Orion school board candidates: Who they are, why they want to serve

Staff Writer
Geneseo Republic


Orion Editor

Orion PTA hosted a meet-the-candidates forum on Monday, March 18. Five men and women are running for four seats on the school board in the Tuesday, April 2, election.

Present were David Harris and incumbents Julie Abbott, Peter Nedved and Kim Nightingale.

Moderator Roxxanne Chapman asked them to introduce themselves. Each of the four answered six questions and made a closing statement.

Incumbent Karl Kane was absent because of work.


Abbott, a native of Peoria, is a University of Illinois graduate with degrees in agriculture. Her husband Jason is a native of the Orion area, and she and Jason are raising their children on the Abbott family farm.

Jared is a University of Illinois student, Jamie is a junior at Orion High School and Jennie is an eighth grader at Orion Middle School.

Abbott is a stay-at-home mother involved in community service. She has served 12 years on the school board.

Harris said the Abbott farm is next to his, and Nightingale’s husband Fred owns the land around the farmhouse where he has lived for 40 years.

He just retired from Black Hawk College, East Campus, Kewanee. He helped students get GED certificates.

Harris’ wife Kathy taught reading at C.R. Hanna Elementary School and Orion Middle School. Their three children attended Orion schools.

“Where we’ve been in the past has been very strong, and some things need to happen to make a strong future,” Harris said.

Nedved’s wife, Sarah Sottos Nedved, grew up in the Orion area. They wanted to raise their children in a small town, and they have been in the school district for 12 years.

He is an engineer for John Deere.

Nedved has been on the school board a little more than eight years, having been appointed to fill a vacancy before deciding to run for full terms.

The Nedveds have four children in Orion schools, two at C.R. Hanna, one at OMS and one at OHS. They also have a pre-schooler.

“The school district has evolved with changing times,” he said. “Everyone has to pick something and get involved.”

Nightingale is not an Orion native, but her husband of almost 38 years is. Before retirement, Fred operated a farm with grain crops and livestock.

When the Nightingales’ son started school in Orion, she was impressed with the high level of parent involvement.

Nightingale was appointed to the board in 2006 and has served since then.

A school social worker for more than 35 years before retiring, Nightingale said she brings knowledge of special education programs and test scores to the school board.

She said it is important to serve high-achieving children and special needs children.

Motivation to serve

Candidates were asked about their motivation for serving as a school board member.

When the Abbott children were entering school, Abbott wanted to invest in the schools and make education better. At the time, board members had older children, and Abbott wanted to give C.R. Hanna families a voice.

She said she has learned a lot about how education works for stakeholders, including older retired residents with no children in school.

“At Black Hawk College, I spent a great deal of time creating an academic culture,” Harris said. “I tried to bring everybody together and moving in the same direction. We wanted everyone to be a success.”

Harris spoke about the power of leadership, noting the board hires superintendents and principals.

It’s important to create a culture that brings people into schools, Harris said. Parents are part of the reason Orion students succeed.

“We have to take the children we see and turn them into great people,” he said. “I would like to help with that process.”

“The primary reason that motivates me is the kids in the district,” Nedved said.

He wants to give all children in Orion schools a chance to succeed. He sees teachers here who are dedicated to students.

The school district is the major employer in Orion and sponsors lots of activities, Nedved said. School board members set the direction of the district, and empowers faculty and staff to work toward carrying out district goals.

Employees are able to speak to him about where things are going.

Nightingale said she wanted to give something back to the district because she was impressed with the education her son, nieces and nephews received and her great-nieces and great-nephews now receive.

She said she wanted to help make decisions and to provide support for programs.

Referring to consolidation studies with Cambridge and Sherrard, Nightingale said she hopes Orion never has to go down that road.

The Orion district is well run, she said.

Primary responsibilities

Candidates were asked what they thought the primary responsibilities of board members were.

Harris said a board member provides general guidance and hires staff to carry out the board’s direction. Board members also hold staff accountable.

“Accountability starts with the board being accountable to all the voters,” he said.

Board members should be open to communicating with the public, Harris said.

Nedved said board members set the district’s goals about curriculum, facilities and budget procedures.

The board also hires a superintendent who carries out policies and makes recommendations for hiring administrators and teachers, he said.

Board members also evaluate the superintendent and renew the contract, Nedved said.

The board sets policies, approves the budget and monitors expenditures to ensure the money is used efficiently, Nedved said.

Board members need to be out in the public and listen to concerns, which they should pass on to administrators to check out, he said.

Nedved said board members need to be on the same page and all have the same information.

“I welcome contact at any time, from any community member,” Nightingale said. “We cannot take your concern directly to a principal or a teacher. Our job is to set policy.”

She will contact the superintendent, Joe Blessman, with a concern, noting that he is open to communication with anyone in the district.

There is a chain of command, from the individual to the principal to the superintendent, and Blessman will want to know how things were handled at a lower level, Nightingale said.

Abbott said the biggest thing board members do is set policy.

“We don’t micromanage,” she said. “We don’t go in and fix little problems.”

Principals don’t bring things to the board unless they have reason to believe board members will approve, Abbott said.

The board represents the community, incorporating public concerns into goals, she said.

“Board members set goals with all students in mind,” including high achievers, athletes and special-needs kids, Abbott said.