Five candidates are running for the three open seat on the Owatonna School Board.
What makes you qualified to serve on the Owatonna School Board?
Deborah Bandel: I feel my life’s experience, working as a substitute paraprofessional, and volunteer for Big Brother/Big Sister and a camp counselor give me a unique perspective on the needs of children with an eye toward the future. One thing I believe is that instead of giving children the idea that they should win at everything, that we could help them sort out their strengths and weaknesses. Being aware of what our weaknesses are can make us stronger. If for instance, your strengths are math, science and playing chess but, you enjoy music yet can’t carry a tune, you can still sing just for the enjoyment of it! We don’t “win” at everything we try but that doesn’t make one a loser. You do your best and that’s what really counts.
Tim Jensen: I’ve served one term on the Owatonna School Board. In those four years I’ve had the opportunity to serve on both the policy and finance committees, learn the way the board functions, and better understand the Owatonna Public Schools and how they operate. Before my board service I had the opportunity to serve on other non-profit boards and committees.
Dom Korbel: I am a 23-year resident of Owatonna with two children who have been a part of the school system. My son is a 2019 OHS graduate and my daughter will be a member of the 2021 graduating class this spring. Professionally, I have been in executive leadership roles for over 13 years and understand the thoughtfulness and care needed to help guide an organization of this size and budget. Volunteerism also matters a great deal to me. My resume includes time with numerous volunteer groups here in Owatonna including United Way, Steele County Food Shelf, and I am currently the oard chair for Let’s Smile. The combination of my professional background along with my passion for volunteerism leads me to believe the school board would be a perfect opportunity for me to make a difference in the community I love.
Abdulahi A. Osman: I have over 20 years of experience in education and student support. I am a college professor, a licensed substitute teacher in Minnesota, a Fulbright scholar, and an immigrant. I lived, learned, and worked in many countries and bring a wealth of life experience along with multi-cultural and linguistic expertise into the board. I hold a Ph.D. in political science, a master’s in public administration, and I authored several scholarly books and articles.
Eric Schuster: I have served on the school board the past eight years. As clerk the past three.
What will be your top priority if you are elected and why?
DB: I have an interest in a couple of things. Teaching ‘old fashion’ ways to solve problems or obtain a goal, by breaking it into small manageable steps and for some goals, without the internet. I’d like to take a look at how curves are currently used to determine grades. I’m also concerned about the Teachers Pension. I have read that it is severely under funded. If we’re going to attract top notch teachers then we need to be ready to offer top benefits! And do our teachers feel they have strong support from the community and the Board?
TJ: The most important thing for our schools is that they are on a sound financial footing. The administration and staff run things very efficiently here, but without local levy funding dollars the state does not provide us with an adequate amount of money to operate the schools the way this community expects. Beyond passing the operating levy question on the ballot this year, I’d like to encourage our local legislators to find better ways to help school funding keep up with inflation and cover the costs of currently underfunded mandates like special education.
DK: My top priority as a member of the school board will be to ensure that we provide our students and staff all of the tools necessary to be certain every child has the opportunity to find their unique path to the future. I believe education is the greatest equalizer we have available to us in order to help kids overcome any challenges they may face. Whether a student’s future path is a 4-year college, a career in the trades, the decision to serve our country as a member of our great military or moving straight into the work force as a dedicated and highly- prepared employee our education system has to be able to support them all equally. As a school board member that will be my top priority.
AO: My top priority if I am elected, will be quality of teaching utilizing good instructions that regardless of students’ racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic backgrounds. High-quality teaching is engaging, relevant, multicultural, and appealing to a variety of modalities and learning styles. It promotes student learning and encourages students towards the district’s educational objectives.
ES: Completion of the new high school, and decision making with the public, as to what to do at the future old high school site.
What is another big challenge facing the Owatonna Schools and how would you address it?
DB: With the changes brought about by the COVID-19, some enrollment has dropped off. This may make it possible to have a better teacher to student ratio. More assistance for students having a hard time with their lessons. But learning online could become the norm. Classes are already receiving a number of subjects and news from programs online. Children will always benefit from having interaction with each other, a game or gathering could be developed for friendly competition of math, geography or history as done with sports.
TJ: Racial equity and equality is a topic for our schools and our community. The Better Together group has done a great job providing forums for discussion about how we can be a more inclusive community. As a school board we have discussed the desire to have teachers in our district reflect the racial and ethnic mix of our students. I’m all in with the administration on working to “grow our own” teachers of many backgrounds, who will hopefully want to return to teach in Owatonna. Helping the district remain a desirable employer with adequate funding will be key to reaching that goal as well.
