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Patrons of the Houston School District will elect three members to the school board for three-year terms.

Incumbents Jo Holland and Christie Koch did not seek re-election. The term of Darren Ice expires.

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Here is the Thursday, March 23, school board forum sponsored by the local chapter of the Missouri State Teachers Association.

Listed in alphabetical order are the responds to questions that were posed to them:



Tell us about your background — I was born and raised in Houston. I graduated in 1996 from Houston High School. I am engaged to Stephanie Thurman with two children, Logan, 15, and Riley, 10. I am currently employed with the City of Houston and have been for almost 18 years, 10 ½ with the police department and seven years as a water operator. I still currently serve as an active reserve officer with the police department and the sheriff’s department.

Why are you running for the Houston Board of Education? For the last 18 years I have been a public servant and I want to take that capacity to the next level and serve the school district.

The Houston School District has recently begun developing Career Technical Education classes with the Piney River Technical Center near the campus. What are your hopes for the program?

The Piney River Technical Center has been a great addition to the school. Four-year degrees are not meant for everybody. I would like to see more programs offered. I realize start up cost can be expensive and the demand has to be taken into consideration. Expanding the current trades would also be a benefit.

What do you believe is the purpose of a school board member? I believe a board member is a bridge between the public and administration. To assist in making the best decisions for staff and students. I want the community to express their concerns and accomplishments of the school to the board members. I believe the main goal of a board member is providing the best education for the students.

The school board has initiated a planning process to look at long-term facility requirements on the campus over the next several years. What do you view as the needs?

The needs for school are upgrading exterior and interior doors for safety. Providing better food options for students and teachers.

What do you see as the strengths of the Houston School District and are there any areas that you would like to see improvement?

Strengths in the school district from an outside perspective are positive changes having been made by bringing in people who care such as Dr. Copley. I believe one of the weaknesses is teacher turnover.



Tell us about your background —  I’m a 45-year old, Houston native. My entire family has graduated from Houston. Running our family farm has always been my main career. I also do minor mechanic work, custom combining, in addition to traveling to do storm relief clean-up. I have several years experience as a local school bus driver and worked as transportation director at a neighboring school district. I’ve been on the school board for six years. 

Why are you running for the Houston School Board of Education? As a life-long Houston resident, I see the vital role our school plays in our community. It takes a strong school to educate kids and prepare them for life in such an uncertain world. The Piney River Technical Center is one way we do that, and I want to remain on the school board to ensure It is supported in every way necessary. My six years of experience on the board will be valuable as we’ve accomplished several good things, but I still see room for improvement. 

The Houston School District has begun developing career technical classes with the Piney River Technical Center near the campus. What are your hopes for the program?

I see this as the greatest accomplishment the board has completed in my time on the board. I want to see the Welding Program continue its rapid growth and major accomplishments. We are providing a high quality vocational training in the welding field that will equip kids throughout life, and prepare them for many career paths.

I would like to see this program expanded and want to remain on the board to support them as technological advances and growing numbers in the program occur, and the needs that arise as a result of those changes.

The Health Science Program provides a unique opportunity to equip students for careers that are readily available in the nursing field. The fact that our students are able to enter the workforce as a CNA immediately after graduation is great and this program needs to be supported, as there is such a need in this career area. Building trades has been a class we have offered before the PRTC and it has proven to produce many local builders in our community who have built reputable businesses. Evidence of the success of this class is apparent if you visit their current project, a new house under construction on Primrose Lane.

Ag education is a program that many in our area are familiar with. Multiple generations of families around here, including my own, have been active members of the FFA. I attribute a majority of the success of a multi-generational farm to the knowledge my family has gained from our time in FFA.  Family and Consumer Science is also a vital program in our school and they need some improvements in their lab. PRTC is giving students what they need to enter the workforce in our community and many other places.

There is so much we are providing, but so much potential. I want it to grow to include auto mechanics, autobody, electric line technology, along with any other class that would meet the demand of a local career field. I want to see enough growth that we can move away from South Central Career Center in West Plains, and put the money we spend in tuition and transporting students back into our own programs. The two hour commute kids spend going to West Plains could be better spent in class, on our campus. In addition, there is potential to obtain additional students from neighboring districts as our program grows. These programs provide paths for our students to tap into careers that are needed in our community and would provide a great way of life regardless of the direction they go. 

What do you believe the purpose of a school board member is? My main purpose as a school board member is to represent the values and priorities of our tax paying patrons and to maintain fiscal responsibility for the taxpayers’ money. I do this by voicing my opinion and placing my vote the way I feel reflects those I represent.

