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Newcastle elects two new school board members next Tuesday

Voters will head to the polls next Tuesday to decide who will be on the ballot for the April 2 election. Up for grabs is Office No. 4 on the Newcastle school board. Incumbent Marci White is running unopposed for Office No. 3.

In District No. 4 three candidate’s names are on the February 12 ballot. Jeff Dingee and Tyler Riddle both hope to claim the office over incumbent Gary Knowles.

We asked the candidates to help voters make their decision and asked why they deserve your vote. See their answers below, as well as pages two and three.

Once votes are tallied next week, the top two who received the most votes will be on the April 2 ballot, unless a candidate received more than 50% of the votes.

Absentee voting hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Friday.

Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

What is your occupation?

Currently, I am an Aircraft Structures Lead Mechanic at Field Aerospace. We provide modifications to government aircraft in a timely and exceptional manner. I am also a member of the 138thFighter Wing in the Oklahoma Air National Guard where I have served our state for the last 5 years and our Nation for the last 11. I have deployed several times to the service of our Nation and it is my honor to continue to do so.

What are the current challenges facing Newcastle’s education/school boards?

I believe that we are currently faced with multiple challenges. Whether its growth in our community and facilities that are not adequate to support that growth, growing classroom sizes, overworked and under compensated teachers, concerned parents who believe there is a disconnect with the Administration, down to the direction are going as a school system. All of these challenges can be overcome by coming together as a community. A solid Board of Education, working as a team, to solve each issue in the most effective manner and what’s best for our students is crucial.

What motivates you to want to become a board member?

As a Father, Husband, and Member of this community I feel that it is my duty to actively engage and be a part of the future of our children. By giving them the best opportunities and framework for a good solid education, we are setting the foundation for the rest of their lives. If I can be a positive influence in that, then I will do everything in my power to do so.

What attributes are essential for successful school board members?

A successful school board member is not an individual but a teammate. A teammate to the rest of the Board, the Super-

What motivates you to want to become a board member?

I am willing to serve the school board to continue to seek improvements for our district that impact positive student outcomes. Values of integrity, equity, accountability along with experience gained through service will benefit Newcastle schools as we continue to move forward and seek continuous improvement.

What attributes are essential for effective school board members.

Characteristics of a healthy board include engaged study, honest dialogue, and open mindedness without agenda. An engaged and collaborative board shares responsibility and allows their individual input to become part of the board process. When all board members contribute in this way, then constructive questions and conversation happen to forge the board position of which all had a part. The resulting board position comprised of broader input is now stronger as it has been tested by the other engaged board members at the table. I have always said that I don’t need you to agree with me. I do however expect all board members to do our homework so that we can be prepared to advocate for our position, be part of the process and make the best possible decision for our district based on the information at the time.

What do you see as the board’s role and responsibilities?

The role of the board is to hire and evaluate the superintendent, set policy, and provide oversight for district funds. The proper role of the board is not to micro manage district operations or personnel outside the superintendent. I do believe that the board is also a two-way conduit to the community that allows for the seeking of input from parents and sharing input with the superintendent for decision making.

What is your occupation?  

I am a Senior Mechanical Design Engineer for Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E).     

What are the current challenges facing Newcastle?  

I believe Newcastle has suffered from a lack of leadership that has led to decisions that have been detrimental to the district at large.  I’ve heard it mentioned in a community forum that we are trying to think outside of the box to get ahead of our neighboring districts.  I believe we should instead first try to imitate what the neighboring districts are doing before even worrying about novel ideas on how to take the district to the next level.  We have  tangible, quantifiable issues such as bond issuance constraints, current capacity constraints given the estimated growth projections or various other issues pertaining to security or the current state of affairs with the state’s involvement in education funding, but when it comes right down to it, I believe the biggest issue that has plagued the district recently has ultimately been a lack of leadership.  

What motivates you to want to become a board member?

