Q&A: Find out where the Albert Lea school board candidates stand

Published 3:32 pm Sunday, November 6, 2022

Shannon Cox
Q: Brief description of your background:

Shannon Cox

A: I was born and raised in the area. Went to Halverson K-5, Brookside 6-7, Southwest 8-9, Old HS half of 10th, New HS 2nd half of 10th grade and did Post Secondary at Riverland Community College for my 11th and 12th grade year. Graduated with my class in 2003. My family as ran a lawn care service for many years. Recently started as a Realtor with Robert Hoffman Realty. And recently started Magic Touch Carpet and Hard Surface Cleaning LLC. If you give me your vote I’ll be your voice.

Q: What are the biggest assets you can bring to the district if you are elected a member of the Albert Lea School Board? Why should someone vote for you?
A: One of my biggest assets I will bring to the district if I’m elected is change. I will listen to everyone in our district and try my best to get what is wanted and needed done. Of course if elected I’m only 1 board member. That’s why we need a big change. If you vote for me or not I will listen to you. That’s what we need community input.

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Q: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
A: I’m not a yes man. I can and will make the hard decisions that need to be made to make this the best district possible. Some times thing need to be done that isn’t the popular choice but is the right choice for our students of the district.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the school board/school district right now?
A: The biggest challenge is keeping our students and staff safe. That is 1 of my biggest concerns. There are several others but safety is the most important. I don’t have the fix all solution bit I feel as a board and community we can do it. All we need to do is work together and we can get it done.

Q: What are the areas in which you see the school board and district already excelling?
A: Having the best staff out there. We have some of the best technology there is available. We also have great facilities. We’ll taken care of and energy efficient.

Q: How do you view the relationship between the school board and the community? Where would you fit into that dynamic?
A: I feel we don’t currently have the best relationship between the board and community. The community needs to feel comfortable in talking with the board. We need to have a great relationship with the school board and community. I feel I could help the community feel comfortable coming to us and telling us their thoughts.

Q: What can the district do to attract and retain good teachers?
A: First off the district needs to listen to the needs and wants of the teachers and all staff. If they are taken care of they will stay and take care of our students. The district needs to make sure we are competitive with pay and benefits to retain and attract good staff. I don’t really think we should only be thinking about teachers as we should be thinking of all the district staff.

Q: Where do you see opportunities for the district to further address needs of students and families living near the poverty line, a demographic that makes up a chunk of our district’s student body?
A: Even though we have done great things by having free breakfast for the students and having Tiger Trays I think we should try to find room in our funds to have free lunch for all students. See if there are some grants of talk to our elected officials to try and get additional funding for school supplies that are need for some students.

Q: How can the school district better prepare students for opportunities available after high school (whether that’s four-year college, community college, employment, etc.)?
A:There are already several great things that are already being done for this. But there is room for improvement. We need to encourage community college and general employment as much as we encourage four-year college. All these are equally important as the other.

Q: How would you address the challenges of bullying in the schools?
A: There are several ways to address this. This has to be addressed right away starting in pre-school and at home. We need to bring in specialized people to help train our staff how to recognize it early on and what we should and can do. Key thing is stop it before it starts.

Q: Compromise and the ability to work with others are key to any role in public office. How will you make these a priority if elected?
A: I’m very open to listening to others. I know there are several ways to an end solution. Sometimes you need to give in one area to make another area better. I like to learn and will always try my best to make what’s best happen for everyone. Sometimes it doesn’t work out but trying is key. I can have a complete different opinion then someone else but if you can explain to me way yours is better I’ll try my best to see it your way.

Q: In what ways is the district doing well to partner with the community for students? What other areas do you see room for growth?
A: Years ago the district and students were great at this then it fell apart for some years. But this last year it seems that there is starting to be a bond again. I love seeing the community come together and support our students. It makes everyone happy. Let’s keep up the great work and grow from here. We are here for our students.

Jane Kepple Johnson

Jane Kepple Johnson

Q: Background:
A: I’m an Albert Lea native and an ALHS graduate. But for college and one year of teaching in Duluth, I’m a life-long resident. My husband Pete Johnson (passed away in 2016) and I have 3 children—all ALHS graduates.
Education has been my life-long career at both the high school and college levels. I hold a master’s degree is in teaching/learning and an administrative degree as well.
Here’s what best describes me: I listen, I collaborate, and I express my opinion. Providing quality education for all students, supporting and valuing staff, and ensuring the health, well-being, scholastic achievement, and safety of all students are my priorities

Q: What are the biggest assets you can bring to the district if you are elected a member of the Albert Lea School Board? Why should someone vote for you?

A: I’m a(n)
a) product of public schools and universities
b) educator with nearly 40 years of experience
c) person passionate about the success of each student in the classroom
d) advocate for teachers, staff, and families
e) collaborator without a specific agenda. My agenda is the students, staff, and schools, community

Q:What sets you apart from the other candidates?
A: I’m a teacher. My passion is education. I’ve lived my passion for 40 years and will bring that to District 241. I know the biggest gains are made when teachers, students, and parents collaborate to ensure students’ needs are met. My teaching career has taught me much about the power of teamwork—whether in the classroom, at a board or staff meeting.
People know me for my ability to hear all sides of an issue before making decisions, and I know the blessings and pride in helping students reach their potential.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the school board/school district right now?
A: We are living in one of the most challenging times for the education system in my lifetime. My friends encouraged me to run because I can address the challenges of the following:
Mental health of students and staff
Safety within the school as well as at extra-curricular events
Attracting and retaining quality staff
Offering courses leading to life-long employment and learning
Agreeing on a school calendar
Community-school partnership

Q: What are the areas in which you see the school board and district already excelling?
A: The district’s new leadership energizes me. Reaching out to and being involved in the community is vital to our district’s mission. I recently attended the Education Foundation of Albert Lea Distinguished Alumni and Educators awards (I am a former board member), and the new superintendent spoke about his vision. I want to help him and all the staff achieve their goals.
Presently the district provides concurrent enrollment opportunities which allow graduating seniors to enter their post-high school education with college credit and/or trade skills. I support a continued focus on future educational opportunities, whether it be in the trades or college. The ALC, as well as day-long kindergarten, early-childhood education, and special education are components that allow students of all abilities to thrive. I also support these whole-heartedly.

