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Four candidates for three board seats

SOLON– Two incumbents and two challengers will face off for three seats on the Solon school board Tuesday, Sept. 12.
Incumbents Tim Brown and Rick Jedlicka are seeking re-election, while former school board member Dan Coons and newcomer Nicole Pizzini are also on the ballot for the three at-large, four-year terms.
Most district residents will cast ballots at Solon City Hall. Residents of Jefferson Township-East will vote at the Shueyville Community Center. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Each of the four candidates were asked an identical set of questions. Their unedited responses are listed in alphabetical order.

Tim Brown

1. Tell us about your personal history, background, or interests that have prepared you to serve on the school board. 
I have served for seven years on the Solon school board and am currently the vice-president of the board. I have two sons who have both graduated from Solon. As an engineering researcher, I have tried to bring focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) to my role as a board member including advocating for Project Lead the Way program at the high school, Gateway to Technology at the middle school and elevation of the Robotics team coach to a paid position. As a strong believer in lifelong learning, I led the way toward greater engagement by the school board in its own professional development including a Board Learning agenda item at our monthly meetings where we have a chance to learn together which resulted in all board members receiving the Better Boardsmanship Award from the Iowa Association of School Boards. My background has also allowed me to bring a focus of continuous improvement based on data to the board.

2. What’s done well in Solon schools? What are they doing right? 
We have invested in our buildings and our staff to provide the best possible learning environments for our students. With the addition of the new middle school, the renovations at the high school including the new Center for the Arts, the 2011 renovations to Lakeview Elementary and the upcoming opening of the intermediate school, we are well positioned from a facilities standpoint to provide state of the art learning environments. The quality of teachers is the most important factor in student success and our staff is second to none in their dedication to our students… without them our facilities would be meaningless. As the Irish poet William Butler Yates said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Our staff daily instills in our students the desire to learn and we need to continue to invest in our staff. 

3. What do you believe is the biggest challenge the district is facing? 
Managing the growth in the district will remain an ongoing challenge. With continuing growth, despite the closure of open enrollment at most grade levels, we will need to carefully manage our budget. With limited increases in state funding over the past several years and uncertainty over future funding levels, we need to make sure that we invest prudently with a focus on improving student achievement by investing in our staff. We need to continually evaluate the programs we offer as we strive to meet the changing needs of our students.

4. If you could change something tomorrow about the Solon school district, what would it be? What’s your biggest priority?
Vo/Tech programs in Solon were dropped several years ago in anticipation of courses to be offered at the Johnson County Regional Center; however, it doesn’t provide courses for younger students. We need to find a way to provide greater vocational and technical training earlier to our students. Although Kirkwood provides outstanding resources to juniors and seniors, we don’t have sufficient course offering for students pursuing vocational and trade jobs out of high school. There are many paths to success in life and just as we need to prepare our college bound students, we must also prepare those who will enter the workforce directly.
As far as a my biggest priority, it would be to keep the focus of the school district on helping each and every student be successful. The board recently updated its mission and vision, and part of that included a focus on each student achieving a minimum of a year’s growth every school year. Regardless if they are a student with an individualized educational plan, a talented and gifted student, or somewhere in between, we want to have a school system that allows each of them to achieve to their maximum capability.

Dan Coons

1. Tell us about your personal history, background, or interests that have prepared you to serve on the school board.
I have lived in Eastern Iowa for 23 years and have been a resident of the City of Solon for the past 13 years. I originally came to Iowa to obtain my degree as a physician assistant. I was on the Solon school board from September 2011-August 2015. I recently was on the science standards committee where we planned for the new science standards that will be required in the future. I have also volunteered as a high school coach for the past 12 years. I believe that all these experiences have allowed me to develop numerous varied relationships within the community which allows me an opportunity to seek varied community opinions while serving on the school board.
As far as my personal history, we moved to Solon intentionally to be in the school district when my oldest child was starting kindergarten. We have four children; Jake is a freshman at University of Iowa, A.J. is in 10th grade, Katelyn is in ninth grade, and our youngest, Kyla, is in second grade. My wife Kerri has been a teacher in the district the last six years in the area of Talented and Gifted students. I enjoy my family and take my role as husband and father very seriously. I enjoy the process of assisting my children in learning how faith, discipline, hard work and character can help them grow in their education and extracurricular activities. I value education above all other school activities. But, I believe extracurricular activities help mold students and build character.

