Voters in the School of the Osage district will select three members for the Board in Education in the April 8 election. Challengers Mike Ruck and Todd Miller will run against incumbents Mary Whitman and Steven Hermann for the open seats. Here, the candidates address the challenges facing School of the Osage and their solutions.

Voters in the School of the Osage district will select three members for the Board in Education in the April 8 election. Challengers Mike Ruck and Todd Miller will run against incumbents Mary Whitman and Steven Hermann for the open seats. Here, the candidates address the challenges facing School of the Osage and their solutions.

*Editor’s Note: Candidates were given a word limit to adhere to. Answers were not altered in any way.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself including background, education, public service, volunteer work and, of course, your family.

Steven Hermann: I am a 1997 graduate of Osage, 2001 graduate of the University of Missouri with a degree in finance, an Osage School Board Member since 2011, Rotarian, Lake Area Chamber Board Member, and past/present member of many great community organizations. I am married to my wonderful wife, Lauren, who teaches art at Mills Elementary. We have three wonderful boys, Quentin, Spencer and Trip, two of which currently attend Osage.

Todd Miller: I was raised at Lake of the Ozarks and graduated from School of the Osage. I received my bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from the University of Missouri at Rolla. I have graduate certificates in public management and transportation from the University of South Florida. I have been a professional engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation for over 16 years. I am currently a deacon and member of the pastoral relations committee at Lake Ozark Christian Church. I volunteer to assist with several youth activities at our church and I have coached youth basketball for the Osage Youth Athletics Council and Upwards. My wife, Amy, and I have three daughters. Madeira is an eighth grader, Maya is in second grade and Estelle who is three years old.

Mike Ruck: My involvement at Osage includes: Eleven years as an officer with the Athletic Booster Club, Osage Youth Athletic Council founding board member and coach, Osage Facilities Planning Steering Committee member, marketing chair for the recent school bond issue, and marketing chair for the turf field initiative. I also serve on the board of adjustment for the Village of Four Seasons and sit on an advisory council for LCTC construction class.
I grew up in St. Louis. Our family has owned property at the lake since 1952. I remember Horseshoe Bend as a one-lane gravel road, and seeing more than a dozen boats on the lake all weekend was unusual. I’ve witnessed years of change in our community and schools. Twelve years ago we moved to our permanent residence to the lake.
Luanne and I will be married 34 years in June. She is a fixture at Osage, having served as an officer on each school’s PTA and a volunteer for numerous projects. We have two daughters. Kristina is a junior and proud member of the Lady Indians soccer and tennis teams. Kaitlyn is a freshman and plays on the tennis team.
We were a host family for our “temporary daughter” Giula Notari, Osage’s Rotary Exchange Student. As a family we attend Riverview Baptist Church.
Prior to moving to the lake I was a sales management executive for a national sales promotion and marketing company. Luanne and I now own a small development and construction company.

Mary Whitman:I am almost a life-long resident of the lake. I moved to the lake in 1976 with my family. I am a SOTO graduate as is my husband, Cash Whitman. We have two children; Cassius, 2009 SOTO graduate, and Wyatt, who will graduate in May. I graduated from University of Missouri Columbia with my bachelor of science degree in nursing and in 1999 received my master of science degree in nursing from Mizzou also.
I am a nationally certified Family Nurse Practitioner. Currently, I am employed by St. Mary’s (SSM) and practice at the SSM Lake Ozark Medical and Urgent Care Clinic in Lake Ozark. I am a member of MONA, ANA and National Academy of Nurse Practitioners. I have had the honor of serving three terms on the SOTO school board and currently serve as vice-president. Additionally, I serve as secretary of the Osage Foundation.

2. Why are you running for the board of education?

Hermann: There is a quote from Dr. Maria Montessori, “Within the child lies the fate of the future,” and that best sums up why I am seeking re-election of my current seat as a director of the board of education for School of the Osage.
Another key reason I am running is, as a public servant who listens to the needs of the community, staff and students, I am well positioned to ensure that our children and teachers have the best educational experience that will allow them to succeed in today’s complex world, all while providing accountability for the school policies to ensure fiscal responsibility is upheld in every decision and program.
The “Osage Way” began in January of this year as a set of strategic goals that are being used to develop the procedures and the tools necessary for systematic and systemic processes that ensure raising excellence is sustainable. I would like to ensure that the “Osage Way” is executed to its fullest.

