By Susan Miller
Missourian Managing Editor
Four candidates are seeking three open seats on the Washington School Board in the Tuesday, June 2, election.
The election, originally scheduled for April, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The field includes three incumbents, Scott Byrne and Susan Thatcher, both of Labadie, and Bob Oreskovic of Washington, and newcomer Dan Leslie of Labadie.
School board members are elected to three-year terms.
The Missourian interviewed each candidate. Profiles follow:
Scott Byrne, 54, is seeking his fifth term on the board. He said his motivation for running is the same as the first time he sought office — to give back to the community.
“There are so many different reasons I enjoy serving, but the main one is to make a difference in my community and share my knowledge, and I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said.
With a new strategic plan and construction of a new elementary school, along with safety improvements being made across the district, Byrne said he wants to see all of those projects to fruition.
“It’s very exciting. It’s been a work in progress and something I’ve supported,” he said. “We are on the cusp of some really good things. But, we never want to be satisfied. We can always do more.”
Byrne said his goals are to continue to support both career-ready and college preparedness for students because different paths are needed to meet the needs of all students.
“Not all kids are heading to college, so we need career-readiness and we’re doing that with our career pathways and the career center at the high school level, and with the Build Academy at the elementary level,” he said. “WorkKeys assessment is another focus, and something I’ve pushed over the years and we’re offering that.”
He also wants to see even more internship and externship opportunities for both students and staff.
Another goal, he said, is to convert the practice field near the middle school on 14th Street into a regulation size baseball field for the high school.
Bryne said there are challenges ahead with the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a board member he wants to help the district deliver a quality curriculum no matter the circumstances.
“Our teachers and administrators had to turn around and deliver remote learning very quickly; they’ve been very creative and done a great job,” he said.
Byrne said his business and life experiences, and passion for the school district, make him an ideal candidate.
Byrne graduated from St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis and has completed some college courses.
He works for the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council as a business representative. He sits on the Workforce Investment Board for Franklin County, and is serving a six-year term on the Boles Fire District Board. He is a member of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Leadership of Missouri Class of 2014, and St. John’s Knights of Columbus.
Byrne and his wife, Karin, have two grown children, Scott Jr. and Laura, who are both graduates of Washington High School, and one grandson, Braxton, 5, who attends the Early Learning Center.
With two children attending schools in the district, Bob Oreskovic, 55, said he has a vested interest in seeing the school system prosper and grow.
“I have enjoyed serving as a school board member, and have always tried to balance the needs of students, staff, families, local employers and taxpayers,” he said. “I am excited about the construction of the new elementary school and believe it will serve our community well.”
Oreskovic, who is completing his first term on the board, said he’s seen firsthand how challenging COVID-19 has made education delivery — both as a parent and school board member.
“I know the district staff is doing their best to keep our students engaged,” he said. “I appreciate the patience of families, and am optimistic for the fall.”
Aretired colonel in the U.S. Army with 27 years of active duty, Oreskovic also serves on the WINGS board member, the district’s educational foundation, the Four Rivers YMCA advisory board and is a Washington Lions Club member.
Additionally, he is a state certified firefighter and EMT, a member of VFW 2611 and American Legion Post 2661.
Oreskovic served on the district’s Prop S bond issue committee, which is funding the construction of the new school and other improvements districtwide.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin; a master’s in business administration from Golden Gate University; and a master’s in strategic studies from the Army War College.
If re-elected, Oreskovic said he will continue to work to ensure the effective and efficient use of tax dollars.
He also pledges to continue to support a diversified curriculum, which creates pathways for a wide variety of potential career fields.
“The goal is to prepare students for employment and/or prepare for continuing education,” he said. “I think this is one of the things that makes this district stand out from others. Our career pathways, along with the Four Rivers Career Center and our partnerships with Mercy and other business, are so important.”
Oreskovic said there are so many options for students — for every type of student — to succeed and move on successfully.
“I’m happy with the direction we’re going and I want to keep it going,” he said. “A great school district is the feather in the cap for a community.”
Oreskovic and his wife, Kelly, have two children, Katie and Nathan.
Susan Thatcher, 70, said she’s enjoyed serving on the school board the last six years and wants to see many of the projects developed over that time come to life, including the new elementary school.
“It’s been exciting to be part of seeking the bond issue and the design process for the new school and other improvements the bond issue will pay for,” she said. “I really want to finish what we’ve started.”
If re-elected, Thatcher said she will continue to help reinforce cutting-edge district programs, engage parents to participate in their children’s education and work to strengthen the board.
“We are a strong, high-functioning board, which has achieved awards and recognitions,” she said.
Thatcher said she’s been very involved in and supportive of the different career paths now offered at Washington High School and Four Rivers Career Center.
The district is ever-evolving, she said, which she credits in part to Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer’s vision to look for new and innovative ways of learning.
“We’ve really accomplished a lot and I want to see that continue and be part of it,” she said. “I’m really pleased with how things are running.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best in our district,” she said. “The administration and faculty should be considered heroes in our community. They quickly pivoted from classroom learning to online/home learning, as well as continued to provide meals for many district children.”
She also added she would like to see more counselors in the schools, especially for at-risk students.
Thatcher said her knowledge of business and real estate has been helpful in directing the board for the last six years and there is still much to do.
She also noted the district owns a considerable amount of property, and she wants the board to analyze and assess what will be needed in the future and decide what properties should be retained.
Thatcher said she’s a very involved board member, serving on the finance committee and buildings and grounds committees, and seeking out detailed information so she can be as informed as possible and be available when patrons ask questions.
Thatcher and her husband, Fred, have two grown children. They have lived in the district for over 35 years.
As the lone newcomer in the race, Dan Leslie, 58, of Labadie, says he’s pleased with how things are running in the school district and feels the current board has done an outstanding job.
“I’m running because I think it’s important to give back to the community and I feel with my background, as an attorney, I have a lot to offer,” said Leslie, whose two children are Washington High School graduates and wife, Glenda, is an assistant principal at Washington West Elementary.
“I’m not unhappy with anything,” he said. “I think change is good and I can offer different ideas based on my work and education, especially my legal expertise.”
Leslie said he’s excited about the safety improvements the district has planned with Prop S funding and new school currently under construction.
If elected, he would promote having a school resource officer at every building in the district. The district currently has three officers.
“I think it would be money well spent for the safety of kids,” he said.
Leslie said there are “so many positives” with the district that he would like to be personally involved in the process and feels his insight would be helpful.
An attorney, Leslie said he’s well versed in school law and has taught college courses on the subject to principals and superintendents at Central Methodist, Missouri Baptist, East Central College, Lindenwood and Columbia College. He’s been an attorney for 30 years and currently serves as a municipal judge in Pacific and Sullivan.
He earned an associate degree at ECC, a bachelor’s degree from William Jewell College and a master’s in business administration from the William Woods University. He earned his juris doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law.
Leslie said he has represented several hundred children as guardian ad litem.
“I know their home life and have a good idea of what they’ve been dealing with,” he said. “And I know that impacts the classroom.”
He previously served on the board for the Meramec Ambulance District. He currently serves as an adviser for the EMS program at ECC.