I participated in the second of two candidate forums hosted by the Gazette. Please take some time to watch both in the link below. Voters choose 2 candidates from the first forum and 3 from the second forum.
Members of Stillwater for Racial Justice organized this virtual interview of the teacher endorsed candidates. They asked us one central question on equity. Their group has also been posting features on all 13 candidates in the school board race on their Facebook page. Please take a few minutes to learn about our thoughts on equity.
This endorsement from 16 former ISD 834 school board members in the Gazette, in perfect alignment with the teachers, paraprofessionals, and custodian unions, leaves me both humbled and hopeful. This is such a HUGE honor. To have the force of people who built this district standing together, uniting from different perspectives to take a stand in the community in this way is unprecedented!
I'm so proud to be part of this moment!
I participated in this virtual forum on September 17. Here is the recording from our Zoom session. Thank you to the White Bear Lake League of Women Voters for hosting us, moderating, and providing this important platform to inform voters in our district. I hope you watch. The next forum is Monday, October 12 hosted by the Gazette.
Back in August, Julie sent me this survey. I failed to meet the Aug 31 deadline, but was granted an extension until today, Sept 4. I expect these answers will be posted on various sites, but I decided to also post them here for anyone who might have similar thoughts or concerns.
I want to be as transparent as possible and give voters the most honest information about my perspective. I will admit that I my stance does shift as I gain more information. As a candidate outside the board, I know that I am not privy to every factor in the decision making process. I am trying to demonstrate my thought process, but am by no means campaigning on a set agenda or making blanket promises to anyone. I am a candidate who wants to make the best decision from all the data if I am elected to the board.
Email from Julie:
Thank you for running for a 4 year term on the 834 school board. I asked for input from randomly selected constituents of the district about their concerns for our schools. I culled the top few questions on the topics they would like your answers on. Your responses will be shared on 834 related social media pages with a combined membership of 5,000+.
Would you please email your responses back to me by Monday, August 31st?
P.S. I'm technology challenged so I apologize--you will need to type your responses on a separate page and return it as an attachment.
Thank you in advance for your time!
1. Part A : How would you look at ways to reduce spending and maintain a 5% fund balance during the pandemic? Part B: Are teacher layoffs an option?
I anticipate that maintaining a 5% fund balance during this coming year of uncertainty is going to be more difficult than in any recent year, but the financial stability of our district is critical to its long term health. My top priority is evaluating and protecting programming that is serving our most vulnerable populations. I want to keep money in the classroom serving our students, but we will need to get creative in consolidating our resources. In all decisions, we must weigh the needs of our educators and families to ensure students feel the least direct impact.
2. Part A: Would you consider re-opening Oak Park and Withrow to alleviate overcrowding at Lake Elmo and other schools? Part B: If not, what purpose do you propose for those buildings? (OP and W)
Lake Elmo Elementary has been identified as a critical issue in the district by the Community Design Team. It is not a new issue and historically there have been many attempts to resolve the challenges, but they have not addressed the root cause of a perpetually overcrowded facility with a rapidly growing population. It is time to follow the recommendations of the CDT and tear down Lake Elmo, not renovate it, and build a second building near it to serve the students in their neighborhoods. Busing students to other buildings also in need of renovations is costly and again not addressing the real problem. Furthermore, it smacks of integrative bussing efforts in the civil rights era where black kids were bussed away from their neighborhoods into predominantly white schools. Our Lake Elmo community does not deserve to be a pawn in political maneuvering any longer. As board members, we must listen to their unique needs and invest in this community that has been long neglected.
Oak Park is currently housing the Transitions Program and we should evaluate if that facility is meeting the needs of that program as well. In times of great economic uncertainty, we must consider what is most fiscally sound in dealing with properties that are owned by the district. We cannot afford to waste money on unused or unusable spaces.
3. Part A: What is your position on non-voter approved levies? Part B: If the opportunity should arise again for a non-voter approved levy to fund the Brookview expansion, how would you vote and why?
To my knowledge, there are no further votes on expanding Brookview so I will not speculate on a hypothetical scenario. Moving forward, I would approach the option of non-voter approved levies as they come up. I would evaluate their merit and weigh the costs and benefits they would provide to the district as well as the urgency of demonstrated need.
