2021 Election — Five candidates compete for Yellow Springs Board of Education
- Published: October 28, 2021
Five nonincumbent candidates are vying for three seats on the YS Board of Education on Nov. 2.
Luisa Bieri Rios
Luisa Bieri Rios has long been personally acquainted with the YS schools: her educational foundations were built in the same classrooms where her child, who is now in seventh grade, has been learning. From kindergarten through her senior year in 1997 — when she graduated from YS High School as salutatorian — Bieri Rios was a Yellow Springs student.
She told the News via phone recently that these dual experiences — as a student and as the parent of a student — have reinforced for her what makes the local school district special.
“We have amazing educators — I really think they’re the heart of the school system,” Bieri Rios said. “I feel so grateful for their care and attention, and the smallness of our schools make that a really individualized experience.”
She added: “They’ve created an environment in which our kids … can really be their authentic selves.”
Bieri Rios said her appreciation for the staff of Yellow Springs schools was one of the things that spurred her to run for a seat on the school board. Citing the difficulties of the past year-and-a-half due to the pandemic and the potential shift to new school facilities, she said that, if elected, she’d work to support school staff.
“My sense is that it’s kind of a critical moment in Yellow Springs for the schools, so I just want to be a part of supporting them — and whatever comes next,” she said.
Bieri Rios is herself an educator — she serves as associate professor of cooperative education, community arts and performance at Antioch College, and said she plans to bring some of her own values as an educator to the table if elected to the school board.
“I really value a holistic approach to pedagogy, paying attention to the whole student … and I also highly value diversity, equity, inclusion and access,” she said.
Bieri Rios cited her work with fellow Antioch College faculty members Kevin McGruder and Louise Smith as bringing those values to bear; the three recently designed the “Dialogue Across Difference” class for Antioch students. The class aims to develop frameworks for considering issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion and national origin.
She added that her work with the college’s co-op program aligns with some of the public schools’ current curricular approaches.
“[Co-op] is really about experiential education — that’s something that I also value and see reflected in some of the project-based learning the schools are doing,” she said.
Bieri Rios and candidates Pam Nicodemus and Dorothée Bouquet are running as a “slate” — that is, as a group of candidates with a common platform. Bieri Rios clarified that the formation of the slate is intended to be a public statement of the three candidates’ shared goals, but won’t be officially reflected on the ballot come election day.
“We just share a lot of the same reasons for running and interests moving forward,” she said.
One of those shared interests is a support of the upcoming school levy and bond issue that would fund the building of a new K–12 school facility. Bieri Rios said she recognizes that improvement of facilities is a “top priority,” but stressed that she is not running for school board to address that issue alone. Strengthening the curriculum and educational climate of the schools is also key, she said, noting that the schools are a pivotal part of the “social fabric” of the community.
“Some of that has eroded — some morale has eroded — so I want to continue to see it boosted, because I do think that the public schools are vital to the health of our town,” she said.
Looking ahead, Bieri Rios said that her vision for Yellow Springs schools is that all its students will grow and thrive — and she said improved facilities are a lynchpin in this vision.
“I hope that [in the future] we have schools that really reflect the values and needs of the community, and part of that would be facilities [that are] inclusive and accessible in all the ways they should be,” she said. “I want them to be safe and inviting for the kind of creative and experiential pedagogy that Yellow Springs excels at.”
Judith Hempfling told the News in a recent interview that her interest in public education boils down to an interest in the democratic process.
“It’s the one place where young people … have an example of democratic debate and discourse to make good decisions,” she said.
Hempfling said that open discourse is part of what she brought to her 11 years serving on Village Council. Having been a political activist in New York City, she said she was used to people voicing their opinions, even if those opinions didn’t align. When she came to the village in 1996 by way of Amherst, Mass., she said she found Midwesterners tended to bristle when it came to debate.
“I think when I got onto Village Council [in 2006], people were not comfortable with that,” she said.
