School board election divides its community and candidates
District candidates discuss upcoming spring election, equity statement and call-to-action for Eau Claire
School board candidates, Marquell Johnson and Melissa Winter, didn't respond to numerous opportunities to comment before the publishing of this story.
State and local elections provide an opportunity to learn what is driving members in the community. With the general election for the Eau Claire School Board on April 5, candidates have vocalized their plans if elected to the board.
This spring’s ballot includes six candidates, two being incumbents from the current board:
Tim Nordin, current school board president
Marquell Johnson, appointed to the board in 2021
Melissa Winter, a nurse in the Mayo Clinic Health System
Corey Cronrath, a Marshfield Clinic doctor
Stephanie Farrar, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Nicole Everson, a state representative for the Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Wisconsin
Only three of the six remaining candidates will be elected to the school board and each will serve a term of three years.
Eau Claire Hometown Media has connected with each of the board candidates and invites students, families and all members of the Eau Claire community to learn more about the campaign trail until the general election on April 5.
Candidate’s values and concerns
Stephanie Farrar, professor of English at UW-Eau Claire, is a parent of two young children who are at the beginning of their education journey in the Eau Claire School District. Her role as a parent in the district is a key component of why she decided to run in the spring election, she said.
“I believe I'm the only candidate with very young children who are still at the very beginning of the K-12 educational experience,” Farrar said. “I have a very long-term commitment going forward to making sure that our schools work for every single student.”
As an educator at the university, Farrar understands the capacity at which teachers have had to work since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In light of the challenging circumstances the past two years have presented in the district, Farrar’s campaign focuses on advocating for teachers and the extraordinary efforts made to support all students amidst hybrid learning — including her five-year-old.
“These professionals have worked above and beyond, they have been at the frontline of pandemic response and they haven't received the support they need,” Farrar said. “They need our support and I see myself as an advocate for students, teachers and staff members.”
Corey Cronrath, a military veteran and medical professional from Marshfield Clinic, has experienced difficulties within the culture of the school district for many years.
In being a part of the conversation at school board meetings — and with children in the district — Cronrath felt the policies of the district were not congruent with how his children should be educated, he said.
“(The district) needs a shared vision — with the superintendent, teachers, staff, parents — on what our mission values are,” Cronrath said. “The number one value should be student-centered. Once we have a shared vision, we can go into our governance route … and have coherent governance in place.”
These concerns played a key role in Cronrath’s decision to remove his children from the Eau Claire school district and run for school board.
“I want to make sure that I don't just complain and be in the category of my kids (being) out of the district,” Cronrath said. “I want to be on the other side of the equal sign. I want to be part of the solution and provide the skill set I have and (be a) value added to the board.”
Tim Nordin, acting president of the current Eau Claire School Board, said he has always viewed Eau Claire as a community where the people are valued first. Being a member of the community — and with an active role in the school district — Nordin has challenged himself to make it an even better place for students and families moving forward.
“Our district is not doing a good enough job of meeting the needs of each individual student, Nordin said. “The primary way the school board is able to address those things is by setting clear expectations for district performance, and to hold the district accountable for achieving that.”
Nordin said he is proud to have received a candidate endorsement from the Eau Claire Association of Educators. The association works closely with the board and administrators, to ensure the voice of teachers in the district are heard.
As a former teacher himself, Nordin said he plans to work alongside the association to celebrate and honor the work of teachers in the district. The association shares similar values to Nordin, where all members of the school district are valued for their success and honored for their individuality.
“In an election where every candidate is saying they want to support teachers, we (candidates) are the ones that the teachers want supporting them,” Nordin said. “As a former teacher, myself, (the endorsement) touches my heart,” Nordin said.”
Nicole Everson has called Eau Claire home for the past 15 years, largely in part of the reputation the school district has established across the state of Wisconsin, she said.
Locally, she has held several roles in the school district, including the Eau Claire Mom’s Club, the North Husky Football Club and serving as a classroom, library, and special events volunteer at Sherman elementary school.
“Education is one of the biggest tools any person can have,” Everson said. “If we continue to push divisive rhetoric in new schools, we are only going to see our schools continue to divide.”
Everson’s candidacy sets to redefine the current role teachers hold in the district and to give back their autonomy as professional educators and reduce administrative burden, her website writes.