4. Please share your thoughts on the following state/federal initiatives; Common Core, World’s Best Workforce, and Reimagine MN.
Each of these initiatives offers us a starting point to address academic excellence, marketability of skills taught, and equity in our district. As a board member, I would first take time to get to know the needs and challenges of our district by visiting our schools and listening to the staff working there. Then I would evaluate these initiatives to see how they might benefit our district while also looking for funding to implement these plans. I recognize the availability of thoughtful ideas coming from the state and federal levels and hope to make use of their work in ways that are meaningful and necessary in our district.
5. What role should parents play in the school district?
This year will be such a unique moment for parent engagement. As we learned last spring with distance learning, parents are more involved than ever in their children’s education and are understanding on a more basic level what actually goes into educating their children. My hope is that our parents really get to know their kids’ learning styles and communicate what they’ve learned with their teachers. Furthermore, I hope parents also gain some empathy for their children’s teachers as they experience the daily challenges of working with their own kids. Hopefully this year will result in a stronger partnership between parents and teachers as they collaborate more than ever. The ultimate winners will be our kids.
I do recognize that many parents will not have the resources or time to engage in their children’s education as much as others, and I hope they will communicate their needs to the district as well. It will be a year of learning for everyone and I believe we will be a stronger district for it as long as we work together and give each other grace.
6. Should pre-K be continued or expanded in our schools to generate additional revenue for the district? If yes, explain your thoughts on the space constraints that imposes to grades K-5 and do or do you not consider that to be an issue?
Early childhood education has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on children’s academic success in the critical kindergarten and first grade years when students begin to read. Having well rounded pre-K programs available to district families in their neighborhood schools is ideal since they can align curriculum to make an efficient transition into elementary school. Furthermore it familiarizes students and families with their local school which often results in higher capture rates for our district.
Space constraints are definitely a prohibitive factor though. If preschool space is not prioritized and families have a frustrating initial experience in the district, we risk losing families. Since preschool is not state mandated and therefore not state funded (unlike in Wisconsin) the district is providing an additional service under community education for our neighborhoods. Unfortunately that means our district must sometimes focus their limited resources and priorities on k-12 education first. I think early childhood education is a valuable asset to our district and the benefits to children and education are highly prized but ultimately they do require investment by the community to provide this important service.
7. Academic proficiencies are not increasing and the achievement gap in our district is not closing. What would be some of your ideas on how to improve this?
Having worked with secondary students for the last 15 years in Wisconsin and here, I have noticed a frustrating pattern. Many students do not feel their education is relevant to them. Our public school system was designed to address the needs of the industrial age, not our current digital age. Our adolescents live in a world dominated by information overload and social media stressors which wear down the mental health of our students. So for me, the answer lies in addressing the needs of the whole child and ultimately reevaluating the system created to educate them in the first place. In doing so, we must also support programs which are successfully reaching our traditionally under-served students.
Furthermore, we must have tough conversations around race in an effort to ensure every student feels heard and valued in our schools. I believe students want to work hard and do their best in school because they ultimately have the most to gain from it. However, the adults around them must recognize the hurdles students must overcome in order to bring their very best efforts. Once we see those clearly, our staff can give students the support and coaching they need to access the academic excellence we know they can achieve.
8. Do you support a governing model that allows Administration to make decisions without full board authorization? Or do you support a governing model where the board provides more direct oversight and accountability?
To be perfectly honest, I am not a fan of the management model our school board is currently operating under. I see a school board as more of a facilitator between the community and district needs, not an agenda setter. The result of a management board has been division and loss of focus on what is most important, the education of all students in the district. Ultimately the board’s only direct employee is the Superintendent. It is the board’s role to ensure the vision for the district is being pursued effectively and to hold them accountable if it is not. If elected to the board, I understand this is important for us to figure out a clear vision for the district and then select the best candidate to pursue that vision. We have a unique opportunity to align our goals and get our district moving in a new direction that is focused on giving all students a world class education and reaffirm our reputation as one of the best districts in Minnesota.
9. Part A: Over the summer, past and present SAHS students of color described disturbing episodes of racial discrimination at the high school involving both students and staff. What steps would you take to address these issues? Part B: Do you think we need any staffing changes? Part C: What changes would you recommend?