My interest in running for the Newcastle board of education is solely to provide the best educational experience for my kids.  I don’t believe in giving the canned answer of “I’m doing it for the kids”.  That being said, I believe my unwavering commitment to my kids “learning something new every day” and “challenging themselves daily via critical thinking” would also be a net positive to every kid in the district.

What attributes are essential for successful school board members?   

An understanding of the community and the ability to communicate openly and honestly with the “shareholders” of the district are paramount.  Having been a member of the

Jeff Dingee

intendent, the Teachers, the Students and the Parents. Being able to listen to the input of all these entities, the Board of Education can make the most informed and best decisions for our school district and our students. A board member must be able to look objectively at the situation and make decisions without bias or individual motives.

What do you see as the board’s roles and responsibilities?

The board’s sole responsibility is to make the best and most educated decisions for our students and our school system. Deciding and executing policies, hiring staff, creating or cutting programs due to funding constraints and governing the daily lives of our children are some of the responsibilities that fall of the Board of Education. Ultimately, a board member is simply a member of this community and it is all our roles and responsibilities to do the best for our children/students and their future.

What is your vision for education in this community?

My vision for education in this community is success. I want to see each student succeed and achieve their goals after leaving the school system and starting their journey in life. Having their foundations built from the classes, experiences, Teachers, Coaches and mentors from Newcastle, they will successfully lead their adult lives and will always be able to look back and know where they came from.

What kind of relationship should a district/the board have with its community? With its parents and families?

Truth and transparency. Parents and Teachers do not work for the Board. The Board of Education works for them. We are representatives of the community and are elected by them to make informed decisions for the best outcome of our children. The relationship is dynamic and should always be transparent both ways. The concerns of the community should always be a factor in the decision making process or implementation of any policy. Although not every person will be happy with decisions made, the parents and community should still feel as if they are an integral part of that decision making process.

Why should voters elect you?

Just as the other candidates, I am a member of this community that only wants what is best for my children and the children of Newcastle. I have three small children early in their education within the Newcastle School system. Although my family is not originally from Newcastle, and we did not grow up walking the halls of the school, or have the memories of the teachers and coaches, or have our names on sports trophies or science awards; we believe in this Community. We believe in this town and in this school system. We chose to move here and become Racers so that our children may grow to have those memories and experiences. People should vote for me because I am fresh new face and my only agenda is to make Newcastle Schools better for our next generations to come.

With one or two meetings a month, all school boards are limited in what they can do.  How does/should the board decide what’s most important?

As with any budget or policy decision, the Board of Education has a responsibility to make those hard and important choices. They should be done so with levels of priority and what students need first and foremost. That should be the highest priority in the decision making process. After that its teachers and then infrastructure. Without those three items we as a school would not be able to operate effectively and successfully. After that items should be prioritized in level of importance. Even though the school Board only meets a few times a month, they should use that time wisely and effectively to continue the success of our school system.

How can the board be accessible to your community?

The Board of Education publicly holds sessions each month and should be attended by all Parents or Teachers to conduct

Gary Knowles

What is your vision for education in this community?

My personal vision for Newcastle is one that prepares students to be college, career and life ready in the 21st century. We have to provide a high quality education that is relevant and rigorous, in order to prepare our students for the 21st century. We must strive for continuous improvement from the top to the bottom. My belief is that we are behind and lacking in resources and focus on professional development and expectations for teachers, principals and executive leadership. Although, I did not attend, I understand at the Model Schools Conference in Nashville in 2017 there was much focus on the need to adapt our education model to fit with our technological society. Many examples were give about changes in the work force within the next decade. Robots can already pour concrete homes or lay bricks based on blueprints. Students will need to be fluent in 25 coding languages to interact with the technology devices to drive the world. My vision is to expand STEM, robotics and coding from the ECC to the HS.

