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Six running for two South Heart School Board spots

The ballot for the South Heart Public School Board is crowded this year, with six people running for two openings.

But the wide playing field is a good thing, candidates said.

Board Vice President Jesse Olson is running for re-election alongside five other hopefuls: first-time candidates Troy Hoff, Shannon Binstock, Leon Keator and Jessica Nasset along with Mary Hodell, who ran for the board several years ago.

Current member Cory Tuhy, whose term ends this year, decided not to run for a third term.

“Things have gotten so busy with work and the kids’ activities,” the father of two high-schoolers said. “You want to be able to do a good job, dedicate time to it.”

South Heart, like other boom-impacted communities, has seen a rise in its student population — in the past school year, the number rose from 235 to 258.

Most of the growth is being seen in the elementary grades, Olson said. The school has already added modular classrooms and split its kindergarten and first-grade classes.

Olson said that when he first joined the board six years ago that the biggest challenge was lack of enrollment.

“It’s been a dramatic change,” he said.

Another dramatic change: the number of candidates running this year, which Olson said blew him away.

“I didn’t know so many people were running,” he said.

The high turnout is unusual for the relatively small community, whose population was estimated at approximately 360 in 2013.

“From what I’ve been told, they haven’t had nearly this many (candidates) in the past,” Hoff said. “And the growth is an explanation for that. It’s a good sign that that many people want to take part in it.”

Hoff’s children will be entering kindergarten and third grade, and he said he decided to run to help guide the board “in the right direction as the school grows.”

Binstock, who previously served as president of the South Heart Park Board, said she didn’t think anyone else was even running when she registered as a candidate.”

“I decided just to stick my neck out and run,” she said. “I don’t mind sticking my neck out for something that’s important.”

Olson, Nasset, Hodell, Binstock and Hoff are all parents of South Heart students.

Almost all of the candidates — the Press was unable to reach Keator for comment — said the interest in the board is a good sign that the community cares about the school.

Nasset, a former educator, recently moved back to her hometown of South Heart after several years away, said the competition is a positive thing.

“It shows that they want great decisions made,” she said.

Two of her three children attend South Heart, and she said joining the board is a “great avenue” to getting involved in the school.

It won’t be an easy job: the school board will have to address a number of challenges in the upcoming years, including how to handle the growth.

Probably the biggest focus, Tuhy said, will be trying to stay ahead of the growth while being responsible.

In considering its options for how to manage the changes, the school sent out a survey to community members earlier this year to gauge interest in a possible shared school with neighboring Belfield (which, incidentally, has an empty school board ballot).

Results have not come in yet, but Hodell, whose five children range from kindergarten to a freshman in high school, said she would be fine with a shared school, as long as it is in a safe area.

It remains to be seen what direction South Heart will take on the matter, but incumbent Olson said whatever the board does will be based on public input.

“We are elected officials,” he said. “We don’t have any actual direction for where we need to go. It’s all based on how fast, how soon and what needs there will be in the future.”

The two board positions will be decided on June 10; president, vice president and committee assignments will be elected at the board’s annual meeting later this year.