David Degraaf

What are the three biggest issues facing your school district? How will you address them?

Students. Have to look at students as our end product and families have to see value in what we do. In his business, knows the skillset required for that working environment, which is much different than in the past. Need to have strategy so students can keep up with what is new on both the college and workforce tracks. Teachers need a collaborative work environments to share best practices, best tools. Schools need a solid academic curriculum, but also is a firm believer in extracurriculars, including athletics, band, robotics. Infrastructure improvements. Impressed with how Center Grove is managing budgets to do projects like the student activity center. Need to make sure Center Grove is competitive with other area schools. Want to make sure Center Grove is attractive area. So we need to be managing growth, and making sure our facilities are well maintained. Community involvement and engagement. Center Grove has impressed him with its community involvement, parent involvement. At any event, support from parents is incredible. Sons play football and basketball, always have lots of parents in stands at away games.

What is the most important thing you can do as a school board member to improve student achievement?

First is starting with a vision. His vision may be different from someone else. Establish vision, have plans in place to achieve it. Keep noise out of it. Students always at heart of decisions. Make sure students are confident when go into workforce and college with training, knowledge and support. Important for students to be prepared for what they will face when they graduate, including digital changes.

Do you favor adding any academic, sports or extracurricular programs, facilities or facility upgrades? Why or why not? What curriculum changes would you suggest?

In general yes, was impressed with plan for student activity center. Was more impressed that Center Grove is upgrading other facilities and preparing for growth. Heard some people were against the activity center, saying they never had something like this in high school. Is firm believer in STEM. Math is going to be critical. New facilities are very digital, and students need to be able to do simple equations. We also have seen startups become huge ventures, and you have to be open to that and provide collaborative work spaces.

If funding became so tight that programs would need to be cut, how would you decide? What would be a priority?

Has a big concern with TIF districts. Cities are keeping tax income for schools flat when new development comes. Development brings in more residents, but school can’t put money into budget to prepare for that. Worry about impact on class sizes. Needs to be a reality check for some surrounding governments of impact on schools. Prioritization for spending is important, do it all the time in business. Need to go back to our vision of providing students with good experience, forming a well-rounded student and allowing for collaboration of students. For him, a lot of that came from athletic field or court so we also need to make sure to have funding for those.

Do you favor selling naming rights to parts of schools, classrooms, scoreboards or buildings?

Yes, if you look at football field, you see IU Health. Tremendous win-win. With naming rights comes funding. Do need to maintain balance, not be overwhelmed with it in our facilities. What has been done with Skillman family and IU Health has helped alleviate budget concerns.

What, if any, policies should be in place to accept advertising dollars? Who should be involved in approving the contracts?

From school board standpoint, have to set the criteria. Need to avoid any favoritism and be sure there is a level playing field. If it is perceived the process does not have parameters, it can spiral, be abused, loses integrity. Lawyers will look at legal standpoint to make sure they are compliant with rules and laws. As long as it meets criteria, and school board says is appropriate,it should be approved.

If area businesses are willing to give schools thousands of dollars, why is the money being spent on athletics? Why is that the top priority? Couldn’t the advertisements still be displayed on a sports facility with the money going to academic or other programs?

Is an interesting question. Start to unlock value of school in its entirety. Have a successful sports program, so companies want to advertise because they get bang for their buck. Whole school should advance together, can be a huge win-win and create more value for school system. Do also have companies that support robotics, for example, and that is a win-win too, since students participate and learn from that.

What facility improvements, such as turf, outdoor labs, remodeling, expansions or new buildings does your school district need? How will they be paid for?

Not as familiar with all facilities as someone who has been here longer. Renovations at high school are very impressive, recreating old, bringing in fresh, new technology. People get caught in adding new wing, and don’t pay attention to old. Don’t put money in projects if don’t need to. But need to put students and faculty in an environment where they create mindset change and positive attitude in a good collaborative, innovative environment.

You are in charge of evaluating the district’s superintendent. What does your superintendent need to show to earn a positive evaluation?

Executing strategy developed by board and staff, make hard decisions and keep integrity in school. Don’t accept complacency. Be positive. Despite whatever circumstances, have to have a positive attitude. If don’t, can create toxic environment. Look for ways to improve, challenge self to be better. Teamwork, cohesiveness, but also have accountability. Maintain balance. Make decision and execute.

The number of students on free and reduced-price lunch from low-income families has been rising. What can your district do to ensure all students receive the kind of resources and help they need to be able to succeed?

Could be more collaboration with the community. His company has a campaign to support local food pantry. Statistics are very concerning, food-challenged community is growing. Need to be able to identify those environments and how to help people, but also do it quietly, don’t embarrass student or family. Without good nourishment, students suffer in classroom performance. Can explore community involvement to expand.

The number of National Merit Scholars has been viewed as a measure of a school district’s achievement. Do you agree? What do you think the school district can do to get more students into this program?

Have to look at the curriculum and experiences to prepare for that. Create environment where learning hands on, makes students even better prepared for when they get out of school. Too often don’t look outside of our walls, to bring everything together to create a vision. Natural result would be to see more in that program, but don’t just focus on that one program, look at overall environment where all students benefit.

How well is your school district preparing students for college? What more would you like to see offered, or what should be changed?

