Challenger looks to unseat current Southern Hancock School Board member

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Jon Hooker, New Palestine is the incumbent Southern Hancock school board member

NEW PALESTINE — Incumbent Southern Hancock Board of Education member Jon Hooker left little doubt about his plans to seek re-election to the seat he holds in District 3, which includes all of Sugar Creek Township.

Hooker, New Palestine, posted on social media, “I will be seeking re-election for the school board this year.”

Hooker, who works for the the Central Indiana Building and Construction Trades as the Executive Director and President, is being challenged for the seat by James “Jim” A. Buist II, New Palestine.

Hooker told the Daily Reporter he’s pleased to see interest in the position.

“I’m glad that others in the community want to serve and help,” Hooker said. “I am a huge fan of democracy —but, I really want to win.”

Hooker grew up in the area and said regardless of if he wins or not, his plan is to come together with other community residents after the election and make sure the proper decisions are made for students and teachers.

“We don’t see a lot of that on the state and federal level,” Hooker said. “I’d never want to discourage anyone from wanting to get involved because this isn’t my seat and if I’m lucky I’ll hold it for another four years, but it’s the community’s decision.”

Hooker originally ran for the school board in 2016 and lost by 95 votes to incumbent Bill Niemier. Hooker was then asked to take over a seat on the board in 2020 when board member Craig Wagoner stepped down. That is the at-large seat now up for grabs, the one Hooker hopes to keep.

“A school board is all about leadership and community involvement and having a heart for the students, teachers and administration,” Hooker said.

He’s proud of the work the board has done during his time, including working through the COVID pandemic and plans for the multi-million renovation project at New Palestine High School.

“I think this board has done a good job and I know COVID tested everyone, but we didn’t make any knee-jerk reactions,” Hooker said. “Just having that steady leadership on the board allowed our school leaders, the administration, to do their job.”

Hooker noted his experience in construction has and will come in handy as district officials navigate the issues surrounding delays in the renovation project at NPHS and any future construction projects.

“We’re currently dealing with issues from contractors, logistics and issues with supply chains and manpower, all things everyone else is going through, and my background in construction certainly helps us understand what’s really going on,” Hooker said. “With all the growth in the area we’re going to be looking at expansion again soon, I’m sure.”

James (Jim) A. Buist II, New Palestine is running for a seat on the Southern Hancock School Board.

Buist is a piano teacher with a wealth of community service experience and wants to be a part of the school board because he feels it is important for residents to get involved. He’s also a member of the Indiana Civil Air Patrol and has been their emergency service director in the past.

Buist says he doesn’t have any major issues with the current board, but feels he can bring a different perspective to the group.

“I’ve attended many meetings and one of the things I’ve noticed is there really isn’t a lot of discussion on the things they vote on,” Buist said.

Two years ago when there was an opening on the board, a position the current board members selected, Buist applied but was not selected. He told the board then that he didn’t like that they never seem to discuss issues openly at meetings.

“What was made pretty clear to me at that time was they don’t want long public meetings,” Buist said. “They want to vote and get out of there.”

Buist said it’s obvious board members discuss issues on a one-on-one basis so they know which way the vote is going to go when they come into a public meeting. He said that’s fine because he knows one-on-one conversations are important. However, he’d like to see more conversation on issues at public meetings so community members can know how decisions are formulated and have a say in the decision making process.

“I have a concern about that,” Buist said. “On the Civil Air Patrol Board I was a part of we always had very open discussions where good ideas can come about concerning major topics and we really discussed things and we need to have more of those full public discussions locally.”

Buist believes it comes down to making sure everyone in the community has a voice and is heard. Buist feels if he is part of the board he can bring a voice for community members who feel left out.

“I’ve had the desire to run to be a part of the board for several years,” Buist said. “My wife has a good career, so I have the opportunity to do community work and that’s what I want to do — find ways to give back.”

In addition to teaching piano, Buist is a volunteer with the county’s EMA group and the county’s 4-H programs, leading one of the local clubs. Plus, he is active in his church and has worked with music students at New Palestine Intermediate School.

“I try to find a lot of different ways to give back to the community, and being on the school board would be another thing I’d like to do,” Buist said.

Voter registration ends Tuesday, Oct. 11.