Sparta School board questionaire


The top three candidates for the Sparta Area School District Board of Education who receive the highest number of votes on April 4, 2023, will serve for a three-year term, and the candidate with the fourth most votes will serve a one-year term.

The Herald asked Sparta Area School District Board candidates to fill out this questionnaire. Here are their responses:



Name: Ashley Berendes 

Background:  I am a 1997 graduate of SHS and my husband is a 1998 graduate. Together we have five children that are currently attending schools in the district. Following high school, I attended UWL and graduated with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. I then returned to school for dental hygiene and am currently working at Sparta Dental Center. Our children are all involved in sports and extracurricular activities, and my husband and I enjoy watching them, whenever we are able. 

Why are you running for school board: I started attending board meetings shortly before COVID, after Amy Lopez encouraged me to do so. Learning what the board is responsible for overseeing and how that affects not only our students and school staff, but also our community, has been eye opening.  I believe the children of our district are our future and they deserve to be set up for success. For this to happen, the staff in our district should also have the resources needed to do their part. To be a part of this would be an absolute honor. 

Why do you believe you are qualified: I believe communication is key in any organization. Being approachable and listening to the concerns and needs of our district would be my biggest goal. While attending the SASD Facilities Community Engagement Workshop, on March 8th, I was able to hear many ideas, from both faculty and community members, regarding the current and future status of our district. If elected to the BOE, I would encourage more community involvement and participation like this to keep the public aware of the status of our district, as well as keep the BOE aware of the needs and concerns from the community. 

What are the most pressing issues (no more than three), you think the Sparta Area School District needs to address and why?  Currently, I see one of our most pressing issues is maintaining a balanced budget, while providing our students and faculty the opportunity for continued growth. Our current board has done an exceptional job and made some difficult decisions this past year, to get our budget balanced. With no increase in state funding, the BOE and administration have had to be very creative and work together as a team, establishing priorities within our budget. Strong communication skills and open minds by all involved have made this possible and will be necessary in the future as well.  

How I would address the issues you described: Keeping the community informed about the status and needs of our district is crucial. I would welcome and encourage input from students, faculty and community members. While communicating this information is important, we also need to recognize our success stories. Stakeholders should be made aware of how our district supports programs and activities like WIN, Robotics and STEM Academy, to name a few. These activities need support from the district, but showing the community the positive impact they have on our students will hopefully lead to a better understanding of the budgetary needs to continue supporting these programs.



Name: Amy Lopez


I grew up in Bettendorf, Iowa, attended the University of Northern Iowa, Mesa (AZ) Community College, and Arizona State University with an interest in Elementary Education and Anthropology.  My husband, Steven, and I have lived in Sparta for nearly two decades. I’m a mother of eight children (five of whom graduated from Sparta High), local business owner, St. Patrick’s parish member, and SASD Board of Education member since June, 2022.

Why are you running for school board:  

There are many reasons why I’m running for the BOE, but I’ll try to keep it simple.  I want to continue to be an advocate for our district, students, staff, parents, and community.  I’ve learned so much since I started attending meetings almost three years ago and since serving on the Board. Yet, there is much to learn and accomplish.  Besides, I truly enjoy it!

Why do you believe you are qualified? 

I’m qualified because I come prepared for meetings. I listen to multiple perspectives and offer suggestions for compromises that address and respect differing values. I have also worked to help heal the community/district divide.  I have listened to, stood up for, and supported the taxpayer, parent, student, and staff member and will continue to do so, if elected.

What are the most pressing issues that you think the Sparta Area School District needs to address and why? 

Low student test scores, behavioral issues, and budget concerns are pressing issues we must face.  These issues are important because they reflect student success post-graduation and in the workplace. They also negatively impact community perception and support for our district.

How would you address the issues you described?

I believe the district needs to develop a long-term plan that is transparent, promotes teamwork, and is adaptable.  It must continually educate the entire SASD community in all aspects of district operations, pursue parental and community engagement, and use all available resources to transform our student outcome.  Whether or not you have a child or relative in the district, are a taxpayer or district employee, or are an advocate for public education, YOU are a critical component to our district’s success. If you live, work, or study here, we need you. Together, we can do this!


Name: Pat McKenna

Background:  I was raised in Sparta, my wife is from Sparta, my kids went through the Sparta Area School District, and now my grandsons are doing the same. After my Highschool graduation all I could think about was leaving this small boring town, so I did, only to realize that what I really wanted was to get back. Sparta is and will always be my home. I care for and about the people here and want nothing but the best for all of them.

