Four candidates seek seats on the CUSD 305 Board of Education

Four candidates are running for three seats carrying four-year terms on the Arthur Community Unit School District 305 Board of Education.

Three incumbents are among the candidates seeking four-year terms. They are Kristie Mechling, Ryan Nettles and Suzanne Berkich.

Newcomer Charidy Louden Butcher is seeking her first term.

The candidates filled out questionnaires for the Record Herald News, and their responses follow in this article.

Polling places will be open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day (April 6).

Kristie Mechling

Family: My husband Justin and I, both graduates of Lovington H.S., have lived in rural Lovington for the last 21 years with our son, Gavin a junior at A.L.A.H high school. We have two dogs and a cat.

Occupation: Sr Accounting Manager, LyondellBasell; Regional Finance responsibility for 6 manufacturing plants located in IL, IA, OH, NJ. Based in Tuscola, IL.

Education: Eastern Illinois University, B.S. Accounting, Registered C.P.A.

Civic Involvement: Arthur CUSD #305 School Board, serving as Secretary all 4 years, District #305 Education Foundation Board, St. Jude Runs (4 yrs), Annual LyondellBasell Global Care Day, A.L.A.H Youth Sports Founding Member (Treasurer), Member of the Lovington Christian Church

Incumbent, how long: One 4 year term

What prompted you to run for school board? When I decided to run four years ago I was drawn to give back to the community in which I grew up and graduated. I saw how my work experiences and education would bring value to the board. Fast forward four years, it has been rewarding to see the youth of our district succeed in so many capacities. At the grade school level the increased in communication on social media has been nothing less of extraordinary. Seeing the K-8 surpass reading goals and earning “Knights Bucks” are just two examples. At the high school level preparing students for trades, military, work force or college post high school. In the end, everything we do as a board is for the youth of CUSD #305.

What traits/strengths do you feel you bring to this position? First, I have been serving the district the last four years as a school board member and achieved the IASB level 1 Master Board Status. I am proud of the accomplishments in those four years, including the hiring of our superintendent and my service during the COVID19 pandemic. I have 25 years of experience in corporate accounting/finance, the last fifteen years serving in a leadership role, including people leadership. In addition to managing multi-million dollar budgets and controls. I have extensive experience in strategic planning and goal setting.

What would you consider the top 2 priorities of the school board. Of course students are top priority but if I had to narrow to a top two , I would say we have to be fiscally responsible, challenging and understanding our spending. The second priority, which I have seen a big improvement in over the last year is communication. Communication between the school and communities. This is something we, the board, wanted as a priority when hiring a new superintendent. In the last year, the communication has improved not only in how information flows from schools to community (i.e. social media pages, new Knights app and website), but also between schools. We see a lot of sharing ideas between the four schools.

With the financial difficulties the school district have faced in past years, how would you handle those decisions? I think doing what the board is doing today is the right way to manage the situation. Every decision that could have a cost impact is discussed in great length. The information is readily available and reviewed at every board meeting. The key is knowing where you are so a plan can be put together.

What are the top 3 challenges facing the district today?
1) The obvious one is the impact from COVID 19; the impact on our students, teachers, administration and community. I am 100% in awe and proud of how our district has managed through the pandemic.
2) Teacher shortage; we are very blessed with the teachers we have in the district but when there is an opening it is very hard to fill due to the number of applicants. This is not just an issue for our district.
3) Future funding from the state; state funding for the year will remain flat but there is uncertainty as to what the funding will look like after this year.

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the school district? There is a pride in the Arthur Lovington Atwood Hammond district. We may be four communities, but we are strongest when we come together. We have some pretty extraordinary teachers and administrators that care about the kids. When you have a strong sense of community, with great leadership and teachers we can achieve all we set out to accomplish.

Charidy Louden Butcher

Family: I reside just north of Atwood with my husband (Bryan), two children (Lucas and Savannah, who are both 7th Graders at AHGS), and our two dogs, Chase and Lucy.