Miller: I am proud of School of the Osage and the high standards of education the district has provided for generations. I would like to apply my experiences, education and values to guide the district in maintaining these high standards. I hope to see our schools continuously improve and honor the heritage of School of the Osage by making sure the district will be prepared to provide a higher level of education to its children for many years to come.

Ruck: It’s important to fill board positions with people who have a passion for the district and the skills necessary to address broad and diverse issues. This is the next logical step in my involvement with Osage. Whether volunteering, serving on various school committees or cooking for football games, I simply enjoy the energy surrounding the school. I would like to be part of the team directing the district’s future growth to ensure future students have the same positive experience and opportunities my girls have enjoyed.
I’ll bring a passion for everything Osage. Over the past 11 years, I was instrumental in growing the awareness and revenue of the Athletic Booster Club allowing the club to assist coaches and teams with numerous purchases. I’m one of the original board members of the Osage Youth Athletic Council, which now provides intramural sports to hundreds of Osage students. It’s important that Osage students have a balanced academic and extra-curricular experience while attending school.
I enjoy problem solving. Professionally, I have the leadership and executive background needed to work through important and complicated issues. I have the commitment to work through the learning curve necessary to be a productive board member.

Whitman:I have had the honor to serve on the board of education for three terms. Over the last year, utilizing the Baldridge process, the SOTO district has developed a strategic plan. This has been an exciting process and very good things are happening at SOTO. We are developing a systematic and sustainable plan to take our district from good to great.
We are also nearing the end of the remodeling of the Heritage building. I am committed to seeing these projects through. I serve on the Student Excellence Committee. As we revise the curriculum, I am also committed to completing these projects. Our district and students are our future and the heart and soul of our community. I would like to continue to serve and finish out these projects.

3. What are the two or three major challenges for the School of the Osage, and what are the possible solutions?

Hermann: a.    One of the biggest challenges is funding health care. We cannot continue to be okay with just saying, “health care costs continue to rise.” Continuing to pump money into health care costs, while all else remains equal, is not the solution. We have to fight for why are costs rising and what are the solutions we can use to bring costs down. This is possible by working with intermediaries that understand the cost of care and by putting in place workplace education on healthy living, which will create cost stability and result in the healthiest and happiest staff. If the staff is healthy and happy, so are our children!
b.    Another big challenge is community involvement. Osage is positioning itself to be great through the “Osage Way,” but a key element in a school district’s greatness is community involvement. The solution is being built by the “Osage Way” and I would like to see it through!

Miller: The first challenge I see for School of the Osage is to provide a high quality educational experience for every student. This could be achieved by giving students individual attention and guidance aimed at helping students realize their full potential and a vision for their future. Increased preschool efforts can also pay dividends by addressing student delays very early in development. Early intervention allows students time to learn needed skills before kindergarten, and begin school with a positive learning experience. Another challenge is making sure investments are focused on improving the educational experience for all students. This could be achieved by providing varied investments tailored for the diverse student population and higher teacher to student ratios. Also, investments in the latest technology available for the classroom would greatly enhance the quality of education at School of the Osage.

