Interview with John Wiggans, candidate for the Macon R-1 School Board

by Benjamin C. Nelson

MACON, MO -- The Macon Home Press interviewed John Wiggans who is looking to be elected to the Macon R-1 School Board. There are three positions on the June 2nd ballot and voters within the district will have six candidates to choose from. The candidates for the Macon R-1 School Board are Carrie Bergfield (Incumbent), Bill Noyes (Incumbent), Kevin Linear (Incumbent), Eric Brown, John Wiggans, and Greg Bruno.

QUESTION #1: Introduction (tell me about yourself, bio, jobs you have held, school, college, etc.)

JOHN WIGGANS: "My name is John Wiggans and I am a 1993 graduate of Macon High School. I hold an Educational Doctorate Degree in Policy and Analysis and I have spent the past 22 years in education serving in capacities ranging from music teacher to school superintendent. My wife Rachel and I are blessed with five children, Aubrey and Hadley (2017 MHS graduates), Sarah and Cathryne (current MMS students) and Porter (future Tiger)."

QUESTION #2: Why are you running (consider this your elevator pitch you would give someone if you were stuck in an elevator for 1-2 minutes)? What is your end goal as a potential board member?

JOHN WIGGANS: "I seek a seat on the Macon R-I School Board because my experiences as a student at MHS prepared me incredibly well for life-long learning and success in a world of unknowns. The phenomenal staff taught me that all things are possible with hard work, a positive attitude, persistence and vision. It is that sense of gratitude and pride with which I seek to make a positive difference in the lives of the students, faculty and staff of Macon R-I while serving on the Board of Education."

QUESTION #3: What is the most pressing issue facing the Macon R-1 School District?

JOHN WIGGANS: "As a former superintendent, I am very sensitive to the financial ramifications of COVID-19 on the funding Macon R-I will receive in FY 21, and as a curriculum “nerd”, I am continually concerned about authentic, stimulating and rigorous curricula. Having that said, I believe the most pressing issue at the moment is the relationship between the school and community. We have a strong school system, but it is imperative to build a bridge between the board of education, administration and community. Macon has always enjoyed tremendous community support and pride, all of which make it possible for our teachers to do their job with confidence, affecting exemplary student achievement. It is essential for the Board of Education and its members to serve the community rather than self-interests, placing students needs above all others and supporting its staff while continually improving all aspects of school life from performance and achievement to facilities and support services."

QUESTION #4: What makes our district unique compared to others?

JOHN WIGGANS: "Tiger Pride has always distinguished Macon R-I from other schools. At Macon, things have always been done a little better. Students and teachers at Macon have always worked a little harder than others, and the community has been an incredible support for the school."

QUESTION #5: In a post COVID-19 World, what do districts need to do in preparation for the next global pandemic?

JOHN WIGGANS: "Education has changed significantly in the short time since I entered the classroom in 1997. School districts and Universities have struggled for decades to maintain relevance because they refuse to let go of Industrial Age models of instruction. COVID-19 has iterated the need for significant change. Social distancing is nothing new to educators. Simply stated, maintaining optimum classroom size (15-20 students) is Best Practice, but something we often over look because of finance. As schools, we have to focus on what we want for our students. Today’s work place, more often than not, is not a typical cubical in which someone works 8 hours daily. Although collaboration is essential in a global job market, technology allows many to work from home. The typical work week is less than 5 days and hours of operation support productivity. These are all things school districts have to justify, research and study. Doing what is best for students must be the first priority, even if that complicates the lives of the adults."

QUESTION #5A: What is something you think we have learned while navigating COVID-19? (The biggest lesson)

JOHN WIGGANS: "The COVID crisis has forced all of us to spend time together as families and that is very important."

QUESTION #5B: Do you think Macon R-1 is prepared for more online instruction? Do you think we have adequate resources for online instruction for long periods of time?