Occupation: While I love being an entrepreneur and a certified firearms instructor, my favorite job of all time is that of Mom (which includes being the Chief Financial Officer, Executive Chef, and chauffeur) to our very active 13 year old twins.

Education (include degree, major, etc.): I started kindergarten at Atwood-Hammond Grade School and went on to graduate from Atwood-Hammond High School in 1993. Upon graduation from high school, I received an athletic scholarship to play basketball, and went on to obtain my Bachelors of Arts Degree in Political Science with a minor in Pre-Law from Eastern Illinois University in December 1996.

Civic involvement: Since moving back to the area in 2010, I have been involved in many different activities that have directly benefited not only our community, but surrounding communities as well. I have invested a lot of time, effort and money into our communities. Through our business (Atwood Armory), quarterly fundraisers were held for various individuals and organizations, with the proceeds reaching well over $100,000 raised. Dozens of other organizations came to us for help to facilitate fundraisers as well, as we would offer product below cost or often times we even donated the product. Food drives, annual school supply drives, and an annual toy drive to benefit the Atwood-Hammond Christmas Needy Fund were also held to help those in our communities. Having served as an unpaid volunteer on the board of the Atwood-Hammond Youth League for over seven years, I have also helped to coach several youth sports teams over the years as well. As I feel firearm safety is very important for everyone to learn, I have conducted numerous firearm safety courses over the years for children and adults at no charge. One of the greatest things about a living in a small community is that there are so many opportunities to be involved.

What prompted you to run for school board? Many folks have asked me why I am running for School Board. It’s simple really. Running for school board is something that I have wanted to do for a long while, but just didn’t have the time to devote to until now. When our children were two years old, my husband and I decided to move back to this community from Decatur. It was a no brainer– there was nowhere else that we wanted our children to grow up. Now, with a son and daughter that just turned thirteen (yes, they are twins!), two nephews, and several cousins that attend school within ALAH CUSD #305 district, I guess one could say that I have a lot of “skin” in the game, so to speak. My roots are here. This is the place that I have always considered “home.” Truthfully, I have a lot invested in our communities. And I truly do care about the children in our communities. In my opinion, the children of our communities are where the future begins. The over 1,000 children that attend the schools within ALAH CUSD #305 deserve the very best that we can offer. Those of you that know me, know that I am not afraid to stand up for what is right, even if it means going against the majority. I am not afraid to dig deep to find the right answers to the tough questions. Throughout the course of this campaign, I have had the opportunity to speak with many residents of our community and have received a lot of feedback as to what the residents of our district would like to see for our children. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Atwood, Hammond, Arthur, Lovington, or somewhere in between! Every single voice deserves to be heard and every single child should be equally represented. I truly do believe that we should all be in this together. I would love the opportunity to continue to serve our communities by serving on the ALAH CUSD #305 School Board.

What traits/strengths do you feel you bring to this position? Having a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, I have spent an extensive amount of time studying governing bodies in practice and in theory. The school board is the body that governs the district, and I feel that my knowledge of the process and my strong analytical skills will definitely be beneficial. Having played competitive sports clear through college, I know what it takes to be a team player. I am willing to take the time to do the research that is necessary to make an informed opinion. As I stated before, I am not afraid to speak up, but will do so with an open mind and am willing to work together with other board members to reach the best decisions for our students and our district. Probably the most important strength that I bring to the table is the fact that I truly do care for the children of our communities. This is where I was raised and this is where we chose to raise our children. The decisions made by the school board affect my children and my family. Our school district is important to me and I will do everything in my power to make this district the very best that we can for every single one of our students. I would love to see our district eventually viewed by others as the “premiere” school district in the area— the district that families want to move to and the district in which teachers want to teach. I honestly do believe that we have the potential to become that district.