Ruck: Google “Top Challenges facing Public Schools.” The list may or may not surprise you. Among the top 10 challenges, school security, standardized testing, lack of parental involvement, funding, technology, bullying are among those often mentions.
For the most part, I think Osage stacks up pretty well in addressing most of these concerns.
Challenges of interest to me include school security, the role of technology and funding.
Security is discussed in a separate question to follow so I won’t reiterate here.
“The Role of Technology and Social Media” is of growing concern. Our student body grew up with cell phones, iPads, laptops, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Students embrace them and often teachers must tolerate them. Miss-used technology should not be tolerated when it is a distraction to the class. On the other hand, embracing technology and social media as a way to engage and motivate kids to learn can be powerful. The challenge lies in developing school policies that discourage distractive use, and encourage productive academic use.
“Funding.” Every initiative ultimately requires a budget and financial backing. Security, added technology, teacher staffing, books, sports, extra-curricular activities and so forth all compete for a portion of the budget. Funding for such budgets has declined, and even with a growing economy, districts will be forced to look at cost cutting measures, or non-traditional resources.
Our intramural sports programs faced a similar obstacle. Six years ago there was no formally funded school initiative for intramural sports in grades K-6. However, a group of parents approached the school board with a plan to develop and manage intramural sports, taking on the funding, coaching, and insurance in exchange for facilities use.
Five years later we proudly offer activities in nine different sports with expenses for equipment, uniforms and insurance self-funded through fees, sponsorships and donations. Nearly 900 children now participate in these activities with nominal financial exposure to the district. A non-traditional approach conceived by parents and endorsed by the district. With open and continued dialog I see opportunities for the district, parents and community to work together to address funding other initiatives in a similar manner.

Whitman: As I look at current challenges at SOTO, the first I think of is technology. Technology in today’s world is crucial to every aspect of the district, including community involvement. Currently, our technology is not at the level we want it. It was one of the top items identified during the strategic plan by the community, students and the faculty. Steps are being taken to resolve this challenge.
The technology committee that was developed during the strategic planning process is putting together a plan to address this issue. SOTO has contracted with a company that has begun upgrading our technology and website. Financial commitment is vital to the technology upgrades also. This, too, is a challenge. Technology upgrades are needed and will improve all disciplines of our district.
Secondly, an ongoing challenge is how do we continue to raise student excellence. We have a Student Excellence Committee of which I am a member. SOTO is using the strategic plan to also make the blueprint to raise our students’ achievement.
Osage Learning Communities have been established. Teachers collaborate together weekly, at grade level and vertically. This includes teachers from preschool to high school to ensure that our curriculum aligns at all grade levels. With ever-changing standards, student excellence is always a challenge. Our goal is again to take this from good to great. As I stated earlier, technology is also an integral part in achieving this goal.

4. The student population at Osage has been flat the last few years. Do you think the district should position itself to attract more students?

Hermann: As an award winning school, Osage is positioned to attract students, yet attracting more students is not just a function of the school alone. It is a collaborative effort that needs the support of the local chambers, city governments, media and community stakeholders. I do believe that all are working hard to create economic development that will provide jobs that will ultimately result in more students. This is an ongoing effort, and as a Lake Area Chamber director, I have recently proposed that we investigate the inclusion of an Osage staff member on one of our Chamber subcommittees so that the lines of communication between entities flow better. That is just one way that will help to position Osage to attract more students.

Miller: The best way for any school district to attract families is to provide a superior educational experience. That being said, my answer is yes, but that answer is driven by the desire to have the highest quality education experience for the current students in the district and not specifically to attract more students. If growth does occur in the future, the district needs strong direction and guidance to assure that the growth is managed responsibly. I have a lot of experience in negotiating tax increment financing packages for both commercial and residential developments throughout the state and can make sure that developments in the district can be incentivized responsibly without putting an unsustainable burden on the district.

Ruck: The district should definitely position itself to attract more students. Prior to the economic downturn the district experienced significant and somewhat predictable growth. The downturn hurt, and enrollment leveled off. However, with major storefronts surfacing and national companies making significant financial commitments in our community, we should expect a broader employee base and younger families moving into the district. Families that should pick Osage as their school district of choice.
School district success factors into the home buying or renting decision. School facilities, security, curriculum, extra-curricular activities, and teacher engagement all play a role in attracting families to the Osage district. With the Heritage Campus completion, introduction of new security measures at all campuses, continued curriculum improvement and teacher development we are on track to position Osage as their first choice of local school districts.