The school board has initiated a planning process to look at long term facility requirements on the campus over the next several years. What do you view as the needs? Our new buildings are great, and we need to ensure they are maintained so they last as long, or longer than our old buildings. These older buildings need to continue to be renovated and maintained. The track needs to be addressed, as it isn’t even fit for our kids to practice on. I would like to see continued expansion and improvements on the Early Childhood Center, especially concerning the lack of sufficient restrooms. Considering how many little ones we have in the building, it is necessary. With the limited number of remaining lots the school has for the Building Trades Program, we need to be prepared to acquire more to ensure the longevity of this program. My investment in the school and community makes me aware of the diverse variety of needs our school district has, or may have, in the future for the various programs. I value each and every program, from the ones that include a small handful of participants, to the programs that include many.

What do you see as the strengths of the school district? Are there any areas you would like to see improvements?

We have great community support and involvement. Our community members devote their time, money and effort to our school. Our staff is dedicated to educating our kids even with all the challenges that come with teaching in today’s society. Piney River Technical Center is an amazing asset to our school and community, and has already begun producing high quality additions to our local and national work force. The Early Childhood Center has met a significant need in our community by providing early childhood education, giving a great start to children entering kindergarten. 

In regards to improvements, staff retention must be a priority. We need to implement ideas to not only bring in high quality applicants, but create an environment in which all staff members will work to remain in the district for the entirety of their career. Some things that come to mind include competitive salaries and benefit packages, and an environment that all employees feel appreciated. Test scores are often a concern, and this can be related to lack of teacher retention in addition to other factors. We need to provide more support in regards to curriculum development and implementation. I recognize the work our staff has put into the current curriculum and CSIP, and want to see these efforts continued. We also need to continue encouraging and supporting the aforementioned strengths.



Tell us about your background – My name is Marty Merckling.  I am a lifetime resident of this area.  I graduated from HHS in 1980, as did my wife, Judy, in 1983.  Our son Trevor graduated here in 2014 and our son Casey will this year.  Having sons nine years apart, I have been involved in the school district for the past 22 years.  I served as a high school assistant coach over different time periods throughout the years.  My wife has a master’s degree in teaching and was a teacher at HHS for a period of time.  Outside of school, I have dedicated the last 27 years to running youth programs here, with ages ranging from 2nd graders to seniors in high school.  Since 1985 I have operated my own businesses dealing with all aspects of running a business including budgets, employees, equipment, repair and maintenance, and dealing with contractors all over the country. For the past 4 years I also have served and am currently president of the Piney Township Board.  When I first came to the board, we were told we couldn’t afford to give employees raises because there wasn’t enough money available.  Instead of accepting that analogy, we looked at our budget, cut out equipment and expenses that were unnecessary and was able to increase the pay rates to where they exceeded all other area townships.  As with my personal businesses, at the Township I oversee budgets, payroll, insurance, equipment, and employee needs.  All of which are tools that will be necessary to make an impact on school board decisions.  I will be the oldest serving school board member and I believe my credentials set me apart from all other candidates.  I will bring experience and a perspective that will be unmatched on the board.

Why are you running for the Houston Board of Education? As I stated in my background information, I have spent most of my adult life starting and running programs for the youth of the area.  I have now turned those programs over to very qualified leaders that are actually products of our first programs.  Therefore, I am now ready to take my leadership skills to the school board.  While we see evidence of some great teachers and great accomplishments by our students, many issues are not being publicized or addressed.  As I read through the Houston Herald archives, all the past school board candidate’s questionnaire answers are virtually the same.  Better facilities, better education, higher teacher pay.  But what has been done the last 2 years? 5 years? 10 years?  Student test scores are very low in many areas.  Many facilities are run down and need upgrading.  Our students haven’t had a track in more than 10 years. Teacher pay is still lowest of any school districts in our area causing low morale and the exodus of many teachers.  The one new facility we recently added, the new gym, is only being allowed to be used by 15% of our students.  Also, many other issues too numerous to mention.  Lot of talk, no action.  That is why I’m running for school board.  I will start from day one to prioritize needs and implement actions to improve the school experience for all students.  As well as, on day one, I will demand a teacher pay raise to match or exceed the pay of other area school districts. An answer of “funds are not available” will not be acceptable. We must find a way to compensate our teachers with a fair wage.

The Houston School District has recently begun developing Career Technical Education classes with the Piney River Technical Center near the campus.  What are your hopes for the program? These programs and classes are certainly the most important classes offered for many upper classman in the High School.  Not all students will go to college and these classes provide hands-on training to many desirable fields.  This training could lead directly to entering a tech school in the same field and for many directly to the work force.  Instructors in these programs all seem to be energetic and very excited to teach their craft.  On the other hand, the building itself and the timing of the move were poorly planned and executed.  The programs that were forced to move from the former vocational building before the current school year had fully functioning classrooms, shops, and facilities.  The premature move to the PRTC left instructors with incomplete shops, classrooms, and supplies. These instructors were forced to teach without tools needed to complete their curriculum.  Why couldn’t the PRTC remodel have been completed before forcing the move?  We are now nearing the end of the school year and the building is still not nearly finished.  We sacrificed the hands-on learning in these classes for our seniors to accommodate 3- and 4-year-olds in the former vocational building.  But by far, the biggest issue is the lack of safety at the PRTC.  It sits straight across from the Justice Center which houses inmates.  We also rent a portion of the PRTC to Drury and Durham Co.  We do not know and have no control who comes in and out of this facility for these entities. They are not separated from our students. Many times, rollup doors are left open to the outside with access to anyone on the street.  These factors make this a very unsafe place for our students and faculty.  Bottom line, classes very important.  Facility very inadequate.