2. What’s done well in Solon schools? What are they doing right?
I think the Solon school district and school board have done a good job in promoting an atmosphere where students excel in a variety of areas. We continue to push to elevate our state and national test scores and focus educational resources to improve academic achievement. We must continue to set our standards high and strive to become a district where all students are proficient and excel while in Solon and beyond. Administrators have been willing to be creative and make tough decisions, putting the district in a good financial situation despite the lack of state budget support. We are also improving our staff communication and collaboration to better help our educators come together to give our students the best education possible.

3. What do you believe is the biggest challenge the district is facing?
As the Solon school district continues to grow, difficult decisions will need to be made. We must develop priorities and continue providing good communication and transparency. I believe we must ensure that all students have the opportunity and encouragement needed to achieve their greatest academic potential, while keeping ideas and discussions student-focused and refraining from our own agendas. We must continue to develop best practice education for our students to assure that all students are challenged at their current academic position and advanced academically.

4. If you could change something tomorrow about the Solon school district, what would it be? What’s your biggest priority?
If I could change something tomorrow it would be that every one of our students would have their own individualized education plan. This would allow each student to be individually evaluated and the best instruction, emotional support, talent and character development would be provided to the student and their family. This goal is an idealistic view of what education could be but I believe that we should make each decision in the district with this in the forefront of our minds. While this is not a concept that is possible with financial and time constraints, it is paramount we see each individual learner within the district as we make decisions.

Rick Jedlicka

1. Tell us about your personal history, background, or interests that have prepared you to serve on the school board.
Given the geographic location, community reputation and most importantly, the strength of the school district, Solon is an attractive community to be part of. When asked about what personal history and background has prepared me to serve, in part the answer is simple, Solon is my home and more importantly, it is where I am from! I have been fortunaate to have lived in Solon most of my life, and I have earned the support of this community having served as a city council member, mayor, and as a current school board member. These roles directly impacted much of the current community expansion, and while I embrace the recent changes, I continually remind myself of where we came from, as we determine where we are going. I am proud to be a graduate of Solon High School, Mount Mercy College, and the University of Iowa. I serve locally on the Vislisel scholarship committee and the Solon Retirement Village Foundation. Professionally, I work as a benefit consultant at Benefit Solutions Inc and currently serve on the Board of Directors for the Iowa Association of Health Underwriters. My wife is a professor at Kirkwood Community College, our two sons are in college continuing their higher education, and we are excited to watch our daughter complete her last two years at Solon High School. I appreciate the trust many of you have placed in me previously and would again ask for your support.

2. What’s done well in Solon schools? What are they doing right? 
There is truly something special about Solon and the Solon Community School District. Is it a stretch for me to say nearly everything in the district is done right? While we obviously are not without areas in need of improvement and have challenges that need to be addressed, we honestly do most things very well. The district mission statement talks about engaging each and every student in rigorous and relevant learning experiences… and we succeed in accomplishing that by not only having outstanding teachers and support staff but by providing them and all of our students with the resources to become better. The district continues to improve facilities, provides regularly scheduled in-service time for teacher collaboration, and there is continual evaluation of new curriculum, and we are not afraid to take the lead on implementing new educational concepts. The administration team challenges the entire staff to be the best they can today while expecting greater things tomorrow. Sustaining these high standards is not easy, but having the willingness and resources to succeed is exactly why the district is special.

3. What do you believe is the biggest challenge the district is facing?
The biggest challenge facing this district is very simply identified as “how does the district continue to do more, with less.” As I have indicated, the district continually challenges staff and students to exceed previous expectations. As state funding continues to be reduced, the district becomes limited financially. While we are blessed to have a growing community where increased population creates increased revenue, the growth in itself is an obvious challenge. We are also very fortunate to have a community that is willing to support the school district. A majority of the time, justifiable needs that are not met by the district are supported publicly. While that aids in what makes Solon great, these outside resources should never be taken for granted. As technology advances, class size grows and opportunities increase, the Board of Education will continue to be challenged to find ways to stretch the budget without sacrificing the vision and mission of the district. Controlling cost will be at the forefront of nearly every discussion. While we continue to pressure state legislators for additional assistance, it is imperative the board become creative in looking for ways to control cost, avoid duplication, and stretch the budget all the while continuing to excel.

