Hibbing Chamber of Commerce candidate forum

Six vying for a seat on the Hibbing School Board field questions during a Hibbing Chamber of Commerce candidate forum Tuesday at Hibbing City Hall. From left are: Jeff Polcher, Marge Martin, Joe Sacco, Tara Pajunen, Nicole Furey and Peter Hardy. A second batch of candidates will be quizzed by Chamber volunteers on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at Hibbing City Hall.

HIBBING — At times it was difficult to stand out, but six of 15 Hibbing School Board candidates shared their qualifications, goals and stances on various topics during a Hibbing Chamber of Commerce candidate forum Tuesday at Hibbing City Hall.

It was the first of two school board candidates forums. Given the high volume of hopefuls, the pool had to be split to make the event manageable, according to Chamber President Lory Fedo.

Present at this forum was current interim director Jeff Polcher, Marge Martin, Joe Sacco, Tara Pajunen, Nicole Furey and Peter Hardy.

Polcher, Martin and Sacco are vying for one of the three four-year seats, while Pajunen, Furey and Hardy are vying for the sole two-year seat (to complete the term vacated by Rachel Sullivan).

Incumbent John Berklich, who is running for the two-year term, and past candidate Rian Burkes, who is running for the four-year term, were scheduled to participate in this forum but were absent.

The remaining challengers will face off at a forum at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at Hibbing City Hall. They include two-year challenger Amber Babich and four-year challengers: Incumbent Kathy Nyberg, Verne Cary, Paul Ciochetto, Shawn Cox, Tony Kuznik and David Olds.

During the forum, the six fielded a dozen questions, with topics ranging from improving the quality of education and increasing district enrollment to building consensus and improving working relationships between staff and administration.

A past school board member, Polcher was elected two terms and served eight years. He’s a long-time social worker with St. Louis County, focusing on substance abuse prevention and intervention.

As as interim school board member, he said his top priority was getting the teachers contract settled and, if elected, would make expanding services, such as putting a social worker in the schools, a priority.

Martin, of Side Lake, teaches in the medical lab tech program at Hibbing Community College. She said she learned quickly that teaching is a lot more than just showing up, and wants to be on the school board to ensure every student has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

As a director, Martin said she’s a team player and likes when groups come to a consensus. She also supports that the board holds working sessions to discuss topics in depth.

A district parent, Sacco, said he feels the current school board has lost sight of its main job. A director’s role, he said, is to focus on providing a safe and quality education to students, support the continued excellence of teachers and staff, and work for the betterment of the district.

If elected, his top three priorities would be: bringing back department heads and addressing mental health and bullying. He’d also reduce the use of iPads.

Pajunen is also a parent, and has been involved in the schools as a volunteer. She said many changes have occured in the community and feels the district needs to take the steps to change as well. She’s a proponent of thinking outside the box when facing challenges, and opined that students are a first priority, then teachers.

Her top to-do items, if elected, are finding a way for students and teachers to voice their concerns to the school board and adding mental health workers and bullying experts to the district.

Furey is coming into her third winter in Hibbing, having come from Atlanta, Ga., where she has five years teaching experience. While teaching, she was named a Teach for America 2011 Atlanta Alumni. With very young kids, she wants to be on the school board to ensure her kids and all kids receive the best education.

If elected, two of her main aims will be to create a culture of achievement for students and ensuring curriculum is rigorous in order to best prepare students.

Hardy has 26 years experience in education — 19 years teaching and seven in administration — and currently works for the Nashwauk-Keewatin School District. A Hibbing resident, he also has twin sons in the school. He said he believes in public education and feels a school board director’s role is about leadership, governance and being present.

His top priorities would include developing a new strategic plan, continuing with the district’s process of creating safe and secure schools, and providing curriculum to learn and develop social and emotional skills.

Other questions the candidates answered include: should directors be involved in day-to-day operations, how they’d keep the district financially strong, how to ensure the district hires the best, and whether they are open-minded and willing to examine issues from all perspectives, among others.

The candidates at the Oct. 23 forum will be asked different questions.

Watch this forum and the Oct. 23 forum on-demand on Hibbing Public Access Television’s website at hpat.org, or look for replays on HPAT Channel 7.

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