Five candidates running for Thornfield school board

William Cook

Donnie Cunningham

Renee Graham

Travis Tucker

This week the Times is publishing “profiles” of the five candidates running in the April 7 General Municipal Election for the three seats coming open on the Thornfield R-I School District Board of Education. 

Candidate profiles for the Gainesville and Dora school boards ran in the Feb. 5 and Feb. 12 editions of the Times. 

We sent brief questionnaires to the candidates and then edited their responses and returned the responses to the candidates for approval. Responses from William “Mitch” Cook, Terry Ewing, Renee Graham and Travis Tucker are listed below and grouped by the questions asked. Donnie Cunningham declined to return the questionnaire, so his answers are not provided. 

Candidates’ names are shown as they will appear on the ballot. 

Terms are also coming open on the Bakersfield and Lutie school boards, the county’s three village boards (Bakersfield, Gainesville and Theodosia), the Ozark County Ambulance District and Ozark County Health Department boards and the board overseeing Public Water Supply District #1 in

 Theodosia. However, except for the Theodosia Village Board, the number of vacancies on those boards equals the number of candidates who have filed for those seats, and state law says elections do not have to be held in those cases. In Theodosia, because three terms are ending on the village board and only one incumbent has filed for re-election, the board will appoint two residents to fill the remaining two seats.   

Also in the April 7 election, Ozark County voters will decide whether the county will begin collecting a 2 percent internet “use tax,” similar to a sales tax, on online purchases.

Ozark Countians who are not yet registered have until March 11 to register to vote in the April 7 election. Absentee voting opens Tuesday, Feb. 25. For more information, contact the Ozark County Clerk’s office at 679-3516.


Personal/family information

Cook: I have lived in the area my whole life except for time spent away for college. I have been married for nine years to my wife, LaTasha. We have three children, a 7-year-old daughter Kentlee, a 5-year-old son Maverik and a 2-year-old daughter Breklyn.

Ewing: I grew up attending Thornfield School. I moved back into the district 30 years ago with my family. My wife, Nancy, and my mother, Imogene Ewing, both taught at Thornfield. My grandmother, Helen Ewing, was the first eighth grade teacher in the Thornfield school district after surrounding rural schools consolidated. 

Graham: I am the daughter of Leonard and Bonnie Delp Lawson. I was widowed in March 2016. I have three children and six grandchildren. 

Tucker: I have been married to my wife Pam for 23 years, and we have two children, Elizabeth and Ethan, and one granddaughter, Emmerald. 



Cook: After college, I taught middle school social studies, agricultural classes and physical education at Lutie. I am now working at our family business, Theodosia Marina Resort, and coaching basketball at Thornfield Elementary. 

Ewing: Currently, I own and operate a beef farm and am the owner and operator of Ewing Septic Service.   

Graham: I am disabled. I worked for 13 years at Rawlings Sporting Goods in Ava before my disability. 

Tucker: I live and work on my farm. I also work with my father on his farm, where we raise beef cattle. I was employed with MoDOT until a job-related injury ended my career there. 


Educational background

Cook: I graduated from Lutie High school and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in physical education with a minor in coaching from College of the Ozarks.

Ewing: I graduated from Thornfield R-I, Ava High School and College of the Ozarks, back when it was called School of the Ozarks.

Graham: I attended Thornfield R-I school from preschool until eighth grade. I graduated from Gainesville High School in 1978. 

Tucker: I attended Thornfield R-I school district from first through eighth grade, graduated from Gainesville High School and received a degree in agribusiness from College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout. 


How long have you lived in the district?

Cook: My family and I moved from Theodosia to Thornfield three years ago.  

Ewing: I have lived in the Thornfield school district the last 30 years.

Graham: I have lived in the school district all of my life except for three years. 

Tucker: I have lived in the Thornfield school district for 46 years. I grew up across the county road from the school and now live about one and a half miles from the school.


Do you currently have children attending school in the district? 

Cook: My daughter Kentlee is in the second grade at Thornfield.

Ewing: I don’t have children in the Thornfield school now, but my son Dr. Travis Ewing attended the Thornfield school district for eight years.

Graham: I have grandchildren in fourth, fifth and sixth grades at Thornfield. Another grandchild graduated from Thornfield two years ago. 

Tucker: I have two children who are graduates of Thornfield school. I do not have any children attending Thornfield School now. 


What characteristics do you possess or what experiences have you had that will aid you as a school board member?

Cook: I have no agenda. I have no biases going into this. I am here for the kids.

Ewing: I operate my own business. I have been on the Thornfield school board for a total of 18 years, and I feel like I understand the changes in the education system. I feel I can help identify the needs of the school, students, staff and community. I feel that public education has allowed my family to be prepared to be successful.

Graham: I have raised a family and have lived in the area almost all my life. I have managed my own finances. I believe I know some of what the community expects of our small school.

Tucker: I believe that my experience working with MoDOT gave me the skill to work with the public to understand both sides of situations. I also believe that living and managing my own farm helps me watch over financial decisions and make sure that we are handling our budget the best way to suit the children’s educational needs. 


In what ways do you support the Dora school district? 

Cook: In the past three years, my family and I have not missed an event at Thornfield school. We attend all after-school activities, including everything from the Christmas program to graduation. We donate our time to the kids in any way we can. This year I started coaching basketball for students in second through eighth grades. I also referee the Thornfield Middle School Volleyball Tournament.

Ewing: I attend school extracurricular activities and help with class fundraising efforts. 

Graham: I support the school district during Grandparents Day and at ballgames. 

Tucker: Besides being a current board member, I support the school by attending school functions like ball games and the Christmas music program. 


What are the biggest strengths of the school district?

Cook: Thornfield has a unique opportunity that not many schools have. With our small class sizes, one-on-one time is greater at Thornfield than at other schools. Our teachers are amazing, and they get the best out of our kids every day. With such small class sizes, the ability to teach each child is awesome. Being at the school often, I get to see the faculty and staff interact with our kids. They are encouraging, helpful and truly care about our kids. 

Ewing: The biggest strengths are our staff, the students and a community that is always willing to help. We have an excellent student-teacher ratio. The district is small in numbers now, but it has allowed extra help for individual students. Financially, the district is very sound.

Graham: We have a very caring and compassionate community. 

Tucker: Thornfield School’s greatest strength is the teachers who teach our students every day, the staff that care for our children while under their supervision and the administration that takes care of the day-to-day operation of the school. 


What are the biggest weaknesses of the district, and how do you think they can be improved?

Cook: Every school in our area is behind on technology. Technology gets better every day, and being able to stay at least one step behind is hard. I would like to find ways to get better access to newer technology. I realize to stay up-to-date on technology requires money, and I would like to see if we could get grants that could allow us to catch up to what’s available out there. With technology involved in everyday life, we need our children up-to-date in today’s world.   

Ewing: Trying to keep up with the ever-changing technology is always a concern in a rural school district.

Graham: The school is so small that necessary disciplinary actions are not taken toward staff because they are related to board members or other employes.

Tucker: The biggest weakness of our school district is being a small community with a low student enrollment, which limits our budget to pay teachers well enough to be able to retain high-quality teachers. With that said, I would like to say that, right now, Thornfield has a superb teaching staff.


Ozark County Times

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