Q: How do you view the relationship between the school board and the community? Where would you fit into that dynamic?
A: I welcome the sharing of comments and concerns when presented through proper channels. I fit in from both sides. As an active community member who participated and held board positions, I know the importance of advocating for a cause. I respect people advocating for their viewpoint. And from a school board side, I understand the needs of the educational system. When the two sides meet at a school board meeting, I will demonstrate respect and decorum.
Partnering with families and community members is essential to ensuring educational excellence in our district. Board business, including the public forum, should be conducted in a “fair, legal, and responsible manner.” (MnMSBA)

Q: What can the district do to attract and retain good teachers?
A: The role of teachers has changed into one requiring more tenacity and flexibility than ever before. Having a teacher-mentoring program provides new teachers with an opportunity to acquire new information and learn additional skills. Also, a stable, supporting environment with the administration and public valuing and appreciating teachers will attract and retain them.
Teachers need to know the administration and public are willing to partner with them to ensure excellence in the classroom. Maintaining a competitive salary structure and allowing teachers to retain their years of experience when moving to the district may attract some. Also improved reciprocity with neighboring states regarding teaching licenses and providing childcare may attract quality staff as well.

Q: Where do you see opportunities for the district to further address needs of students and families living near the poverty line, a demographic that makes up a chunk of our district’s student body?
A: Teachers and staff are front-line eyes and ears into assessing and identifying student needs. Staff is regularly informed about how/where to report student needs, thus student/staff partnerships are vital. Counselors, social services, resource personnel can partner with student and families to address issues.
A gap in the equation is internet and online connectivity. Providing portable hotspots is helpful, but rural broadband needs to be improved across the nation—this is not just a local issue. Also providing more ESL and perhaps flexibility in the school day for work/child care may be helpful. School must be a place where students want to be because they feel a sense of belonging, where teachers demonstrate care and concern, and where they feel safe.

Q: How can the school district better prepare students for opportunities available after high school (whether that’s four-year college, community college, employment, etc.)?
A: Preparing for life after high school is another issue that calls for student-staff-family collaboration. With the district’s mission in mind, students need to be aware that they will be providing stability for themselves and perhaps their families—not only financially, but also socially and emotionally as well. Pathways 8 and college/career fairs are wonderful and needed, but preparing for life after high school doesn’t begin in one’s high school years. Rather it begins in childhood and expands throughout. So a focus on opportunities available for students post high school needs to begin early, whether through family discussion, school counseling, or business mentoring. Local businesses in partnership with schools can provide mentoring and experiences that allow students a view into the skills and talents needed to excel. I’m a proponent of programs in high school that provide real-time experience in a trade or job students may want in the future.

Q: How would you address the challenges of bullying in the schools?
A: Students and staff know who the bullies are, yet reporting is sadly often nerve-wracking and can lead to even more issues. Frank, open discussions between the parties involved (including district and parents) is vital. Bullying isn’t relegated to schools, but it’s evident in “real life” as well. Families, faith communities, community and school initiatives (PBIS) strive to impart the importance of kindness, civility, inclusivity, etc. Social media has taken bullying to another level, yet regrettably, the school has no power to address out-of-school issues like this.

Q: Compromise and the ability to work with others are key to any role in public office. How will you make these a priority if elected?
A: Open discussion, collaboration, and compromise are essential to any board and must be a priority for board members. I have had experience working on other boards–both state and local. (U of MN National Writing Project board, district curriculum committee, Education Foundation of Albert Lea, library board, patient advisory board, hospital board). I know how boards work–with collaboration and hard work.

Q: In what ways is the district doing well to partner with the community for students? What other areas do you see room for growth?
A: New leadership at the top (Superintendent Wagner) brings energy and the beginnings of a strong connection with the community. Tiger Pride isn’t just about sports and extra-curriculars. It’s about pride in students’ learning and achievement, in introducing new ideas and concepts that challenge and engage students. Improving MCA scores (especially in area of reading) is needed and is being addressed. There is always room for growth—a mindset that is essential for any school district. Broadening the curriculum, offering additional (or more) services—such as mental health screening—and providing a culture where each student feels valued and included is a step toward growth.

 

Dave Klatt
Q: Brief description of your background:

David Klatt

A: My wife and I have been living in Albert Lea for nearly 27 years. We are proud to say we have raised three wonderful children who graduated with honors from Albert Lea High School and continued in life with very satisfying careers. My wife Shari was a 20-year Para educator all at Hawthorne school and I am proud to say I have served nearly 8 years on your Albert Lea School Board. I own and operate two successful businesses here in Albert Lea and I am a member of several local and area boards. Why do I love being on the school board, simply stated our kids and our staff.

Q: What are the biggest assets you can bring to the district if you are elected a member of the Albert Lea School Board? Why should someone vote for you?
A: I have served nearly eight years as a member of our school board; I have been elected to each of the chairs on the board and bring a unique perspective that no other member on the board can offer when making decisions that will benefit our students and staff. The two years I served as Chair were some very difficult COVID years and I do believe we came out of the COVID restrictions as a school district in a great position to succeed. This was due to a very effective leadership team and carefully executed plan. Before moving to Albert Lea, I was a High School teacher and coach in two different school districts which gives me some great insight into the operations of a school district. Over the years we have lived here I have had the opportunity to coach our youth in several sports and through these experiences I have been able understand what our youth are facing today, and I am able to bring those experiences forward when making school related decisions. Also, as a business owner, I am very fiscally responsible and understand the impact taxes have on
our community and I can see if the benefits outweigh the consequences of any tax increases.

Q: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
A: My nearly eight years of experience serving on the current board. The education of today’s youth and the understanding of educational finance takes a unique set of skills which I have been able to learn during my tenure on the school board. I also believe that my perspective of being a parent with no current children or grandchildren in the district allows me to have an important perspective of seeing the whole school picture and not potentially being narrowly focused on areas that benefit only my children or grandchildren. I also believe my broad background in education, finance, community relations and communication skills are very beneficial to the board and district. My office is in the heart of Albert Lea and my door is always open to talk about issues that affect our school. Finally, whenever I cast a vote the last question, I ask myself is ‘how will this affect our students’? My job is simple, to make each student’s educational experience the best it can be and that is how I will cast my vote.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the school board/school district right now?
A: The three biggest challenges our district faces is to continue to work on the learning loss that COVID caused our students, to hire and retain the best possible staff and to be fiscally responsible with our tax dollars to give students and staff the best possible place to learn and work. The safety of our students and staff is paramount and a situation we are working on today. Communication and working together on the school board are areas we need to all work on amongst ourselves and we need to understand that we are one as a board. This means that when a decision is made, even if it isn’t the way we personally wanted to see that decision go, everyone needs to support the decision for the betterment of our school district.

