Washington School District voters will select three candidates for the school board in the Tuesday, April 8, election.
The field includes one incumbent, Scott Byrne, current board president, and five newcomers — Janie Chalem, Anton Burger Hinrichs, Rebecca Voelkerding, Dan Haire and Susan Thatcher.
Following are profiles on each of the candidates:
Scott Byrne, 47, of Labadie, has served two terms on the board. He is seeking re-election because he enjoys serving and feels it’s important to give back to the community.
“I initially got involved because I have two kids in the district and that’s still my motivation,” he said. “I also think I have a lot to offer with my business experience working with the Carpenters Union.”
Byrne is a business representative for the Carpenters District Council, where he oversees all residential and commercial construction in West St. Louis and South St. Louis counties.
If re-elected, Byrne said he has three main goals.
“The first is student engagement, that’s No. 1,” he said. “For me, sitting on the Workfoce Development Board, I know we need graduates who have the necessary skills for our industries so they don’t have to do retraining.
“That’s why I keep pushing the Work Keys assessment program because we do have a certain percentage of kids not going to college, and they need to be prepared to enter the work force.”
Another priority, Byrne said, is the recruitment and retainment of quality staff, starting at the top with administration, along with teachers and support staff.
“We need to have the best in all three areas,” he said. “You don’t always hear about the support staff, but we need quality at all levels, including that person working on our new HVAC systems.”
Bryne also supports continuing education and training for all employees.
A third focus is making sure the district keeps up with facility and capital improvements districtwide.
“More growth is coming and we need to be prepared for it,” he said.
Byrne said it’s hard for a district that encompasses 275 square miles to be completely efficient, but officials are looking at everything to keep costs down.
“It’s important for board members to look at the big picture and to look further out,” he said. “We have to be responsible with taxpayers’ money and sometimes that means making tough decisions.
“I can do that and I’m passionate about this district and really feel my business background is an asset.”
Bryne said he’s excited about the new Early Learning Center opening in the fall and feels early childhood education is where it all starts. He also supports the classroom addition at Washington West Elementary and the closing of Fifth Street to improve efficiencies.
A graduate of St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis, Byrne joined the Carpenters Union as an apprentice carpenter after graduation.
He serves on several professional committees, including the St. Louis Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship Committee, Health and Welfare Trust Fund, Pension Trust Fund and Vacation Trust Fund.
Byrne also serves on the executive board for the Labadie Chamber of Commerce, is a member of Labadie Great Streets Committee and sits on the Franklin County Workforce Investment Board. Additionally, he is a member of Leadership Missouri Class of 2014, the Washington High School Athletic Association and Knights of Columbus, Villa Ridge, 3rd Degree.
Byrne and his wife, Karin, have two children — Scottie, a senior, and Laura, a sophomore, both at Washington High School. They reside at 261 Hunters Ridge Drive in Labadie.
Janie Chalem, 48, of Washington, says her candidacy for the school board is a natural progression from her involvement as a parent helper in her children’s classrooms, to chairing the parent-teacher group at Clearview Elementary for four years, serving on school committees and most recently, on a districtwide focus group on academics.
Chalem, who is a stay-at-home mom, and her husband Dean have two children in the district — Matt, at Washington High School, and Margaret, at Clearview Elementary.
“I’ve been in involved with the district at all levels, and helped with the last three bond issues,” she said. “I have a real passion for public education and I just want to take my involvement to the next level by serving on the school board.”
Chalem said she has no agenda, rather just a desire to serve and learn.
“I want to be a voice for public education,” she said. “I think the district is doing a good job with what they have.”
If elected, Chalem promises to gather all of the information she can before making a decision or siding with an issue, adding she’s not afraid to ask questions.
She’s pleased the district is making a push to increase technology.
“I think we’re behind in a general sense and we have a long way to go, but I’m excited that we are working on it,” she said.
Chalem said the addition planned at Washington West Elementary is a natural progression from the bond issue not passing.
“The issue of capacity is there and it’s a real issue,” she said.
Before staying home with her children, Chalem worked in sales and marketing for nine years and then left the corporate world to work with a youth ministry, Young Life, which she is still involved in today.
Chalem, who attended the University of Northern Iowa, is chair of Young Life, a member of a local PEO and attends Riverbend Calvary Chapel.
She and her family reside at 410 Brookfield Drive in Washington.
Rebecca “Becky” Voelkerding, 44, of Washington, says she’s running for the school board because she values education and wants to get involved.
“I’m finally working in the community where I live and feel I have the time to volunteer,” she said. “I also think I bring a lot of skills to the table and it would be a good fit for me.”
Voelkerding worked in St. Louis for 20 years at several companies, including Pet Incorporated and Anheuser-Busch. She held a variety of positions in human resources, purchasing and finally as assistant to the chief legal officer of Anheuser-Busch.
She has been working at East Central College since 2010 with the vice president of finance and administration in the day-to-day activities of running the college. She earned her associate’s degree at East Central College.
Through her work experiences, Voelkerding said she has supervised staff, created marketing plans, worked with budgets and learned how organizations succeed or fail — all skills that would benefit her as a school board member. She also understands what employers look for when hiring and is especially interested in the Four Rivers Career Center.
