Wausau Pilot & Review

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to include answers from candidate James Juedes, who did not receive our initial email inviting him to participate.

On April 4, voters will choose two representatives for the D.C. Everest School board from a field of four candidates.

Two incumbents – Board Vice President Yee Leng Xiong, 28, and member Corrie Norrbom, 54, – are seeking reelection. Two challengers, 54-year-old Daron Juneau and James Juedes, are also seeking seats. We asked all candidates the same group of questions as part of our commitment to local election coverage. Their complete and unedited answers, posted in a randomly selected order, are listed here.

D.C. Everest School Board Candidates:

What skills or experience do you have that makes you qualified to be a board member?

Juedes: My wife and I have sent three boys through the DCE school system with the last one graduating last year. We have been involved as much as we were able to be but I think I have a really good understanding of how the system works and the needs and values of the district. Add that to the fact we are life long residents and also have a family dairy farm and I am well versed in money management issues would make me a good person to have on the board.

Norrbom: I am a mother of 3 children, with my youngest currently a junior at DCE Senior High. I am a family physician and I teach medical students at the Medical College of Wisconsin-Central Wisconsin. Through my work with students at MCW-CW and as Health Policy Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, I am involved in many community projects that impact health and well-being of communities. I provide project direction for the LENA Start Marathon County early childhood parent education program and for the Hmong and Hispanic Communication Network.  I continue to work a limited number of Walk-In Clinic shifts for Aspirus. I have also served on Boards for a number of community-based organizations. Based on these and other experiences, I feel that I am qualified to be a DC Everest School Board member. I understand what it is like to be a parent and how challenging it can be to be a teacher. I have experience leading projects, managing budgets, and working in collaboration with many people and organizations, which involves listening and considering other perspectives and not being afraid to ask questions. I am running for school board because I believe it is important to give all children the best possible opportunities to thrive through education. The current and future health and well-being of our communities and our society as a whole depends on giving kids a strong start in life.

Juneau: Because my current employer performs a significant amount of work in the K-12 Education Market, I am a Service Affiliate Member of WI Association of School Business Officials (WASBO) – which is composed of K-12 business administration and facilities management professionals and service affiliates supporting them.  My colleagues and I regularly interact with facility managers and school administrators in their buildings, at WASBO events and at the Annual WI State Education Convention.I have a BS in Construction Management and over 30 years of experience in sales, estimating, purchasing, and project management with commercial general contractors, mechanical contractors, and manufacturers. I’m President of the Central WI Contractors Association (CWCA).  One of CWCA’s primary missions is to provide funds to area high school technical education programs to support instruction in construction trades, management, and design.  I closely work with local tech ed teachers and speak with students to create a talent pipeline to the construction industry. I serve on the local Youth Apprenticeship (YA) Consortium Advisory Committee, advocating the YA Program within the local construction community, and providing insight to the committee about career development for the construction industry. In 2022, I became an adjunct instructor at Northcentral Technical College for the Construction Fundamentals Certificate teaching construction math, blueprint reading, structural framing and job site safety. I also serve on the WI Dept of Public Instruction’s Architecture & Construction Career Pathway Advisory Committee.These experiences have developed an understanding of some of the funding challenges schools face, the education process and more importantly, the ultimate outcome – a work-ready graduate with employability skills that result in career success.

Xiong: I had served on the DC Everest School Board since 2014, when I ran for school board at 19. Since then, I have dedicated my life to community service, and I have worked with mentoring youths of all ages since then. I have continued to serve in various roles providing mentoring services and elevating our community to be the ideal place to live, learn, start a family, and work.Through my work, my experience as a community member and an advocate for students and youth makes me the most qualified to be a board member. My goal has always been to bring people together, even if they disagree, and make decisions for what is best for our students and community. In addition, I’ve also served in various roles locally, such as a member of the Marathon County Board, a former trustee for the Village of Weston, and I’ve also served on several state committees wide such as the Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy.These roles have allowed me to provide different perspectives on the DC Everest School Board and help build cohesion and synergy in our community.

What is the biggest challenge that the D.C. Everest School District faces today, and how would you tackle it?

Juedes: I do not believe that there is one overriding issue that is confronting our district, or any district for that matter. From money issues(coming in and going out), building issues, children’s health issues(mental and physical), teacher and staffing issues, curriculum challenges and parental/community involvement needs, it is a never ending challenge that the school board must face. I myself cannot tackle any of this but by working with everyone else on the board and the community, we can face these challenges head on and do our best to solve them. I have always considered myself a problem solver and would be grateful for the opportunity to try if elected. 

