NEW PALESTINE — Come Jan. 1, the makeup of the five-member Southern Hancock School Board could look considerably different.
Incumbent school board member Bill Niemier is seeking a third term on the Community School Corp. of Southern Hancock County board in the Nov. 8 General Election. His District 2 challenger, Jon Hooker, is running to get elected for the first time. Should Hooker defeat Niemier, the five-member school board, which approves school policies and sets annual budgets, would have three new faces next year.
Longtime board members Barb Snyder and Tom Tucker are not running for re-election and will be replaced by two first-time board members who will serve four-year terms: Dan Walker, who’s running unopposed, and the winner of the race between Matt Ackerman and Wendy Parish, though Parish has since said she is no longer actively campaigning and instead supports her opponent’s bid for office.
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Despite seeking his third term, Niemier said it’s anything but status quo for the board’s current members. Niemier said he feels if a board member is afraid to try new things or challenge ideas, they are falling behind in their responsibilities.
He’s running on the district’s motto of “The Pursuit of Excellence” and said reaching that goal requires continued education for board members and openness to embrace change.
“In order to stay one of the best school corporations in the state, we have to continue to improve,” Niemier said.
Hooker grew up in the area and graduated from New Palestine High School in 1998. He decided to run because he wanted to give back to the community, he said.
Hooker said he feels he can bring a fresh set of eyes to the school board.
He’s been educating himself on the workings of the board and has been attending board work sessions for candidates provided by the district; he feels he has a real chance to win the seat.
“I hope the community knows me well enough,” Hooker said. “I’ve been here for 29 years.”
Hooker, an electrician by trade, has two students in the district, including a student with special needs, and wants to make sure the district’s special needs program continues to flourish.
“I don’t think there is an issue that needs immediate fixing in the district,” Hooker said, “but I want to make sure we keep making the correct decisions for all the kids, all the time.”
Hooker said he is excited about the possibility of being a part of the decision-making process for the district now and in the future, he said.
Niemier, a lawyer, is a father of three and has one son still attending school in the district. He has also been a former school board president and is hoping the experience pays off. He said he believes his past board work dealing with school finance and employment issues is a plus.
He said he feels the district is dealing with a few major issues, including concerns about state accountability standards when it comes to evaluating all schools.
“Private school and charter schools are not held to the same accountability standards as public schools,” Niemier said. “Competition needs to be measured on an even playing field, and that does not exist currently.”
It affects teachers’ pay raises and funding, Niemier said. He’d like to stay on the board and help take those concerns to the state legislature through various associations.