Bullying and school safety dominated the discussion when the Montrose County School District school board candidates met Wednesday at The Forum.
The hopefuls all said these two concerns will be the main focus for them if they’re elected.
There could be more new faces to the board as, this year, Districts B, D, F and G are up for election.
For District B, DoriAnn Adragna, Katie Dunn and incumbent Jacob Suppes are vying for the seat. Additionally, write-in candidate Maria Trujillo is running for the spot but wasn’t able to attend The Forum.
Shawn Carroll and Cindy Brand are seeking the District D seat being left vacant by term-limited Tom West, who’s the current school board president.
And, for District G, incumbent Stephen Bush is running against hopefuls Melody Gillette and Dru-Anne Weaver.
District F, which is right now held by Phoebe Benziger, didn’t have a candidate run this year, which means the seat will be appointed following the school board election on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Adragna said she wants to ensure that all MCSD students have access to the support they need to achieve success. She believes that social and emotional learning is just as important as the academic side.
“Our children need access to mental healthcare and early intervention services,” she said.
Adragna added she wants to continue the progress the school board has achieved to help students stay safe.
Additionally, the anti-bullying work the school has done so far must continue and grow, she said.
“Bullying is unacceptable behavior that adults and children are responsible to stop,” Adragna said. “We need to focus on teaching emotional regulation, social interaction and conflict resolution skills starting at preschool.”
Adragna is an Olathe High School graduate. She obtained advanced degrees in school psychology to better learn what struggles students may have. While getting her doctorate, she also worked as a school psychologist on the Front Range, where she gained experience as a professional in the school setting.
She’s licensed in school psychology, and provides Maslow Academy with small group counseling and consultation services for teachers and staff.
The most important facing the school district right now is safety, Dunn said.
She added the school board has made strides when it comes to safety, but she believes she can help make it better.
“Each school needs to be looked at individually,” Dunn said.
She also said school staff needs better support. That’ll come down to having stronger backing from the administration, and be in a school “that is in good shape with modern technologies.”
When it comes to students, who may be bullied for being “different,” Dunn said she can relate.
She was born with amniotic band syndrome, which meant the umbilical cord was wrapped around her hand while when she was in her mother’s womb. She’s gone her entire life missing a portion of her right arm.
“I’m no different,” Dunn said. “I think I can relate to students who say I’m different.”
Since moving from Houston at the age of 13, Dunn has never left Montrose. She went to Centennial Middle before graduating from Montrose High School in 2003.
Dunn, who has two kids right now in the school district, said she still has wonderful memories of her time at MHS, which is why she wants to give back to the MCSD by running for the school board.
Dunn currently works for the 7th Judicial District as the accounting clerk. But she volunteers her time as a soccer coach with the Montrose Recreation District and helps out with school aide backpack program, which provides kids with food on the weekends.
As a board member for the last two years, Suppes said he has been part of the district’s efforts to help make schools safer.
But the protection measures “aren’t over yet,” he said.
Suppes added schools need to continue to be more secure. But safety concerns outside of the school haven’t been met, he said, citing measures to protect school bus stops haven’t been implemented.
Suppes knows about safety as he has a history in law enforcement. He was a Montrose Police Department officer for 27 years, with previous experience with the Montrose County Sheriff’s Office and the Paonia Police Department.
During his time with the MPD, he was the first-ever school resource officer after the program was set up in the early 1990s.
Suppes held many titles in his time with the police department, including that of sergeant. During his time with the MPD, he was on several hiring processes.
Suppes said he believes that expertise will help play an important part in hiring a new superintendent after Stephen Schiell announced his retirement after his school year.
“We need to start working on that,” he said.
Bullying has yet to be brought under control, Brand said.
She said this issue has run rampant in the schools and needs to be addressed in more detail.
Brand added this concern, as well as school safety, will be a focal point for her. She believes her medical field expertise can give valuable insight into such concerns.
Additionally, she has helped out with children since 18 and has worked with children who have special needs.
Brand is a more recent Montrose transplant as she moved to the area roughly eight years ago. As a mother of seven, and a grandmother of three, she still has two kids and three grandchildren in the school district.
