Elble and Lovell seek to continue terms in uncontested school board election

HILLTOWNS — The Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education election is uncontested for the fourth year in a row, with members Nathan Elble and Kimberly Lovell both seeking re-election for their third full, three-year terms. 

Both Elble and Lovell first joined the board as fill-ins for unfinished appointments — Elble was elected in 2016 while Lovell was appointed in 2017 — before earning full terms later in 2017 in a five-way race for two seats. 

In their time on the board, they’ve overseen the district’s massive $16 million capital project and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as helping it to largely avoid the culture-war hot-topics that have plagued boards in other districts, all while, with other board members, presenting a unified front with the district superintendent, Timothy Mundell. 

Arguably the board’s biggest challenge now will be responding to updates to New York State’s Foundation Aid. Because BKW has been amply funded for the last several years, the state’s attempts to revamp and equalize its funding program are expected to either slow the district’s funding growth, or cost it the premium it had been receiving. 

In addition to Elble and Lovell’s re-election bids, voters will be asked to approve the district’s proposed $25.6 million budget, and a standard bus-replacement proposition.

 

Elble

Nathan Elble was first elected to the board of education in 2016 to fill out an unfinished term, then ran alongside Lovell in 2017 for his first full term. 

In addition to being a board member, with stints as president, Elble is a union electrician and a director-at-large with the Helderberg Family and Community Organization, a not-for-profit that supports “the growth and development of local children and families,” according to its website. 

Elble told The Enterprise that he’s seeking re-election “as we navigate some potentially important changes to the education system that could impact our students at BKW.  I want to continue being part of the team that leads our district forward in a way that is both in the best interests of our students and a source of pride for our community.”

He said that he’s most proud of the “culture change” at BKW since he was first elected, explaining that, when he first ran, the district had a pessimistic atmosphere.

“When I first ran for the board,” Elble said, “there was a round table discussion of the candidates and stakeholders. One of the topics discussed was culture and morale and we were asked to give our opinions on a characterization of the secondary school students’ attitudes as ‘What do you expect from me? I’m only from Berne.’  At the time I found that to be very upsetting.

The focus of the board on student-centered decision making has helped change that attitude, he said, so that rather than people in the district defining themselves by their limitations, “now we are defining ourselves by our possibilities.”

“We have high expectations for our students which means we have high expectations of our staff,” he said. “We’ve transformed our buildings to make them more safe and more modern with access to technology that many other local schools don’t have yet. We have added and will continue to add programming that appeals to our student population. 

“There is now a sense of pride among our students,” he went on, “which I believe is the biggest factor in many of our recent successes, such as our increasing test scores. Students will struggle to find success if their education is something they have to slog through. We’ve been able to energize and excite our students about their education and I believe that has been and will continue to be the biggest key to their success.”

Elble said that, during his next term, he’ll be especially focused on developing career-training and other post-high school programs.

“We want to increase academic expectations for all students by increasing graduation requirements and accelerating all Regents requirements to be completed by the end of their sophomore year,” he said. 

“This would give our students two full years to explore interests in education outside of Regents requirements,” he said. “This could be in CTE, distance learning, college credit courses or any combination thereof and would culminate in a senior year experience that reflects real world opportunities.” 

Elble also brought up the idea of BKW becoming a regional high school, saying that “most financially responsible decision for the State would be to establish regional high schools and bus students to them. I believe that our students’ educational interests are best served by our own staff at BKW and that the programs and curriculum we’ve developed and implemented make us the ideal candidate to host a regional school if the state chooses to go down that path.”

As for Foundation Aid, Elble acknowledged that, if the district’s funding gets cut, "we will need to make some tough decisions as an organization,” but said he is reluctant to itemize “what may or may not be on the chopping block.”

“I believe that our best governing strategy is based on values, not priorities,” he said. “A group’s priorities can change very quickly whereas a group’s values can take generations to change.  As a board we value student-centered decision making, financial stability and the safety of our students and staff on and off school grounds. I strongly believe that our adherence to those values ultimately determines our students’ success. 

“In the event of a shortfall of Foundation Aid,” he continued, “I would expect the board to continue to make student-centered decisions regarding staffing and programming.” He said of the BKW superintendent, Timothy Mundell, “Dr. Mundell and our business officials have done a fantastic job of managing our budget and its growth in the last 8 years and we are in a good position to reasonably manage any economic changes in the immediate future.”

 

Lovell

Kimberly Lovell is an East Berne resident and special-education teacher at Greenville Elementary School. She is currently the BKW Board’s vice-president.

She told The Enterprise this week that her role as a board member is one she holds with “great pride,” and said that she’s seeking re-election because she views leadership and stability as “essential for growth.” 

“By running for another term I can continue to be part of the long-term strategic growth of the BKW school district,” Lovell said. 

She said her greatest accomplishment thus far has been “being able to create long-term goals and a vision with my fellow board members for us to lead by.  

“Every decision and action we have made as a board has been student-centered and goal-driven with the fiscal interests of the community in mind,” she said. “We have successfully created new programs for our students, implemented a capital project that allowed the district to create new [career and technical education] accredited programs to the district, as well as modernized our facilities to allow for the technology necessary for students to compete in the 21st Century. 

“We brought speech pathologists in house to increase the services that our students need, increased our Pre-K opportunities, and all of this has been done with minimal impact to the community. These and many more accomplishments are due to the support from our community members; we have kept our agenda and meetings clear and focused and have made tremendous progress over the years.” 

Lovell said that in her next term, she hopes to continue the growth of the district, and worries about higher-level legislation that may get in the way of that. 

She said that, if the future of Foundation Aid presents a significant funding challenge for the district down the road, that the board will adhere to its guiding principles. 

“As a school board and school community we have increased students’ opportunities throughout both buildings, increasing opportunities for college level classes, STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts, math] programs, early intervention, and more,” Lovell said. “By creating individualized instruction and support we can ensure our students are getting an education that is a right fit for them while preparing them for the future. 

“If Foundation Aid is adjusted in the future, our priorities will not stray from what is working for us and that is keeping those programs for students that have led to success over the past few years. We will not abandon the core principles of our board of education as they have been the center of our decisions and a major reason for our continued success.”

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