Hempfling said she worked to make Council a place where members of the governing body and the general public could voice conflicting ideas and concerns by encouraging respectful dialogue.
“I don’t want to take all the credit for that, but I really think it changed the culture of Council,” she said.
Ultimately, Hempfling aims to bring that openness of discourse to the school board if elected. She said the board’s current order of operations for meetings — wherein public concerns are often presented without comment from board members — don’t inspire diversity of opinion.
“You [should] hear from the citizens when you’re discussing important issues — you don’t just have them give a statement at the beginning upon which you do not comment,” she said. “You shouldn’t be afraid to hear from the community.”
She added that a diversity of thought among board members themselves is not only positive, but preferable.
“School board members should have differing points of view — and they should discuss them publicly,” she said. “We’re not going to represent everybody, but theoretically, with a group of five, you’re getting some breadth of thinking.”
Hempfling’s own platform presents different views from those of the majority of her fellow candidates — out of five, she is one of two who does not support the passing of the school facilities levy.
Her reasoning, she said, begins with a view toward environmental responsibility — something she championed for years on Village Council. She pointed to her view that a new building would have a negative environmental impact.
“It bothers me to keep consuming so many resources because it’s just the status quo way of thinking about how we provide for our children,” she said. “We’re a First World country — we’re very aware of the environmental crisis that we face.”
Having taken a tour of the combined middle and high school in recent months, Hempfling said she agrees there’s no question that the schools need to be updated. She puts forth, however, that refurbishing rather than rebuilding is the fiscally responsible decision to make, particularly as issues of affordability continue to be raised.
“We can’t put all the affordability issues on the schools — it’s true,” she said. “But I think if we think more flexibly, more creatively, we can do this with a lot less money.”
Hempfling added that the additional tax created by the levy and bond issue could be particularly burdensome for the village’s older residents, many of whom live on fixed incomes.
“I don’t think we should abandon the wisdom of our years in terms of thinking about this, and I don’t think it’s fair to elders to say, ‘You should be willing to have a tax increase that you feel you cannot bear,’” she said.
Hempfling also said she doesn’t oppose a K–12 school facility outright, but feels villagers will come to regret the loss of a centrally located elementary school if the levy is passed.
“Mills Lawn being … in the heart of the community is one of the things that’s special about us now, and [moving the school] will make a major change in the culture of the village,” she said, noting the school’s proximity to many students’ homes and to the public library.
She added: “The song comes into my mind every so often: ‘Don’t it always seem to go that we don’t know what we got till it’s gone?’”
Dorothee Bouquet began logging into the school board’s livestreamed online meetings over a year ago, and then became a regular presence once the board resumed in-person meetings. She says she started out simply wanting to be informed about the district’s operations, particularly amid the changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then, in the course of her attendance, she started sharing some of her observations through online platforms and personal conversations. She also followed up the board meetings with emails and phone calls to district leaders, and shared those findings widely as well. The community response was positive.
“I found that keeping up with local government is hard for most people,” Bouquet said in a phone interview.
Bouquet, a native of France whose graduate school work focused on the role of language in foreign diplomacy, said she saw her role in attending the meetings and engaging with district leadership as that of an “interpreter.” The interpretation went both ways — from the community to the district and vice versa.
Interactions with the superintendent also led to her inclusion on the Educational Envisioning Team that was part of the effort in developing the master plan for district facilities. As she became more involved in the schools, she came to the conclusion that she could have a positive effect as a member of the board of education. She was the first to declare her candidacy.
Her status as an immigrant, who became a U.S. citizen seven years ago, has been a strong driver of her community involvement, she said, noting that she is also a regular attender of the Village Council and Greene County commissioners’ meetings.
Before becoming a citizen, Bouquet spent 12 years “paying taxes, but not having a vote, having a voice,” she said. That inability to participate fully in the democratic process “became especially problematic when I became a parent,” she added.