Q: What are the areas in which you see the school board and district already excelling?
A: We have a hardworking staff in our district that truly care about each of students. They are willing to put in as much time as the students need to achieve their goals. We have some outstanding facilities and offer many opportunities both educationally and extracurricular for each student to make their learning relevant and worthwhile. I also believe with the
12% board general fund balance goal, which has been maintained for over ten years we are being financially responsible to our citizens.

Q: How do you view the relationship between the school board and the community? Where would you fit into that dynamic?
A: Overall, I believe that relationship is good but needs to continue to improve. Over the last few years, I have seen several changes in the community and the way we educate our children. This has prompted some critics but at the end of the day I still believe the kids are getting a very good education. Communication is key and it needs to continually improve, and I have seen that getting better over the last year or so. As a board member I need to be available to visit with any community member about our schools and work towards any solutions that may be needed to make our district the best place for our students to learn.

Q: What can the district do to attract and retain good teachers?
A: We need to make our schools a safe and inviting place for the staff to work. We are continually working on the contracts we offer; we are allowing our teachers new ways to improve in their teaching field and constantly looking for ways to make our schools safer. Our community is very important as they need a place they enjoy living and to call home.

Q: Where do you see opportunities for the district to further address needs of students and families living near the poverty line, a demographic that makes up a chunk of our district’s student body?
A: Our district needs to offer a wide range of learning opportunities without costing everyone a lot of money to participate. We need to support each students individual way they learn and if someone needs help we need to have an assistance program to bridge the gap so their learning isn’t halted due their inability to pay.

Q: How can the school district better prepare students for opportunities available after high school (whether that’s four-year college, community college, employment, etc.)?
A: In my mind, we need to identify early in the educational process the way each student wants to learn and how they plan on applying their learning after high school. We need to have a: four-year college tract, a community college tract and opportunities in differing employment that will benefit our students. Currently, we offer AP and College in school classes for students looking at furthering their education past high school and we are developing new opportunities every year to help our students who want employment after graduation. I always like the school/work programs where a student would attend high school classes in the morning and have a job they could go to after lunch until the end of the workday.

Q: How would you address the challenges of bullying in the schools?
A: We need to continue to work on inclusion with all our students. Honestly, this isn’t only the job of the school district but everyone’s job. If we see a child who appears to be bullied, we need to get them some immediate help and allow the professionals to address the bullying. Social media could be the biggest culprit, so we need to educate our students and families on its dangers. I think we need to find a way to refocus these experiences with the bullied children and find a way to channel them into a direction they enjoy pursuing instead of only seeing the ridicule they are receiving from their bullies.

Q: Compromise and the ability to work with others are key to any role in public office. How will you make these a priority if elected?
A: We need to work together and stay focused on ‘what is best for our students’ not what is best for me. When we are researching a topic and deciding its outcome, each board member needs to have their opinion. When the final vote is made, regardless of its outcome, we need to all support the board’s decision and not continue to show division. This only hurts our students and staff. Working together in a common direction will make our board and school district a better place. I have always supported our board decisions and will continue to in the future.

Q: In what ways is the district doing well to partner with the community for students? What other areas do you see room for growth?
A: We continue to offer new and exciting opportunities for our students and for the most part at no additional cost for their families.
If there is a hardship, there are programs the family can ask to be apart of to help their children. We need to continue to look for better ways to learn and work together which is a focus for my tenure on the Albert Lea school board. Thank you for your continued support and I look forward to serving this community again.

 

Gary Lerud
Q: Brief description of your background:

Gary Lerud

A: I am a high school graduate of AHS in 1961. I went to Mankato for 2 years and then got drafted in the US Army in 1960. I also have 2 grandchildren in the high school.

Q: What are the biggest assets you can bring to the district if you are elected a member of the Albert Lea School Board? Why should someone vote for you?
A: I want to be as transparent as possible and always be open to new ideas and possibilities.

Q: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
A: My concern for our liberty and the terrible cost for our freedom. Also my love for each student since they will be our leaders some day.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the school board/school district right now?
A: Security issues.

Q: What are the areas in which you see the school board and district already excelling?
Curriculum and sports activities. I am currently a coach for the spring and fall high school trapshooters.

Q: How do you view the relationship between the school board and the community? Where would you fit into that dynamic?
A: I think there needs to be more transparency as to what the board is trying to do. I would talk to more parents about what would they like to see done or changed.

Q: What can the district do to attract and retain good teachers?
A:Show the respective teachers applying that we care for the students’ welfare and ability to learn what the environment requires.

Q: Where do you see opportunities for the district to further address needs of students and families living near the poverty line, a demographic that makes up a chunk of our district’s student body?
A: Free lunches and transportation to and from.

Q: How can the school district better prepare students for opportunities available after high school (whether that’s four-year college, community college, employment, etc.)?
A: Encourage better counseling for the students since we live in a very different environment.

Q: How would you address the challenges of bullying in the schools?
A: Contact the parents first.

Q: Compromise and the ability to work with others are key to any role in public office. How will you make these a priority if elected?
A: I will hear anyone out and then evaluate what they have to say.

Q: In what ways is the district doing well to partner with the community for students? What other areas do you see room for growth?
A: I don’t think this is being accomplished as well as it could. I think visiting with teachers, principals and students even in the grade schools would help.

Kim Nelson
Q: Brief description of your background:

Kim Nelson

A: My husband Jeff and I live on a farm north of Albert Lea where we raised our 2 children that attended and graduated from district 241. Our son Adam graduated in 2017 and our daughter Sydney graduated in 2020. I have worked in the education sector of the community for almost 25 years. My passion has been non-profit and public administration through my work at The Children’s Center, Freeborn County Historical Museum, and now at Riverland Community College.  I hold an associate degree in Early Childhood Education, a Bachelors’ degree in Business Management, and am currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public and Nonprofit Administration.

