Ian Dye Mount Vernon School Board

Ian Dye

Ian Dye

I grew up right here in Mount Vernon and graduated from the “old” high school in 2001. I earned a bachelors in Mathematics as well as Secondary Education and began teaching high school math at MVHS in 2005. While teaching and coaching, I went on to earn a masters degree in educational administration in 2008 from Drake University. This allowed me to become a school administrator in 2010 and since then I have served as a principal in Lisbon, Orlando, Fla., and most recently College Community Schools in Cedar Rapids. I am currently the principal at Prairie Point Middle School and 9th Grade Academy, serving about 1,350 students in grades 7,8, and 9.

My wife, Shauna, is also an 2001 graduate of MV schools and we have six children spread out among all school buildings in the Mount Vernon Community School District.

Give us your assessment of the district, What is going well; what would you like to see changed?

The district of Mount Vernon does an excellent job of providing opportunities for our students of all ages to engage with caring teachers and enthusiastic coaches, both in the classroom and through extracurricular activities and clubs. I am pleased whenever I see the school partnering with the community at large, recognizing the vital relationship between a small town and its school. Marching band parades through the neighborhoods, fundraiser soup suppers and baseball games at Ash Park are just a few of the amazing collaborative opportunities that help us all appreciate and support one another.

We are also in a sweet spot size-wise to offer this diverse set of opportunities for our young people while also having school leaders who know our children individually. I am particularly impressed to see when district leaders like Dr. Batenhorst are present in so many classrooms and during activities.

I would like to see the district of Mount Vernon intentionally plan and prepare financially through long-range projects and needs. A bond issue vote should not be the determining factor if regular and ongoing maintenance will be accomplished in a given year. Effective planning and communication can help support these short- and long-term needs related to school finance. I also want all of our students to have meaningful exposure to relevant learning opportunities that expose them to varied and exciting post-secondary pathways. The high school J-term is a great start on this endeavor but there is always room to grow in terms of core content exposure as well as exploratory experiences at all building levels.

Why are you running? Is there a specific issue you plan to champion?

I am running because I want to support the district teachers and administrators in effectively meeting the needs of all enrolled learners. I hope my knowledge of school operations can help the board and district leadership ask and answer hard questions so that we can grow as a district that represents and serves the community. As an educator and a father, I know that all parents love their children and I want to be responsive to parent input as requests are made of the school district serving these families.

If you are elected, what would you like to see happen during your term of office?

If I am fortunate enough to be elected, I plan to fill the role by being a good listener, a critical thinker, a strong communicator and a firm advocate for effective educational practices. During my term, I hope educators feel they have the resources needed to effectively complete their charge, parents feel they have voice in their children’s education, and students soar to their top potential.

How do you think the district has managed the pandemic? What, if anything, would you have done differently?

As a school employee myself, I know there is no way for any of us to truly manage a pandemic. We can only manage our response and keep an open, yet critical, mind to information as it becomes available. It is good that children in Mount Vernon and Iowa at large are statistically very safe health-wise from this virus and my emphasis as both an educator and parent is to try to provide as many age-level developmental opportunities as possible during this time. Each year of a child’s life is so vital for shaping who they will become and each decision that is made needs to be deeply and honestly considered given actual data before we impact any of these important periods of development.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I am very proud to be on the ballot to serve as board member for this amazing school district that means so much to my family.

Nick Edwards Mount Vernon School Board

Nick Edwards

Nick Edwards

My name is Nick Edwards. My wife and I are graduates of Anamosa High School. We have three kids in the Mount Vernon School District one in 5th grade, 3rd grade and our youngest is in Kindergarten. All three of our kids are very involved with activities and sports. When we are not busy cheering on our kids my wife and I are busy running our family business – Edwards Entertainment Company. We own and operate The Play Station Family Fun Centers. We currently have two locations one in Cedar Rapids and another in Davenport. We also do consulting for other entrainment complexes that are in the planning process of opening or remodeling. We have unique family business and take great pride helping families celebrate those special moments in life. Prior to my Play Station days my background has always been in the family entertainment business operating resorts and waterparks. I believe my hospitality business background, working with and employing hundreds of young adults over the years will help me bring a unique perspective to the school board.

Give us your assessment of the district. What is going well; what would you like to see changed?

Back in June of 2014 when we moved back to the Cedar Rapids to begin our adventure with The Play Station business one of our first priorities was where do we call home and raise our family. We began asking friends and family members their thoughts and several of them mentioned Mount Vernon. I still remember to this day driving around Mount Vernon on a Sunday in June of 2014. My wife and I instantly feel in love with the community and the schools. Looking back over these past several years I want publicly say “thank you” to the current and past school board members and administrators for always thinking to the future and being forward thinking when it comes to the district. Our kids have top notch learning facilities and amazing teachers. After our oldest son’s first year of Kindergarten we knew we made the right choice.

