Swifka versed in special needs
By Scott Bellile
The April elections didn’t go her way, but things are now looking up for New London resident Mary Swifka.
The New London School Board appointed Swifka over town of Lebanon farmer John P. Heideman to fill a board vacancy on June 15.
In the event of a board vacancy, it’s up to board members to appoint someone to fill it, not the electorate, as outlined in New London School District opolicy. The two candidates were interviewed by the board in closed session for a half hour. Afterward the board deliberated another 45 minutes in closed session before voting 5-1 to appoint Swifka in open session.
“I knew it was going to be a tough decision because both candidates were exceptional,” Board Treasurer John Michels said, adding that’s why it took 45 minutes.
Board members Connie Neely, John Michels, Virginia Schlais, Kim Schroeder and Bill Schmidt all voted yes. Chris Martinson voted no.
Swifka got her second chance at a seat after losing the April 5 election by 207 votes. Newcomer Martinson won the seat of outgoing board member John Faucher with 2,826 votes. Incumbent Schlais was re-elected with 2,554 votes. First-time contender Swifka received 2,348 votes.
Swifka said she had been disappointed in the election results, so she was “pleasantly surprised” an opportunity came two months later to join the board.
“I have decided after this election in 2016 that I would run again [in 2017] and give it a shot,” Swifka said. “I think maybe this 10 months or so of me serving on the board will help me get my feet wet and learn about the process and help solidify that decision.”
As for Heideman, he said the outcome is “not what I would have liked, but we’ll see what next year brings.” He too is considering a run in 2017.
Swifka will finish Jeremy Gorges’s term through April 2017, when she’ll be up for re-election along with Schroeder and Michels. Gorges resigned in May, midway through his third term, because he and his family moved out of the school district.
Swifka brings to the board expertise on special education, a perspective she and board members agree was absent from the board.
“I’m really delighted that I was offered the position and looking forward to serving with the existing board,” Swifka said. “I feel like I have a lot to offer and maybe a different perspective, being a parent of a child with a disability.”
Additionally, she serves as Governing Board President for New London public charter school Catalyst Academy, council member on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Special Education Advisory Council and environmental educator at Mosquito Hill Nature Center.
She wrote in her application letter there are two key issues the board must address. One is supporting students of all backgrounds and abilities. The other is making use of the district’s already-limited dollars in various ways, including attracting and fairly compensating employees, implementing innovative learning resources and maintaining quality co-curricular activities.
Heideman (not to be confused with his father John A. Heideman) would have brought to the board expertise in agriculture. He operates Heideman Farms north of New London and co-hosted the 2012 Wisconsin Farm Technology event. He’s nominated the school district for agricultural grants and helped the district win one through Monsanto.
He wrote in his letter the issues he is concerned about include the “continued exodus of students” who enroll out of the district, a shortage of talent in the post-high school workforce and keeping curriculum relevant and teaching techniques creative.
Schroeder, board president, said she hopes Swifka and Heideman both run for seats next April. District Administrator Kathy Gwidt agreed.
“They’re both very qualified, both very dedicated, both very passionate about kids and programs,” Gwidt said.
“We want both.”