Four candidates vie for three open Sparta School Board seats
Although some have already begun to vote absentee in light of the recent spread of COVID-19, voters who have yet to practice their constitutional right will see one incumbent and three newcomers vying for three open Sparta School Board seats on their ballots in April.
Nancy Sikorsky is the sole incumbent whose name will appear on the ballot, after incumbents Mary Treu and Julie Leis filed declarations of non-candidacy. Newcomers Heidi Prestwood, Terry Green and Eric Solberg will also be on the ballot.
Candidate Heidi Prestwood, 37 lives in Cataract with her husband, Rob, and their two sons. She is the Business Development Manager at SERVPRO of La Crosse County where she has been employed for the last five years.
Previously, Prestwood attended college at Viterbo University and Western Technical College and did in-home daycare for eight years. Even though she has not yet held any public office, Prestwood has an extensive background in volunteering.
Prestwood recently organized and ran a toy drive for kids affected by the devastation of hurricanes down south just in time for the holidays. Along with two other women, Prestwood also worked to bring a 4-H Club back to Cataract by marketing, securing a location and getting the kids signed up.
Prestwood has also organized a coat/hat/mitten drive and Adopt-a-Highway program and even ran an open gym during the winter months for a few years at Cataract Elementary School.
While her oldest son played basketball in Cataract, Prestwood was the event coordinator for the club and hosted quite a few successful tournaments, the club members also worked together to more than double the kids coming out. Prestwood and her husband also volunteered to coach for two years.
Prestwood has also volunteered with the Sparta Area Chamber of Commerce and played an integral part in organizing the Sparta Area Young Professionals as co-chair in 2016. SAYP members have volunteered their time at the county nursing home to play games with the residents, helped clean up the bike trail, hosted a business after five event, hosted the Chili Cook Off during Sparta’s Fall Fest and even did a terrarium build with Sparta Floral.
“I enjoy volunteering at the House of Shadows with my kids and feeding others at the Mobile Food Pantry,” she said, adding she also sits on several committees that help plan a variety of events that are hosted in Sparta such as Cabin Fever, Ol’ Fashion 4th of July, the annual golf outing and Fall Fest.
Prestwood is also a chair of the Sparta Chamber Ambassadors and helps plan the Honorary Citizen event that is held every September; this last year, Prestwood was selected for the President-Elect Position on the Sparta Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
Prestwood says she was asked to run for the board of education by a friend. “Seeing my involvement in the community, they thought it seemed like a good idea,” she said. “After much consideration and looking at who is currently on the board, I thought that I might be able to come with a different perspective.”
Both of Prestwood’s sons are currently enrolled in the district. She says she has had to advocate for her children, so they get the opportunities that they need to be successful.
“My children are good challenges for their teachers,” she explained. “Their teachers have gone out of their way to get books, volunteers, even activities to my kids. When my sixth grader came to me and asked if he needed to be bad so his teachers would pay attention to him, I took action.”
Working to get her own children the tools they needed is one of the main reasons Prestwood is running for school board. “How many kids are missing out on opportunities that they need to be successful because our teachers don’t have the time or the skill to address them?”
“Any help I can offer with my experiences and perspective may be beneficial to the board,” Prestwood added. “I would like to at least be given the opportunity to try. I am a doer and I like to get things done.”
The only incumbent candidate Nancy Sikorsky and her husband, PJ, retired to rural Sparta 10 years ago. She is a K through 12 teacher, principal, career educator and she has served the last three years on the school board.
In addition, Sikorsky is a member of the Wisconsin Retired Educators Association and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. Currently, she also serves as Vice President of the Deke Slayton Museum and is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church where she helped begin the Stephen Ministry Program three years ago and is the Training Coordinator for Stephen Ministry.
“I want to continue the work I began with the rest of the board of education in my first term. Hiring our superintendent, Dr. Van Deuren, passing a referendum for a major new facilities plan and overhauling the Teacher Compensation Model to make it affordable and fair are the areas we have worked hard on,” Sikorsky said. “I have been told by the board president as well as several community members and teachers that I am doing a good job. I enjoy the BOE work very much. I respect every one of the other BOE members and I am proud of the way we have grown to work together.”