The student letter testifying to the experiences of some black students definitely caught my attention this summer and confirmed my suspicion that racial prejudice is definitely present in Stillwater schools as it is in many of our local communities. Their letter gives the leadership an opportunity to engage in conversations with staff and students around how to better support our BIPOC as well as other marginalized students. It is clear that our district needs work in cultural competency at all levels, board included. When students do not feel valued in school, their whole educational experience is impacted. As we work to close the achievement gap, our district has a rare opportunity to address unseen but destructive forces working against achievement. Discussions around race and personal bias are a minefield of shame triggers. We must approach tough conversations with empathy and opportunity to grow from mistakes, but most importantly, we cannot allow any injustice to go unaddressed and unresolved. We will build vitally important connections with our students and community by ensuring that everyone feels included and welcome.
10. A recent survey of teachers showed about 75% didn’t feel it was safe to conduct in person school even with the hybrid model. Do you support starting school with a hybrid model or 100% distance learning? Why or why not?
The decision to pursue hybrid and distance learning models has already been made. These days decision making is extremely difficult since the health landscape is in constant flux. I appreciate that the district is trying to be flexible for families and improve from last spring, but that flexibility does mean the teachers and staff have a lot more work on their plates. I feel for the teachers who now face a daunting year full of extreme challenges that will push them in ways they have not imagined. I think the best thing we can do right now is support our teachers and recognize the extreme lengths they are being asked to go in order to best educate our children. Our community must be patient and supportive as the school year progresses because we already know our teachers and staff are sacrificing like never before. It’s not going to be perfect, but let’s make it as positive as possible. We will get through this and we will be stronger for it.
11. Describe a recent board decision you agreed with and why.
I agreed with the board’s decision to allocate emergency response funding last March at the beginning of the pandemic. This action demonstrated a trust in the staff and allowed the superintendent the flexibility to address immediate needs as they came up such as child care for essential workers, food distribution and access to technology while we quickly pivoted to distance learning. This important decision to use operating funds in this way was not given without parameters but addressed some immediate needs of our students and families.
12. Describe a recent board decision you disagreed with and why.
I disagreed with the board’s decision to put in place a six-week hiring freeze this spring in response to the pandemic. This left our district without an assistant superintendent from June 5 through August 3 when our previous assistant superintendent had already given ample notice of his departure and even offered to train in the new hire before he left in June. This was a missed opportunity to provide some stable leadership while the board pursued the separation agreement with the superintendent and faced transitioning to a second replacement for the finance director who was put on administrative leave in March. Our staff and families are presently experiencing the impact of this decision as everyone is scrambling to prepare for this year. Parents had to commit to distance or hybrid without knowing much about either model. Furthermore, our district is now rushing to hire essential custodial staff which are going to be essential to keeping our schools safe once they reopen. This decision has proven more hurtful than helpful and I have not seen any fiscal evidence for why it was necessary or cost effective.
13. A new levy will need renewal in the near future. As a board member you will need to put together a proposal that district voters will agree to fund. Will you consider the recent CDT’s (Community Design Team) recommendations entirely, or only pieces of the CDT? What do you consider to be the most essential projects to ask voters to fund?
In 2021, our district must ask the community to-at minimum- renew our levy in order to continue current operations and programming. Without this renewal, our district will need to cut $12 million from the budget. Our board must work to propose and communicate the critical nature of this levy as well as the reality of what is at stake if our community decides not to support a levy renewal.
The top considerations proposed by the CDT would further require a bond for building in the district to address the overcrowding in several elementary schools. Since the current board voted against alleviating the overcrowding at one of those schools this year, families are left in limbo waiting for boundary changes to tide them over until a bond is proposed and hopefully passed in 2021 or maybe 2022. Meanwhile, new building continues to dominate those same overcrowded areas as expected. This was a critical missed opportunity that has sown mistrust in our current board majority and engaged many families throughout the district as a result. This fiscal mismanagement is turning out to be costly for families as well as voters.
14. To end the questioning, please tell us your best joke. Yes, you read that right. Best joke.
I will spare you the joke since I am surrounded by little kid humor.