Norrbom: Adolescent mental health is a significant issue at DCE and throughout the country. It is a multi-faceted problem without a simple solution, and to adequately address it requires efforts from upstream preventative strategies to crisis management capabilities, and everything in between.  Here are a couple of potential considerations for our district:

  • New/different approaches to adolescent/teen addiction – At present, admitting usage of a substance or asking for help often has punitive consequences. Addiction is a health problem and involves brain changes that give rise to decisions that are not simply “bad choices”. I would advocate for working with community partners to reduce stigma and make addiction treatment and recovery support available, while avoiding criminal or punitive consequences when possible.
  • Later start times for middle through high school – Later start times and adequate sleep have been shown to have positive impacts on the mental health of adolescents and teens.
  • Encourage more peer-peer and caring adult discussions/interactions during school – perhaps consider moving ELT time at the high school into the middle of the school day since most high school students are leaving school before ELT at the end of the day.
  • Continue making mental health services available in school 
  • Continue community collaboration since teen mental health is impacted by what kids experience outside of school as well as within – Marathon County School-Based Counseling Consortium, Caring for our Community Kids, LENA Start and other programs to optimize early childhood experiences, and continue developing further community partnerships

Juneau: The mental health and wellbeing of our students.  Students can’t achieve their potential if their mind is not healthy, or they’re distracted by the issues of life outside of school. I’m currently serving as a parent volunteer with the Caring For Our Community Kids youth mental health consortium on the Parent Resource Team.  As a DCE School Board Member, I will continue this involvement.  My focus will be on providing policies and resources that will help our students and their families effectively deal with mental health challenges.As a volunteer in youth ministry at my church, I have helped many young people and families work through the issues of life. The factors resulting in mental health problems are varied and complex.  Simply passing policy or obtaining funds will not solve the problem.  Personal interaction is key.  Where appropriate, as a board member I will volunteer my time to work alongside DCE staff, community volunteers and families to help students achieve their potential.

Xiong: There are numerous challenges that our DC Everest School District faces today. But the biggest challenge that the DC Everest School District fact today is the financial deficit our school district will face. It is important to note that this deficit is not because of the School Board but because there has been no increase in state aid to our school district. We have been operating at the same rate for the last few years. We expect a $2 million shortfall in the next budget. It is important to note that school districts have few options to address this issue, including going to a referendum or working with the state. I intend to work with our local elected officials and state legislators to review and address the state aid formula. We need to work together to address this issue. If this issue is addressed, this can mean a higher quality of services and programs, burnt-out teachers and support staff, fewer mental health services, and more.

What would you do as a board member to help attract and retain qualified teachers and other staff?

Juedes: This DCE district is an awesome place to live and work and raise a family. Money alone cannot substitute for these intangibles so when the district is looking to attract and retain personnel this has to be the best way to do it. Appreciation for the hard work they do every day, a fair wage, but an even better place to live and raise a family! 

Norrbom: As a Board, we set district goals, one of which is for DCE to be a Great Place to Work. I think it is important for teachers and staff to feel that they are valued, that they are listened to, and that they are supported with necessary resources. I am supportive of teachers and support staff having competitive wages. As a Board we voted to implement personal days as an alternative to sick days last year, and this flexibility has been very well-received by teachers and staff. I would support exploring ways to give teachers more space/time to develop relationships with their students and to have optimal class sizes and staffing. I support making professional development opportunities available for teachers and staff and courses such as “Teachers Change Lives” to encourage talented DC Everest students to become teachers. It is also important to have processes in place for teachers and staff to share feedback and ideas and to foster a culture in which they feel safe in doing so.   

Juneau: Attempt to create the most supportive work environment possible by attracting and retaining high-quality teachers’ aides, minimize bureaucratic and administrative requirements affecting their ability to meet each individual student’s needs, provide resources that will help them be more effective in their work, and encourage greater parent involvement in the education process.

Xiong: To attract and retain qualified teachers and staff, we must reassess and reevaluate our compensation packages to ensure our packages are competitive against other school districts. This only addresses the short-term problem. We need to work with the local community to develop creative initiatives and market this community as the ideal place to live, learn, and start a family.

What is your view of school choice?

Juedes: This is America and everyone should have a choice. That is what freedom is all about. If our district is doing a good job and providing what the parents want for their children, they will choose to send their kids to our schools.