Sikorsky says her best qualification to be a school board member is the fact that she is a grandma. “I want the best schools we can afford for all our students. My education background, my training in reaching consensus and my communication skills all help me be an effective board of education member,” she added.
As a current board member, Sikorsky says the board has set maintaining contact with students and families through the coronavirus emergency as a top priority for teachers right now.
Close behind that is expanding online learning so that high school students can earn credit and elementary students can make progress. “Parents cannot be expected to be homeschooling their children for an extended period,” she said. “The school can lead this effort.”
As a part of the current board of education, Sikorsky is working to continue with the district’s facilities plan while following all guidelines for a safe workforce.
“Much like teaching, construction will need to work in new ways,” she said. “Before the current emergency, we were experiencing a teacher shortage; that will only get worse. Myself and the current board continue to find new ways to attract and keep high-quality administrators, teachers and support staff.
Candidate Terry Green, 72 is a graduate of Huntington University where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Education. Green is a retired project manager on Fort McCoy Logistics and DPW contracts and a substitute teacher within the Sparta Area School District.
Green also served over 23 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and retired at the rank of Major. He feels his qualifications for school board include successfully holding senior management positions as well as his degree in business education.
“I am not a politician, I’m just a regular guy who wants to do right by his community. I want to support student learning and achievement as a member of the Sparta School Board and help ensure that the Sparta schools will meet the high expectations of our community,” he said. “I truly believe that there is no greater trust and responsibility that can be given to an individual than to be entrusted with a child’s education.”
If elected, Green says he will try to provide teachers with the tools and programs to teach and control the classroom. He would also encourage more parental involvement with all Sparta students.
“For too long, the responsibilities have fallen on our teachers and other staff members to not only teach, but to be safety officers, mental health counselors and fulfill many other roles outside of their scope,” he said. “In my opinion, teachers should be in the classroom to teach – not to be childcare providers.”
Green added that he believes that to achieve educational excellence, the board needs to use a commonsense structure, “Which in today’s world, would often require standing up to – or having the patience to work around bureaucratic mandates that unfairly burden students and teachers while inhibiting learning.”
“In my working career, too often, I have seen acceptance of some inane policy, simply because it is understood as a state or federal mandate.”
The youngest candidate, 36-year-old Eric Solberg, is a Sparta native residing in the Town of Sparta with his wife of 12 years and their 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.
As fourth generation owners, Solberg and his wife run Sparta Floral & Greenhouses in conjunction with Solberg’s parents, Paul and Cindy. Solberg is a horticulturist by trade and completed his schooling at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls.
Solberg currently sits on the Sparta Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and helps on several committees within and has also served on several other boards and committees in and around the community over the years. He, as well as his family, have also helped run the Boys & Girls Club of Sparta fundraiser, The House of Shadows, for over 20 years in support of the programs at the club.
Solberg has completed the Tri-County Leadership program, which he says definitely helped him gain an understanding of many different aspects of industry, business, law enforcement, school districts and the interactions within the community.
“I am running for a seat on the Sparta Area School District Board of Education mainly to try and be a channel of public input for our community with an open perspective to exploring all options thoroughly,” he said. “I believe my life experiences and open mind will allow me to serve our community in moving forward in the best interest of our children, their futures, the incredible staff that keeps everything rolling and supporting the infrastructure while maintaining respect for the taxpayers.”
Solberg feels the district has been making great strides over the years and does provide a great educational experience despite some of the challenges that it has had to work through. Some of the areas that he'd like to see continued improvement in would have to deal with communication within the administration and from the administration to parents and the public of the ongoing business of the district.
“Our district offers some amazing charter school options, many that are not available elsewhere without tuition cost. I'd like to see the district and charter schools’ working relationships improved and solidified to provide the best experience for all involved,” he added. “Another aspect I have little experience in is our programs for students with special needs. I have heard both wonderful and concerning comments about our district's performance here. It is another focus I'd like to learn more about and find ways we can make it the most comprehensive program in our area.”