Candidates share views in online forum

School board candidates shared their views on local education issues at an online forum Thursday evening.

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September 17, 2021 - 4:26 PM

Jocelyn Tupper, left, talks with school board candidates at a forum Thursday. From left, are Sofie Alexander, Mandey Coltrane, Robin Griffin-Lohman and John Wilson. Photo by Tim Stauffer / Iola Register

Voters got their first chance to hear from four candidates for the USD 257 Board of Education Thursday evening, even if the opportunity came via a screen.

Wesley United Methodist Church of Iola hosted a forum broadcast via Facebook Live at their Foundry location on South Kentucky. Participating were Sofie Alexander, Mandey Coltrane, Robin Griffin-Lohman and John Wilson. None has previously held public office.

The four candidates are vying for three at-large seats on the USD 257 Board of Education. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Current members Jennifer Coltrane, Jared Larkey and Nancy Toland will end their service.

Pastor Jocelyn Tupper moderated the event, allowing each candidate a chance to respond to submitted questions that covered a wide array of issues in education.

Sofie AlexanderPhoto by Tim Stauffer / Iola Register

Sofie Alexander

Alexander is an electronic health records specialist at the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas in Iola. Originally from Kansas City, she and her husband have lived in Iola for five years. In USD 257, Alexander stated, “we have a lot we can be proud of, but there’s always room for improvement.” When asked why she decided to run for a seat on the board, Alexander said, “Schools are an incredibly important part of the community, and we can’t have a healthy community without also providing a healthy and safe space for our children to grow and learn. I’m motivated to make sure we are doing all we can to remove barriers for our children so they have all they can to succeed.”

Alexander also stressed the importance of providing teachers and staff the resources necessary so that students with disabilities receive individualized instruction. She mentioned that staffing is a pressing concern for the school district and approved of recent board action to raise wages for bus drivers and substitute teachers.

Noting that many students have parents who are unable to drop off or pick up their children, Alexander stressed that transportation for all district students is crucial. She also applauded the federal assistance which has provided free school lunch for all students for a second year.

Alexander stood out in her concern for bullying, stating that several parents have shared concerns with her. In regards to students, Alexander said, “we can never spend too much time or too much money” to make sure teachers and staff have all they need to care for students’ mental health. Partnerships with the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center and the ANW Special Education Co-op, Alexander said, are vital to student success.

Mandey ColtranePhoto by Tim Stauffer / Iola Register

Mandey Coltrane

Coltrane, formerly the human resources manager at Iola’s Russell Stover facility, said she looked forward to serving as a conduit between parents and the district, if elected. A Louisiana native, Coltrane mentioned that her professional career, which has included working as a signals analyst for the Air Force, has allowed her to develop skills useful in public service. Coltrane said she has “a personal interest in preserving and improving the quality of our school system.” She has three children enrolled in the district.

Coltrane expressed lower enrollment as a challenge the district must contend with, as fewer students results in less funding and financial pressure on extracurricular activities. When asked if she would support board decisions she would not agree with, Coltrane mentioned that “at the end of the day, we’re a team,” and that while she may not agree with every decision, the time to voice criticism would be before board action, not afterwards.

In dealing with the mental health needs of students, Coltrane said, “Our teachers are well-equipped and well-trained. I’ve seen it personally.” She stressed, however, the importance of ongoing professional development and providing teachers access to up-to-date instructional practices.

When it comes to her vision for USD 257, Coltrane said she hoped for a district that provides “top quality education as well as access to first-rate extracurricular activities.” She welcomed the opportunity to address community concerns and serve her community.

Robin Griffin-LohmanPhoto by Tim Stauffer / Iola Register

Robin Griffin-Lohman 

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