Norrbom: School choice can mean different things. I think parents should have the choice to apply to open enroll in a school district outside of their own. I also think parents should have the choice to pay for their child to attend a private school if they so choose. I am happy that DC Everest has district run charter schools to help meet unique learning needs of students and to satisfy parent preferences for alternative teaching methods. However, I do not agree with using tax dollars to fund private schools through state-sponsored vouchers. Funding private schools will lead to further disparities in education. I believe we should invest tax dollars in public schools to better assure that all children have access to a high quality public education rather than siphoning money off to subsidize tuition for some children to attend private schools. Private schools can pick and choose who they want to educate and what services they offer (or not). Vouchers do not “even the playing field” for students from lower performing districts since many of the vouchers are used by upper middle and upper class families, and other access issues exist for students from lower SES backgrounds.

Juneau: Fortunately for DC Everest, we are a preferred school district as evidenced by its growth when many other school districts in our area are seeing decreasing enrollment.  So, school choice is working in DCE’s favor.  Regardless, I have mixed feelings about the topic.  I think it’s reasonable to allow families an open enrollment option at a different public school for a variety of reasons (school size, healthy friend groups, etc).  However, it seems unfair to public school districts – who are mandated by Wisconsin Dept of Public Instruction to provide services, reports and formal plans – to lose students to private schools who are not required to provide similar resources.  Yet, I understand why families may want to exercise this option when area public schools are underperforming or promote values that are in stark contrast to theirs.  Again, we at DCE are fortunate to have many good educators who provide an excellent education and respect the values of our community.  As long as school choice is available, I will work toward making DCE the preferred school option in the area.

Xiong: Our public schools need to be adequately funded. We need to work to ensure that our public schools have the necessary funding to have the proper resources to prepare our students.

What is your view on banning books? Who should make those decisions?

Juedes: I am not in favor of banning books but there must be due consideration given as to what the subject matter is, who it is intended for, and what the intentions of the book are. The community and parents must have a say in how these books are categorized and who they are freely available to. Anything can be written but not everything needs or should be read, especially by our youth.

Norrbom: As a school board member, I do not see myself as being involved in decisions about which individual books are or are not included in the school library.  These decisions should be made by school librarians and other education professionals. 

Juneau: I do not support banning books.  I believe it’s important we are exposed to a variety of literary works to develop an understanding of other people’s experiences and ideas.  It’s a great way to develop empathy and critical thinking.  However, when it comes to exposing our children to controversial literature – particularly on the subject of sexuality – my position is that it must be age-appropriate, and only allowed to be read with parents’ permission. 

Xiong: It is the role of school districts to teach students to be able to think for themselves. This means providing them with the necessary information and different perspectives on specific issues and topics, even if we disagree.

What are the literacy challenges students face, and how would you address them?

Juedes: Read, read, read! And read with comprehension. It does no good to read something if the student does not understand it and everyone is different when it comes to that. One never knows what doors can be opened with a book! Unfortunately the shallowness of the internet is a strong obstacle to the literacy of our youth. 

Norrbom: Although COVID altered schedules and decreased face-to-face learning time, DCE literacy measures have rebounded and in general have been improving and better than state and national averages per iReady scores. However, these averages do not mean that there are not individual children who are struggling. Children who are not reading at their highest achievable level need individualized plans and enrichment. District reading specialists/coaches are available to assist teachers in these plans. A longer term solution is to try to prevent achievement gaps before they begin and to partner with and support programs that educate parents of young children about home literacy environments and to further explore the idea of an Early Evergreens Academy with community partners. Early childhood language exposure in homes and in childcare settings significantly impact a child’s language development, school readiness, future literacy and more. If children enter school behind, it is difficult to catch up.

Juneau: I haven’t studied the subject, but it appears to me many students simply aren’t reading enough.  Perhaps it’s the availability of gaming and social media that consumes much of our children’s time.  As a board member, I would support policies that limit the use of devices for non-academic reasons while in school, emphasize more reading and writing, and partnering with non-profit organizations who focus on literacy to help children develop reading skills outside of school.  We must also stress writing skills, grammar and spelling – particularly business writing – to prepare our students for effective communication on the job.

Xiong: Through my experience working with and mentoring youths, I know students’ biggest literacy challenges are critical thinking and comprehension. I have seen many students reading assignments, books, and articles, but it is hard for students to apply what to learn to their school work. One of the ways that we can address this is by starting literacy at an early age and encouraging students to learn to read at an earlier age. We’ve created a 3K class that helps with early education. We’ve developed summer learning programs that allow our district students to continue learning. We ensured that the educational opportunities we provided catered to what students were interested in.