What do you believe is the purpose of a school board member? The school board member must always be a representative of the school district patrons who elected him/her.  They must be willing to communicate with all citizens concerning school matters. They are the liaison between the public and the school.  The board has the authority to make or change policies as needed. Each member must work with the rest of the board to create a safe and prosperous work environment for students and staff.  Until problems are resolved, the school board must take a larger role in the hiring process and the monitoring of the operation of the school. Personal feelings must be put aside, and hard decisions implemented when necessary.  As a whole, the board is the final authority over all school matters and are responsible for everything they make happen or let happen.

The school board has initiated a planning process to look at long-term facility requirements on the campus over the next several years.  What do you view as the needs?

First and foremost we have to stop looking at things we would like to have and focus on taking care of the things we already have.  We receive adequate funds to maintain, repair and replace most everything necessary.  If we spend wisely and budget accordingly we will be able to improve our facilities.  We cannot place any more burden on our taxpayers by asking for tax raises or bonds.  They have been very generous over the years and have given enough.  It falls on the city to bring more businesses and jobs to the area which would increase our tax revenue and give the school district adequate funds for large items or projects. Until then, we must spend wisely and maintain the facilities we have.   

What do you see as the strengths of the Houston School District and are there any areas that you would like to see improvement? We certainly have some skilled instructors who go above and beyond their required duties to educate our kids.  They take pride in their work and genuinely care about the students.  Also, the school does a great job of recognizing the accomplishments and awards the students receive.  As far as improvement, we must get out of the cycle of hiring non-certified personnel only to have them leave for higher pay elsewhere when they become certified.  More teacher pay should help with that as it should bring in more qualified applicants when we have openings.  Of course higher pay will have to include greater responsibility and more accountability.  Everyone from the top down must be held accountable for the job they do.  Failure by program leaders must no longer be accepted.  We also must hold instructors accountable for their interactions with students.  Bullying and immoral behavior directed at or displayed in front of students cannot be tolerated. Our kids deserve better.  Many students’ disciplinary issues are a direct reflection of the actions they are seeing from adults around them.  In every decision made, we must always put the interest of the kids first.



Tell us about your background — My name is Tressie Neugebauer. I am a Houston High School alumnus. I attended Success R-6, K-8 then transferring into Houston High, 9-12. In 2000 I purchased my first of two Subway franchises. In 2002 I married my husband, Rodney. To that I gained two sons, Cody and Brad then together we have a daughter, Addison. I have two daughters in law and six grandchildren. I attend Souls Harbor Family Worship where I am a youth leader for a young teens group on Wednesday night.

Why are you running for the Houston Board of Education? I believe in our school system. I believe in our community. I would like to be part of the growth of our district. We have a lot of potential to do great things here. My daughter is in high school, grandson in middle school, granddaughter in elementary school and a grandson in the ECC (Early Childhood Center). I am invested in our district.

The Houston School District has recently begun developing Career Technical Education classes with the Piney River Technical Center near the campus. What are your hopes for the program? Growth! I would like to see more areas of study brought in. There are so many careers that do not require a 4+ year degree. I think that schools should push as much intention on those careers as they do a 4-year college. I have heard so many positive things about the programs that are being utilized at this time.

What do you believe is the purpose of a school board member? To work along side of peers to find the best and most successful solution to issues that arise. Making decisions based on bettering the district. Being a voice for the teachers, students and community.

The school board has initiated a planning process to look at long-term facility requirements on the campus over the next several years. What do you view as the needs?

First, finish projects that have been started before planning more projects. The middle school needs a facelift. I think our students need an auditorium for choir, band and drama. A new track would be very beneficial to our school and community.

What do you see as the strengths of the Houston School District and are there any areas that you would like to see improvement?  The district has recently been involving the community more than before. The Career Technical Education classes. The development of the ECC was a great addition to our campus. Also, continuing with the Career Ladder so things like Tiger Byte can be continued! We have some truly amazing teachers here and improvements could be finding ways to support them and give incentives to keep them in our district. Improving on our clubs and programs to get the children and teachers excited about learning and excelling. Coaches putting time and effort into all ages of sports, not just high school.

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