Orion School Board candidates

by Mindy Carls correspondent
Orion School Bard candidates answer questions about their qualifications for the job.

Orion School Board candidate Brandon Cooper

Incumbent Brandon Cooper, Orion, is one of three candidates running for the Orion school board.

Election Day is Tuesday, April 6. The Orion school district was organized with a maximum of three board members from any one township. All three of the candidates on the ballot are from Western Township, but only two will take seats on the board because Karl Kane of Western Township is midway through his four-year term.

The winners will serve four-year terms.

Education

Bachelor's degree, Augustana College (2006). Major: Business Administration — Finance and Marketing. Minor: Accounting.

Work, volunteer and political experiences

Current school board member, finishing first term.

Why are you running for this office?

There are numerous reasons why I love the fact that I was raised in the Orion community. The education that I received while growing up in Orion is one of those reasons. I feel that the education provided to me by Orion CUSD 223 set me up for success and provided me with the foundation needed to succeed at the collegiate level and also as I transitioned into life after college.

I am running for this position because I would like to do whatever I can to ensure that the children in the community continue to receive the same quality education and are able to succeed in their future endeavors.

What do you want to accomplish if you win?

1) Continue to work with the administration and other board members to improve the technological capabilities within the district to ensure students are able operate and succeed remotely when required.

2) Continue to work with the administration and other board members to continue providing students with new opportunities to learn, grow, and explore new interests. The more exposure that we can provide, the better it is for the kids.

3) Continue to remain fiscally responsible while improving the district facilities. We have done a great job in recent years with maintaining/updating our current facilities, but I look forward to major improvements in the future.

What would you like to change?

Honestly, I don't think that it is a good idea for a candidate to be running based on things that they would like to change.

As a board member, you are part of a team that is required to work together with the administration to achieve great things for the students in the district. If you go into it with an agenda, I feel that it will only cause tension and possibly inhibit progress.

There are always things that can be improved upon to ensure that we continue to provide the quality education that the community expects/deserves, but going into it with a fixed agenda isn't in the kids’ best interest. We have to remain flexible and focus on doing what is best for the kids and families in the district.

Orion School Board candidate Heather Hoftender

Challenger Heather Hoftender, Orion, is one of three candidates running for the Orion school board.

Election Day is Tuesday, April 6. The Orion school district was organized with a maximum of three board members from any one township. Karl Kane of Western Township is midway through his four-year term. All three of the candidates on the ballot are from Western Township, but only two will take seats on the board.

The winners will serve four-year terms.

Education

Graduated from Amboy High School in 1992. Obtained my bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Augustana College in 1996 and my juris doctorate from St. Louis University School of Law in 1999.

Work, volunteer and political experiences

I am an attorney and have worked as a litigator for over 20 years. One of the main duties of my job is to evaluate all sides of an issue and make recommendations to my client. I also advocate on behalf of my clients and facilitate resolution when necessary. These are critical skills for a school board member to have when serving the community.

I have also been a member of the St. Paul Lutheran Church council for four years and am currently serving another term. I am a member of the Personnel and Family Life committees. Serving on church council has given me valuable experience in the importance of expressing opinions and understanding group decision making.

I am also a member of the Orion Lions Club and am currently a member of the Orion After Prom Committee and served as an election judge in the November 2020 election.

Why are you running for this office?

Community service is engrained in me and was instilled in me by my parents. I do not believe in sitting idle when we can and should be proactive and involved. My grandmother graduated from Orion High School in 1926 and my daughter will be graduating from Orion High School 100 years after her in 2026. I want Orion students to be given all of the tools to be successful and to continue the legacy 100 years from now.

What do you want to accomplish if you win?

Generally speaking, I would like to see improved and increased interactions with the community, teachers and faculty, more focus on student achievement and technology and increased emphasis on racism, bias, diversity, equity and inclusion.

With regard to interactions with the community, I would like to see more transparency, within the bounds of the law, on the board. Many people until this year had never been to a board meeting and now they are more accessible than ever due to technology. I would like to increase the technology to allow more people to participate.