Q: What are the biggest assets you can bring to the district if you are elected a member of the Albert Lea School Board? Why should someone vote for you?
A: The biggest assets that I bring to the district is my experience in education, community involvement, relationships, and passion for life-long learning.  My experience in education is unique as I have never taught or worked in the Albert Lea School District however, I have been a partner in early childhood education with the district.  There were several opportunities to collaborate with the staff and administrative team with the district.  One of those opportunities was preparing students for the transition from preschool to kindergarten.  Another opportunity is in my present position at Riverland where I work closely with the administrative team on Career and Technical opportunities for all ages and connections to industry partners. The experiences that I am most proud of is my work on the school board for the past 4 years.
My involvement in the community expands over the past two decades serving on boards, being a member of Kiwanis, active in my church, Trinity Lutheran, and a volunteer for local events.  Some of the boards I have sat on like the Education Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce has assisted me in my work on the school board.  My volunteer work in service clubs and for other organizations keep me connected to a community and school district that I love.

Q: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
A: I have served on the school board for the past 4 years. This past two years I have served as the vice chair. I bring continuity and an understanding of school finance and policy development.  I have also completed all 4 modules offered to School Board members through the Minnesota School Board Association.  I have knowledge of education policies and processes from birth to post-secondary.  I understand the importance of providing multiple pathways for children in our district.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the school board/school district right now?
A: I believe one of the biggest challenges facing the school board/district right now is state funding.  The state is required by statute to provide public education in Minnesota.  However, school financing has not kept up with inflation and that is why districts continue to have to do more with less.  As well as go to the voters to pass operating referendums.  The other big challenge is figuring out how to support our teachers, staff, and administrations mental health.  Students are coming into our classrooms with more diverse needs than ever before.  Supporting them means supporting our students. Supporting our students is what drives what we do, and we must take care of those that educate and support them.

Q: What are the areas in which you see the school board and district already excelling?
A: The district is excelling in so many areas.  One of the areas is school finance.  At a time when many schools in Minnesota are having to make deep cuts, Albert Lea has reserve funds of 12%.  This means that if we were to have a change in funding of any kind, we have funds to fall back on.  It is best practices for many public and nonprofit agencies to operate with reserve funds.  We have initiatives that save on energy costs as well as saving to the districts through external funding opportunities.  Our work in High Reliability Schools has assisted individual buildings within the district to work collectively taking advantage of opportunities on continuing to improve our operations. We excel in retaining good teachers, even though we see teachers leave our district every year we continue to have strong retention rates.

Q: How do you view the relationship between the school board and the community? Where would you fit into that dynamic?
A: The relationship between the school board and the community is a crucial component to the success of the district.  We know that having a strong school district is important to new businesses and citizen that relocate to Albert Lea.  Communication and innovation are the dynamic’s I bring to this partnership.  The school district is a public entity that operates like a business so being able to balance that through open communication and innovation is important. We have been able to collaborate with the community on several projects.

Q: What can the district do to attract and retain good teachers?
A: District 241 is not alone when it comes to attracting and retaining staff.  Natural attrition exists however Albert Lea does a good job recruiting and retaining good teachers.  Our processes and supports to new teachers, provides new teachers with a sense of belonging and support.  If we come up short in this area, we will experience struggles in attracting and retaining good teachers.

Q: Where do you see opportunities for the district to further address needs of students and families living near the poverty line, a demographic that makes up a chunk of our district’s student body? 
A: I am very interested in working with the district and the community in becoming poverty informed.  I am a certified by “communications Across Barriers” as a certified poverty coach I can bring value to the district through my experiences and training.

Q: How can the school district better prepare students for opportunities available after high school (whether that’s four-year college, community college, employment, etc.)?
A: I am excited about the new position of Executive Director of Careers, Technology, and Innovation.  This position will connect business and industry with post-secondary education to our students.  Additionally, it will provide a collaborative approach to experiential learning even in our elementary schools.

Q: How would you address the challenges of bullying in the schools? 
A: I would support initiatives that would bring resources to promote a culture that encourages respect for others in the classroom and a respectful workplace.  Additionally, I feel like adults in the schools, on our board, and in the community serve as role models to our youth.  If student’s see adults bullying each other they interpret that as acceptable behavior.

Q: Compromise and the ability to work with others are key to any role in public office. How will you make these a priority if elected?
A: As a board member it is imperative that I work together cohesively with the board.  When a decision is made and a vote is taken, the entire board must support that decision no matter what.  Sometimes that means compromise needs to happen.  It is the time for the priority to be getting it right and not necessarily always being right.

Q: In what ways is the district doing well to partner with the community for students? What other areas do you see room for growth? 
A: The district has partnered with the community in so many ways.  Examples include the community access to the new athletic complex, shared space with Riverland Community College, pathway’s programing, industry tours, support for extracurricular activities, and discover history days.  These are just a few of the successful partnerships we have.  Another important partnership is that with the education foundation, Chamber of Commerce, and ALEDA around scholarships for our students and grant to our educational staff.

 

Gary Schindler
Q: Brief description of your background:

Gary Schindler

A: I have over forty years of K-12 and college work experience. I have worked in several positions from elementary coach, junior high teacher and coach, high school counselor, high school social studies teacher, and activities advisor. At the college level, I have served as a college counselor, faculty member, financial aid director, club advisor, student services administrator and accreditation officer. My current volunteer service to the community includes the Naeve Healthcare Foundation, Freeborn County Chamber Foundation, Freeborn County Historical Museum, Grace Lutheran Church, Albert Lea Lions Club, Civil War Roundtable, SE MN Synod Council, and the Early Bird Investment Club.

Q: What are the biggest assets you can bring to the district if you are elected a member of the Albert Lea School Board? Why should someone vote for you?
A: Voters should be looking for board candidates that has experience in education across all levels, from elementary school to college. I have that experience. Voters should be looking for board candidates that has managed millions of dollars in local, state, and federal education funding. I have that experience. Voters should be looking for board candidates that has experience as a school extra-curricular club advisor or coach. I have that experience. Voters should be looking for board candidates that understands the social and emotional needs of our students. I have had that experience as a school and college counselor. Voters should be looking for board candidates that would communicate expectations that the district address student performance through academic planning and the use of student performance data. I have that experience in my past roles as an administrator and strategic planner. Voters should be looking for board candidates that are engaged in the community as a volunteer. I have that experience. Finally, voters should be looking for board candidates that seeks to listen, understand, and act. I have that experience.