Whitman: Historically, the student population at SOTO fluctuates throughout the academic year due to the seasonal employment in our community. The numbers have been flat the last three or four years, which correlates with the recession that has recently occurred. Our district has positioned itself well to attract families to our community. We have outstanding facilities and staff. We have consistently been acknowledged as a District of Distinction. SOTO also offers a wide variety of clubs and extracurricular activities. Upgrading our website is an item I feel may help attract families to our district. It will give them information about SOTO to help them with their decision. As the economy continues to improve, our student population will also grow. With the completion of the Heritage Building, we have the capacity to house these students.

5. Do you think the school district has done all it can regarding building and student security?

Hermann: Osage’s stance on security and student safety is a top priority. The important thing is to do so in a way that does not hinder the educational experience. This summer the district is spending $500,000 to upgrade security at current facilities and equipping the Heritage Building with the latest security features. If re-elected, I will make sure that security continues to be an ongoing evaluation process and a top priority at School of the Osage.

Miller: The recent events at schools involving shootings are a terrible reality that should be addressed in a reasonable manner. I feel very strongly that every building at School of the Osage should have a full-time resource officer during school hours. I feel that resource officers should provide security, but also engage with the students and faculty on other issues such as traffic safety, drug and alcohol abuse and general personal safety issues. The salaries for these resource officers could be shared with the local agencies for support provided to the community when school is not in session.

Ruck: The Facilities Steering Committee identified security as a significant enough issue to include funding in the recent voter approved bond issue. A portion of bond funds were specifically earmarked for security improvements in our most vulnerable areas. The board has a responsibility to enact these improvements.
Mills Elementary was identified as the most vulnerable building and security was discussed as a significant part of the planning process for the new Heritage Campus. In the upcoming school year, Mills student population will move to the new Heritage Campus where security will be greatly improved.
Citizens have suggested on-site school resource officers at each school. I think most parents would favor this, but the obvious issue is funding. However, funding isn’t something new to Osage. We faced funding issues with the turf athletic field, the growth of the Booster Club, and intramural sports. Yet all are thriving now. Our community continues to surprise me. Always coming through in a pinch. I feel with continued dialog between the school district, local government and parents a reasonable and realistic solution can be found.
Security is a moving target requiring continued dialog and varying measures. Every parent should expect their child to come home at night and be safe. This requires identifying site-specific vulnerabilities, emergency planning, training and dialog with local first help responders.

Whitman: Security has and will continue to be a priority at SOTO. The district has taken many steps to keep our campuses safe. During the 2011-2012 academic year, the district contracted with Edu-Safe to perform a risk assessment. They made several recommendations, which the district implemented. Edu-Safe also worked with the district to rewrite our crisis plans. The plans are reviewed biannually in collaboration with law enforcement, EMS personnel, and district administrators. One-half million dollars of the recent bond issue is being used for security upgrades. The Heritage Building has many security features that will make it a safe facility. The district recently formed a Task Force Committee to address security issues on an ongoing basis. The committee consists of parents, district officials and a school board member. I know the district has taken steps to ensure the safety of our students and staff. This committee will be a great addition to our security plan.

6. Please provide any additional comments.

Hermann: I would like to thank the community for their trust in my ability to serve on the Osage School board. It would be a great honor to continue that role beyond April 8th. Education is our best hope for the future of our children. Please remember to vote on April 8th!

Miller: My children represent the fourth generation of students in my family to attend School of the Osage. In our experiences with School of the Osage, we have witnessed amazing things such as a classmate, Mike Hopkins, becoming an astronaut and orbiting the Earth. Unfortunately, we have also witnessed children who fell behind and failed to realize their full potential with School of the Osage. It is for these children as well as all children that attend the school district, that I am seeking your vote for the opportunity to serve School of the Osage as a school board member.

Ruck: Take time to Vote! Show your children the importance of the voting process. Use this as a “teaching opportunity” with them. School districts influence our most valuable assets — our children. Your choice of candidates is important!
I hope you will support me with your vote. Elected or not, I’ll still be here — committed to Osage!

Whitman: I would appreciate your vote for re-election. I will continue my commitment to SOTO, and will strive “Raising Excellence the Osage Way.”