What would you consider the top 3 priorities of the school board?
The top priority of any school board should always be student achievement. There should be a clear vision with great expectations for quality teachers and learning, with tools put in place to facilitate reaching those goals. It is the responsibility of the board to hold the district accountable for reaching positive results. Another important issue is facilities management. Many of the buildings in our district have not undergone any major upgrades in decades, with some going as many as four decades since the last upgrade. There will be some tough decisions facing the board in the near future, and it is the board’s responsibility to work with due diligence to insure that the best possible solution be reached, whether the decision is to upgrade or replace the existing buildings. It is also the responsibility of the board to make sure that the district operates within a balanced budget, which is a challenge within itself, given the fact that the state is often behind on payments owed to our district.

With the financial difficulties the school district has faced in past years, and further challenges likely ahead (ex.–teacher pension costs becoming district’s reponsibility) how would you handle those decisions?
Unfortunately, our school district is facing and will continue to face some tough issues in the future. And with that fact, some very tough decisions are going to have to be made in the near future. With any issue that we face, I feel that a school board should do their very best to thoroughly explore each and every viable option that is out there before making any decisions regarding that issue. It is very important to include all of the residents of our district in the discussions of these issues as much as possible, as the residents deserve to have some say in how things are handled within the district. I was pleased to see the Focus Group Sessions that were recently held as it was a great opportunity to get feedback, both positive and negative, from the public. It is my opinion that support from the public is vital in order to implement the school board’s policy and vision for the future.

What do you feel is the top 3 challenge the district is facing today? As I stated in a previous question, one of the top hurdles that our district is facing is the fact that all of our buildings are all in need of major upgrades. I feel that it is important to bring our buildings into the 21st Century. As a district, we should be able to provide our students buildings that are conducive to learning, and unfortunately, some of our buildings are definitely falling short in that area. A decision will eventually have to be made on whether to upgrade or replace the existing facilities. While I think that our district does a pretty good job of offering a wide variety of curriculum courses, the facilities upgrade or replacement would definitely make it easier to add even more courses for our students. I know that a conscious effort is made to insure that all of the students in the same grade are taught a uniform curriculum, but having students spread across multiple campuses makes that very difficult. Another challenge that our district and many other districts are facing is the teacher shortage. While I am not sure what the perfect answer is to solve that problem, one can’t help but think that facilities and curriculum upgrades will make our district one in which people will want to be a part.

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the school district? In my opinion, quite possibly the greatest asset of our school district is our faculty, staff, and administrators. We have such an amazing group of talented people that truly care about our students and our district! I could share so many positive experiences that can be attributed to the great folks that show up day in and day out to ensure that the children of our district get the best possible education and experience that they can. I have said it before and I will say it again—I will put up the faculty, staff, and administrators of ALAH CUSD #305 up against any other district any time. We are truly blessed that these individuals have decided to make ALAH CUSD #305 their “home.”

Ryan Nettles

Family: Randa Carson, Caleb Nettles, Kyla Carson, Kenli Nettles, Hunter Carson and Connor Nettles

Occupation: Facilities Team Leader at Hydro Gear in Sullivan, IL

Education (include degree, major, etc.): Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Southern Illinois University

Civic involvement: I served on the ALAH JFL board and assistant coached for over 5 years. I was an EMT for Lovington Ambulance and volunteer fireman for the Lovington Fire Department for 10 years while I resided in Lovington and I enjoy being a part of the Athletic

Boosters and helping at local sporting events when possible.

If you are incumbent, how long have you served in this position: 4 years

What prompted you to run for school board?

It was an opportunity to continue to serve my community with my professional skills and assist any way I could to make continuous improvements with our local school system.

What traits/strengths do you feel you bring to this position?
I believe my 20+ years of project management and understanding of financial responsibility help to guide my input in board activities and making decisions that affect the district as well as the community as a whole.

What would you consider the top 2 priorities of the school board?
First and foremost is to keep growing on our vision of outstanding student achievement and continue to employ a highly skilled and inspiring teaching staff.

With the financial difficulties the school district has faced in past years, and further challenges likely ahead (ex.–teacher pension costs becoming district’s responsibility) how would you handle those decisions?
Unfortunately, this is a difficult question to answer because of all the unknowns. Each district in the state will be faced with these challenging conditions and like with COVID we will have to adapt to them. As these challenges arise it will be important to look at every avenue and make fiscally responsible choices keeping students, families, staff and our communities in mind with our decision making.