Why are you running? Is there a specific issue you plan to champion?

All of our kids are fairly young and just beginning their educational journey. Up until a year and half ago running for the school board was not really on the radar. As I’ve stated before my family loves the Mount Vernon Schools and we love the community. I’ve always been happy with the school board and never seen a need to be more involved. However, after this past year I knew I needed to get more involved. I wanted get a better understanding of how decisions were being made for our kids and who was making those decisions. In life we all have those “moments” when we don’t like the outcome of a decision or were not happy with how events play out. I decided to take action, to get more involved and run for school board. Like all parents these past 18 months we all want to do what’s best for our kids. Every family’s needs and beliefs are different – I respect that. I don’t have a set agenda. I don’t come from an education background. I’m just a regular guy trying to be the best dad, best husband and best business leader I can. If elected to the school board I will bring that same passion, energy, and most importantly a fresh outlook to the school board.

If you are elected, what would you like to see happen during your term of office?

I think it’s critical to always have a vision and be thinking long term. One vision I would like to see come to life during my term is an updated athletic complex for our students. I would also want to keep a strong focus on making sure the district has solid plans for how it will handle a growing community. I have this saying in business I use every day called the “5 P’s – Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. That would be no different in how I think about my role on the school board.

How do you think the district has managed the pandemic? What, if anything, would you have done differently?

Like many parents, I was disappointed and frustrated when the school board voted to go hybrid model last fall. School districts all across the state of Iowa were back in session full time. All those other schools found a way to make it happen. It took Mount Vernon Schools until January 19, 2021 to finally say it was safe enough for kids to go back full time. My kids along with many others suffered greatly from not being in school full time. How was a parent supposed to teach their kids when there working full time? Fast forward to this school year – it was off to an amazing start! Kids back to school learning full time, Friday night football games and school activities back in full swing! Then on September 21 the school board took action and put a mask mandate back in place. Defying what a majority of the parents wanted – to have a choice. My question to the school board was why? Why did the school board feel the need to make that decision for families? Shouldn’t something that creates so much friction and divide within the school community be left alone for parents to decide what was best for their families? Why did Mount Vernon implement a mask mandate when almost every other school district of our size not implement one? Last fall/winter I respected the administration and school board for collecting feedback, sending out surveys and asking the opinion of the parents, teachers and students their thoughts. If the school board felt the need to change course and take action why not wait another week? Send out a survey to all the parents, teachers, school staff, and students. Once the results of the survey came back then the board could have made a better informed decision on what a majority of the parents wanted. I think that is where most of the frustration is coming from when I talk with parents, teachers and students. Many feel they have not been heard and ignored. If elected to the school board I will always stand for parent choice.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I’m excited for the chance to serve the community. If elected I promise to be that voice for parents, school staff and students who have felt they have not been heard this past year and half. I promise to always be thinking about the future needs of the district and the needs of our educators so future generations of Mount Vernon Students will have the same amazing opportunities that my kids are currently experiencing, while also being responsible to the tax payers.

Rick Elliott Mount Vernon School Board

Rick Elliott

Rick Elliott

I was born in Laporte City, a community similar in size to Mount Vernon in 1948. Swimming pool and summer baseball, participated in all sports. Attended Iowa State University, graduating in English and physical education. I taught school for five years, and coached for 35 years. I’ve lived in Mount Vernon since 1973. I served on Mount Vernon City Council and as mayor of Mount Vernon for approximately 18 years. Presently am retired from Mount Vernon Construction.

Give us your assessment of the district. What is going well, what would you like to see changed?

Mount Vernon Community School District is in a very good place. We have outstanding teachers, excellent leadership, progressive curriculum and impressive facilities. Our students work hard and are leaders in their fields not only as students, but after they graduate. I take as much satisfaction in seeing our students become outstanding plumbers and electricians as becoming doctors, teachers and lawyers.. Many students come back to Mount Vernon to raise their families. This is inspiring.

Why are you running? Is there a specific issue you plan to champion?

Our open enrollment numbers reinforce that we are the school district of choice in this area. Students come to our school for the course work, to participate in fine arts programs, as well as our athletic programs. I want to be able to continue that level of excellence that makes students want to come to school here.

If you are elected, what would you like to see happen during your term of office?

We need to continue to update all of our facilities. Great strides have been made in the past six years, with an auditorium complex addition and high school, middle school and elementary school remodel. We have one piece left, our activities complex. That needs to be built in the next couple off years. I would like to contribute to see that proposal completed.

How do you think the district has managed the pandemic? What, if anything, would have you done differently?

Our teachers, staff and leadership team has done an amazing job. Continuing to provide our kids an education while keeping them safe was an impossible task, which we somehow accomplished. Thanks to Dr. Batenhorst for continuing to lead us during these difficult times.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

The main reason I originally ran for school board was to help restore civility to the discussion. We have done that. We need to continue that civility.

