Five vie for spot on Unified School District of De Pere spring ballot
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE — Four of the five people running for seats on the board of education of the Unified School District of De Pere will proceed on to the election in April, following the Feb. 21 primary.
The two winners of the April 4 election will replace David Youngquist and Doug Seeman, who serve as president and vice president, respectively.
Youngquist and Seeman filed papers of non-candidacy.
Youngquist has served on the board since 2014, and Seeman has served since 2009.
Former school board member, Mark Meneau, who served four terms, 2010-22, is among the contenders.
For serving on the board, board members receive $3,200.
The vice president, treasurer, and clerk receive $3,400, and the president receives $3,600.
Terms are three years.
Two candidates, Mike La Bouve and Melissa Niffenegger, did not respond.
Bio: Retired teacher with 44 years of experience, including 10 years as a teacher and coach, three years as principal, 17 years as superintendent, and 14 years as leader of CESA 7.
Why are you running for school board?
Public Education is one of the cornerstones of democracy. I understand Public Education like no other candidate. During my career I attended over 600 School Board meetings. I know public school curriculum, finance, operations, etc. I am kids-focused and am very grateful for the education my son received at De Pere and want to continue the fine traditions of the district while making sure we are preparing students for the future, not our past.
What do you feel are three of the biggest issues in the Unified School District of De Pere, and how will you address them?
De Pere Schools has done an excellent job in educating our students as indicated by the State Report Card. We need to look ahead and design learning programs that will advance our students in any career they would like to continue with after graduation. Computer Coding should be infused into our curriculum beginning in kindergarten. The high school should have a career, college, and citizen preparation focus as each student and their family design their future. Apprenticeships and early college credits would be standard practice for our students in their junior and senior year.
De Pere School District is growing, and all indications are that it will continue growing well into the 2030s. The district will need to plan for this growth and what the new facilities needs will be and where to place future schools, based on the growth and new educational programming.
While the State Report Card shows the District is doing a great job educating our students, it also shows that some of our students are being left behind. We need to target these students and help the students and their families reach newer heights of performance in our schools. This will take not only highly trained personnel, but also new technology for the students that will allow them to keep up with their peers.
Bio: I am currently employed at Conger Industries as an account manager. I served on the Unified School District of De Pere school board from 2010-2022.
I hold a bachelor’s degree from UW-Stevens Point in Marketing and Communications. I have resided here since 1996 and I am active in volunteering my time in the school district.
Why are you running?
To use my past experience to help lead the district in assessing our current facilities and how to address them in the upcoming phase of district growth.
What do you feel are three of the biggest issues in the district and how will you address them?
I will address this issue by participating in focus groups to determine where our tax dollars need to be spent on what facilities.
Growth of our technology education areas
In order to prepare our students for the future, we need to upgrade this area.
Attracting and retaining quality staff
We need to make sure that we are listening to our staff’s concerns and giving them the support and resources that they need to be world-class educators.
Bio: I retired from the Army in 2019 from a career that took me from Alaska to Australia, and a lot of less desirable places in between, but my time in those struggling nations underscored the gift that is public education and its profound impact on shaping and maintaining the kind of world in which we want our youth to grow up, thrive, and leave to future generations.
I’m the end product of a diverse education, starting in Berlin, Germany, as the son of an American spy during the Cold War. I attended public school in Virginia and inner-city Philadelphia, experiencing both rural and urban education; safe and dangerous environments.
By comparison, De Pere is nothing short of amazing. For most of my life, I was raised by a single mother—looking back as an adult, I have an appreciation of the resolve and strength of families trying to make it.
By high school I moved back in with my father, and attended a preparatory school in Virginia which lends me another vantage point into American education.
I joined the Army at 17 with the intent to ship out after graduation, but received a Presidential nomination to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, earning a B.S. in Human Geography tracked in Environmental Engineering.
Eight years later, after multiple deployments and countless moves, I got my Masters in International Policy and Practice from George Washington University, and finished my military career assigned to the Pentagon.
Since then, I have moved into tech, and my work centers around delivering digital transformation to the deskless workforce, empowering those who feed, fuel, and build our society with the technology needed to succeed in an increasingly automated world. So I spend a lot of time these days balancing being in front of a computer and wearing a hard hat to ensure people aren’t being left behind.
Why are you running?
I’ve been married for 14 years, and I have a fourth grader at Heritage, so I’m invested for both the immediate and the foreseeable future. I plan to live in De Pere for the rest of my life.
I’m tired of education always being treated as an afterthought, and I’m unhappy with the polarization we see in our nation and our community; education shouldn’t be partisan. A decade of budget cuts has left us having to do more with less, and while fiscal responsibility is important, it is a poor excuse to leverage against the success of our children. Having spent my entire career being non-partisan, working for Presidents from both sides of the aisle, and being in D.C. for some of the most tumultuous periods of our recent history, I know I can bridge the gap and bring common sense into decision-making, steering our community away from knee-jerk reactions and towards a long term strategic plan.
Children are naturally curious, and inquisitive – they have an innate desire to learn and succeed, and somehow, over the course of 18-21 years of their life, society has a tendency of stifling those desires, putting kids into the very boxes we complain about them not being able to think outside of, and turning them into boring adults. And again, a lot of this is because education is an afterthought in everything from voting to resourcing. We have a tendency of relying on what we think worked in the past, instead of continually driving innovation and learning.
Whether it’s a mindset or the very facilities our children are learning in, we can’t afford to continue to operate as if we’re in the 1970s. I’m running because I bring a fresh perspective, a level head, and a real desire to set our kids up for future success.
Hearing parent, teacher, student, and resident concerns about the last few years and our future, I believe I am well positioned to responsibly represent the interest of this community, having managed a project 40x larger than our city budget, experience in crisis management, and the ability to work alongside stakeholders for a winning end state.
What are the three biggest issues in the district and how would you address them?
Infrastructure and resourcing are at the top of everyone’s list for the district–and there’s already an ongoing assessment and plan in development–but it still leaves the question of what we can do in the immediate, and ultimately how we end up paying for these needed improvements.
Whether we expand, whether we build up, whether we build additional schools – these are great questions that the commission and the community have a voice in, but when class sizes approach 30 students to a single teacher, cafeteria tables crowd onto stages, and that bullying is unseen in overcrowded hallways, we know that something needs to change. Coming from Philadelphia, I am a big fan of building up — but also want to balance that against the need for modern facilities.
Near term, I would consider moving the district office away from the high school and making use of that building for class space.
One of the most mentioned issues concerns children not feeling safe. Children deserve to learn in an environment that is free of discrimination, violence and harassment — point blank.
Much of this bullying is happening on social media. And it happens in the classroom when kids are allowed to be on their phones, in the hallways, in the locker rooms, and at home.
Addressing this requires a joint effort between the schools, families, and the community – rebuilding trust, and not immediately casting blame. These issues cannot be tolerated, and cannot be swept under the rug without setting our kids up for failure.
We want to ensure all of our kids become productive members of society — whether they are pursuing a trade or going to school, technology education needs to be front and center.
Resourcing: It will be addressed with the district technology plan, but tech ed starts in elementary school, building on concepts like safety, and continues to grow with our children so that they have relevant classes.
LaBouvé did not respond to three messages from The Press Times seeking his input.
Niffenegger did not respond to three messages from The Press Times seeking her input.