4. If you could change something tomorrow about the Solon school district, what would it be? What’s your biggest priority?
As I painted a rosy picture in an earlier question about what is being done right, I did recognize we are not without areas in need of improvement. My answer here isn’t as much about making an immediate change tomorrow but rather building on something we continue to address, maintaining a positive school culture. Sustaining success is difficult. Asking staff to go from good to great, only to redefine great as the new good and immediately asking them to again elevate to greatness, can become overwhelming. Frustration can breed negativity. Long term high levels of success can’t be preserved without an entire culture of trust and support. Each of us has a responsibility in building this positive culture. The great things going on in the district didn’t happen overnight or just by chance. We all need to appreciate what we have and avoid a sense of entitlement. The Solon Community School District is not perfect, but by comparison, we are very fortunate, and our challenges are nothing this community together cannot overcome.

Nicole Pizzini

1. Tell us about your personal history, background or interests that prepared you to serve on the school board.
My background in education, working with diverse populations and serving in leadership roles, has prepared me to serve on the school board. I am a three-time graduate of The University of Iowa with a PhD in Rehabilitation Counseling Education, MA in substance abuse counseling, and BS in psychology. I am currently an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Ambrose University. In my professional career, I have been responsible for working within a budget, creating a positive teaching/learning environment for our students and faculty, listening to student/faculty grievances, resolving disputes, overseeing the assessment of learning outcomes, facilitating program reviews, working collaboratively with community agencies, hiring and mentoring staff, establishing goals and plans to meet those goals, presenting at conferences, serving on professional association boards, representing my employer on community agency boards and task forces.

2. What’s done well in Solon schools? What are they doing right?
Our school district has done an amazing job creating quality educational experiences for our students. As a community, we take great pride in the numerous achievements of our students. These achievements are reached because of our educators who believe in creating an educational environment where students can thrive and develop a love for learning. Our solid foundation of educators is due to recruiting and retaining qualified people who have a passion for educating our students. As a parent with school aged children, it is comforting to know that our children are being taught by the best educators. In addition to our educators, our quality educational experiences are shaped by our continued commitment to develop top-notch facilities. The new middle school and the Center for the Arts are shining examples. The intermediate school and addition to the high school will be stunning as well.

3. What do you believe is the biggest challenge the district is facing?
I believe the biggest challenge facing the district is planning for “what’s next.” Over the past several years, our district has seen many changes, such as, new buildings/facilities, new programs, new policies, and an increasingly diverse student population. We are at a point where our goals have been achieved. Now is the time to establish our next set of priorities and goals that will provide continued growth and development opportunities for our students and staff. With tighter budgets, new educational best practices and evolving educational requirements, it is prudent for the board to develop a strategic plan for keeping our district on the forefront of educational practices.

4. If you could change something tomorrow about the Solon school district, what would it be? What’s your biggest priority?
Our school district is fabulous in many ways. However, one area of improvement I see is meeting the needs of our diverse student population. As a district, it is our duty to address the needs and desires of all students. While we may not be able to meet every need or desire, we must make every effort to understand the changing needs and implement strategies to support these needs. This might mean: training for staff and students on working with diverse populations and students with various learning needs, increasing access to mental health services for students, strengthening our programs for talented and gifted students, or incorporating a universal design model to teaching so students who need accommodations for learning might feel less stigmatized. My biggest priority is to continue to provide quality educational opportunities for all students, through the implementation of best practices in teaching and learning, assessing learning outcomes for students, and evaluating educator job satisfaction.

Important dates related to the Tuesday, Sept. 12, school election
Friday, Sept. 8: Last day to request a mailed ballot, 5 p.m. deadline.
Monday, Sept. 11: Last day for in-person early voting at the Johnson County Auditor’s office.
Tuesday, Sept. 12: Election Day. Johnson County polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.