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Five candidates emerge in school board race

T-R FILE PHOTO Five candidates are running for four school board seats Nov. 3. They are Niko Aguirre, Sara Faltys, Sean Heitmann, Jan McGinnis and Bob Untiedt.

At the strike of 5 p.m. Thursday the candidate field for four Marshalltown School Board seats was solidified.

The five candidates vying for four school board seats on Nov. 5 are:

• Niko Aguirre

• Sara Faltys

• Sean Heitmann

• Jan McGinnis

• Bob Untiedt

Meanwhile, incumbent board members Janelle Carter and Ben Fletcher did not file to run for re-election by Thursday’s deadline.

Each of the candidates outlined their motivations to run to represent the community and determine the direction of the school district.

Niko Aguirre

Aguirre works as human resources director at JBS Marshalltown and was selected to the board after board member Ross Harris stepped down for health reasons in July.

“I have become really immersed in the Marshalltown community,” he said.

Aguirre said his community focus, personal background and formal education as an educator are strengths going into the race for school board.

He said he has been impressed with the district’s focus on STEM education and the dual-language program at Woodbury Elementary.

“I know the things that we’re doing with STEM, we’ve got to keep building on that,” he said.

Many of Marshalltown’s students are of Latinx backgrounds, and Aguirre said he can personally identify with some of the experiences common among Latinx people in Marshalltown.

“I personally know what it’s like to come from my dad being born in Mexico,” he said.

Aguirre said he is a first-generation American and was the first in his family to graduate from high school and college. He said he also understands how difficult it is for some immigrants and new Americans to overcome the language barrier.

He said he also grew up in a low-income household. About 70 percent of Marshalltown students qualify for the federal Free and Reduced-Price meal program due to low-income status.

“When I was in school, I remember getting free and reduced lunch and having a little punch card,” Aguirre said. “It’s a unique perspective to have on the school board, which I hope would help to bring about some decisions or changes … that could be helpful toward the school district as a whole moving forward.”

Sara Faltys

Faltys works as an administrator at McFarland Clinic PC and is a district parent. Her two children are in high school and middle school, respectively.

“I feel this is a great way for me to give back to the community and I feel I can give valuable input to the board,” she said. “Growing up in Iowa and knowing how great our school systems are, I want to help preserve that for years to come.”

Faltys said she has experience at several community organizations, including Assistance League of Marshalltown and formerly as a board member at Iowa River Hospice.

She said one of her areas of focus is safety around pick-up and drop-off zones at the district’s schools.

“I know parents struggle with pick up and drop off at many of the schools and I am certain this has been an ongoing struggle for a while,” Faltys said. “Since the tragic accident near Franklin last school year, I have seen improved safety for the kids crossing streets at Miller Middle School, which is a very positive step in the right direction.”

If elected to the board, Faltys said she would focus on supporting a positive school environment for the benefit of students.

“I am passionate about letting kids be kids and allowing them to enjoy their childhood as much as possible,” she said. My goal would be for each of them to have fond memories of school as a positive and safe learning environment when they look back someday.”

Sean Heitmann

Incumbent board member Sean Heitmann is set to run to keep his seat on the board in November. He was first elected in 2015.

“I like the way we’ve integrated technology into the classrooms with ST Math and Lexia,” he said in a previous interview with the T-R when he announced his intention to seek re-election. “I think the Junior Achievement program has been really good, I like the way that’s continued to grow.”

Facilities concerns are a central focus for Heitmann.

“The things I hear the most about from anybody on facilities is the Miller (Middle School) auditorium and air conditioning the high school,” he said.

To address those concerns, Heitmann said district leaders are working on a long-range facilities plan. He said he wants to be part of the effort to see those plans implemented.

Jan McGinnis

McGinnis is a 40-year teacher who teaches special education at the Meskwaki Settlement School in Tama County. She said she has several concerns and wants to improve the district if elected.

“I have concerns about what we need to do to better prepare our young people. Our world is rapidly changing,” McGinnis said.

She said it is paramount that students learn good leadership in a world facing climate change and political turmoil.

McGinnis also said she wants to bring decision-making based on what is best for the student to the board. She said she feels there has been a lack of focus in that area from the current administration.

One example of such a concern for McGinnis was the change in bus routes implemented this school year.

“The school system changed bus routes to save money. However, the manner in which they did it was haphazard,” she said.

McGinnis said parents and school staff were not properly prepared for the change, and that changing bus routes could potentially confuse some students, especially younger ones.

She also said she would advocate for teachers’ freedom to innovate in the classroom. McGinnis said looking at systems in other countries with excellent school performance is a good place to draw inspiration.

For instance, she said in many successful education systems, teachers are treated as experts in how to write and implement a curriculum in class and are not instructed on how to teach by a central office.

McGinnis said her decades in education would be an asset if elected to the school board.

Bob Untiedt

IVCCD Orpheum Theater Center Director Bob Untiedt is also having a run for a school board seat. He previously ran and narrowly lost a special election bid for the Second Ward Marshalltown City Council seat in 2018.

Untiedt said one of his main concerns is the lack of air conditioning at a large portion of Marshalltown High School, which has caused an early dismissal this school year.

“I know it would be more than $10 million to do it, but getting air conditioning in the high school seems like a pretty long-term, critical need,” Untiedt said. “When they’re letting kids out early, that has such an impact on education.”

He said he would like to have a clear plan to get the air conditioning issue fixed if elected to the board.

Untiedt said he would also push for the district to look into apprenticeship opportunities for students not going to college after high school. He said he wants to learn more about the opportunities currently available to students through the district.

“I’m especially interested, too, in seeing how the district overall is taking a lead for the community, in an appropriate way, in addressing the issues around diversity,” Untiedt said.

He said it is important the district get as many parents and community members engaged with the district. Doing so, he said, would help get more residents to invest in the community over the long term.

Untiedt said he is a fan of the district’s dual-language program at Woodbury Elementary as well.

Another issue he said he wants to help fix is the high number of open enrollments out of the district. Untiedt said he wants to know not only the numbers and trends of open enrollment, but also wants to help the district address the problem.

He said he would focus on connecting with district leaders, staff and community members if elected.

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Contact Adam Sodders at 641-753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com