Why am I running for school board?  This hasn’t changed since I answered this same question a year ago, I could copy and paste but I won’t.  I am running because I think we can be better. That doesn’t mean that I think we are bad, it means that there is always room for improvement, fresh ideas, looking for new ways to energize and vitalize our schools and bring that energy into our community. I want the Sparta Area School District to become a destination people seek out and I want our community to be able to say “I’m a Spartan” with pride.

Why do you believe you are qualified? There are a lot of qualities that go into being a good board member. Preparation, challenging other board members or Administration, the desire to learn and to ask questions, but the most important is being able to listen.  I will never be an expert in every aspect of our School District, so I seek out the experts and listen to them. Some of those people are School District employees, others are community members that have a desire to see our children succeed. I believe that I am qualified because I’m willing to listen to people more qualified.

What are the most pressing issues that you think the Sparta Area School District needs to address and why?  In a world of Open enrollment, school choice, and declining birth rate with a funding model that is based on total enrollment numbers budget will make this list until things are changed at the state level. That is outside our control though, so I would say the most pressing issue that we can control is communication.

How would you address the issue as described:  I feel at times that our School District is speaking a different language than our community. Between Vertical Alignment, RFP’s, PLC’s, FTE’s, DPI, Stakeholders on and on, I’m not sure that the average community member could come to or watch a board meeting livestream and have any idea what is going on. I think that’s a mistake.  We are doing GREAT things in our schools every day and we need to be better at communicating those wins to all of Sparta more effectively.

Name: Todd Wells

Background: I recently graduated from Sparta High School in 2019. I graduated in the top 5% of my class and I with a 4.0 GPA in the Western Technical Colleges Business Management Program. I am a manager at my family’s business, Foss Fine Meats. I also have a brother with special needs, which has motivated me to become a servant leader for those who cannot necessarily speak for themselves. I am a current member of the Sparta School Board and serve on the Wisconsin Association of School Boards’ Policy and Resolutions Committee, which works to support, promote and advance public education.

Why are you running for school board? Because of my background, I am truly passionate about education. Growing up, I understood the importance of self-sacrifice and the importance of helping those who are in need. During my tenure on the Sparta School Board, I have been determined to advocate for all students from the high achievers to those who have high needs. I also grew up with a lot of inspirations including my family, former teachers, and members of the community who all gave me the morals and values I have today. I am running because I desire to serve, lead, and inspire.

Why do you believe you are qualified? I am qualified to serve on the Sparta School Board because of my management experience and my desire to learn and grow as a board member. I know how to read financial documents and how to develop a strategic plan, so the district can always meet the needs of all our students. Additionally, I have attended many board development workshops. Because of this, I continue to be a better board member every single day and it helps me to be one step ahead on a lot of the issues that cause school districts to struggle.

What are the most pressing issues (no more than three) that you think the Sparta Area School District needs to address and why? Retaining the district’s quality staff is essential to educating all our students. Since I left Sparta High School, only one English Teacher at the high school continues to teach for the district. The district also needs to continue to fund its capital improvement projects. As of now, the district is funding all these projects through a savings account that is not sustainable in the long run. Lastly, the district has an opportunity to be fiscally responsible by paying down more debt which will save taxpayers money on interest payments and allow the district to receive more funds from the state.

How would you address the issues you described? By promoting a healthy community, climate, and culture in our district, we have taken steps that allow all our staff to determine that the Sparta Area School District is a great place to start and continue their careers. I have also advocated for the district to prioritize more of its budget to sustainably maintain its buildings and grounds. Lastly, the district is fiscally responsible when it pays down more debt. This year, the district saved the taxpayers 1.8 million in interest payments and received 1.8 million more dollars from the state. I believe we can still do more.  

Name: Darrel R. Whitton


19 years 10 months Active Duty Army (Logistician), Afghanistan ‘06-‘07 (15 Months), Iraq ‘08-‘09 (12 Months), Iraq ‘10-‘11 (12 Months), Korea ‘16-‘17 (12 Months), Currently the 1SG for HHC BDE, 181 MFTB, Born and raised in Gouverneur, NY. A small town that is very similar to Sparta! Associates in General Studies from Pierce College of Washington. Bachelors in Environmental Science with a concentration in Fish & Wildlife Management from

American Military University

Why are you running for school board?

I am running for a seat on the B.O.E. because I want to have an impact on the education of current and future Spartans, help ensure the students are provided the best opportunities, and to be more involved in the community.

Why do you believe you are qualified?