Everson said she hopes to implement transparency between parents and teachers and allow families to openly comment on issues they experience in the district, she said.
“A lot of people are afraid to come out, they're afraid to say, ‘this is what's happening in the buildings.’” Everson said. “This inclusion and equity of being fair and accepting of all is just not happening.”
Defining equity in the district
The ECASD released a district-wide equity statement on March 1, 2021 with hopes to eliminate systematic disadvantages in the local community and schools.
“The Core Values of the ECASD are honesty, respect, responsibility, compassion, courage, and justice, and we recognize that these core values have not been equitably applied to all students,” The statement wrote. “As we move forward, we will adhere to these core values and use our collective privilege to end systems of oppression.”
In the past month, staff development training within the district has resulted in conflict between parents, teachers, and school board candidates of the Eau Claire community. The training focused on the experience of LGBTQIA+ students and teacher response, according to the March 7 school board meeting.
In light of this training — and its connection to the equity statement — school board candidates have shared their thoughts on whether the term “equity” is appropriately implemented across the district.
Farrar said she feels disappointed with the response from her fellow school board candidates on this issue. The developmental trainings are implemented to keep children safe in schools and this includes any student who identifies as LGBTQIA+, she said.
As a member of the school district’s Equity Steering Committee, Farrar works to provide input from various types of marginalized groups in the community and to open opportunities of collaboration between teachers and students — in making schools more equitable.
“I think that children's right to be safe in school is paramount,” Farrar said. “This is something that all persons who would put themselves forward to be a school board candidate should be able to agree on. I'm very distressed to see that that is not something that we agree with.”
Everson said all parts of the school district should be valued as equal. The current equity statement in place — and recent development trainings — only feature one side of equity and diversity, she said.
“We tend to focus solely on race-based inequity, Everson said. “As a board member, I will focus on inequity everywhere that I see it because there's just so many people that we are forgetting. Those places include special education, social-economic background, those who are struggling, and those who just have a difference of opinion.”
Nordin said he believes the equity statement was designed to encompass all identities within the school district. The statement simply recognizes the reality of what is happening in the district and outlines a commitment to dissolve the marginalization of any student, he said.
As president of the school board, Nordin was a key player in actualizing the equity statement published last year, according to the release statement.
“There is nothing wrong with saying we recognize that our district has disadvantaged students,” Nordin said. Calling (the statement) anything other than a step to make sure every student is served in our district, is simply a tactic that's employed to whip up fear. We're not about fear, we're about acknowledging where we are and moving forward.”
Cronrath is determined to revise the current district equity statement if elected as a board member, he said. Once the board begins with clarifying the definition of equity they want to apply in schools, then developments can continue, he said.
“The legal definition of equity is a law or policy that is terribly and unfairly applied to an individual or group of individuals,” Cronrath said. “But if we're going to define equity as resource allocation — then we need to look at those resources. Once you do that, you're going to capture those that are not graduating, those that are struggling no matter the race, creed and ethnicity.”
Next steps before April 5
As the general election approaches in the next week, Farrar said her campaign is focused on creating a better network of communication between board members and the district they serve.
The board has a responsibility to be an advocate for the district’s financial struggles, especially as the district referendum approaches this upcoming November, she said.
“This is a very real obstacle that we already know exists,” Farrar said. “I believe that the board has a responsibility to be powerful advocates for our schools in our community and to be effective storytellers about what our schools and students and staff needs are.”
Cronrath said once elected, he hopes to bring parents of students back into the school board meetings.
Because rates of COVID-19 exposure have decreased in the past school year, Cronrath believes there is an opportunity to regain the trust of parents through opening the school board meeting minutes to everyone, he said.
“We need this to regain the trust of the parents, there is a population of them that feel their trust is lost and part of it is being able to be present,” Cronrath said. “I've been able to dedicate my time to how the school board operates and works so that I can be a more effective community member when I'm working in my position.”
Everson said if elected, she hopes to bring a diversity of thought to the school board’s elected officials. Many candidates on the board only come from one background — education — which she hopes will change after the April 5 election, she said.
“We need to come at this from a community-wide approach, versus just those in administration or professors from UW Eau Claire,” Everson said. “I'm able to communicate with anyone and actually listen to hear, not listen to defend. That's something I feel we are missing right now in the school district and on the school board.”
