Meeker School Board candidates address forum issues

The seven candidates for four seats on the Meeker School Board spoke to about 50 residents on Thursday night at the Meeker High School cafeteria. The forum was moderated by MHS math and science teacher, Robert Dorsett, M.D., and MHS journalism and U.S. literature teacher Kathleen Kelley. From left are candidates Kristen Eskelson, Todd Shults, Carly Thompson, Bud Ridings, George Henderson, Dan Chinn and incumbent Bill de Vergie.
The seven candidates for four seats on the Meeker School Board spoke to about 50 residents on Thursday night at the Meeker High School cafeteria. The forum was moderated by MHS math and science teacher, Robert Dorsett, M.D., and MHS journalism and U.S. literature teacher Kathleen Kelley. From left are candidates Kristen Eskelson, Todd Shults, Carly Thompson, Bud Ridings, George Henderson, Dan Chinn and incumbent Bill de Vergie.
MEEKER I The seven candidates for four Meeker School Board seats were kept busy Thursday night answering questions from roughly 50 people attending the Meeker Education Association forum at the MHS cafeteria.
Each candidate was given three minutes to tell why he/she is running for election on Nov. 5, then the seven candidates spent 10 minutes at each of the seven tables with the audience members asking questions. At the end, each candidate was given one minute for a closing statement.
The forum was emceed by MHS science and math instructor Robert Dorsett, M.D., and MHS American literature and journalism instructor Kathleen Kelley.
Dan Chinn, the first candidate to speak, said he has three reasons for seeking election to the four-year term on the board.
First, he said he is a real believer in public education. He said his mother only made it through eighth grade but that she insisted the children obtain a college degree. He said he and his siblings all have at least a master’s degree and that he has come to recognize the importance of a great education.
His second reason was because he will have two children, Dexter and Tucker, in the school district next year and that he wants to help create an atmosphere where his two children “and all of the other students within the district” get the best education possible.
Third, Chinn has 30 years experience in education, having served as principal, a coach, a counselor and as a teacher, now working part-time with MindSprings, formerly known as Colorado West Regional Mental Health.
“I love the kids, I love teaching and I love all aspects of the educational process, and I want to help make the Meeker School District become all it can be.
Bill de Vergie, the only incumbent running for re-election, has been the Colorado Parks and Wildlife area game manager in Meeker for 11 years.
“I am a true believer in education,” said de Vergie, who was graduated from Monument High School and the University of Colorado, where he obtained a master’s degree. “Education is a constant part of life, even with the CPW; we are always learning new things and we are always teaching state residents.
“These teachers don’t have an easy life, and they certainly aren’t in it for the money,” he said. “These teachers love the children, and I want to help make it easier for them to do a good job.
“Funding is really important, and my ultimate goal as a member of the board is and will continue to be to work on a budget to improve the situation away from a negative budget to where we can help the administrators and teachers do a better job.”
Prior to the meeting, de Vergie told the Herald Times, “I would like to see some continuity with the teachers, staff and administration. I also believe in the importance of a good education for all our kids, and I want to help with that.”
Kristen Eskelson, the wife of Rio Blanco County Commissioner Jeff Eskelson, is the mother of one child. She went to school in Pennsylvania and she was graduated from nursing school at Arizona State University. She said she has nursing experience at all levels and is currently director of the Walbridge Wing at Pioneers Medical Center.
Eskelson said she believes the school district has to “better prepare our kids for moving on in the world after they graduate, and that we need to push excellence along the way.”
As for why she is running for the office, she said, “We have three board members who are retiring after putting in lots of time. It is my turn to step up. Nursing is the second most-regulated occupation in the United States — after nuclear energy.
“I am used to regulations and I know there are many the schools have to follow,” Eskelson said. “And within those regulations, I know we need to provide added relief to the teachers and administrators.”
Eskelson and her husband, Jeff, own Rocky Mountain Bowstrings, and they have lived in Meeker for seven years.
“The schools here are facing lots of challenges that won’t be easy to meet, and I want to help,” she said.
“I would like to see increased excellence at the education level to push the students,” Eskelson said. “And I would really like to see the district have a better financial foundation for the benefit of all.”
Eskelson also said in a prior Herald Times interview, “I would hope to help the district become more stable and I would like to see the teachers happier because the teacher survey this past year indicated there were a lot of problems.”
George Henderson has 20 years in education and that includes a stint as principal at Meeker High School. He has four children in the Meeker school system and is now teaching in Rifle.
“Meeker is No. 1 with me,” he said. “It has a good school system and it is a good community.
