Three more people have filed for election to the Northfield School Board in November.
Karen Jensen, Justin Merritt and Eric Lundin announced their candidacies Thursday for four open spots on the School Board. In doing so, they join fellow challengers Corey Butler, Robert Coleman and Claudia Gonzalez-George. Incumbents Amy Goerwitz and Noel Stratmoen have also filed. School Board members Ellen Iverson and Rob Hardy have announced they will not seek reelection this year.
Lundin is a proponent of a new Northfield High School building and supports seeking a levy to do so. He said he became aware of the need for a new High School while spending time within the current building. To him, the High School building is outdated and would cost too much to renovate. He views constructing a new Northfield High School building as a good investment, because it would last for the next 60-80 years.
“There’s so much more that high schools need to give kids the education they deserve,” he said.
Northfield voters in 2017 rejected bonding for a new High School building and Greenvale Park Elementary School with 56.13% of the vote. The following year, voters approved financing building improvements in the district, including the new Greenvale Park school expected to be completed by this fall.
Lundin said he also wants to ensure students and teachers are sufficiently provided for during COVID-19. He expressed a particular interest in making sure the Northfield Area Learning Center, based on the relatively high number of students who have diverse needs, has the needed resources to continue growing. He suggested the ALC possibly hire a social worker to support students.
Lundin, who has been a Rice County Social Services outpatient psychologist working with adolescents for 31 years, has also spent eight years on the Healthy Community Initiative Board, approximately six years as a member of a school supply nonprofit in Faribault, 11 years on the Habitat for Humanity Family Selection Committee and six years as a board member on the Northfield Tenants Association. Also, he is on the Rice County Treatment Court team, has been a volunteer high school/middle school tennis coach and teaches private lessons.
Lundin, who cited those experiences as qualifications, said his passion for education has been forged through the quality education his two children experienced in Northfield Public Schools. He said he wants to ensure that tradition continues.
Lundin, who has lived in Northfield since 1986, said he also opted to run for the School Board because he thought it was “his time to step up and help the community.” Lundin called himself a “consensus-builder,” who will listen to everyone’s views.
To Lundin, the district must make sure that everyone stays safe and the needs of teachers are listened to during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he supported Gov. Tim Walz’s decision last week to place more of the decision to reopen in-person instruction on factors relating to COVID-19 transmission rates. Even if school districts have a transmission rate that qualifies for a hybrid option of in-person and distance learning, the districts can still opt for a more restrictive learning format. They cannot decide to loosen restrictions beyond those guidelines.
Jensen, who retired from Northfield Public Schools in 2017 after 28 years as an educator within the district, is looking to use her experience and passion for education if she is elected to the board.
Her decision to seek election was also based on her desire to help her three grandchildren who attend the district and past direct work with the board and Superintendent Matt Hillmann.
Jensen said if elected, her No. 1 goal is to advocate for children and staff. She said to do so, she wants the School Board to be apprised of all district matters.
“I felt like I could be a good advocate for the children and also for the staff,” she said.
“They give a lot, and they need to be heard,” Jensen said of district staff.
Jensen started her employment with the school at Longfellow as an education assistant for six years working with the director of family education. She was then transferred to Sibley Elementary School, becoming the point person on technology and working on most programs facilitated at the school until her retirement in 2017. She worked for eight years in the area of computer-assisted instruction helping children receive reading and math programming through Title I services.
Jensen said she supports the continuation of distance learning through at least the first semester of school to combat COVID-19 before district officials again evaluate the status of the pandemic and decide whether to begin in-person learning. She said social distancing isn’t possible with an in-person format.
Jensen expects distance learning to continue in some form even after the pandemic ends, a development she believes will ensure all student needs are met.
She said she chose to move to Northfield in 1989 based on the strength of the community and its education system.
“We all know education is the key to everything,” she said.
“Education is power.”
Merritt said the defining question the next board faces will be economics as the pandemic poses higher unemployment rates than the Great Recession.
He sees the best way for the board to move forward as giving parents options on how their students can learn. Merritt said he supports the use of the online program Odysseyware to allow students who thrive in a distance learning format to continue to do so even after the pandemic has lifted. To him, that would allow students to take classes that might not otherwise be available in schools.
Although Merritt acknowledged Northfield Public Schools is constrained by state requirements, he said online classes could be considered part of the district’s curriculum and make Northfield Public Schools more flexible in case a second wave of the pandemic strikes.
As qualifications for election, Merritt cited his experience as a St. Olaf College professor who teaches music theory, electronic music and music composition and his family’s extensive experience as educators. He noted he has worked closely with Northfield Public Schools on music.
To Merritt, secondary education gives students the most options to decide their careers.
Merritt and his family have lived in Northfield for 15 years. His son is a rising Northfield High School sophomore and his daughter is a Northfield eighth-grader. Both play hockey and perform the violin in the school orchestra.