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Clear Lake School Board candidates answer questions at public forum

CL School Board forum.jpg

On Thursday night, the candidates running for Clear Lake's School Board spots attended a candidate forum at Clear Lake City Hall. 

Three candidates are running for two at-large director spots on the school board for the Clear Lake School District. Chyrl Bergvig and Tony Brownlee are the two incumbent candidates running for reelection, and Greg Southgate is the newcomer seeking election to the board for the first time. 

Bervig is a longtime educator who says over her long career she has taught at every grade level in some capacity. She is currently serving her second term on the Clear Lake School Board. 

Brownlee has served on the school board since 2017 and serves as the president of Kingland Systems, a software company based in Clear Lake. He has two children currently in the Clear Lake school system and also volunteers as a coach for the Clear Lake track and field teams. 

Southgate is seeking election to the school board for the first time, and has lived in Clear Lake since 2009. Southgate works in the agriculture industry as a marketing manager for Christensen Farms, and is a Lieutenant for the Clear Lake Fire Department.  

The forum gave the opportunity for the three candidates to speak on a variety of issues, and how they would like to improve how the board currently runs. 

Around 30 people attended the forum in-person, with more joining to watch the livestream online. 

Watch Now: Clear Lake school board candidate forum

The forum was structured into three segments: first, candidates answered five questions prepared by the moderator, Troyce Fisher; second, candidates got to answer questions from attendees of the forum; and third, candidates had the opportunity to give a closing statement for why Clear Lake residents should vote for them. 

Moderator questions

The first question of the evening asked by Fisher was, "What are the three most important aspects of being on the school board?" 

Southgate answered simply "trust, trust, trust," in reference to having the community trust you as a school board member. 

Southgate's message throughout the questions from Fisher was very clear: his goal is to support Clear Lake's teachers, and to have better communication with the educators in the school district. 

"We got to put our educators first," Southgate said. "It's about time I think that the superintendent, this board, they start really listening to our educators. I think that has gone by the wayside the past couple of years."

Southgate went on to claim that morale among teachers in the district is poor, and that he wants to fix that. 

southgate.jpg

Southgate

Bergvig was more focused on two things, financing and having a better long-term structure and plan, speaking on how important it is for the board to create a mission statement or strategic plan for the district. 

When asked "if you could wave a magic wand and accomplish one thing on behalf of the school district as a school board member, what would it be," Bergvig said that she just wished for more funding. 

"If we could get someone to donate a billion dollars or so, that would be great," Bergvig joked. "We could do a few more things than we can do now; even though we have money it would be nice to have more."  

Brownlee had similar goals to Bergivig regarding a better long-term plan, but also spoke on wanting to improve the graduation rate. 

When asked the same question about waving a magic wand to accomplish one thing, Brownlee said his wish would be for a 100% graduation rate. 

"I don't know how to do it, I don't know what we need to differently," Brownlee said. "If you really could create an ecosystem where everyone graduates and walks across that stage and says, 'Man, I made it,' that is the ultimate goal." 

All three candidates spoke on the importance of communication with the public throughout the five questions.

On a later question about how the school board can better communicate with the public, Brownlee discussed the importance of it being a two-way street, but that the board is always trying to better communicate. 

Brownlee-headshot(2021).PNG

Brownlee

"Any organization in the world can communicate better," Brownlee said. "And ours is trying to do that every month." 

When asked the same question, Bergvig said that some of the onus of communication falls on the public, citing that the minutes from every school board meeting are published online, and reading them to see what's going on is important. 

"There's a lot of information that's out there," Begrvig said. "If you read the board minutes you'll probably find out a lot of things that we're doing." 

Audience questions 

Six questions total were asked by audience members, with many revolving around how the candidates would actually serve on the board and what they would do on it were they to get the chance to serve. 

Brownlee and Bergvig both were able to point to the work they have already done serving on the school board. The pair also mentioned how important it is to be active in the schools in some capacity, and you have to do more than just show up to the meetings.

Chyrl Bergvig

Bergvig

Southgate agreed with the two other candidates on the importance of being present in schools. Southgate also again reiterated the importance of board members communicating with their communities.

Closing statements 

The night ended with the three candidates giving their closing statements and a summary of why voters should write their name down on election night. 

Bergvig spoke about how important her background in education has been in serving on the board. 

"I believe that experience has been really helpful to me," Bergvig said. "Being a teacher is a lot different than being a board member, and that learning curve was way high." 

"You may ask, 'Why do I do this?' It's because I love it, I love the community," Brownlee said. "I'm a builder: I want to build a school that succeeds; I want to build a town that succeeds." 

"In summary... we have to put educators first," Southgate said. "We do that, they become a lot more invested in what's going on day-to-day in our schools and morale increases."  

The election will take place on Nov. 2, and Clear Lakers will have the chance to vote for two of the three candidates to serve on the Clear Lake School Board.  

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Zachary Dupont covers politics and business development for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at 641-421-0533 or zachary.dupont@globegazette.com. Follow Zachary on Twitter at @ZachNDupont

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