What role should the community play in supporting the education of children?

Juedes: As big of a role as possible! A school district cannot survive without parental and community support as our kids are the future of our community. The school district and its board must fully respect and represent the values and interests of the community it serves or there will be constant strife and if that is done the community will rally around and support the school district. It’s a win-win scenario! 

Norrbom: Schools are an integral part of communities in that they can provide safe spaces and resources for students and families. By the same token, whatever is happening in communities, good or bad, is not isolated from schools. For example, if children do not have basic needs being met (such as food or housing insecurity), students are less able to learn. If there are social stressors such as addiction or violence in the home, these traumas impact children as well as their teachers, staff and peers. Additionally mental health issues are not just a school thing or just a community thing. I would encourage community members to attend school board meetings or send email communication to the board to share thoughts, concerns and ideas. I am also very supportive of DC Everest’s relationships with area businesses, non-profits, higher education, local government, and health systems to address issues together as a community and for partners to support the school district in providing educational, extra-curricular, and career opportunities for students. 

Juneau: Adults must be positive role models by valuing education, being life-long learners themselves and helping the students in their lives with their education.  As indicated in the previous response, it’s important for schools to develop relationships with non-profit organizations to supplement the needs of students.  Certainly, parent-volunteers can have a role in the school setting as well. 

Xiong: There are various roles that the community can play in supporting the education of our children. Local businesses and companies can help participate in the trades, allowing our students to get hands-on experience, whether it’s welding, carpentry, or plumbing. Local businesses can also provide opportunities for students to intern in business, marketing, retail management, etc. This will allow students the opportunity to explore and shadow.  Local communities can also volunteer in various roles as well as this will help our school district. But the most important way is by voicing your opinion and giving us your feedback. As elected officials, the best way to do our job is to hear back from our constituents. I will be the first to admit that I don’t know everything, and hearing from my constituents is always an incredible moment.

What could the district do to improve academic achievement for all students?

Juedes: The curriculum has to be such that the teachers are confident in it and are fully on board and it has to be adaptable. Kids can sense if a teacher is just going through the motions or really believes in what they are doing and will respond to that. Not every student learns at the same pace and that is okay but it has to be that they take ownership of their learning as well and parents MUST be there to help and support this as well. “You can lead a cow to water but you cannot make them drink”

Norrbom: I think that improvement can be made in reaching and connecting with families from different backgrounds and cultures both prior to their children entering school (early childhood) and when their children are in school. This is not an easy task when there are language, literacy and cultural barriers. Investing in more bilingual parent liaison time and continuing the summer Friendship Camp and family enrichment activities may be helpful. I would also be interested in exploring the addition of Hmong language electives in school.Additionally, I would advocate for more and ongoing work with trauma informed approaches for teachers, staff and administration. 

Juneau: I believe in positive affirmation and the power of personal involvement.  Typically, those who are under-achievers are lacking one or both.  As a school district we can certainly focus on a more reward-oriented strategy to encourage academic success.  Unfortunately, we are limited in ability for personal involvement during school hours.  However, the district and/or it’s employees can be leaders in non-profit work outside of school to help those in need. 

Xiong: There are various ways that the district can do to improve academic achievements for all students. We need to understand that each student learns differently, and we need to provide different avenues for students to learn. In addition, we need to meet students where they’re at, focusing on literacy during the summer and giving additional tutors through programs such as AmeriCorps, Rolling Readers, etc. But our most effective tool at improving academic achievement for all students is ensuring that we attract and retain talented teachers in our school district and that they have the necessary resources and tools to teach our students.

Can you explain where the money to fund our schools comes from?

Juedes: Simply put, the money for our schools comes from a combination of state aid per student, local property taxes, donations and grants form the community and some fundraisers and fees paid for kids to do certain things.

Norrbom: School districts in Wisconsin are funded through a combination of state aid and local property taxes, with the mix largely dependent on property wealth and student characteristics within a district. Property taxes that help fund our schools are however also indirectly controlled by the state through the revenue limit law. The spending limits that are in force are based on what districts were spending in 1994 and unfortunately have left districts locked into per pupil spending amounts that can vary tremendously between districts. There are also federal contributions to states for education.

Juneau: Taxpayers. Whether it’s local taxes or state funding, it all comes from taxpayers. The exception is when something is donated by individuals, non-profit organizations, and businesses. Regardless, schools have a great responsibility to spend it wisely.