“I’m not afraid to ask questions or challenge authority when it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “I also think I’m approachable and people can talk to me, and that’s how I will be as a board member. If a parent, student, whoever, has a question, I will talk to them.”
Voelkerding said she has no agenda and is satisfied with how the district is being run. She particularly likes the district’s push to increase technology and would like to be part of that initiative.
“Funding I know is an issue, but we need the technology and the students need these skills,” she said.
Voelkerding said she’s a “huge proponent” of planning and using data to help guide decisions. “I don’t think you can be successful without it,” she added.
Recruiting and retaining the best teachers, along with great programming, is important, Voelkerding said.
“I’ve had great teachers in the past and that has affected my life,” she said, adding the district needs to create the best environment possible for staff.
“I just want to make sure the Washington School District continues to be the great school district I remember and I know it still is,” she said.
Voelkerding, who attended Augusta Elementary and then Washington Middle School and High School, has no children, but does have seven nieces and nephews attending schools in the district.
Voelkerding and her husband Clyde reside at 1929 Bieker Road in Washington.
Anton Burger Hinrichs
Anton Hinrichs, 69, of Washington, is a past educator who also has worked in home construction and real estate. He currently owns and operates Burger Park Limousine.
Hinrichs has three grown daughters, all teachers. His grandfather, C.J. Burger, is a former superintendent of the Washington School District.
He said education has always been his real love and feels serving on the board will be rewarding and allow him to give back to the community.
Hinrichs said he has no agenda, but lots of ideas. He said schools need to produce students who feel good about themselves, school and society; and need to develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
The most effective way to produce graduates who can move forward in college, advance technical training or the work force, he said, is through quality, well-motivated teachers. He said teachers need to follow a curriculum designed by the district and which meets all state and federal mandates.
“Teachers need the freedom to utilize their means to motivate, inspire and create a desire to learn,” he said.
He also said the district must provide a relevant curriculum which maximizes the most current technology.
Hinrichs said his family has five generations of educators with 154 years of continuous years of service since 1860.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in secondary school administration from Southeast Missouri State University. He taught economics and government, and served as department chair for seven years at South County Technical High School in St. Louis.
Hinrichs resides at 2553 E. Fifth St. in Washington.
Susan Thatcher, 64, of Labadie, said she has the time and interest to serve on the school board.
“I am very intrigued by the school district — the depth of it, all of the decisions that are made, and I want to be part of that,” she said.
Thatcher, who attended Washington University, is self-employed, along with her husband Fred, in the real estate business. They have one son, Joseph, a senior at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, who also takes classes at the Four Rivers Career Center, and a grown daughter, Allison.
She feels the district is being run well and is in “awe” of what it all entails to run a school system day to day.
“There are so many layers and I don’t think people are always aware of that,” she said.
Thatcher feels IT (information technology) is critical for students to learn today because there are so many jobs in that field, many going unfilled because there aren’t enough qualified candidates.
She is very supportive of the career center and feels it provides many opportunities for students.
If elected, Thatcher said her business background and real estate experience would be an asset to the board and she’s committed to learning all she can about the district and its operation.
“I think I can bring another opinion or different insight to issues,” she said. “I’ve always admired the school district, even I didn’t always agree with a decision. In real estate, a good school district sells properties and I want to see that continue.”
Thatcher said it’s important the district continue to move forward.
“I think we always need higher expectations,” she said.
Thatcher is a member of the Labadie Chamber of Commerce, the Washington Historical Society and Franklin County Board of Realtors.
She and her family reside at 7 Riverview Farm in Labadie.
Dan Haire, 59, moved from Wildwood to Washington two years ago, but has owned a business here, Jim’s Heating & Cooling, for the last six years.
Haire and his wife, Teresa, have four grown children and one grandchild, who will soon be attending school in the district.
He’s running for the school board because he has the time to devote to it and feels his business background would be an asset.
“I’m a fiscal conservative in general and believe in accountability,” he said. “I don’t think we should just throw money at a problem. We should explore all solutions.”
Haire said teachers should not be made to “teach to the test,” and should work to bring out each child’s potential.
“Our students need critical thinking skills — that is so important,” he said, adding he has some concerns with the common core curriculum being implemented across Missouri.
Haire said while growing up he had teachers who made a real impact on him, and made him want to learn.
“We need the best teacher to get the best results because these students are our future,” he said.
If elected, Haire said he has no agenda other than to serve.
“I’m a right-brain thinker and when I make decisions I will look at all options and go with the one that makes the best sense,” he said.
Technology is important, he said, and the integration of it needs to include teacher training. But he added that what’s being used today will likely be obsolete by the time today’s kindergartners reach high school.
Haire is a member of the Washington Lions Club; and serves on the Franklin County Planning and Zoning Commission and Industrial Bond Authority.
He and his wife reside at 2653 Scenic Point in Washington.
School board members are elected to three-year terms.
The board terms of Byrne, Jennifer Triplett and Brian Sumner are expiring. Triplett and Sumner have both served nine years. Byrne is completing his sixth year.