Motivated by the energy of the new superintendent, Nelson seeks another term on the Albert Lea school board

Published 5:09 am Wednesday, August 17, 2022

With all of the new names running for one of four spots on the Albert Lea school board this November, one should sound familiar: Kim Nelson.

Kim Nelson

Nelson has served in some capacity on the board for 5 1/2 years, with her first 1 1/2 years served as an appointed term. She was then elected back in 2018.  

“I guess for me, I’m excited about the transition of a superintendent,” she said. “I don’t feel necessarily that I’m done. I feel like there’s still work to be done, and I feel like my experience through trainings from the Minnesota School Board Association … and I feel like that makes me an asset to the board.” 

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Nelson, who has over 17 years in early childhood education experience, said she thought her work with nonprofit organizations helped, and said her work was about understanding governance and supporting management of institutions.

“I was responsible for budgets, significant budgets,” she said. “Responsible for supervising and managing people. So I feel like I have a lot of experience in understanding what needs to happen in an educational setting to set students up for success, cause really that’s why I want to do this.”

She also stressed that being on the board meant she and her fellow board members supervised Superintendent Ron Wagner, and that he was responsible for leading the team of teachers, administrators and staff.

“Administration is a tough place to be, and human resources is a tough place to be,” she said. “I’m positioned nicely to be on the board because I understand those tough decisions have to be made sometimes.

“But also on the other side you get to celebrate those successes of those employees as well.”

Nelson, currently attending graduate school for nonprofit public administration, decided to run for another term after talking it over with her family, but knew for certain she wanted to serve again after attending last Wednesday’s school kickoff at the high school.

“[Wagner’s] message was just really powerful, knowing your why,” she said. “And it spoke to me. I know my why —  my why is to serve in this capacity if Albert Lea wants me to, if the voters want me to.”

She also loved seeing the energy at last week’s event, and said she wanted to support the board’s decision early this summer to extend a contract to Wagner. 

If elected, her top priority would be to hold administration accountable for the 12% fund balance, and said school finance was a “very tricky” issue for the district.

“To have a strong fund balance means that no matter what happens we’re going to be here for the students, and so that will be important for me to support that,” she said.

She also wants to continue support for teachers in their work of setting up students for success, and would support efforts regarding customization of lessons for students.

“I love what we’ve been doing with not charging students to go into activities so they can be part of the community,” she said. “I don’t like barriers for students.”

But her top priority would be supporting the superintendent, and said that as a governance board it was her responsibility to develop policies, evaluate and stay fiduciarily responsible. 

Currently, Nelson liked the diversity of the board, but thought they could do better. She also stressed it was important the board remain “on the same page” after leaving a board meeting.

“We can have those negotiations, and we can have the conversations, but I really think once we make a decision we have to be united after the board meeting,” she said. “It’s important for [the] public and the district to see that.”

She also wanted members to feel comfortable sharing their own opinions during debates and negotiations, and said the current board needed to work on its unity.

“We need to work on understanding the role that we have as a governance model as we move away from that table and we were one for the district.”

Nelson was particularly proud of the work the board did in supporting administration during COVID-19 lockdowns.

“It was a very emotional, tough time, and I feel like I’m very proud of our administration and our leadership during that time,” she said.

She also thought Wagner was bringing in new ideas.

“His first 100 days in the district, he gave us that plan and I just feel like — and people have said —‘This was a great decision.’”

Nelson, in her first full term, is currently vice chair of the board. She is also the director of career and community connections at Riverland Community College. Prior to her current role, she was director of grants and alumni relations.

Nelson also worked as a preschool teacher and said she had experience managing teachers.