New school board members look to be part of a fresh approach

Alyssa Howard | Editor in Chief

Beth DeGroft and John Odell, the two newcomers to the Mason City School Board resulting from the November 3 local elections, both said that they look to represent sizable constituencies within Mason, incorporating new approaches to boardroom politics.
DeGroft, who has kids in three of the six Mason City Schools buildings, said that her main motivation to run stemmed from a desire to represent parental interests in the community. While DeGroft said she had considered candidacy for about two years before the election, this year proved a time compatible with her family’s schedule.

“I have four kids in the district, and only one other current board member when I was running had students still in the district,” DeGroft said. “So, as a parent, I have a vested interest; I wanted to get involved.”

Odell, a former Mason City Schools teacher, said that his decision to run after three years of retirement resulted from a priority to sustain his prior involvements with the district.

“It’s primarily motivated by a desire to do public service,” Odell said. “I feel like working in Mason City Schools for 21 years that I had an investment in our district; I was proud of my contributions, and I wanted to see that continue.”

Odell said that his presence on the board will be representative of two vital demographics in the Mason community necessary for accurate input.

“The board talks about education, but really, you don’t know something until you’ve actually done it,” Odell said. “I think that I am going to bring a needed perspective to board discussion on a whole range of topics as we face some difficult times….And now that I’m retired, I also have a natural constituency of retired people. I have a different focus in my life and different interests, financial needs. So, I think I’ll bring a balance from that perspective as well.”

DeGroft, who ran on a platform of bringing a fresh approach to the boardroom, said that she will provide a new style to the school board amidst a membership primarily characterized by incumbency.

“The fresh approach is just that a lot of the board members have been on the board a long time, and sometimes I think some change and fresh perspectives are a good thing,” DeGroft said. “So, just some fresh ideas and a fresh face in front of everybody [are the fresh approach], I think.”

After officially taking public office, Odell said that he looks to achieve two standards in his first term, based on feedback he gathered as a candidate.

“The primary concerns that I heard from the public were [that] most people were happy with Mason City Schools, [so] most people wanted me to maintain the quality of our district,” Odell said. “The second thing that came out was, while they wanted to maintain the quality, they also wanted to do so at a reasonable cost.”

Similarly, DeGroft said that she emphasizes communication and wants the community to feel that she is always open to public response.

“I think the biggest thing for me really is to be an approachable board member,” DeGroft said. “I don’t want staff or parents to ever feel like they can’t call me or I’m not open to suggestions, because I definitely want to be. I may not always agree or be able to put their ideas into play, but I definitely want people to feel that I am approachable and keep the lines of communication open between parents and staff and students, as well.”

While DeGroft said she anticipates and appreciates differences of opinion among board members and the public, she expects the new set of board members to communicate in an environment of respect for one another.

“And I think that the board, the way it’s going to be made up now, will be able to express differences of opinion and share different ideas that still come to conclusions that will be in the best interest of the district as a whole and just work respectfully and professionally with each other, which hasn’t happened for the past four years,” DeGroft said. “I think that differences are a good thing, but when you sit in front of the public in that boardroom, you need to present a united front together as a cohesive force, together in the best interest of the district.”

Odell also said that while grappling with current financial crises, he expects the board members will have dissenting dialogue, but in a strictly issue-based atmosphere.

“We’re facing some very dire situations, given the economic climate and the slowing of the growth in Mason, [which] are going to present us with a whole new set of problems,” Odell said. “And to some degree, that probably will be a unifying force for the board. I expect that there will be debate: not that which gets personal, but certainly focuses on the issues.”

Odell said he sees the current dynamic of the Mason School Board reflected in the national political scene, but he hopes that an increased presence of respectful debate will mark a return to less exciting school board meetings.

“There’s a certain entertainment value here that we’re moving away from serious discussion and into news-as-entertainment, and in order to draw readership, you need to have some kind of controversy,” Odell said.  “So, I’m actually looking forward to getting back to some more boring school board meetings.”

Want to see this story in print?