JOHN WIGGANS: "Macon, like every school struggled with online learning, but not to anyone’s particular fault. E-learning has been on the rise for the past decade, but has not been encouraged as much by the Missouri State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as it should. Like every other school, we need to invest time and resources in our teachers to make certain they are comfortable using all of the tools at their disposal. All teachers want to do their best, but sometimes, districts ask teachers to do things for which they have not been appropriately trained. We have the potential to offer long-term, on-line learning, but it is essential for teachers, staff, administration and the BOE to work collectively to build effective curricula and technology plans to achieve optimal implementation."

QUESTION #5C: What online resources could you as a board member, advocate for (not only for teachers, but also students and parents)?

JOHN WIGGANS: "As a board member, I would advocate for training, training, training. Often, parents and guardians don’t understand new technologies. As a school, we can offer parent-training sessions, helping families through the steps of accessing information and understanding programming. Emails and texts are good, but nothing compares to small group meetings where individuals can walk through applications step by step. In the same vein, many teachers struggle with proficient use of all of the technological tools available and it’s frustrating for them because they want to give their students the best, but they may not have been trained on various technologies. Effective technology plans extend far beyond handing all stakeholders devices."

QUESTION #5D: If you are re-elected or elected, what is something you think the board/district needs to prepare for as we head into the Fall Semester of 2020? (A possible return from COVID-19)

JOHN WIGGANS: "Prior to the Fall Semester, we need to carefully examine Federal and State guidelines for re-opening and we must be willing to make adjustments to support our students learning while keeping them safe. This may include concepts like: dividing the student body in half working on alternating days of instruction; double sessions – instruction with group 1 from 8 a.m. - 12 p.m. and group 2 from 12:30-4:30; other combinations that include supplemental use of e-learning/flipped classroom models of instruction, etc. We may need to be very creative to guarantee that maximum learning continues."

QUESTION #6: What will YOU bring to the school board? What sets you apart from others that are running?

JOHN WIGGANS: "My candidacy is strong because I understand the “ins” and “outs” of the business of education. Not only do I love our school, but I have been the CEO of several districts. I understand school finance, school law, special education, facilities and grounds, transportation, food services, Federal programs, personnel services, curriculum and instruction, discipline and community outreach. I have had the distinct privilege to serve schools and communities during my tenure in education and I will do that to the best of my ability if elected to the Macon R-I BOE."

QUESTION #7: If you could re-write the description of the Macon School Board, in one paragraph, what do you think the role of a school board should be in a district?

JOHN WIGGANS: "The role of the school board is to be the greatest advocate of all students and staff while holding themselves accountable for the success of all. Being a board member is not about “lording” over or control. Highly effective board members are interested in learning every aspect of their district so they can ultimately support student achievement. They are selfless and don’t push personal agendas. They are people of character and sincerity."

QUESTION #8: With numerous improvement projects being completed throughout the district in the last year (or more), what is an area of our district that could use more improvements?

JOHN WIGGANS: "Facilities must continue to be a priority. Our students deserve the very best, and by investing in our physical plant, we demonstrate how much we care. Our buildings tell the story of who we are to all that drive by or enter. Much has been accomplished by new construction, but it is equally imperative to maintain aging parts of the district. Floors should always shine and hallways should be bright and clear of debris. Classrooms should have furniture conducive to 21st century learning and the atmosphere should instill pride and a sense of “welcomeness”."

QUESTION #9: Do you think the district is adequately handling mental health, student bullying, etc.? What could we be doing more; what could we be doing to make us stronger in those areas? What involvement do you think a school board should have with cyber-bullying?