The mother of two — a second-grader at Mills Lawn and a pre-schooler — she said she feels a deep personal investment in the future of Yellow Springs schools.
As a citizen, she feels you “have rights, but you also have duties.” Holding elected office is a direct way of fulfilling some of those duties.
Her educational background and career in academia position her to be an effective board member, she believes. With a Ph.D. in history from Purdue University, she teaches online classes for her alma mater, allowing her to work from home. As a historian, she is experienced in research and the analysis and synthesis of ideas and information.
“I have good listening and communication skills, and people often comment on my energy and attention to detail,” she replied to a question about the personal attributes she would bring to the school board.
As part of her platform, she has gone on record in support of the facilities levy, which she believes is the least costly long-term solution for meeting the district’s facility needs.
“Whichever way we go [in the levy vote], we have substantive issues to address,” Bouquet said. “We can’t delay.”
Her platform also includes a call to improve the services for special needs students.
“We have to do better for students who need accommodations,” she said, noting that 15% of current enrollment qualify for some kind of services. She said parents express the feeling that the process is more “strenuous and frustrating” than it could be.
At the same time, she said she’s “encouraged” by the district’s recent move to participate in the national Program for Inclusion and Neurodiversity Education, or PINE, which includes training and support.
A third platform focus is staffing and retention of good teachers.
“We have to address the high turnover of staff in our district,” she said. While a variety of circumstantial reasons, including relocation and retirement, explain many recent departures, she wonders if there are ways “we can be a better employer.”
Exit interviews offer “low-hanging fruit for getting feedback,” she said.
Running as a slate with Pam Nicodemus and Luisa Bieri Rios, who also support the levy, Bouquet said the trio share similar views.
“We all agree on the big picture,” she said. “We want to keep the same values that the schools have been practicing. We want the PBL programming. We want the emotional-social learning. We want to empower teachers and our students.”
She added that she appreciated all the candidates who are running for school board.
“I’m thankful that we have so many people who care,” she concluded. “We can find solutions. We can find common ground.”
Pam Nicodemus told the News by phone recently that she leans on her educational background in conflict resolution in “every aspect of her life.”
“I have a few degrees, and that’s absolutely the most useful one,” she said.
Nicodemus said she intends to put this background to full use if she’s elected to the school board.
She pointed to her work as a leader on the committee that recently brought the YS Dog Park to fruition, where she said her conflict resolution work has often led her to notice when people’s voices are being overlooked.
“I think it’s important to reach out to those people” and encourage them to speak, she said. “People don’t always do that — they’ll say, ‘Oh, we haven’t had any complaints, let’s move on.’”
Nicodemus is a licensed veterinary nurse and an educator currently working at a career technical school in Sharonville, Ohio, where she teaches veterinary science. She said she also focuses on conflict resolution in her own classroom.
“Turns out, that’s really helpful to teach teenagers,” she said.
With one child in the Yellow Springs schools, Nicodemus said her experience as the parent of a student is part of why she’s running for school board. Her son struggled with the transition between elementary school and middle school, and while she credits faculty and staff for supporting him, she said finding out how to access that support wasn’t always straightforward.
“The avenues to ask for help, I felt, could have been more clear, and as an educator myself, it was very easy for me to see where the gaps were,” she said. “I think that’s something I can bring to the board — encouraging the school to … communicate effectively and [expediently] with parents and anticipating their questions.”
Nicodemus said she supports the passage of the proposed school levy, and that she believes it’s one of the more pressing issues facing the schools right now. She noted some issues the current buildings face — “the yellow jackets are everywhere, bats are in the building and the temperature fluctuates,” she said — and added that the safety and comfort of local students should be baseline requirements for any functioning school.
“I work in a relatively new building, and … I don’t even have to think about that kind of stuff — we just focus on the schoolwork,” she said.
Equally important to the physical infrastructure of the schools, she said, is supporting school staff — particularly those who work with students who require individualized education programs, or IEPs.