Q: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
A: I would bring to the board a unique and comprehensive “package” of skills from my forty years of education-related work experience. My experience and expertise align with the opportunities and challenges facing District 241. We need to improve student academic performance which requires the use of data and planning. I have led strategic planning efforts for the college and in my volunteer service. The district seeks to promote the social and emotional development of our students. I have served as a school and college counselor. There are public concerns about the teaching of history. I am a historian and a past school and college history teacher. The district wants to maintain a 12% budget reserve. I have been a college administrator. It would be a plus to have worked with district faculty. I have recently worked as a mentor with district social studies teachers in Riverland’s College in Our Schools Program. It would be a plus to have recently worked with the students of District 241. I am a mentor in the Discover History Program; a joint history project between District 241 high school history students and the museum.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the school board/school district right now?
A: A top priority is to address student performance and graduation rates. The district has robust plans in place to address these issues and the board needs to support them and insist on a review of performance targets and results.
School safety and security is also a challenge that needs attention. Nearly every week we read about assaults, disorderly conduct, and vaping violations at the high school. The district resource officer is just one person and cannot be everywhere. Bullying is a school safety issue but is also related to the emotional and social well-being of our students. Bullying is an impactful negative action against students. We need to send a message that it is unacceptable. I would advocate for a formal referral process of students to district counselors to address such issues.
It is clear to me as a school board candidate that we need to listen more to parents. We need to use the current systems in place where parents can be heard such as the PTO’s, the district curriculum committee, online learner parent mentors, and parent-teacher conferences; to ensure that parents are heard and that we close the communication loop through action and/or follow-up with them.

Q: What are the areas in which you see the school board and district already excelling?
A: The district has demonstrated that they apply the collection of student performance data and academic planning to improve teaching and learning. Student performance in science is a good current example. Science curriculum was redesigned through the application of academic planning, the use of best practices, and widespread input/feedback that included parents to improve student performance in that area. The district needs to be applauded for its use of instructional coaches and faculty mentors to support curriculum implementation and new teacher support.
I am happy with the range of clubs and sports that are offered the student body and the facilities to support them. I have heard from some parents that they are experiencing fundraising fatigue. With that being the case, we need to examine funding across all the clubs and athletic teams to ensure that they have adequate and equitable support.
There are three other aspects of District 241 that reflect their commitment to the district mission. We have strong staffing in counseling, social workers, and school psychologists. We have a diverse student body. The College in the Schools program is offering nearly a third of the Junior and Senior classes free college credit from Riverland Community College.

Q: How do you view the relationship between the school board and the community? Where would you fit into that dynamic?
A: As I see it, the board provides leadership to the community by conducting school business is a respectful, legal, and responsible fashion. We need to listen to the community in order to establish the goals and desired outcomes for the district. The board should be embracing a community vision for the school district and not their own personal agenda. With that said, the board has a role to serve as advocates for the community as well as district teachers, staff, administration, and the students. As an advocate, we need to listen and also seek understanding of the need, issue, or problem brought forward by one of our stakeholders. With that understanding, I would then engage in research and problem solving as needed to address the issue at hand. A dialogue would likely be needed with district staff across the board and with other board members. If it is appropriate, an action plan should be pursued. Throughout the process, follow-up needs to be maintained with the individual(s) that brought the concern forward in the first place. With this approach, we can gain new perspectives, gather input and maintain a positive dialogue.

Q: What can the district do to attract and retain good teachers?
A: Albert Lea is a great community with a diverse population and economy, and a natural beauty second to once when compared to other cities of a comparable size. With that said, there are a number of things that we can do to attract and retain teachers. Housing is expanding and we need to help new applicants secure it. We need teachers but the supply is declining. Our starting salary for new teachers needs to be competitive with the other schools in the Big Nine. Our facilities are best in class and we have committed resources to support facility planning. The same can be said for education technology. Robust plans are in place to add projection and screens to dozens of classrooms across District 241. We need to demonstrate that we respect educators as the professionals that they are and are committed to supporting their professional development. Finally, I would contend that there is a quality of life that makes Albert Lea unique. All of the above need to be promoted and communicated to new and recent hires to invite them to apply and stay in our schools.

Q: Where do you see opportunities for the district to further address needs of students and families living near the poverty line, a demographic that makes up a chunk of our district’s student body?
A: I was raised in a single-parent home through most of my junior high and high school years. I was aware that my mother lacked the resources at times to purchase enough food to feed four kids. Education transformed my life and broke the cycle of poverty.
With the staffing that we have in the ranks of counselors, social workers, and school psychologists, we have a means to identify and refer students in poverty to the appropriate community and county resources. Once again, I would advocate for a formal referral process for faculty and staff to make a referral to those professionals so that the needs of the students can be addressed in a timely fashion.
As a school board, we need to look to the state and national government to support free breakfast and lunch programs. In addition, we can help break the cycle of poverty by connecting students to employment programs and community sources such as the Backpack Food Program.
As a school district, we must assure that all students have access to the technology needed to be an effective learner. Access must also include the opportunity for involvement and attendance to all school clubs, sports, and events.

Q: How can the school district better prepare students for opportunities available after high school (whether that’s four-year college, community college, employment, etc.)?
A: As a former school and college counselor, I have the experience and perspective to influence this area of operations in District 241. The district embraces the goals associated with the World’s Best Workforce model. One of the goals of that model is to ensure that students are ready to engage in career and college planning. I would encourage the Counseling Department across all grade levels to advocate for, develop, and implement a curriculum for career and college planning that would start in the earliest of grades possible.
To make informed career and college planning choices, students need to first understand their interests and aptitudes. From there, they need to understand and appreciate the career fields associated with their interests. Once they have narrowed down some career fields, they need to explore specific careers within those fields. The next step is the exploration of community-technical colleges, colleges, and universities that could provide them the education and training needed to secure gainful employment in the field. With adequate career and college planning prior to their junior year, the students of District 241 will be well positioned to take advantage of the free college credit available through the College in the Schools Program.