JOHN WIGGANS: "Sadly, there are not enough resources at the district’s disposal or any other district’s disposal to adequately support mental health. One of the most significant issues facing all schools is the well-being of students, yet we, like most others have to depend on the support of private and independent counselors, juvenile officers, county grants and the courts to help our students and families. Again, our model of instruction is archaic and until that changes, no real progress will be made. Until students are well, both mentally and physically, including being fed, they will not learn. We need to continue to examine budgetary priorities ensuring that dollars support the overall well-being of each child. Cyberbullying is an issue that continually plagues districts. The Court system has been slow to provide guidance regarding technology and that has been problematic for all schools. The board’s job is to work with all stakeholders to guarantee the safety and well-being of each child. That means effective policies are approved and implemented and training is provided to all, and it is the latter that we can do better with. There are many misconceptions as to what bullying is and is not. Understanding what an imbalance of power “is” is somewhat difficult. Community training in concert with the juvenile office is a highly effective way make progress in the fight to eradicate bullying in any form."

QUESTION #10: What could we be doing more to support our faculty and staff?

JOHN WIGGANS: "As an administrator, I always believed that I hired the best professionals and I trusted them to do their job. As a board member, it is essential to support teachers with that same commitment. They need to know that accountability doesn’t mean, “gotcha”...instead, it’s an investment in their professionalism. Helping them become “master” teachers must be a top priority for the board. Having that said, it is also key to make certain educators have all of the tools necessary, including appropriate classroom and departmental budgets, adequate planning and collaborative time, meaningful and consistent development and ENCOURAGEMENT and PRAISE."

QUESTION #11: With Bible Literacy and LGBT+ Curriculum proposals in Jefferson City being a reality, what is your view on those proposals in relation to the Macon R-1 School District?

JOHN WIGGANS: "Curriculum is an area in which we need to lead. DESE offers various frameworks for Missouri school districts, but all lack in breadth and authenticity. The era of accountability seems to have eliminated some local control while promoting various initiatives with specific social agendas. I am a firm advocate of “classical” curricular models that provide real-life learning opportunities (authentic learning), engaging students by fostering natural curiosity and encouraging them to seek solutions. I believe in curricula that promotes greater skill attainment and less content (thinking rather than regurgitation and worksheets). Admittedly, I am a Christian, and I fully support using the Bible as a supplement for instruction because of its rich historical relevance along with its flawless use of allegory, parable. etc. On that same note, I advocate the use of the Tora, Quran, the Book of Mormon, the Holy Book of Buddhism, etc. It is important for students to understand their world in a broad context, however, this is a challenge because teachers and schools can NEVER impose their personal beliefs on students. I am fully supportive of LGBT rights, however, I am opposed to any curriculum, sexually or philosophically designed to promote one idea or belief. Learning is about enlightenment, growth and independence, not prescribed “group think”."

*See reporter's note below in reference of the proposals mentioned for Question 11*

QUESTION #12: In your own words, what does it mean to be a Macon Tiger?

JOHN WIGGANS: "Being a tiger means pride. Pride in one’s self, pride in one’s school and pride in one’s community. It means pushing yourself to go the “extra” mile, to work harder and to hold yourself to a “higher” standard. Tigers don’t give up and they support their neighbors, friends and families."

QUESTION #13: Please feel free to include a closing statement or any additional information.

JOHN WIGGANS: "I look forward to the opportunity to serve the Macon community. Our school is AWESOME and my goal is to ensure that every child achieves his or her personal best."

*(Reporter's note for Question 11: The Bible Literacy bill (Missouri House Bill 267) in reference, would give school districts the opportunity to offer an elective course to students about the historical literature of the Bible while teaching students about the influence it has had throughout history. The Bible Literacy bill gives power to the local school boards to determine if they would like to incorporate the elective course within their district. The LGBT+ proposal (Missouri House Bill 2153) has not been heard/passed by either chamber. The proposal looks to give school districts the opportunity to offer students lessons on LGBT+ history, movements, and societal contributions by members of the LGBT+ Community throughout history. The LGBT+ proposal gives local school boards ultimate say in whether or not they would incorporate the instruction into their district. The Missouri Department of Education would create curriculum for either proposal if they were to become law.)

Headline picture of John Wiggans alongside his wife and children