Local figure looks to make impact on A.L. School Board

Published 9:00 am Sunday, October 16, 2016

A community leader and candidate for Albert Lea School Board wants to continue her involvement with education.

Albert Lea native Ellen Kehr, 68, said she has been involved professionally and on a volunteer basis with children and their families.

“I am committed to education because I believe it is our pathway to success, and when a person is committed to something they get involved,” she said.

Ellen Kehr

Ellen Kehr

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Kehr, an Albert Lea High School graduate, said running for the board allows her to play a role in the district.

“Getting involved in a positive way is something that I am passionate about, the Albert Lea Area Schools,” she said.

Biggest challenges facing the School Board

Kehr said the board needs to focus on ensuring students are able to adapt to a constantly changing 21st century environment.

“Our young people today need to be adaptable and able to navigate change quickly and effectively if they are to be successful throughout their lives,” she said.

The School Board needs to be open to change and be willing to “explore all avenues of educational opportunities that will help our students do that,” she said.

Best things happening in the district

The district has made significant advances over the last several years, Kehr said.

“School graduation rates are up, our AP students have expanded opportunities and our alternative students are attending classes on a college campus, which provides a great environment in which to build a strong vision for what they would like their lives to look like moving forward,” she said.

The district has made huge advances in technology with enhanced web access and additional equipment for many students, as well as the creation of an employee clinic and upgrading several facilities, Kehr said.

She said the district has worked hard to create a culture of wellbeing for students and educators that models healthy choices and physical and emotional behavior.

“The school policy of free admission for students to attend school sporting events has given all students the opportunity to support each other and build school spirit in a positive social environment,” Kehr said.

Goals if elected to the board

Kehr said she wants to reflect and communicate the interests and commitment of the community for Albert Lea Area Schools.

“I am a positive, open-minded and hardworking person and my goal would be to bring all of those qualities to the table and work with the other School Board members to build on our past successes to find positive solutions to our challenges,” she said. 

Attracting and retaining good teachers

Albert Lea has lost some very good teachers and has attracted some excellent teachers over the last several years, Kehr said.

“This is a trend that will not likely change anytime soon,” she said. “Currently, we are experiencing a nationwide teacher shortage. Educators today have more choices than they did in the past and they are taking advantage of these options, as rightfully they should be.”

She said teachers leave the district to live closer to home and for opportunities to advance their educations or move into another career path.

“We need to offer new teachers an opportunity to teach in a truly outstanding educational environment, and as a community support our schools with positive interaction and community initiatives that support a high quality of life for them and their families.”

Access to affordable housing in Greater Minnesota continues to be a challenge that impacts the district’s ability to retain its young teachers, Kehr said.

“This is an area that is being addressed by all the community partners that play a part in finding workable solutions to the challenges,” she said.

School Board decorum and its effect on district students and teachers

Kehr said though it is not unusual for elected bodies to have differences in opinion on issues that affect a community, it is important to look for ways to accomplish goals using positive solutions, collaboration and compromise.

“When disagreement turns into conflict, it takes the focus off of the desired outcomes and results in a negative environment that harms the students, the teachers, the administration, the School Board and the community,” she said. “The School Board can become united when all members of the board honor and respect the decisions made by the elected body as a whole and maintain a sincere level of respect for each other.”

She said the first requirement in being united is making the choice to be united and working together to ensure the goal is met.

Reaching out to constituents and the role of the public

Kehr described herself as an open person with a public email and phone number.

“In past positions I have always encouraged constituents to contact me with their concerns or ideas, responded as quickly as I was able and would certainly continue to do so,” she said.

The best vehicle for interacting with the community and gathering information is to be involved personally and attend community events, Kehr said.

“This is when we all seem to feel most comfortable in sharing our thoughts and ideas,” she said. “For effective communication to take place, it is important that both parties take the time to both disseminate and gather information, and that means talking and listening.

“Taking the time to communicate seems to be our greatest challenge and we should all put more effort into that.”

Other issues

Keeping children safe has risen to another level and social media needs to be addressed, Kehr said.

“Substance abuse has expanded into areas far beyond drinking and smoking,” she said. “Family units look different today than they did several decades ago. Students come from two-parent working families, single-parent households, blended families and parents with joint custody.”

Teachers are required to meet educational benchmarks, guidelines and state and federal-level mandated testing, Kehr said, and educators and the district need community support.

“Our educators and school district have risen to this challenge, but they need and deserve the positive and energetic support of our community,” she said. “We all have a responsibility to partner with our School Board, administration and educators. They depend on us to give them the support they need to achieve excellence in education and the positive mentors and role models that all our children deserve.”

Cynthia Gail, Joseph Ferguson, Angie Hanson, Aaron Phillips, Sonjia Hill, Neal Skaar, Ken Petersen, Kendall Langseth and incumbent Julie Johnson have also filed for election to the board.

School board

Candidates: Julie Johnson, Ellen Kehr, Cynthia Gail, Joseph Ferguson, Angie Hanson, Aaron Phillips, Sonjia Hill, Neal Skaar, Ken Petersen and Kendall Langseth

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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