Q: How would you address the challenges of bullying in the schools?
A: As I noted previously, bullying is a school safety issue. It is also related to the emotional and social well-being of our students. Bullying is an impactful negative action against students. It will shape their personality and has the potential to impact them for a lifetime. We need to send a message that it is unacceptable.
The district has made a commitment to hire counselors, social workers, and school psychologists. They have the skills to serve students that have been bullied but also to address the bullies. I would advocate for a formal faculty and staff referral process of students to district counselors and social workers to address such issues. In addition, when it is appropriate, the school resource officer should be involved. Finally, the parents need to be brought into the loop once a bullying incident is known. Through a formal process and team approach, we can address this growing concern.

Q: Compromise and the ability to work with others are key to any role in public office. How will you make these a priority if elected?
A: We need to be mindful that the community is watching. We are accountable to them to produce positive and mission-focused results. They have a stake in what we do and how we do it.
As a board member, I need to understand the mission of the district, its goals, desired outcomes, areas that need attention, resources, and challenges. In addition, I need to understand and appreciate the talents, strengths, and perspectives of each board member at the table and the leadership of District 241. With that understanding and as we do our work, strategies will emerge to solve problems and achieve district goals. The outcome in that work is to strive for win-win solutions. As actions plans were being developed, all options should be put on the table and the pros and cons for each should be discussed in a respectful and open-minded way. Within the context of what is noted above, we can then achieve results through compromise and with the board united to the course of action that is being taken.
Compromise and needing to work with others was essential in my role as an administrator at Riverland Community College.

Q: In what ways is the district doing well to partner with the community for students? What other areas do you see room for growth?
A: Look around the district and you can see the commitment to our children and their schools. The Backpack Food Program provides weekend food to hundreds of students in need. This is an effort that involves a number of area churches and the school district. Discover History is a partnership between Albert Lea High School and the Freeborn County Historical Museum and Village that offers a day-long hands-on history experience to fifth graders in the region. Service clubs across Albert Lea and beyond support scholarships for Albert Lea graduates. The College in the Schools Program; a state supported partnership between the high school and Riverland Community College; provides free college-level courses to Juniors and Seniors at Albert Lea High School. Finally, I would add that youth sports programming and the public library are meeting the needs of children is a variety of ways.
Beyond these well-established partnerships, I would like to see more connections with business and industry to help our students in their career and college planning. With the diverse economy in Albert Lea and the surrounding area, we have the potential to help students explore career fields that would be a good fit with their interests and talents.

Christopher Seedorf
Q: Brief description of your background?

Chris Seedorf

A: Was a store manager for 15 years. I haven been on many boards and committees. Have had kids go through the district and have nieces and nephews in the district. Along with family and friends. A hard worker and great leadership skill. Great voice for everyone.

Q: What are the biggest assets you can bring to the district if you are elected a member of the Albert Lea School Board? Why should someone vote for you?
A: I have great leadership skills, done courses 30 hours worth on each in school board policies and procedures, parliamentary procedure and robert rules, rules and conduct and fundamentals. From leadership institute and young america institute. I passed and got my certificate.
Great problem solver and there’s so many programs and tools that can help the distract.

Q: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
A: I’m a hard worker and work well with all parties involved. I will be the voice for families and the district. My phone will be on and so will my email day and night. Won’t sit on my hands and sit there all night if it ‘s good for the district and kids. I vow to work for the voters and families. Not one of thoses that promise and take no action or afraid to vote for or against something that’s the best for all parties.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the school board/school district right now?
A: Boy there’s a lot of drug problems, mental health, students with special needs or behavior problems. Only 2 schools in the district can deal with add, adha, autism and I think all the schools should. Don’t leave no student behind. With the drug problem we need to bring it back like the d.a.r.e.

Q: What are the areas in which you see the school board and district already excelling?
A: To be honest not much gave the old superintendent a big pay raise for their augenda. The also ingord the lunch staff, custodian, district staff, and didn’t take the time to listen to parents with their views and ideas in public meetings. With over 300 policies that do not help no one. The way the board threatens other board members in emails. Then swept them under the rug.

Q: How do you view the relationship between the school board and the community? Where would you fit into that dynamic?
A: I think the past 10 plus years the board has shut out the community, families, staff, students and did what they wanted.
The more ideas and listening and every party works together district 241 could be stronger, smarter, everyone’s ideas matter. Then decipher and research every avenue possible. Use all the tools, not just a few here and there. There are 522 districts in MN and district 241 falls in at 368 out of 522. For the 2022 school year, there are 8 public schools serving 3,500 students. The district’s average testing ranking is 3/10. Which is the bottom 50%.

Q: What can the district do to attract and retain good teachers?
A: Let them teach and keep CRT out of the child and pay them accordingly. Have a strong district and school board. Plus a good foundation and let them know we support them. Let the be part of the communication and make it fun and easy to teach.

Q: Where do you see opportunities for the district to further address needs of students and families living near the poverty line, a demographic that makes up a chunk of our district’s student body?
A: There’s so many resources in our community and partnership with them to help out families and students with food drives and clothing drives. There are many tools in the tool chest out there that can be reached. Never leave no stone on turned.

Q: How can the school district better prepare students for opportunities available after high school (whether that’s four-year college, community college, employment, etc.)?
A: I think having programs or classes that can take a quarter or two in the 11th or 12th grade and go out and work with the area or career there looking into.
For example like a lawyer shadow and work along with them on things or watch and study. Use this as a fun time to really see if it’s something they want to do. This way they can really have better grasp and experiences. Into their field.

Q: How would you address the challenges of bullying in the schools?
A:
1. Teach kindness and empathy
2. Create opportunities for connection
3. Identify gateway behaviors
4. Use the arts to create context
5. Minimize concentric circles in schools
6. Participate in simulations

Q: Compromise and the ability to work with others are key to any role in public office. How will you make these a priority if elected?
A: Work and listen to all parties involved. Work together to tackle hard matters and research. Have good dialogue, research, come together for the best result. We should have a parent and teacher relationship. Teacher and staff to superintendent, superintendent to community and school board.