Xiong: State aid, property taxes, federal aid, grants, and other revenue streams such as registration fees.

What will you do to ensure that all children get a full arts education?

Juedes: A full arts education is great but without the basics of reading, writing, math and science it really means nothing. I just do not believe, there exceptions of course, that one can succeed in life solely on an arts education. 

Norrbom: I am supportive of all making sure that children are taught art and music classes in elementary and middle school by qualified teachers. As students go on to Junior and Senior High School levels, it is important to offer a wide array of arts electives and encourage student participation as part of a well-rounded education and for personal enjoyment/enrichment. I am also supportive of extra curricular activities that incorporate the arts. 

Juneau: Ensure the arts are funded and available to every student.  Art is essential to the human experience as it’s the expression of our experience, feelings, and aspirations.  There are some students who struggle in other classes but flourish in art and/or music class.  This is one of those positive affirmations I mentioned earlier and is an area where those who struggle with mental health can get find peace and meaning.  They may actually make a living for themselves through their art.    

Xiong: To ensure that children get a full arts education, we must ensure that we have the most innovative and up-to-date tools for students. This means adequate funding. In addition, we need to work with our partners in the community, such as the Leigh Yawkeys Museum, CVA, and other organizations, to ensure they are involved and provide additional opportunities.

What would you ask lawmakers to include in the next state budget to improve K-12 education in your district?

Juedes: Obviously the easiest answer is more money, but everyone knows that is just not realistic or affordable or even doable. We just need more freedom to run our districts as we see fit! 

Norrbom: I would ask lawmakers to invest in Wisconsin’s future by spending some of our budget surplus on early childhood education and increase per pupil spending by $600 to help make up for Wisconsin’s lag in educational investments (as compared to other states) and to have a predictable annual increase to at least match inflationary increases in school costs. Relying on referendums to cover operational costs is not sustainable for districts. I would also ask that there be decreased disparity between school district spending across the state. 

Juneau: Simplify the funding process and reduce the amount of mandates DPI has for schools.  I understand the need for the state to help school districts who are unable to generate adequate funding locally and the need for standards across all school districts.  However, I’m a proponent of local control and minimizing centralized government.  No one knows a local community’s needs better than those who live there.

Xiong: Ultimately, I would ask for increased state aid for public schools and additional dollars for mental health.

Is there anything else you’d like voters to know?

Juedes: Due to a snaffu with emails I did not get this questionnaire from the Wausau Pilot and Review so was not able to answer it earlier so I must give props to them for taking the time to publish it now. I realize that there is a very fine line to balance the needs and wants of the taxpayers, parents, students, teachers and administration. I will do my best to consider all of these facets before coming to any decision, and working with my fellow board members, if you honor me with your vote on April 4th and elect me to serve this district on the DCE school board. 

Norrbom: I support the DC Everest goal to be a great place for all students to learn, where all students feel safe, welcome and connected, and that we develop thinkers and problem solvers who embrace being part of a community. I support DC Everest’s goal to be a great place to work, a place where teachers and staff are attracted and retained because they feel valued and are supported with the resources necessary to nurture kids and teach to the best of their ability. And I support the DC Everest goal of being an integral part of a great community.

Juneau: I grew up in an unstable family with mental health illness, alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence.  After my parents’ divorce in 5th grade until graduation from high school, I moved 13 times.  I was not a good student until high school.  Against the odds, I graduated with honors and was the first person in my family to attend – and graduate – from college.  I credit some amazing people at my school who took the extra time to encourage me, work with me to develop a healthy mindset and who celebrated my successes – teachers, coaches, and the senior custodian.  There were many in the community who volunteered their time to various organizations that helped me during my youth.  Also, some key people at the college level contributed to my success.  It’s because if this I have volunteered thousands of hours of my personal time over the years to benefit the youth in our community – Sunday School and youth ministry at my church, cub scouts, youth sports, DCE Athletic Club, Allegro Regional Ballet, Community Ballet, Caring For Our Community Kids, and professional associations raising funds for Salvation Army, Children’s Miracle Network and scholarships & grants towards trade education.  I want to do more to help kids achieve success and I am confident I offer the DC Everest School District a perspective, experience and skill set to help it do even better than it already is.

Xiong: I have been on the school board for nine years and have genuinely valued being a voice for those who couldn’t speak. I intend to continue to be that voice. I am open to thoughts that are different than mine. If anyone has questions, they are welcome to contact me directly. Thank you for this opportunity and this amazing honor.

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