“I’m running to be a voice for my children and the children of our community,” said Brand.
Carroll’s decision to run run for the school board was simple: it was because of his daughter, who’s currently in high school.
Carroll said she told him every day she goes to class, she thinks about what she’ll do if an active shooter comes through her classroom door.
“I don’t think a high school girl should think about that,” he said, adding Schiell has done a tremendous job increasing school safety district-wide.
However, this issue still needs to be addressed, and continued to be examined on how to better protect the students, Carroll added.
Carroll graduated from Montrose High School in 1982 before going to college and then the Air Force. He moved back to the area in 1990, before becoming a real estate broker in 94
Currently, Carroll is the owner and broker of Nexthome Virtual.
He’s also helped the local youth through sports, ranging from pee-wee softball to varsity-level basketball.
Bush was originally appointed to his position after no candidates ran for the spot in 2017. He said he didn’t think about becoming a member of the school board until Suppes, an old friend, broached it with him.
After thinking about it, Bush decided to join because of the family’s long history with the MCSD. Both Bush and his wife graduated from MHS, while both their parents also received their diploma at the same high school.
“Whenever that opportunity arises to serve our community, we feel obligated because this community is a part of us,” Bush said.
Additionally, Bush also had one child recently graduated from Montrose High School, while his two other kids are in middle school.
Since his younger children are still in school, Bush said school safety is his main goal.
He’s currently on the MCSD safety committee, which has made significant progress, Bush said.
Teachers and staff learned ALICE — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate training — through local law enforcement. School entrances have also been redesigned to where visitors need to request access into each building, plus fencing around each school has been improved.
Like Suppes, Bush took note of the changing of the guard at the MCSD.
He said replacing the superintendent will be the most important job the school board faces following the election.
“It’s not going to be an easy task. We’re going to have to look for somebody to keep the success that we had in this school district,” Bush said.
The long-time educator believes her background makes her the most ideal candidate.
Gillette taught at schools both in urban and rural communities before moving to Montrose more than a decade ago. After relocating to the area, she served for three years as a tutor in Delta and Montrose, teaching grade school and high school students on both remedial and advanced levels, which was under the “No Child Left Behind” program.
She has worked for municipal, county, state and federal agencies, which included giving out planning services to the public, evaluating environmental impacts projects and producing compliance documents for state and local review and project approval.
“I think that I bring to this table a grasp of requirements of the school generally as well as large planning with (the) community,” said Gillette.
She said if elected, she would focus on bullying.
Gillette added the school district has made improvements on stopping this by implementing safety programs. She said students will now stop bullying others if they worried that an educator or another staff member is “right around the corner.”
But bullying isn’t a new issue.
Gillette said both of her brothers went to school here locally, and even then some kids would torment others. Even though this was a problem, she said bullies were stopped by having other children stand up them.
“In that case, it was the students who took the responsibility,” Gillette said.
As a Montrose native, Weaver knows there’s bullying within our schools.
She has a personal history of it as she was subjected to bullies during her years in the Montrose County School District.
Weaver said, as she’s gotten older, she has noticed that the kids who are mean to others are often the ones in need of help.
“No happy, normal person sets out to make another person miserable,” she said.
There are processes on how to aid these students, she added. One way is offering mental health services, said Weaver, who works at the Center for Mental Health.
Students aren’t the only ones who want assistance.
Weaver said she also would focus on supporting the teachers. Weaver, who’s a parent of two currently in the MCSD, was able to sit in on her kids’ classes recently and said she learned just how many expectations are put on the educators every day.
“They have to handle a lot,” Weaver said. “They’re not just teachers. They’re trying to fill in the gaps that some of our parents in our community are leaving. … If we are unable to support our teachers, then they’re not able to do their job effectively.”
Weaver said she comes from a standpoint of “ground up.” She explained that if the community raises good children, or citizens, due to the work of the teachers and programs in place then certain problems will lessen quite a bit.
Andrew Kiser is the Montrose Daily Press’ sports/business writer. Follow him on Twitter @andrew_kpress.