DK: This is an interesting question and my instinct was to just jump in with my opinion, but then I paused. Instead I decided to ask my daughter (who is a senior at OHS) what she thought her and her friends would say is the biggest challenge facing the Owatonna Schools. She without hesitation said we can’t stop talking about the racial stress and inequities in our community. She continued and said we have definitely made progress and you can see it at school, but there is still so much work to do and we can’t lose our focus. As a board member I will work to address this by being certain the issues of race and equality continue to be part of our strategic plans in the district. I also promise to listen to students like my daughter to be certain I focus on issues that matter to our kids.
AO: Since I have been teaching as a substitute, I observed that students in the district need to be taught the cultural and linguistic richness of their classmates and community in addition to the rigorous and high-quality education. I would push for a high-quality pre-k education that creates a life-long engagement and familiarity with their classmates. More importantly, studies found that early quality education e.g pre-k reduces the achievement gap that is persistent in the district and state. Finally, I would continue by creating student-to-student programs that engage them with multi-cultural education and other educational activities/ clubs e.g. geography, math, etc.
ES: Getting through COVID-19, and trying to return to normal school days.
How will you work with the rest of the board members to overcome challenges?
DB: When it comes to spending money, I like to get three estimates and look at references or reviews before making a decision. I will listen to what each person has to say about their view and go with the option that best meets the needs of the students and community.
TJ: The current board and administration have been working very well together, through successes such as the OHS bond this past year as well as during the racial tensions and lockdown at OHS. I appreciate and enjoy the varied perspectives that the board members bring, and I will miss Christina’s participation. I am looking forward to meeting whoever the new board member(s) will be and finding out their passions and drivers so that we can collaborate together and with the administration to make Owatonna’s Public Schools as good as they can be.
DK: As a leader I have come to believe that you make decisions based on data, but you create change through relationships. With that in mind my number one goal when it comes to working with my fellow board members is to genuinely get to know them and understand their point of view. I am just one of seven votes and opinions in the room when it comes to making decisions. If we intend to make a difference individually it requires a commitment to creating mutually respectful relationships in order to make a difference collectively. I am a humble leader who has great respect for the experience in the room that I can learn from, but I am also unafraid to challenge my peers when necessary. My hope is that my balance of humility and confidence will be a key to working well with my fellow board members.
AO: I understand the role of the School Board is to support the implementation of policies and practices that provide an equitable education to all our students. I have no interest to promote or hidden agendas. I will bring a wealth of life experience along with multi-cultural and linguistic expertise into the board. As a member, I would listen and investigate all information available on any issue before I form an opinion and cast my vote. I would make sure Owatonna taxpayers know their tax dollars are well spent and accounted for in the schools.
ES: Our current board members work extremely well together, all with different backgrounds and knowledge. The challenge at hand is with passing of the learning levy.
Why do you want to serve on the board?
DB: I would like to serve on the School Board to help all students become the person they want to be! Whether they decide to go to a four year college, trade school or something else, they have the tools they need to do so.
TJ: I’m a child, brother and parent of professional educators. I grew up in this community and benefitted from the Owatonna Public Schools — the teachers and the boards and administrations of the past. I want Owatonna’s school system to be envied by surrounding communities. I believe the community takes pride in our schools and is willing to stand behind them to keep them the high-quality institutions that they are. After my first term, I’ve learned that I value being able to provide input on our district’s direction.
DKl: My greatest role model is my Dad. He showed me the importance of giving back to your community through service. He was in fact a school board member for over 23 years in Faribault. I had the pleasure of seeing first-hand the difference someone can make as a member of their local school board and how personally rewarding it was for him. I gained insight into the magnitude of the decisions a School Board member is asked to make. I also saw the challenges that come with those decisions knowing there is zero chance you will make everyone happy. So why do I want to serve on the board? On a very personal level I want to follow in my father’s footsteps and leave my mark on the community I love just as he did on the one, he loved.
AO: As an educator and immigrant, I believe that our community is diversifying, therefore we need to focus on the development of the whole child, helping all students experience success and become productive citizens. In the climate of increased globalization, I think it is important for our community to focus on providing a complete educational experience that is relevant to the ever-changing world around us and celebrates the learning accomplishments of each child.
ES: I want to continue serving the community as I have in the past.