I can find my niche within a group and support everyone efforts. I know this job involves lots of teamwork and I know this is a work style in which I excel. I will also bring

leadership experience to the team, and I have the potential to help elevate the boards current capabilities. I believe I have some unique skills that help separate me from the other candidates. I pride myself on my exceptional drive and determination to succeed, along with my passion to assist others; all of which motivate and excite me to put forth my best efforts.

What are the most pressing issues (no more than three) you think the Sparta Area School District needs to address and why? 

  1. Bullying/Racism- It creates a negative learning environment and at times a hostile environment. The district has lost numerous students due to these issues, depicting a lack of leadership within the schools.
  2. Community Involvement- We (the Board of Education) work for the people and students of the community. The community should be involved in shaping the policies in place and the implementation of future policies. Also, get the students involved as they are the individuals that are being affected. Integrate the Board of Education, what its responsibilities are, and the policies and procedures into the curriculum.

    Through thick and thin, better or worse, the community’s involvement is a must. However, the community needs to remember that the Board does a lot of good for the district, even though they are typically publicized and the Board is slandered, for the tough decisions that need to be made.

  3. Education as the Priority- From an outsider’s perspective, it feels as if the district emphasizes extracurricular activities as the priority. Education and trades should be the main goal, followed by extracurricular activities.

How would you address the issues you described?

  1. Stand true to the district’s policy of Zero Tolerance and enforce stricter punishments across the district. Empower the leaders and staff to help create a fun but strict learning environment. Create a better reporting process and implement open-door policies.
  1. Communicate more with the public and get the students more involved. Advertise in areas other than the newspaper and Facebook. Send notifications home with students, and make announcements at sporting and other social events. Involve patrons of the community that do not have children attending schools within the district.
  1. Emphasize the importance of education and trades. There seems to be a depiction that extracurricular activities are the most important, and the main focus, over education. What are we telling our students when extracurricular activities are still happening, even though school was canceled? Education should be the foundation and focal point within the district. Speaking of sports within the Sparta district, maybe take a look at the Boys Basketball Program. I think they could learn a lot of positive attributes from the Girls Basketball Program!

Name: Joshua Mathison

Background: I’ve been a Sparta resident since 2010. This is after marrying my wife, Quinn Sullivan in 2006, now Quinn Mathison. We have 3 children that currently attend 3 different public schools in our district. My children are involved in theatre groups, sports, music and other activities in the area. Quinn and I have both done our share of coaching or assisting with soccer, baseball, Sparta Theatre Booster Club and Ladles of Love, as well as helping out our church and a few other events as needed.  We’ve enjoyed giving our time and it’s been enjoyable throughout the years.

Why are you running for school board?

I felt compelled to run for this position because I feel as though I’m built for this type of position. I am motivated by the possibility of seeing a school district culture that all citizens, staff and students put the needs others before themselves.  I plan to listen, learn, and help the school district to discern so we can make decisions to improve our school district for future generations.

Why do you believe you are qualified?

My occupation as a wealth management advisor with Northwestern Mutual and earning my Certified Financial Planner designation has provided me with experience that I feel would help the school district with a specialty in finances and planning.  Secondly, I’ve developed the ability to listen and discern when it comes to topics and challenges the school district may have when it comes to balancing the pros and cons of any issue.  This also provides a natural fit for long term planning to benefit the school district in the future.

What are the most pressing issues (no more than three), you think the Sparta Area School District needs to address and why?

Three ways to implement this and improve our school district would be to create a culture of respect for the students, staff and citizens. I feel sports are very important and should continue to be a focus but not all children have the same interest so showing support to motivate kids to get involved with something that interests them outside of traditional classroom learning would show our interest in all our students. Secondly and in alignment with the culture are the facilities. 

There are needs from safety measures for those involved in tech ed to a fine arts facility to promote the great productions our students provide to our community. 

Finally, the budget should be looked at in the same light. We need to understand what the opportunities are for the district to maximize revenue while accommodating the budgets of our citizens. Education about this is incredibly important.

How would you address the issues you described?

Respect- This means leading by example but also showing equal opportunities for children that may be involved in extra curriculars such as the theatre and music groups or the robotics groups just for two examples.

Safety- These facilities could be creatively thought about in conjunction with improving our city’s facilities.  This could create opportunities for the city and school to use these facilities for school or city use. This may or may not be a possibility financially, but I feel an “outside the box” of traditional facilities approach would be prudent. Our needs and wants can be complementary.

Budget- If our citizens understood the opportunities, short term and long-term costs and benefits and take a look to what the future of our city could be for future generations then I feel my job of creating clarity for all can be accomplished.


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