I would also like to see more information disseminated to the public, specifically about who is in attendance at the meetings other than the board

members, and what public comments were made at the board meetings. Often this information is filtered through the media when it should be coming from the board itself.

I would also like to see more community members interact with the board. Knowledge is power and knowledge of how the board runs can help foster trust with the community.

With regard to focus on student achievement and technology, we need to analyze how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected student achievement and work to rehabilitate if necessary. Many students were “left behind” during remote learning times and a concrete plan needs to be put in place to forge ahead and plan for the future and for the future of our students.

Also, technology is the future and we absolutely need to ensure that our students are prepared for this. We need updated and top-of-the-line technology to allow our students to be successful beyond high school.

Not only do we need to ensure that students are prepared for technology, but we also need to proactively address issues such as racism, bias, diversity, equity and inclusion. These will undoubtedly be issues that students need to understand now and when they graduate from Orion High School.

What are three things you would like to change?

I would like to see more communication from the board, additional input requested from the community and concrete action plans to meet the district goals. I would like to have surveys sent to the community to see what concerns the members of the community and to have those items addressed by the board.

Orion School Board candidate Aaron Kayser

Incumbent Aaron Kayser, Orion, is one of three candidates running for the Orion school board.

He has lived in Orion for the past 14 years. He and his wife Amy (1995 Orion graduate) moved to the village from Moline, prior to their oldest child starting school because they wanted him in Orion schools.

Election Day is Tuesday, April 6. The Orion school district was organized with a maximum of three board members from any one township. Karl Kane of Western Township is midway through his four-year term. All three of the candidates on the ballot are from Western Township, but only two will take seats on the board.

The winners will serve four-year terms.

Education

Bachhelor of arts in Accountancy from Western Illinois University; also, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Work, volunteer and political experiences

I have worked for Deere & Company for the past nine years. Prior to that, I was a CPA with a local firm, Crippen, Reid, & Bowen.

I have served on the Orion Little League Board as a member and treasurer. Being a Little League coach, boys and girls youth basketball coach, youth soccer coach and youth flag football coach have all been fond memories for me.

I have also volunteered time for Main Street Orion in the past, as well as my church, participating in both youth and music ministry.

I have been on the BHASED (Black Hawk Area Special Education District) board for the past two years and have been a delegate at the IASB (Illinois Association of School Boards) Joint Annual Conference twice.

Why are you running for this office?

I’m running for this office because I believe that in a school district the children and their needs and education should come first. This past year has shown us many things, including the possibility that the state and federal government may hand down directives that might not align with the shared community values we hold in Orion.

I believe it is important for board members to listen to the community, and lead from a place of understanding what small town life is all about. People choose to live in the Orion district for specific reasons, and board members who understand that are important in sustaining the values that our district holds dear.

What do you want to accomplish if you win?

Our district has done a good job of working well together to get the best education possible for our kids. Our test scores have been superior when compared to other area schools. I would like to see that continue, so supporting teachers to do

that is of premium importance. When we need additional resources (extra aides, etc.), I believe we should get them as soon as possible.

I would also like to see us build in the area of evaluations for our staff members. All of us need to know expectations and areas in which to improve, no matter our career. This needs to be adequately communicated to all employees in a timely manner. This is an area I have spoken up about during my time on the board, and if re-elected, I plan to continue.

I also believe that investing in the future is important, and I would like to see Orion become a leading innovator in pre-K learning. This includes a possible new building/classrooms in which to house a larger pre-K program.

What would you like to change?

There are two areas that I believe can almost always be improved upon: communication and accountability. While we have seen improvement in these areas over the past few years, there is still room for growth (improved evaluation measures, more town hall meetings, additional parent surveys, etc.).

Overall, we are a strong district that needs to continue adapting to changing standards, while not losing who we are — a small community with small town values. It would be my honor to serve on the board again and be a part of the team tasked with maintaining these values