“It would be nice to know that the people who are working with our most fragile kids — the ones who could fall through the cracks — that those staff members are supported,” she said.
Nicodemus said that, should the levy pass, she supports the Mills Lawn property remaining community greenspace. Though she’s disappointed that Yellow Springs has yet to address the aging school buildings, she said she looks forward to seeing how things change if a new school is built — even though her own child may not be able to benefit from those changes.
“By the time the school is built and opened, my kid probably won’t go there,” she said. “But I’m curious to see how [the current school properties] evolve — I just can’t wait to see how the community changes around them, and I love thinking about how those spaces are going to be utilized by the community.”
That sense of community, Nicodemus said, is what she values most about the schools, pointing out school-centered village events like last-day-of-school picnics and the former annual election night “Soup and Souls” event. She noted that the village’s children seem to love their schools, too.
“So many of the kids hang out [at the middle and high school] after pick-up — they’re not running to their bikes or rushing off. Clearly they’re comfortable there,” she said. “My kid digs it — he’s happy there, he’s embraced and loved and supported.”
Amy Magnus says she is drawn to problem-solving.
Influenced by a grandmother who was a third-grade teacher and elementary school principal, she gravitated to math. And in a 30-year career, first in active duty as an electrical engineer with the U.S. Air Force and then teaching physics and math at the Air Force Institute, she came to value working collaboratively toward a common goal.
Now retired, Magnus is focusing her problem-solving interests and background toward children’s education, working the past seven years toward establishing an interactive children’s museum in the village within the next 10 years.
The challenges of the pandemic on local schools and the question about how best to address the school district’s aging buildings have also drawn her attention, such that she wants to be part of finding solutions as an elected member of the school board.
In announcing her candidacy, she said her intention in running for office wasn’t just about achieving the end result, but was an attempt to prompt conversations and an exchange of ideas about the schools and the future of the village.
“I really feel that the next decade is an exciting time for the village,” she said in a phone interview.
“And what happens with the schools is vital to that.”
She says her love for Yellow Springs is deep. She met her husband, Jerremy Holtgrave, here. They married here, and then decided to raise their children here.
A mother of two, she has been active in the local Scouting program and as a volunteer in the schools. And while much of her life has been involved in the sciences, she is also a champion of the arts. She has volunteered at WYSO, written a blog for ysnews.com and engaged in local theatrical productions as a performer and director.
Magnus said that in looking around the village, including the Antioch College campus, she sees a lot of unused or underused structures, which she believes offer opportunities for creative thinking.
And she would like to see more creative thinking put into the school district’s facilities planning.
In running for school board in tandem with Judith Hempfling, she believes they are giving voice to those in the community who want to explore other possibilities beyond the district’s plan to build a $35.6 million K–12 facility on the site where the high/middle school campus is currently located.
“I want to give voice to people not ready to tear down our buildings and not ready to make a clean sweep,” Magnus said, adding that she wants to build on the public investment that has already been made in the existing structures.
She also wants to preserve Mills Lawn Elementary School at its current central location.
“I see Mills Lawn as an important cultural center for the village,” Magnus said. “I just love the historical relevance of our youngest villagers starting their community experience on William Mills’ lawn. It’s powerful and also practical. And it really serves to form a sense of identiry with our students. I think that sense of identity will carry them forward for a very long way.”
She also believes that the district’s building needs can be met more cheaply through planned renovations than the proposed combined 6.5-mill property tax and 0.5% income tax to build new.
Magnus said that she has program management experience from her time in the Air Force, and she has experience in budgeting and developing strategic plans.
“And I know how to get buy-in,” she added. “That’s not an easy task.”
She said she also loves the public schools and wants to help the district succeed.
“One of the things I love is how much an advocate the teachers and administrators are for the kids,” she said. “I see so many things that are going right in our schools. There’s something so rich and wonderful here.”
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