Q: In what ways is the district doing well to partner with the community for students? What other areas do you see room for growth?
A: I think the district is there for their agenda. There way or nothing and there is so much left on the table and they don’t want to listen. Every area is so important. There is still time to fix all the moving parts. We can all work together and make district 241 strong, educational, safe, and where teachers want to teach and people want to work. ;let’s make this district turns heads and go from 368 out 522 district in Mn and make it way better.

Davy Villarreal
Q: Brief description of your background:

Davy Villarreal

Born and raised in Albert Lea. I attended the Albert Lea School district as a student and graduated from Albert Lea High School. I attended college at Minnesota State University in Mankato where I studied Elementary Education. I have 3 children currently enrolled in the school district. I am very involved with the community as a volunteer and participate as a board member in different areas.

Q: What are the biggest assets you can bring to the district if you are elected a member of the Albert Lea School Board? Why should someone vote for you?
A: As a board member, I will be the voice as a parent and advocate for our children and other parents that want to be heard. I view myself as an approachable person in this community that others can comfortably walk up to and express their concerns. I want to be the voice for all parents that have something to say but feel they aren’t being heard. I also want to be able relay messages and explain decisions for both the school board and the community.

Q: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
A: I think what sets me apart is that I’ve never been an employee of the district. I don’t have a history that says I worked in education in Albert Lea. I am, honestly, just your average parent that wants to help make a difference and better the future for not only my children but every student that studies in our district. I want what’s best for each and every child and I want to be able to be able to make that happen by being on the board and helping to make the right decisions. The children are our future. As a parent, I want to help shape the future for generations to come!

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the school board/school district right now?
A: What I see right now is a challenge with authority amongst the board members. I see some members that are afraid to speak up. I see some members that might not like to listen to all opinions presented to them. My goal is to come in with an open mind and be sure that I speak up when voices are trying to be heard. I am here to help the board members come together as a team to make the best decisions for our district to help us succeed!

Q: What are the areas in which you see the school board and district already excelling?
A: When it comes down to it, I know that the board are looking out for our students and staff. The board will always put the needs of the district first and I love to see that.

Q: How do you view the relationship between the school board and the community? Where would you fit into that dynamic?
A: I have seen in the past where a board member might not like to listen to all the public has to say. That’s not okay with me. We need to listen to them and let them voice their opinions. No matter what it is. They want to be heard and we need to make sure they know they are heard. I plan to come in to make sure that every voice is heard and every person knows that they can, comfortably, come to me with any questions or concerns that WILL be voiced at board meetings.

Q: What can the district do to attract and retain good teachers?
A: We need to make sure that the staff know they make a difference and make sure they know they are appreciated. They want to know they are a priority. They make such a huge difference in our students’ lives and they need to be commended for that! I know for a fact that the right teacher can make a big difference in a child’s life. My youngest son’s teacher works SO hard and makes sure that he is equipped, every day, with what he needs to succeed and I love seeing that. I am very appreciative of her. I want every teacher to know that they are appreciated that much!

Q: Where do you see opportunities for the district to further address needs of students and families living near the poverty line, a demographic that makes up a chunk of our district’s student body?
A: As a community, I love to see the different fundraisers we do to help each other out. Food drives, clothing drives, donation boxes etc… Every kid deserves to be clothed and fed. I would love to find a way to raise money through different programs to assure free lunches for all kids. I grew up receiving free lunches and I know that if that opportunity was not available to me, it would have been difficult for me to eat every day. It saddens me to see so many kids right on that thin line and not receiving the help they need when it comes to lunch.

Q: How can the school district better prepare students for opportunities available after high school (whether that’s four-year college, community college, employment, etc.)?
A: Counseling is huge! Not every kid knows what they want to do after school. However, with the right amount of mentoring, counseling and just simple questionnaires… I believe all students can find something that will help them make the right decisions for their future. I love that the district is starting to add in classes to help kids understand what obstacles they may run into in the future. The classes are there to help them prepare and know how to handle these scenarios.

Q: How would you address the challenges of bullying in the schools?
Bullying needs to be stopped. In my opinion, I think there needs to be more staff monitoring hallways and doorways during school and before/after school. It seems to easy for students to be cornered right now. It’s heartbreaking! More staff and better monitoring would be a great first step!

Q: Compromise and the ability to work with others are key to any role in public office. How will you make these a priority if elected?
A: I have kids. I compromise every day! I have been a member of boards in the community for many years. I always make sure that decisions are being made as a team and that every avenue has been addressed before a final decision is made. Working with others is one of my strong suits. I love to bounce ideas off of others and be that person that others can come to with ideas. That’s what board members are there for.

Q: In what ways is the district doing well to partner with the community for students? What other areas do you see room for growth?
A: One of my favorite times of the year is homecoming! To see all of the kids participate in the different school activities, decorating, dressing up and the parade… that is so fun to see! I also like to see all of the different after school, extra-curricular activities there are. There are so many different areas and groups to be a part of. There is something for everyone. The more groups the better! Let’s keep every kid involved!

 

Kasey Wolters

Q: Brief description of your background:

Kasey Wolters

A: I am a lifelong resident of Albert Lea, graduated from Albert Lea Area Schools and from Riverland Community College. I have been married to my husband, Robert, for 15 years, have an adult bonus-daughter Katie, and our son Maverick is a 3rd grader in the district. I have worked in the financial industry in banking, retirement plans and now work with mortgage servicing here in Albert Lea at AmeriNat. I stay active in volunteering at church, in our son’s activities including school, sports and most recently a love for the community theater, and enjoying all the wonderful parts of our community.

Q: What are the biggest assets you can bring to the district if you are elected a member of the Albert Lea School Board? Why should someone vote for you?
A: My biggest asset is that I bring a different perspective as a parent of a young student in our district who has a vested interest in what is happening in our schools. Every decision that is made will affect my own child’s future and I can relate to other parents within our district. I have spent the last year attending school board meetings, asking questions, and standing for our kids. Our schools look and feel very different today than they did even five years ago, and we need more involvement from parents. If elected, I will continue to ask questions, do the research, show up for our students and staff, and help move the district forward to a safe, welcoming environment where everyone can succeed in their own way.

