Who’s who in local school board races

February 14, 2019 GMT

Candidates usually hope to best everyone else in their race, but that’s not the case for three Dixon School Board hopelfuls.

Five candidates are running for three seats in the April 2 election.

Rachel Cocar, Melissa Gates and Rachael Gehlbach are working together to fill those seats. The trio has set up a website and Facebook page, and are operating under the banner “Moving Dixon Forward.”

They are involved in the district’s Parent Teacher Association and have children who attend district schools. It’s their first run for elected office.


Cocar is co-pastor of Faith Baptist Church with her husband, Bunyan, and is a music teacher at St. Anne School in Dixon, Gates is a psychotherapist and Gehlbach is a yoga instructor at KSB Hospital.

Gehlbach considered running 2 years ago. She met Cocar around that time and Gates about a year ago. They had similar ideas.

“We all felt like we want to contribute to the public schools,” Gehlbach said. “We have similar philosophies on a lot of things. We thought, three heads are better than one. If we do all get elected, we’ll be able to do a lot more as three than we would as one.”

Board President Jill Stoker is not seeking re-election; vice president Scott Johnson and Brandon Rogers are.

The trio considers transparency a key topic in the race.

“We all care a lot about the community,” Gehlbach said. “We would love to see more transparency in the district.” 

It’s “a word that we keep coming back to in our dialogue about the school board.”

“It’s something we’re all wanting more of between the board, the community, the parents and the teachers,” Cocar said. “We’d like to see more communication between those entities.”

Cocar noted that there have been some decisions that didn’t have a lot of input from those outside of the board. She cited conversations with teachers, taxpayers and parents.

“We want to find a better way to have everyone believe that they have some ownership in the school system,” she said.

The race is tighter at Ashton-Franklin Center, where eight candidates are vying for four seats. Incumbents Mark Delhotal of Franklin Grove and Tim Henert of Ashton are running.

Longtime members Bob Colwell and Cindy Knight are not seeking re-election. Colwell has served since the district formed in 2005 after the merger of Ashton, Franklin Center and Lee Center, where he previously served. Knight has been board secretary for 6 years.


First-time candidates are Jackie Fransen, Melissa Heisner and Gretchen Totzke of Ashton; and Jennifer Drew, Heather Settles and Shaun Thompson of Franklin Grove.

AFC Superintendent John Zick once knew a time when board seats were hard to fill in his district.

“This is a nice situation to have,” Zick said. “I’m excited to have eight run. It’s a chance for new ideas and new viewpoints to be heard.”

Eight candidates also are running for seats in Morrison. From Mount Pleasant Township, incumbent Brandon Shelton is running, as well as hopefuls Ashley Belha, James DuBois, Lauri A. Helms, Sidonna Mahaffey and Terri L. Wilkens. Voters may vote for only one or two from that township.

James Ridley of Clyde Township and Clarence “Gus” Linke Jr. of Union Grove Township are running again for rural seats. Stephanie Nies, an incumbent from Mount Pleasant, is not running.

In Amboy, three incumbents and one newcomer look to fill three seats. Nicole Jones of West Brooklyn, Jason Leffelman of Sublette and Nichole Stenzel of Amboy are running again. Rory White of Sublette is looking to fill a seat. 

One 4-year vacancy is expected at Montmorency, and a 2-year vacancy is expected after the election in Rock Falls District 13. Those boards will have 45 days to fill them; if not, then Lee-Ogle-Whiteside Regional Superintendent Bob Sondgeroth will appoint members to those positions.