Nordin said this upcoming election will be critical in ensuring that no student is unserved or excluded. Nordin will continue to emphasize these values of his campaign and ensure community members know where to vote and how to speak out within the school district.
“We cannot afford to regress to a system that serves only a few,” Nordin said. “I am hopeful that our community shows up to vote and votes for the values that keep our schools moving forward. I believe in the Eau Claire community, even in times of tension or in disagreement.”
Members of Eau Claire county are able to find their polling place through https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/.
For more information on the list of candidates and where to register to vote, visit the ECASD Election Information webpage.
Nelson can be reached at email@example.com
Eau Claire Figure Skating Club encourages anyone and everyone to become involved
Skaters of all ages and skill level are welcome to join the club to learn new skills or build upon current techniques
If one is on the hunt for a new hobby or wants to sharpen their ice skating skills, the Eau Claire Figure Skating Club is the place to go.
Located at the Hobbs Municipal Ice Center, the EC Figure Skating Club has been serving the community since 1979, providing skating instruction, hosting skating competitions and yearly skating shows.
Brandy Becker, a board member and a competition chair, said the goal of the club is to offer skating from early beginner, all the way to graduation.
“We have a little something for everyone, no matter what your skill set is,” Becker said. “That’s what is really neat about skating, it’s really inclusive.”
Becker highlighted that all are welcome to join the club, no matter one's race, creed, religion - anything.
Skater Alena Hasbrouck has been skating for eight and a half years and started after a friend took her to an open skate – after which Hasbrouck fell in love with the sport.
Skater Alena Hasbrouck started skating once she fell in love with the sport after a friend took her to an open skate about eight and half years ago.
Hasbrouck said although there is a lot of work that goes into skating, the skater gets a lot out of it.
Emi Becker, another skater in the club, agreed with Hasbrouck and said there’s always something new to learn and to improve on.
The two skaters are especially excited for their show coming up on the first weekend of April titled “Freeze Frame.”
The show is going to highlight different cartoon characters and lots of Disney music.
Hasbrouck said she’s never heard of this theme before so she’s excited to see what kind of characters will be in the show.
Emi said although they had a show last year, “Freeze Frame” is finally getting back to normal for the ice show since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
“It’s nice to see everybody again and that’s going to be the fun part, just to be with everyone again,” Emi said.
Brandy emphasized this show is for everyone to participate in and watch. The show will include the beginner skater through the seniors that are graduating. The open juvenile and pre-juvenile synchronized skating will be performing as well.
“The performers work their entire season up to this point and this is the last push and all the fun they get to have at the end of their season,” Brandy said.
Olson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Neighbors of Shawtown work together to improve the community
‘If you want a better neighborhood, be a better neighbor’
Just south of Half Moon Lake is a small community named Shawtown. A unique neighborhood with sneaky views, Bill Candell, president of the Shawtown Neighborhood Association, says.
The association started in 2019, just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic came to America. Candell points out it began without a significant issue that needed to be fixed; instead a group of neighbors came together to simply improve the neighborhood.
“We were able to start during a time of positivity,” Candell said. “That’s what sets us apart.”
Erin Shadbolt, information and communication officer, said the association has always been about making Shawtown better.
Some of the association's focus has been on infrastructure such as more park accessibility, improving walkability of the neighborhood and traffic.
Shadbolt also highlights that the association focuses on genuine connections between neighbors.
Whether it’s a block party, loaning a neighbor tools or just having contact information of the people who live near you makes a difference, Shadbolt said.
“Not only does that make the community better, but as a country we are living in an epidemic of loneliness,” Shadbolt said. “So having the neighborhood association that’s work is really to connect people to each other is important.”
In the past few years, neighbors of Shawtown have come together to plant some 500 trees, have held thrift sales and will plow the ice rink from time to time to help the city.
Candell adds it’s mutually beneficial to not only ask the city for things Shawtown wants, but to also do favors for the city of Eau Claire.
Among recent events was a glow ice skating party held at the Newell Park rink, which was added to the city’s roster of outdoor rinks this winter.
The event included about 1,000 glow sticks, refreshments, cookies and snacks and even a giant pile of snow for event goers to jump into.
Candell said this event was planned in about two weeks and cost under $75, so it was “just a win.”
