The Mancos RE-6 School Board is hosting a candidate forum on Monday, Oct. 9, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to allow members of the community to get to know the candidates and ask questions.
The forum will take place in the Mancos school cafeteria and is open to the public. It will be recorded for YouTube.
Five candidates are running for three seats, to join board members Emily Hutcheson-Brown and Victor Figueroa. President Pamela Coppinger and Secretary Katie Cahill-Volpe are not running.
The five candidates are Hunter, Adriana Stimax, Craig Benally, former board member Blake Mitchell and Rachel McWhirter.
Leading up to Monday’s forum, the candidates expressed their goals and reason for running in the board election, saying they hoped to keep improving and supporting education in the Mancos district.
Stimax, a parent and former teacher, hopes to make an impact on the community, hoping to tackle a deficiency of resources in rural school districts.
“If elected, I will work toward creative funding solutions to remedy the lack of resources all schools, especially rural schools, face,” Stimax said. “Additionally, I will seek data-based solutions to ensure the safety of all students and staff that balances the desires of the community with the needs of the students.”
Stimax lived on the East Coast before moving to Mancos nearly 10 years ago. She comes from generations of teachers, and worked as a high school science teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School for four years while organizing regional science teachers in curriculum development and mentoring new teachers.
Now, Stimax works as an education director for San Juan Mountains Association, and when she isn’t in the field or with students, Stimax says, “You can find me running the rivers and exploring the mountains and canyons of the San Juans.”
Benally said he would represent his family, community and his Diné lineage.
“I would hope that my community will be able to see themselves in me and know I am working to bring all considerations forward and find common ground,” he said.
Benally was born in Monticella, Utah, but raised in Cortez and graduated from Montezuma-Cortez High School in 1993 and from Fort Lewis College with degrees in philosophy and Southwest studies.
Later on, he directed a tutoring program at Fort Lewis College and was a paraprofessional at Cortez Middle School and Kemper Elementary. He and his family have lived in Mancos for more than a decade, and his children attend Mancos Elementary and Middle School.
He currently works for Alpacka Raft making pack rafts and volunteers with Mancos Trails Group and coaches for Tri-City Soccer, Mancos Lego League and High Desert DEVO.
He also served on the Mancos Board of Trustee for four years, and said he learned many skills in building a relationship with the community, while advocating and representing the needs and desires of the town.
“Having been a student, a paraprofessional, coach, and mentor, I know how difficult and beautiful a quality education can be to attain and nurture. As a board member, I would seek to support and represent the needs of our educators. As a father and husband, I see how my family is strengthening every day by their growing confidence and intelligence. They do not see barriers to what they can accomplish or what they can achieve. My wife and I can do what we can to foster this at home, but it is at school where they are given so many tools to reach, explore, and build their future,” he said.
Hunter said he hopes to continue helping prepare students for their future while tackling any obstacle that may be thrown their way.
Hunter is a builder and general contractor who owns Environmental Designs LLC. He achieved degrees in environmental science and hazardous materials management and serves on the school board as director.
“I came to Mancos in 1994 to run a construction project and ended up setting down roots in our community and haven’t looked back,” he said.
Hunter shared he is proud of the Mancos school district and the work it has done to advocate for students.
“I’m rerunning for school board because I care about our kids and our community and because I was asked to rerun by quite a few people. I think my institutional knowledge of our district and my experience with the duties and obligations of a school board director are a valuable asset for our district. The education of our kids is more important today than it ever has been. We need to be sending our youths out into the world prepared to tackle whatever future they choose; whether that’s college, military or a trade. A solid education is the basis for success. I’m proud to be a part of the Mancos School District. Our innovative status with the state and our project based learning program is proving to be a positive factor in graduating students ready for life,” Hunter said.
McWhirter spoke of her family’s deep roots in Mancos, saying that she is a 2002 Mancos school district graduate, and her 5-year-old daughter will be a fifth-generation graduate.
“My great-great grandmother came to Mancos to be a teacher in 1890, and every generation since has been Mancos graduates. My parents both taught in Mancos, my mom for 20 years and my dad for 8 years,” McWhirter said.
McWhirter grew up in the Mancos school system and on Mancos athletic teams, coaching and volunteering for football, basketball, track and marching band.
Her two siblings are teachers as well, and her father is a former Mancos board member. McWhirter attended Northern Arizona University, graduating with a business degree before moving back to Mancos to start a business with her husband.
They own the Columbine Bar and Grill.
McWhirter said she has had the opportunity to mentor many students who work for Columbine Bar and Grill, and she hopes to continue making an impact in their lives and the life of her daughter, who is starting her education journey.
“I want to be able to offer my skills to make the Mancos RE-6 school district the best it can be,” McWhirter said. “I love Mancos schools and will do my best to support our students, staff and administrators in any capacity that I can. My deep roots in the community will help me form connections with the school administrators and community leaders to help lead the long-term planning of the district.”
Mitchell has been living in the Mancos Valley since 1974 and went to school in Mancos. He and his wife Melodie have three sons and four granddaughters (with one on the way), and all three of his sons attended Mancos.
Mitchell served on the school board from November 2013 to November 2021. During his tenure on the board, they implemented campus-wide renovation, four-day week and received innovative status from the state school board. He noted the recruitment and retention of staff as some of his top priorities.
He currently works at Truwest Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram as a service manager, and his wife is a kindergarten teacher in the Mancos school district.
“I am running for the school board in Mancos because I love our school district,” he said. “The current board is doing a great job of moving the district in a positive direction, and I believe in what they are doing and want to help and be involved in the great work they have going on.”
“I have 37 years of public service experience and I am ready to continue to serve our community,” he finished.