Although I have shared some of my personal vision, that is less important than our collective vision for education. A single view of education can be rendered ineffective without broad support. Last month the board took steps to initiate a plan to embark on a journey to develop the 5 year strategic plan for Newcastle Schools. Last August I attended a training session highlighting a Continuous Strategic Improvement model that was refined from the OSSBA and the K20 Center at OU. This process is a research based and data driven process that engages stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members to determine what is identified as important priorities. Those priorities will lead to measurable and reportable goals. The CSI process itself creates brings all stakeholders together and develops ownership and trust in the process. Ultimately, team leaders who will report data and progress. It is likely that the board and the community will hear reports from community leaders who lead data teams and report results.

Why should voters elect you?

My values of integrity, equity, accountability along with experience gained through servant leadership will benefit Newcastle Schools as we continue work to move forward and seek continuous improvement.

INTEGRITY – I am committed to doing what is both right and legal for the district based on current information. Minimization of district liability is paramount to ensure that classroom funds go to the classroom rather than to legal fees or judgments. Personal wishes are placed second to what is best for the district and the students we serve.

Just as I would recommend to a parent who shares concerns over a teacher or staff member, I follow the chain of command. On a number of occasions, I have advocated for staff that have positively impacted our students. As a patron, I shared my support and the positive impact they made on all students, including my own. However, as a board member, there were no directives or ultimatums as my role is to be part of the process. Ultimately those teachers departed our district and now are impacting students in other communities.

As a football volunteer responsible for stats and video, I witnessed Nate Ware reach and teach a multitude of students. The relationships he established allowed him to develop within students an understanding of how to regulate their own thinking and self-control. He was an example and impacted many including my own son Garrett. Coach Ware was hired by my wife at Mustang Middle School because of his positive impact on students. He has just established a robotics programs at MMS as well as an integral part of the intervention team.

Tyler Riddle

Newcastle community for over three decades as well as being a graduate of NHS in 2001, I feel confident in my knowledge of what this community values and the pride that the community takes in the school district.  Having the ability to engage in civil discourse with the shareholders and solicit feedback that may be of a differing opinion than your own ultimately leads to decisions in the best interest of the district.

What do you see as the board’s roles and responsibilities?   The board of education  and the role they play in the school system is no different than that of a member of a board of directors for a large company:  to make informed decisions that are to the benefit of the shareholders.  A board member is to listen to the suggestions of the CEO (Superintendent) and vote in a manner that is to the benefit of the shareholders.  This does not mean voting “yes” for every suggestion that arises in a board meeting.  Rather, it means seeking out the appropriate amount of information, whether this be by independent research to validate or seeking feedback from the shareholders, and voting in the best interest of the shareholders.  

What is your vision for education in this community?   I want our district to be top 3% in the state using whichever state and/or independent metric that is deemed satisfactory for a fair scientific comparison.  Per the last metrics I checked (independent metric, although it used all available state testing data), we are lagging behind our three closest neighbors on this front (Tuttle, Blanchard, Bridge Creek).  I find this unacceptable.

Going 14 years without new math books, beyond being in my opinion unacceptable, is what I’d consider  a lack of vision for education from the leadership of the district.  Hiring the appropriate leadership that has uncompromising values on the importance of education, while also being able to sell their vision to the stakeholders of the community will have immense impact on my lofty goals for the education rankings of the district.  Having bountiful options is wonderful, but if you’re stretching your resources thin to provide for the bountiful options, ultimately taking away focus from the core, what has actually been accomplished?   

What kind of relationship should a district/the board have with its community? With its parents and families?    The school district is often the largest publicly funded institution contained within a local community.  Given that fact, it is essential for the district and the board to be open and honest about every non-legally protected decision that is made.  I don’t distinguish the community from the parents and family: every stakeholder in the district can be considered the community at-large.  The district and the board of education must foster a relationship that builds trust and confidence with the community that ultimately is “paying the bills”.  Sound leadership at the top combined with “boots on the ground” communication pays large dividends in building the appropriate levels of trust and confidence.

