctorate in business management from Webster University.
Weideman has been on the board for 30 years and has served as president or vice president of the board for more than 15 of those years.
The long-term candidate said he wants to remain on the board to continue to improve the district.
“We’re doing some things to really improve the district, and I’ve been a part of that and I want to continue to be a part of that,” he said, adding that while he’s worked with many great board members over the years, “the current board of education is as top rate as any of them, and maybe the best one I’ve ever worked with.”
“The administration that we have is extremely knowledgeable and extremely professional,” he said. “We’ve really come a long way toward changing things for the better.”
The district has been working on a long-range plan, Weideman said, lauding Mabe for his work in leading that charge.
“We will end up with a good long-range plan that not only talks about facility needs, but talks about what things do we see that we need to plan for in the future and potentially reserve some money for if we have it,” he said.
Funding could end up being an issue, he said. While the district is in good shape financially, state budget cuts may impact the district negatively.
“They’ve not owned up to their commitment to fully fund the formula,” he said.
Locally, the district took a hit on assessed valuation for several years, Weideman said.
“Hopefully with all the building that’s going on we’ll see some growth in assessed valuation,” he said.
The other challenge will be improving test scores. The problem began with previous administration Weideman said.
“Our test results were poor. That doesn’t mean the kids weren’t learning, but they certainly weren’t learning what they were being tested on,” he said. “That has changed and is continuing to change.”
While the district is focusing on curriculum, state standards have changed every year for the past three years, making the scores a “moving target.”
“There’s no reason why we should not be the top school district certainly in the area, if not in this part of the state,” he said. “We have been previously and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be there again.”
Weideman said he doesn’t think teachers should just teach to the test, but students need to have a fair shake at doing well on the tests.
Additionally, Weideman said he looks forward to what the district’s energy audit says and planning for the future with building maintenance and potential expenses.
For example, Central Elementary is 17 years old and some of the air conditioning units are nearing the end of their useful life.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to replace them as soon as their calculated life is over, but we need to start planning for potential expenses.”
Weideman said the district needs to continue to work on its curriculum.
Weideman, like other candidates, said Hayes is doing well with revamping the district’s curriculum, which will help with the district’s test scores.