What do you feel are the top 3 challenge the district is facing today?
Teacher shortages and the ability fill open positions, Aging facilities and capacity issues with several of those buildings and Budget shortfalls due to instability with state funding are what I consider to be the major challenges facing our district in the next several years.

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the school district?
Our greatest strength is four great communities together along with an outstanding staff and administration that work hard each and every day to keep our students safe and go above and beyond in support of our students in their pursuit of academic achievement.

Suzanne [Suzi] Berkich

Family: Family, mother & stepfather, Nan & Pat Weaver, sister & her family, Stephany, Ryan, Ellie, & Addie, all reside in my hometown of Dover, DE

Occupation: Director of Business Operations at The Great Pumpkin Patch and The Homestead Bakery (The 200 Acres) in Arthur. My role at The 200 Acres includes many aspects of financial management and strategic planning while supporting staff, operations and balancing logistics of both year-round and seasonal businesses. My career in the event and agritourism industries has afforded an array of experience and knowledge in many sectors of business operations including human resources, accounting/budgeting, logistics, management, and consulting. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and work with diverse populations in our local communities and across the country.

Education (include degree, major, etc.): Graduate of Caesar Rodney High School in Camden, DE in 1995 and the University of Delaware, Newark, DE with a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) degree in 1999.

Civic involvement: Active member of Vine Street Christian Church; serving as a mentor, board member and on various committees including outreach, youth ministries and technology. Volunteer for Arthur Community Bible School. Mentor and guest speaker for the Illini Prairie CEO class. Keep the score book for the HS girls basketball team. A participant of the 100 People Who Care (supporting the District #305 Education Foundation)

If you are incumbent, how long have you served in this position: I have served 2 years, elected in 2019 to serve two years of an unexpired term.

What prompted you to run for school board?
The kids! I have a strong passion for learning, public education, and the community. I want to support the children of our district and have an active role in ensuring they are given the best educational opportunities as possible. I have a desire to give back and serve the supportive communities that are at the heart of CUSD #305.

What traits/strengths do you feel you bring to this position?
Strong organizational and leadership skills. Vision, ability to see the big picture. A team player and problem solver. Financial and budget minded. Collaborator and quick learner. As a daughter of two educators, I learned early on about the importance of education and also the time and dedication educators devote to enriching their students.

What would you consider the top 2 priorities of the school board?
Fiscal responsibility. State funding has remained flat while expenses continue to rise. It is vitally important the school board continues to review efficiency of all resources and ensures, despite any financial challenges that may arise, students educational opportunities remain at the forefront.
Communication and Involving the Community. Continue to involve and partner with the community. Expand upon communication tools such as surveys and focus groups.

With the financial difficulties the school district has faced in past years, and further challenges likely ahead (ex.–teacher pension costs becoming district’s responsibility) how would you handle those decisions?
Explore potential avenues for alternative funding (grants, partnerships, sponsorships). Stay in the know. Continue to educate myself on policy and regulations to help prevent unnecessary surprises in the budget and allow for informed financial decisions. Participate in professional workshops (ie. IASB) and educational opportunities to understand the impact on current and future legislation. Collaborate with local legislators about policy concerns that may impact funding. What do you feel are the top 3 challenge the district is facing today?
Teacher Shortage. This is well documented. Retention and Recruitment are both vitally important.
Finances. As funding resources are strained or remain flat. The district must be efficient with all resources and look for alternative funding sources (ie. partnerships, sponsorships, grants, ect)
Technology. The need for increased use of technology is becoming the trend. Looking ahead to ensure resources are allocated for not only initial costs but also to maintain/upgrade resources.

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the school district? Student body and faculty. Collectively CUSD #305 is extremely fortunate to have talented, resilient, passionate, and innovative district. Incredibly supportive community. Providing opportunities for our students to be involved academically, socially, athletically and creatively through the arts and extracurriculars. Supportive and active community.

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