Center Grove does a good job. Has a good track record of kids going into college. One of concerns from industry is having so many graduating that may not be prepared to go into workforce. There are good paying jobs with two-year technical degree, with good pay. Student has to be informed with decision of going to college and career choices, what jobs are out there and the demand for those.

How well do you believe your school district is preparing students for technical careers, including manufacturing, computer programing and nursing, which has been identified as a priority? What do you believe could be done better?

Across the board, there is always room for improvement. If we don’t have that mentality to improve each year, leads to complacency. At his company, they work with school leaders and two-year degree programs to collaborate. Participate with schools to bring in engineers, do field trips to local facilities, plant seeds and give experience. New manufacturing is not like manufacturing in the past.

Most schools across the county give students devices, such as laptops and tablets, to use. Do you believe these devices are needed in the classroom? Why or why not? And how should schools measure the effectiveness of these devices to see how they are helping students learn?

Absolutely needed. Challenge will be keeping up with devices at rate of change in the world. Sons have smart tablets. How they study is much different from how he did. Can challenge selves to get kids more into digital age. A lot of hidden costs can be taken out by embracing digital aspect. Right now, measure with standardized testing scores. Should see those scores start to improve. Students have more opportunities to study. A lot of curriculum uses videos to cement lessons. Very powerful, concepts are seen in front of you, can accelerate pace of learning. Student also has to take care of, use their device. The challenge is to encourage them to do that.

School security has become more of a focus in recent years. Do you believe schools are safe enough? What else should be done to make them secure?

Schools have door alarms, etc. That is a good preventative measure. Force people to come in and check in at the office. When you have someone who wishes to hurt others, they always find a way. Need to have safe environment. Community needs to report suspicious activity, know neighbors. Could put police officers in all schools, but costly, so have to look at risk exposure. Electronic surveillance has the challenge of not violating people’s rights. Community likely has a lot of great ideas.

Local public schools have been losing more students to private schools through the state’s voucher program. How can public schools remain competitive to retain and attract students?

Goes back to competition. What are they doing differently. Why do people make that choice. Take victor approach instead of victim, and how do you make that differentiation in your schools.

What have you done to prepare for the job of a school board member? Have you attended school board meetings, requested documentation or met with any officials, educators or parents? What specific steps have you taken?

Several people encouraged him to run. Believes it has a lot to add with his experience, background, training. Been looking into impact of TIF districts, and how school system suffers. Have to make sure community and surrounding system is healthy. Met with superintendent. Attended school board candidate orientation and recent community forum.

While parents play a huge role in a child’s physical wellness, children spend a large part of their day at school. What is your school district doing, or should it be doing, to ensure that children and employees have opportunities to get part of the recommended amount of physical activity during the school day? Do the current policies and nutrition offerings support healthy choices, even when it comes to concession stands, fundraising items and vending machines?

Innovative ideas can be implemented. His company is putting a walking track in place at campus. Look at problem and break down barriers. Could create projects students do while walking, lot of opportunity there. Foundation for nutrition and health starts at family level. Not having healthy eating habits at home translates into school environment. Health classes for family and student. Government involvement takes it too far, but is reactionary to epidemic. Will take matter of time to balance out. Such an area of opportunity for community.

Construction is set to begin soon on a $10 million student activity center. Do you believe this facility is needed? Why or why not?

Yes, is needed. Impressed me with plan to address needs in next phases. Addresses need in school system with extracurriculars, which is very important in school experience. Addressing other needs in schools was a great part, not enough people know about it

The cost of the student activity center is just below the threshold in state law for requiring a public vote. Should the public have had a right to vote on this project? Why or why not?

No, was under the threshold. School district worked in parameters, creative and accountable. Did have the different campaigns and drives, for and against, community had opportunity to be involved.

Enrollment, especially at the elementary level, continues to grow and exceed projections. What steps does Center Grove need to take to address that growth? How should that be paid for?

First thing they did was redistricting. Best use facilities already in place, even if growth was not in that area. Not popular, but necessary, especially with budget constraints. Will need to be infrastructure put in place with meetings and vision of future that are well thought out and planned. Especially in areas where there is growth. Forethought with land acquisition, as those come up for sale, school has vision of where we need to go.

Center Grove has been buying homes near the high school as they become available for future growth needs, and has already spent at least $300,000, with plans to buy at least three more homes. Do you agree with this practice? Why or why not?

Yes, agrees with it. Synergies gained by being close to other schools are huge especially with busing and students and teachers going back and forth. That translates to cost effectiveness. If don’t address now, forced to make decisions don’t want to make later. Find out about hidden costs didn’t know about.

Teachers, principals and administrators are not to engage in interviews with the media unless the school communications director has arranged and supervises the interview. In some cases, interviews with people ranging from the superintendent to teachers are delayed for days, weeks or months or school employees have been discouraged from contacting the local media directly when they want to tell their stories from the classroom. Why is this the best practice? Should it be changed?

His company has a similar practice. The balance is to have involvement, but the message has to be known. The people that talk may not have all the facts and data or the clearance to know all that. Issue at stake could be perceived negatively, and could be destructive. Over time, message does get out, but has to be conducive to time and project. Seen things get too far ahead, and project gets shelved, because message gets tainted.

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.