Why should voters elect you?

I feel that having a vested interest in the school district is important, and I can think of no bigger vested interest in the fact that I have two daughters that are/will be attending Newcastle Public Schools.  As I’ve previously stated, I honestly believe my commitment to my kids learning something new every day and challenging themselves daily are nothing but positive for the other members of the school system.  I also feel that being a member of the community for as long as I have allows me to harness personal relationships that have been developed over decades of being a member of this very community that will be a net benefit to the district.   

With one or two meetings a month, all school boards are limited in what they can do.  How does/should the board decide what’s most important?

The board of education needs to leverage the subject matter expert, a Superintendent, they are responsible for hiring and evaluating to determine what is most important.  The same exact scenario exists in virtually all decent sized companies.  A board of education is not a group of subject matter experts for a school district, rather they are representatives of the legal school business. If a Parent or Teacher or individual from the community would like further accessibility, they should have the right to do so but in a non-legally binding way. I am more than happy to have a conversation with anyone, but the Board is a team and any decision or topic should be brought to the team for further discussion or action. If no answer can be provided to the individual, then it is the duty of the Board to discuss this collectively and then get back to the individual promptly. Furthermore, a Board member should be visible at school activities and functions. The right board member will help support the community by being present and involved in the lives of all our children.

What changes, if any, would you like to make regarding the way the school board operates?

I would like to see more involvement from the community. I feel that a lot of parents and community members have concerns and opinions, but do not actively engage on them. Win or lose, I encourage the community to come to Board meetings, ask board members questions and participate in the conversation. Let your voices be heard and be a part of the solution. The Board has a set agenda for each session and the community has the ability to be a part of that agenda each month. It is the boards duty to be legally transparent and truthful in what they say and do, but it’s also up to the members of this community to be a part of that conversation as well.

What do you think is expected of you as a board member?

As a Board member, I will be expected to be held accountable for my actions and that of the Board. I will be expected to make decisions with the best possible information available and to prioritize what’s best for our Children, Teachers, and school system. I will be expected to be honest, truthful and legally transparent with our budgets and policies and actions taken positively or negatively. Ultimately, I expect of myself to be a Father and a Husband and to treat every child in our school system as if they were my own.

What is the most important responsibility of a school board?

The most important responsibility of a School Board is its Students, Teachers and infrastructure. Those are our priorities and why we are here. We must ensure that our students have the best possible education given to them by the most qualified teachers and in the safest and most beneficial environment for them to learn.

What is the public relations role of a school board?

The public relations role is the face of the school system. They are the ones to act as a liaison between the community and the board. The public relations role should be present and supportive of our children and all activities within the school. They should be open and honest. The should be approachable by any member of the community to come together to solve problems and overcome challenges. The public relations role should be held accountable and legally transparent in their actions, as well as be able to provide facts and evidence of their decisions. Public relations is not a one sided event. Members of the community must be actively engaged and participate in school board sessions and public conversations regarding our school system. Words are meaningless without actions.

EQUITY - Equity amongst all students and all programs is my priority. I am committed to providing broad opportunities to engage all learners. Special Olympics, Outdoor Education (fishing, archery and shooting sports), Robotics at HS and MS, Poetry Slam, Academic team as well as more traditional offerings of team athletics, band, choir, and agricultural education are activities that ensure well- rounded and engaged students which lead to positive student outcomes in the classroom.