Lori Merlak Mount Vernon

School Board

Lori Merlak

Lori Merlak

I grew in Langeloth, Pennsylvania, not far from Pittsburgh (Go Steelers!), and went to Burgettstown High School. I left Pennsylvania after graduating college with a BS in Business Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (Indiana, PA). Military life with my ex-spouse provided an amazing opportunity to live in many places to include not only Pennsylvania, Arizona and now Iowa but also Colorado and Germany. I’ve been in Mount Vernon since 2005, have 2 amazing kids (Alina, 2019 MV Grad and Ben, MVHS Junior). I have served on the school board for 2 terms and now running for my 3rd.

Professionally, I work as the Associate Dean on the Iowa City Campus of Kirkwood Community College. Prior to this role, I was a management professor and program coordinator on Kirkwood’s Cedar Rapids campus.

I earned an MS in Management from Colorado Technical University (Colorado Springs, Colorado) and currently am a doctoral candidate at St. Ambrose University in Davenport where I am pursuing my DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration). I’m working on my dissertation connected to a global project I facilitated in Fall 2019 researching the impact of virtual global learning on intercultural competence. I’m a big advocate of global education and have travelled abroad with students to Vietnam (twice), Ireland and Brazil.

Give us your assessment of the district. What is going well; what would you like to see changed?

We have been through a lot as a district. While we have a lot to learn about the long term impacts of COVID, our focus is the health and safety of our students. We will continue to work together and use metrics and data to guide our district in the direction of success. Our superintendent works tirelessly to ensure the board is well informed. I am confident this will continue while learning from the past and focusing on what lies ahead.

Why are you running? Is there a specific issue you plan to champion?

I am running again because there is a lot to learn to be on the school board. I bring stability and knowledge of our district to the board table while recognizing the importance of change and flexibility. I am an educator through and through. I will champion for opportunities for our students to succeed in whatever area they thrive. I support our district employees and welcome new ideas. I will ensure we continue to work together to make things even better for our district.

If you are elected, what would you like to see happen during your term of office?

We have been in a state of flux due to the pandemic and we don’t know yet the long term effects this has had on our students, staff and faculty. So there will be a great deal to learn and adjust to in the next 4 years. Yet, as a district we remain financially healthy. This must continue so we can then pursue the other needs in our district SOME of which include:

• Additional nursing, mental health and counseling support

• Opportunities to learn about diversity, equity and inclusion

• Help students and their families gain access to higher education (2 year, 4 year or technical education) to avoid debt and ensure career success

• Build an activities complex to support our fine arts and athletic programs

• Stay connected with our community to ensure healthy communication and positive experiences for families in our district.

How do you think the district has managed the pandemic? What, if anything, would you have done differently?

We’ve done as well as we could have given the difficult circumstances. We worked as a board in conjunction with our superintendent so that our buildings could remain open during difficult times and provide safe opportunities for our students.

Our district and building leaders, teachers and staff have worked extremely hard and deserve all the credit. Please continue to thank them for their service to our district.

It hasn’t been easy and it will continue to be challenging. We need to work together to ensure we can keep everyone safe and keep our doors open so our students can learn.

Bill Thomsen Mount Vernon

School Board

Bill Thomsen

Bill Thomsen

I was born and raised in Mount Vernon. I graduated in 1972 and continued my education at Cornell College. I majored in physical education and elementary education.

I taught fifth grade in New Hampton for five years. I returned to Mount Vernon in 1982 as a physical education teacher and head wrestling coach. After three years, I became a fifth-grade teacher. I continued that until my retirement in 2010. Since then, I continued working at Mount Vernon as a paraeducator and long-term substitute teacher.

Throughout my teaching, I also coached many sports.

My hobbies or interests include involvement in Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community theatre musicals, exercising, singing and writing poetry.

I’ve been married 41 years to my wife, Lori. We have four children and seven grandchildren, with four of them in elementary school in Mount Vernon.

Give us your assessment of the district. What is going well, what would you like to see changed?

I have always been proud of Mount Vernon’s education, but I see things I think need to be addressed.

Education is going through a challenging time. Technology has created new paths. Parents and students need to be supportive, and also advocates for the best education.

Mount Vernon has strong extra-curricular programs, not only athletically, but band, theater and many others.

Why are you running? Is there a specific issue you plan to champion?

I am running because of my grandchildren. I want them to have as fine an education from Mount Vernon Community School District as I had. At this time, I think there is room to improve.

If you are elected, what would you like to see happen during your term of office?

If elected, I would want to look more closely at the current grading system. Is it better than what we had? Are our students getting a strong foundation for college or vocational education? Are teachers seeing improvements?

How do you think the district has managed the pandemic? What, if anything, would have you done differently?

The district has handled the pandemic as well as they could. Zoom education is not easy or desired, but was what was possible. I don’t want to look back, but to move forward. I want to support all efforts to help students regain what they lost.

Recommended for you