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School Board candidate hopes to rebuild trust

A longtime Albert Lea teacher and coach wants to restore trust between the School Board and community members.

Albert Lea School Board candidate Neal Skaar said if elected, he also wants to discuss the district’s management style, and emphasize the College in the School program.

Neal Skaar

Neal Skaar

Skaar, 70, said he wants to extend and promote programs designed to meet the needs of students who pursue careers that do not require a college education, and said he supports the district working with local businesses, trades and Riverland Community College.

Skaar said if elected, he wants to readdress the school calendar, noting he is not convinced the current approach is in the best interests of students and community members.

Biggest challenge facing the School Board

Skaar said there is a perception that the School Board is unresponsive to the voice of district staff and community members.

“If this perception is based on facts, then the facts need to be changed,” he said.

Skaar said that if the perception is based on a misunderstanding, the board “must take steps to make it unmistakably clear that it is willing and able to engage in meaningful dialogue with all parties who have a vested interest in the district.”

The board needs to answer to the public, students and staff, Skaar said.

Biggest strength of the district

Skaar said some students have demonstrated remarkable achievements in academics, arts and co-curricular activities.

“We have a staff that is willing and able to provide for the needs of students engaged in the pursuit of those achievements,” he said. “We have a community that is willing to become involved in the support of our students and staff.”

Skaar cited an $800,000 grant for free preschool for 100 Albert Lea children and cited the district’s involvement in the Albert Lea Greater Education Project as a positive initiative the district is undertaking.

Reason for running for school board

A retired teacher who taught at Albert Lea High School for 46 years before retiring in 2014, Skaar said he wants to continue his involvement with education on the board.

“I am not running against anyone,” he said. “The other candidates are good people, well qualified and sincerely interested in our educational community. My only mission is to support the mission of Albert Lea Area Schools: ‘to equip all learners to think and to care.’”

Attract and retain good teachers

Skaar said teachers are probably the most important link in the educational chain.

“We need to hire and keep good teachers,” he said. “Having been a teacher, I think I have some pretty good insight here.”

Teachers need to have a significant voice in the district’s educational process and be confident that their supervisors are there to assist them, not to threaten them, Skaar said.

“They need to be able to claim ownership for what they do,” he said.

Skaar said teachers need to be able to concentrate on teaching and be paid fairly, and negotiations need to be collaborative, not adversarial.

Effect of School Board decorum on students and teachers

Skaar said district leaders need to set a good example for students and staff.

He said though he does not expect leaders to always agree, he expects them to be respectful of each other.

“This is probably the most important lesson we teach our children, and they are watching,” Skaar said.

The role of
constituents

Board members have a responsibility to represent those who elected them, Skaar said.

“If elected, I will make myself available through all methods of communication so that anyone with concerns or ideas may approach me with them,” he said.

Skaar committed to discussing concerns and ideas with the public and introducing a matter if a consensus of community members want it addressed.

“Any constituent should have the right to address the board directly and the board should act on the recommendation and provide a response to the concerned citizen,” he said.

Other issues

Skaar addressed concern surrounding Superintendent Mike Funk by noting his understanding of the duties of a superintendent.

The superintendent is an employee of the district and is directed by those elected by the public to oversee the district, Skaar said.

“The superintendent, in his expertise, should advise the board, but not dictate to them,” Skaar said.

He said a superintendent executes the board’s decisions and provides support when needed.

“There are extremes here, and a delicate balance must be achieved between a board that micromanages and a superintendent that dominates,” he said. “My ambition as a school board member is to make sure that neither of these extremes occurs.”

About Sam Wilmes

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

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