I advocated for Newcastle Wrestling to host events in the new gym. My son Garrett was a basketball player and all HS basketball events were hosted in the new gym. Wrestling events were all hosted in the old gym. Many of the wrestlers were kids I coached in football and baseball since 2nd grade. These were also my kids. I advocated for them to have equitable use of facilities and resources, resulting in most of their events being held in the handicap accessible new gym. I hold the same commitment to all students and programs throughout the district

SERVICE – Kathy and I moved to Newcastle in 2001 when looking for a community to raise our family. I began volunteering in 2006 with the first t-ball work day tightening up fences at the ballpark. I have remained active in schools and youth programs long after my child has moved on. I served kids by coaching youth football and baseball in NASA. Treasurer and board member of NASA allowed me to account for the funds and lead initiatives to expand the youth program to include basketball. Serving as Newcastle youth football coordinator from around 2008-2013 allowed me to grow the local program. I remained active in football league leadership as treasurer of football leagues Deep Fork Valley Football from 2011-2016 and Oklahoma Suburban Football from 2016-2018. Serving on the Newcastle school board since 2008 has allowed me to continue my calling to help our students and do my part to build our community’s future.

ACCOUNTABILITY - Willing to engage in dialogue and answer questions and concerns and share rationale for decisions and information to clarify rumors. Last February I was contact by Mr. Gober. I received a phone call out of the blue from someone I did not know. We had a conversation or two over the phone before he invited me to sit down and answer some questions and concerns. On a Sunday afternoon I spent about 5 hours in the living room of Mr. and Mrs. Gober answering questions and explaining what had been done and why. As I was leaving that evening he stood on his porch and said “We expected a politician, but you are a parent with concerns just like we are.” A few weeks later, to reach out to the community in a time of concern, I organized and hosted a community forum last March to answer questions regarding activity funds, textbooks, gate fees, school security and various concerns from social media reports. Although this was a personal choice and I did not want to involve or obligate other board members, MS. Dalton gladly joined with me in this endeavor. To my knowledge that has never happened while I have served the board. My commitment is to go above what has been done before.

shareholders that gather on a set schedule to conduct business (school) matters.  This is by design and I do not consider one/two meetings a month to be “limited”.  If a district is not being led in the right direction in the eyes of the shareholders, then it is up to the board of education to make a change.  If the changes made are still not in the right direction in the eyes of the shareholders, then the community at large has the ability to make a change at the board level.   

 How can the board be accessible to your community? The board of education  are publicly elected officials, thus they should be accessible, within reason, to address any concerns of the members of the community.  Common practices are electronic mail, but phone calls and public encounters are also to be expected and embraced.  I value the importance of a timely response to all inquiries, whether they be positive or negative.  There are board policies/procedures in place to address actual complaints/grievances, but in general, community feedback should be a major part of the feedback loop for the board of education members and the shareholders.    What changes, if any, would you like to make regarding the way the school board operates?

The board of education  operates under fairly strict guidelines/laws, so the technical operation is already well defined.  Having attended quite a few board meetings under the prior leadership of the district, it was somewhat confusing seeing the prior Superintendent dictating the direction of the scheduled board of education meeting.  The Superintendent is there to present the business of the district and then sit back and let the board of education converse over the positives/negatives of the topics at hand.  This needs to be understood moving forward.

What do you think is expected of you as a board member?  A  board member is expected to vote in the best interests of the shareholders of the district.   A board member is a duly elected representative of the shareholders, and is expected to act in the best interest of the shareholders.  If a time comes when that is not the case, then the shareholders will have the opportunity to replace board members.  A board member is also expected to be available to engage in dialogue with the shareholders of the district, again, within reason and only discussing matters that are not legally protected.

What is the most important responsibility of a school board?    Open and honest communication with the district shareholders is the most important responsibility of a school board and its members.  A district ultimately fails if it loses the support of the community and its shareholders, and the school board members are the duly elected representatives of the community shareholders.

What is the public relations role of a school board?  

Given that the bulk majority of decisions made by a school board are done in the public realm, if you are practicing open and honest dialogue and have earned the trust of the community with the decisions being made, public relations takes care of itself.  Again, members of the board of education are duly elected representatives of the public, so it should be understood that communication and developing relationships within the community is a given of a properly functioning school board.    

The Newcastle Pacer

P.O. Box 429

120 NE 2nd, Suite 102 - Newcastle, Oklahoma 73065