5 additional school board candidates share why they’re running for office
Published 8:10 pm Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Five additional people filed for Albert Lea school board on Tuesday on what was the last day of the filing period.
The new filings — Jerry Collins, Mary Elizabeth Harty, Angie Hoffman, Bruce Olson and Kalli Rittenhouse — bring the candidate pool up to seven. Neal Skaar and Christopher Seedorf filed last week.
The following is information about why each of the additional candidates is running for office, along with information about their backgrounds.
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Collins, who has lived in Albert Lea for seven years, said he has graduated two children from the Albert Lea school district and has a few more to go.
He said he decided to run for office because he would like to see Albert Lea’s graduation rate increase.
“I think we have the staff and the ability to do that, we just need to put a concerted effort toward it,” Collins said.
He would also like to work with the district to decrease the adjudication of minors.
“I think that adjudicating minors at the rate that we are probably isn’t in anyone’s best interest,” he said.
He said the district also needs to be cognizant of every dollar it spends and make sure every dollar that is spent goes to improve the education and experience of students in District 241.
“That means we’re really going to have to sharpen our pencils,” he said, noting that it will not just be a priority this year with COVID-19, but that it will also be critical in the coming years, as well.
Another problem that is prevalent in the district is the issue of bullying, and he said adults need to be consistent with the message that bullying is not acceptable through their own actions.
“We can’t bully one another, and we just can’t tolerate the bullying that happens of our students,” he said.
Collins, whose background is in information technology, opened up Big Dream Organics in Albert Lea last summer at Skyline Plaza and then opened a second store later in Owatonna.
Outside of his business, Collins said he has been active in the Save Our Healthcare organization and follows along with Albert Lea City Council and Freeborn County Board of Commissioners meetings.
He said running for school board is another way he can invest in the community.
“What better place to invest than the youth?” he said.
Mary Elizabeth Harty
Harty, who grew up in Albert Lea and graduated from Albert Lea High School in 1979, said she has considered running for school board off and on for the last few years. She has nephews attending schools in the district.
A member of the District 241 curriculum committee for the last three or four years, she said she thinks she has a good perspective of happenings in the district. The committee looks at different programs and curriculum to bring on board and reviews reports about ones that have been launched. It also looks at Advanced Placement testing, some of the trade programs the district is working on with Riverland Community College and programs offered at the elementary schools. The committee is made up of a diverse group of parents, educators, school board members and community members.
“With everything going on with COVID we’re having to think outside the box on how we’re going to have to educate kids with technology and in-person,” she said.
She also supports recruitment of more diversity amongst the district’s educators because of the more diverse student population.
“We want to make sure the students can see themselves in their teachers,” she said.
Harty has a master’s degree in nonprofit management and works in public affairs at Mayo Clinic. She returned to Albert Lea in 2013 when given the opportunity to telework for her job.
She is on the Albert Lea Community Theatre board and is the organization’s treasurer.
Hoffman, who lives just outside of Albert Lea, said in watching the country and the state, she is seeing a lot of students leave school feeling negative about the country and feeling like they can’t succeed in the current economic system.
“That concerns me for the students and also for the country,” she said.
“I wanted to get involved and believe it’s important to get involved at the local level and working up.”
As co-owner of Robert Hoffman Realty with her husband, she would also like to promote entrepreneurship in the schools, teaching students practical steps to build their own business.
As a business owner and investor in the area, she said she feels strongly that the community needs to invest in the schools. While she doesn’t have a problem with spending money to do so, she said there needs to be a balance in spending what the community can support.
She said she brings to the position what she described as unique perspectives, as she was homeschooled and because she does not have any children of her own.
“Going into this, I would have no biases, no preconceived notions,” she said. “I would be a fresh set of eyes looking at things for the first time.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and some students moving forward with distance learning in the fall, she said she could add unique value to the discussion about what works and what doesn’t work about schooling at home and how to help families in this learning model in the future.
Hoffman has lived in the Albert Lea area her entire life and is a member of the Lakeview Lions Club, a volunteer at the Freeborn County Humane Society and treasurer for the Freeborn County Republican Party.
Bruce Olson grew up in Hayward and graduated from Albert Lea High School in 1964. He said after attending Luther College, he came back to Albert Lea and worked for his father as a building contractor before starting his own business in 1977.
In 1993, he went to work as the director of facilities and transportation for the Albert Lea school district and retired in 2010. He said he was in the position when the new Albert Lea High School was built and attended many meetings for that project. He also oversaw the custodians for the district, as well as building maintenance and student transportation.
His two sons graduated from Albert Lea High School, and he now has four grandchildren who are in the Albert Lea school district — one at the middle school and three at the high school and who are involved in various activities.
“The community has been good to me, and I’d like to give back,” Olson said.
He has served on the board for the Freeborn County Historical Museum and belongs to Grace Lutheran Church, serving on the foundation board and on the council a few times.
He said he thought about running four years ago, but had concerns about his wife, who has dementia. She now is in a memory care unit.
Rittenhouse, who ran for school board in 2018, has not yet been able to be reached for comment.