“I have always wanted to be a teacher because I really enjoy the kids and I believe in the importance of a good education,” he said. “I had a lot of offers after I left Meeker High School, but I couldn’t find it in my heart to leave education.”
As for the Meeker School Board position, Henderson said, “I have seen the board over the years go from ‘How will that affect the kids?’ to where they (the kids) don’t seem to be the main concern. I want to change that because I believe in looking at all issues that the children are still the main concern.”
Henderson also said he doesn’t believe there has been enough accountability or communication between the board and the public.
“Changing homecoming to a half day of school is not a good thing; I believe the board needs to support the superintendent if the superintendent does his or her job of keeping me as a board member informed; and we need to open better communication between the board and the community. We need an open school board; and I believe people are not comfortable with the board now.”
Henderson, also in a pre-forum interview with the Herald Times, said he has three objectives for his first term: “I really want to create a district where discussions are based on what is best for the students,” he said.
“I want to create a district where people are truly held accountable for their decisions or lack of decisions; and I want to create a district with improved communications between the district and the public.”
Bud Ridings has three daughters who have either gone through or are currently enrolled in a Meeker school. He is a 1980 graduate of Meeker High School and he said he only had one day of classes at Mesa University because “I knew immediately I couldn’t make it.” He then joined the U.S. Navy.
He has a 28-year marriage and is an operator at White River Electric Association and said that over the years he has learned the value of an education and is “passionate with concerns for our kids.”
“It is really important to me, but I want to see that we all need to be rowing in the same direction toward an excellent education — with the teachers, the staff, the administration and the school board all working together.”
In his pre-forum interview with the Herald Times, Ridings said, “I would like to see more district attention toward preparing the students to go on toward higher education.
“I look to my own two kids, who took math placement tests at college after taking advanced math classes at Meeker High School, and the college put both of them in the lowest level of math classes available.”
Asked what he hopes to accomplish on the board, Riding said, “there has been a lot of known turmoil within the various schools in the district, and I would hope to play a role in ending these problems in the next four years and see that everyone at all levels is going in the same direction.”
He also stated at the forum that he is a real stickler for following the chain of command and that he hopes parents understand that a board member isn’t the first place to go if there is a problem with their student.
“If it is a school or teacher issue, the parents should start with the principal at that school and see if the problem can be worked out,” he said. “If the problem is the principal, then it is time to talk to the district superintendent, and if the superintendent doesn’t handle the issue, then that is the time to talk to the school board member.
“The board member makes up policy for the district and it is up to the superintendent to follow those instructions, and I believe it is one of the board’s duties to uphold what the superintendent says because that person is actually the top administrator for the district.”
Todd Shults is a Meeker native and a graduate of Meeker High School. He said he wants to give back to the community and have an impact.
“I want to do the right thing for the educators and the children in our schools,” he said. “All is not good now in that we need to build morale and trust.
“We have had a lot of good kids go through the Meeker school system and I want to do what I can to help make it an even better district.
“I believe it is important that we get out into the community and let the people of the school district get to know us,” he said. “We ultimately play a major role in their children’s lives. Board members need to visit classrooms and be seen in the pubic because that is the only way we will become really well known and our beliefs will become known.
“We are not the first people to come see if some problem breaks out at the school, but we need to let it be known that we care what the parents and the community think we ought to be doing differently and what we can do to help the students first and then the staff, teachers and administrators.”
Carly Thompson grew up in Denver, went to Kremmling High School, was graduated from Colorado State University and even studied in London. She said she spent two tough years as a teacher at Meeker High School and has three children.
Her three reasons for seeking election to the school board, she said, are, “first, it is tough when you lose at least three good school board members at the time, and the vacancies need to be filled. Second, it really is all about the children and I feel a need to help serve the kids and the teachers to make the district a better place, and, third, I want to give back to the community, which I feel has been very good to me.”
In a pre-forum interview with the Herald Times, she said, “I care a lot about education, and since I am not directly in the system as administrator, teacher or staff, it is the best way I can think of to become involved.”
Asked what she hopes to accomplish in her first four-year board term if elected, Thompson said, “I want to make the entire district a happy place for the kids to be on a day-to-day basis.
She also said that one of the most important things that needs to be done within the Meeker School District is that teachers need to be given the respect they deserve.
“There aren’t many jobs where one has to be at the top of their game every single day, but teachers do, and they do it day after day after day,” she said. “We can’t fix societal issues, but we need to instill in the students and parents that the teachers are there to be respected. They do what they do for the children; it certainly isn’t to get wealthy.”