Q: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
I am a mom of a young student and have an inherent interest in what happens within our district for the foreseeable future. I have lived in Albert Lea all of my life, graduated from Albert Lea Schools and Riverland Community College. I have a financial and accounting background, having worked in banking, retirement and now mortgage servicing. I am not afraid to ask questions to gain understanding on specific topics I may not understand firsthand. As a parent, I will always keep students and families as a top priority when making a decision.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the school board/school district right now?
A: I think our district is facing challenges as we are realizing the effects of the pandemic. We have seen a drop in test scores and an increase in mental health needs. Being out of the classroom has impacted both of these areas. As our students are returning to the classroom, we need to ensure the right help is in place for their growth, both academically and emotionally. Additional resources are needed to close the achievement gaps so all students are meeting the standards. We also need to utilize programs to help students grow socially and emotionally, and support our counselors and social workers. These professionals are becoming overwhelmed with large caseloads. This is a time where our district needs to work on transparency, communication and collaborating together to help our students succeed.

Q: What are the areas in which you see the school board and district already excelling?
A: The district has put a strong focus on success after graduation, whether that’s college, tech school, or career. There are many opportunities for students to be prepared for success. Our district offers PSEO, college in the schools, Pathways to Success and the Area Learning Center. These opportunities allow all students to be successful in their own journey. Working with Riverland Community College over the years has been a great partnership for our district. Pathways to Success invites community members into our classrooms for students to hear about a wide variety of career paths and make connections with how to be successful in our own community. Most recently, our high school held a college and career fair that allowed our students to see real opportunities for success after graduation.
The district administration and school board have worked together to close the gap on financial equity. The district has concentrated on providing opportunities for all to participate in extracurricular activities, attending events and providing free breakfasts. Though the district has not yet found a financial way to provide free lunches to all, they have created a Tiger Trays fund to help families who narrowly miss the free & reduced lunch guidelines.

Q: How do you view the relationship between the school board and the community? Where would you fit into that dynamic?
A: The relationship with the school board and community has been strained by lack of communication, transparency and trust. Many times, the community has seen the school board vote for something without asking for, or considering, the input of parents or district staff. As a board member, I would work to bridge this communication gap and welcome dialogue between our district, school board and families. Some ideas to consider would be more public forum opportunities, having a parent committee that meets with board members to discuss issues, a weekly or bi-monthly column in the Tribune with recent updates and upcoming topics, or social media pages for the school board to share with the community. All parties need to be working together to ensure our children are successful.

Q: What can the district do to attract and retain good teachers?
A: To attract teachers, we need to rebuild our culture and show our successes within the district. We need a positive and healthy culture for our staff, and we also need a community that is supportive of our district. Part of this is to listen to our community and our community having opportunities for families to live, work and grow here. New teachers coming to the district should have a mentor who invests in them – this is a great way to build relationships. We need to build on our retention – that speaks volumes to teachers looking for opportunities in our district. We need to invest in our teachers in order to retain them. That doesn’t mean just financially, but also in opportunities to grow individually, grow their education, listen to their ideas and help them succeed. We shouldn’t move teachers to different buildings, different subjects or grade-levels without their input. We need to listen to how teachers feel successful in their role and keep them in their ‘sweet spots’. I think communication and collaboration between all parties will build a strong community.

Q: Where do you see opportunities for the district to further address needs of students and families living near the poverty line, a demographic that makes up a chunk of our district’s student body?
A: Our community is seeing more families struggling financially. As we see the free and reduced lunch population increase, our district needs to address other aspects of students’ lives that are being affected as well. One area of opportunity that could be addressed in our elementary schools is daily snack time. Families have the option to send a snack to school with their student or to register their student for the snack cart and/or milk program. There is a cost associated with the latter option. Some families are simply not able to provide a snack to send or the cost of the snack and milk programs. This can mean their student does not get to have a snack during this time, or the teacher or school’s PTO is providing these snacks. Finding a way to provide the snack cart and milk program to our free and reduced lunch population would create an inclusion environment and lessen the burden for these families.

Q: How can the school district better prepare students for opportunities available after high school (whether that’s four-year college, community college, employment, etc.)?
A: Our district has made it a priority in recent years to prepare students for after graduation success. The high school’s recent college and career fair was a phenomenal way to allow all students to engage with both colleges and local businesses. Continuing programs such as College in the Schools so students earn college credit concurrently, and Pathways to Success, which allows student to hear about different career paths in our community, are great assets to help students see what success can look like for them. Expanding on partnerships between the district and local businesses for internships, job shadowing, part-time workers or summer employment would be one way to help our students get experience, create relationships within the community, and explore opportunities outside the classroom.

Q: How would you address the challenges of bullying in the schools?
This is a challenge in our schools, not just here, but across the nation. We need to have a zero tolerance for these behaviors and follow through with the consequences. All students and staff deserve to feel safe within our school. No one will be able to teach or learn if they do not feel safe. Parents also have a duty to have conversations and set expectations with their children about bullying. The caseloads of counselors and social workers have increased and we need to support them with additional resources. Our district’s mission encompasses social and emotional growth for lifelong learners and we need to work together to put focus on this area.

Q: Compromise and the ability to work with others are key to any role in public office. How will you make these a priority if elected?
A: The school board is comprised of seven elected members, all coming from different backgrounds, to represent the whole community. Each member brings different experiences and perspectives to share, and it is important to listen and acknowledge everyone’s viewpoint. There will be times of agreement and disagreement amongst board members, but being respectful of differences is key to a successful team. This is what collaboration is all about – bringing differences together to find the best solution for our students and district. If elected as a school board member, I will keep students and our mission statement at the center of every decision, sincerely listen to others’ perspectives and ask questions to help understand differences.

Q: In what ways is the district doing well to partner with the community for students? What other areas do you see room for growth?
A: In order for the district to be successful, we need to have strong community involvement and support. There have been challenges throughout the past few years with communication and transparency causing disconnect with our community. In the last few months, we have seen a different approach in bringing our community back together to support students. Homecoming week was a very successful initiative that created a sense of community once again between our community, schools and students. By building these relationships, we can open doors for engaging conversations and come together for the benefit of our district and students. Our students, families and district staff need to be supported to be successful. If elected, I will help foster those lines of communication, engage with all parties by listening and asking questions, and holding our leadership team to a high level of accountability.