Traverse City News and Events

Nine Applicants Vie For TCAPS Board Seat

By Beth Milligan | Oct. 24, 2019

During a contentious period fueled by the abrupt resignation of Superintendent Ann Cardon and public backlash over questions about her departure, nine community members will vie to join the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) board and fill a crucial seventh seat.

Applicants had to submit letters of interest by October 4 to be considered for the vacancy, created by the resignation of Vice President Doris Ellery. Ellery announced in September she was stepping down for “personal reasons.” The vacancy comes at a critical time for the district, which is now under the oversight of Interim Superintendent Jim Pavelka. While some members of the public called on TCAPS to restart the application process in order to allow more candidates to apply – citing the controversy that unfolded after the filing deadline – the board’s HR/Policy committee determined Tuesday to move ahead with interviewing the nine applicants already on file.

The applicants, who will be interviewed publicly Monday at 6pm at the TCAPS administration building, are as follows (candidates are listed in the order they will be interviewed):

Kathy van Houwelingen: An educator with over 40 years of experience in various roles – including as a special education teacher for TCAPS for 20 years at four different schools – van Houwelingen retired in 2013 and says she now hopes to serve the district in a different role. “I now have the time, energy, and abilities to further contribute to the community and school system that I care deeply about,” she says.

Josey Ballenger: Ballenger is a senior analyst and project manager in the U.S. Government Accountability Office and previously served as a GAO investigator for the U.S. House Appropriations Committee. She is a board member at the Michigan Legacy Art Park and has two children in TCAPS. “I have devoted my professional life to serving the public with objective, nonpartisan, fact-based information…with the goal of helping leaders make informed decisions, develop sound public policy, and improve the status quo,” she says.

Benjamin L. McGuire: McGuire is the technology director of Meadow Brook Medical Care Facility in Bellaire and former technology director of Forest Area Community Schools. A TCAPS parent who helped mentor the First Robotics Team at Central High School, McGuire says he sees himself as an “advocate for students, an advocate for appropriate and responsible technology use within the district, and as a voice for the responsible use of public funding.”

Scott Morey: Morey is the assistant director for technology at Traverse Area District Library and former education technology coordinator at Interlochen Center for the Arts. He serves on the advisory board of Merit Network and is a Traverse City Parks and Recreation commissioner. “As a young professional who has never had a child attend a TCAPS school, I feel I can bring an outside and objective perspective to the table that will benefit the district,” he says.

Douglas R. Morgenstern: Morgenstern is a vice president - business banking officer at Huntington National Bank and has previously worked in executive roles at Fifth Third Bank and National City Bank. He has three children who graduated from TCAPS and has served on eight nonprofit boards over the last 25 years. Morgenstern says he can help “provide a business person’s perspective for the financial oversight of the district.”

Donna Olendorf: Olendorf worked for TCAPS at West Senior High School from 2010 to 2016 in the school’s technology department. She is the director of adult ministries at Traverse City Central United Methodist Church and was previously a youth director at Grace Episcopal Church. “I have a deep respect for public schools and a natural tendency and preference for serving people and advocating for the disenfranchised…I am civic-minded and student-focused,” she says.

HT Snowday: The vice president of innovation and technology development for Midmark Corporation, Snowday was also a finalist in 2018 for an interim TCAPS board position that ultimately went to Matt Anderson. Snowday has two children in TCAPS schools and has served as a Parent TCAPS District Advisory Council and TCAPS Long Term Planning committee member. “I believe with this position, I can do even more,” he says.

Bill O. Smith: Smith served as an interim member of the TCAPS board in 2018, filling in for several months when Kelly Clark resigned. He was the principal of Eastern Elementary School from 1997 to 2004 and has also served as principal of elementary schools in Troy and Suttons Bay. Smith describes himself as a “good listener without hidden agenda…who is compassionately concerned with delivering a quality education for all within our financial parameters.”

Patricia Henkel: Henkel is a GTB Manager (Organic Search SEO) for Ford Motor Company, focused on creating digital marketing plans for the auto giant. She has served on the Traverse City Cooperative Pre-School and Old Mission Peninsula School PTO boards. With four children who either have been or will soon be in TCAPS schools, Henkel says she believes “that every child has infinite potential” and that TCAPS “should lead the state in student achievement.”

The public controversy surrounding Cardon’s resignation – the reasons for which still haven’t been detailed by board members or Cardon – looms large over the board vacancy, bringing heightened scrutiny to the opening. Three candidates withdrew their applications from consideration in the wake of recent events. Other candidates who chose to continue on acknowledge that the controversy gave them pause, but hope to work with the board to set a new path forward for the district.

“Of course the events of the past few weeks have caused me great concern, as our district’s highest priority should be enabling the success of our students and staff,” says Ballenger. “There are a number of qualified candidates, and the board has an opportunity to select someone who will help the district move forward.” Morey agrees. “One of the reasons I had applied was due to the positive energy around the new superintendent,” he says. “However after reflecting on the situation, I realized that it was more important than ever to see the process through. The board needs a fresh perspective and someone committed to governing in an inclusive, transparent, and professional manner.” McGuire adds that in his own experience working with public boards, “they deal with controversy from time to time, and sometimes they need to make difficult decisions.” If selected to serve on the TCAPS board, McGuire says his decisions will be “guided by a desire to help TCAPS continue to provide a quality education to its students” and “to be a good steward of the public trust.”

Despite public calls for greater transparency in TCAPS operations, the district initially withheld the identities of candidates for several days. The Ticker repeatedly requested the names, which TCAPS Spokesperson Christine Guitar said were being withheld to give committee members time to finalize plans for the interview process. Staff initially also refused to disclose the number of candidates who applied. Representatives for other local public bodies, including The City of Traverse City, Grand Traverse County, and Leelanau County, all confirm they immediately provide names of applicants for public boards or committees when requested. “Because you are dealing with a public agency, it’s got to be transparent,” says Leelanau County Executive Assistant Laurel Evans. “There is no private confidentiality when it comes to (applying for) public boards and commissions.”

After HR/Policy committee members met Tuesday to discuss next week’s interview process, TCAPS released the names of candidates and their application materials Wednesday. All candidates must meet criteria including being registered voters in the TCAPS district, at least 18 years of age, U.S. citizens, Michigan residents for at least 30 days, and residents of the school district on or before the 30th day prior to the date of the appointment. Monday’s interviews will last 15 minutes per candidate and allow for an opening statement from applicants and an opportunity to answer 3-5 questions from the board. At the end of the interviews, board members will vote to select their top candidate, who will be appointed effective immediately. The chosen candidate will serve out the rest of Ellery’s term through December 31, 2020.

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