In the future, Shawtown is looking to work on a neighborhood plan including a plan to make it safe to cross Clairemont Ave as there have been a number of accidents, Candell said.
It’s more difficult to make changes to Clairemont Ave. since it’s a state highway. The city of Eau Claire doesn’t have much of a say, so their hands are tied, Candell said.
He said it’s important to build relationships in order to get these things done. Making an effort to get to know others, who know other people, will get you where you need to be.
“I think what the association really has learned, as we partner with people that have influence or have the ability to get things done, is that they are willing to partner with us and get things done,” Shadbolt said.
She said since there’s not one house or one part of the neighborhood that really needs work, the real goal of the Shawtown neighborhood association is just to make the community better.
The association is looking to put on one event a month this year and overall has seen a lot of growth in neighborhood involvement.
For more information on the association and their events, visit their webpage.
Olson can be reached at email@example.com.
Election roundup: get to know your future school board
Get to know the candidates for the Eau Claire school district elections
Interest and attention with those who operate on the school board of a community has always been spotlighted. That engagement has only intensified across the country and locally over the last few years. Several school districts locally are having contested school board races this spring and that includes the Eau Claire Area School District.
This year’s election features seven candidates, running for three open seats on the Eau Claire school board this spring. The candidate list includes Josh Ingersoll, Corey Cronrath, Nicole Everson, Stephanie Farrar, Melissa Winter and incumbents Marquell Johnson and Tim Nordin.
A primary is being held Tuesday February 15th with all but the candidate with the fewest votes, advancing to the April election. Eau Claire Hometown Media will be publishing in-depth interviews with each of the six remaining candidates in the coming weeks.
Tim Nordin serves as the current school board president of the Eau Claire Area School District. Since moving to the city of Eau Claire in 2015, Nordin has made many efforts to support and improve education in the area. Before becoming president, Nordin served on the ECASD Demographic Trends and Facilities Planning Committee. As a teacher himself at Lily Pad Labs in Eau Claire, Nordin continues to be involved in the lives of his students, parents, and teachers of the Chippewa Valley.
Marquell Johnson has been a resident of Eau Claire since 2007, where he continues his path in education as a professor in the department of Kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Outside of the university, Johnson focuses on advocating for inclusive opportunities for children with disabilities — specifically within the local education system.
Stephanie Farrar has been a member of the Eau Claire community since 2013, when she and her partner moved to the city to become educators at UW-Eau Claire. Farrar is an associate professor of English, where she teaches American literature and writing. Farrar currently has two children who are involved the Eau Claire school district and is inspired the dedication her children’s teachers bring to the school district, she said. Farrar also serves as a member of the Eau Claire school district’s equity committee.
Nicole Everson moved to Eau Claire in 2003 with her husband and two children and are all present members in the school district at Sherman Elementary, DeLong Middle School and North High School. Everson was born hard of hearing and is diagnosed with Usher Syndrome, a degenerative retinal disease that impacts vision and hearing. Because of her personal story, she now serves as a council member for the State of Wisconsin Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She also holds the title as the Executive Vice Chair of the Board for the Center for Independent Living Western Wisconsin.
Josh Ingersoll is a former teacher from Chippewa Falls. He currently spends his time working at the Pablo Center in audio and tech. Ingersoll hopes to advocate for the voiceless: our K-12 educators, he said.
Corey Cronrath is a military veteran and a certified physician at Marshfield Clinic. Cronrath and his family moved to Eau Claire in 2019, with hopes to establish deep roots in their community. Since being in Eau Claire, he has held positions as a Field Grade Officer and a Chippewa Valley Free Clinical board member. Cronrath believes that our local educators deserve the autonomy, to practice different teaching styles and techniques. Educators are deeply vested in the success of the students they teach and deserve to practice their profession as they see fit.
Melissa Winter was born and raised in the city of Eau Claire and is recognized as an active member in the local community. Winter has attended and graduated from Eau Claire Public Schools, North High School, Chippewa Valley Technical College, and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Winter believes that Eau Claire has always been a community of coming together, and working to make sure children succeed, she wrote. In office, she is committed to re-connecting the school board and administration with the parents of Eau Claire.
In the 2022 school board elections, each of the three open seats will represent a three-year term. ECASD will be hosting a Primary Election on February 15, 2022.
Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org