What will be your top priority if you are elected and why?
Ben Bakken: I believe our top priorities should be financial responsibility addressing declining enrollment. We need to make sure we are in a better spot financially going forward and we need to stabilize enrollment numbers and understand why we’ve been losing students to neighboring districts.
James Jarvis: My top priority if I am reelected will be to continue working on balancing our budget. We will know the status on the levy come January and that will have a lot to do with what the board will be focused on, besides the levy and budget, the ever-changing environment of COVID-19 has our school teachers and administration working overtime. Helping them in any way we can as a board is a top priority as the health of our students and staff is the utmost importance.
AJ Lindell: My top priority will be finding creative ways to increase enrollment in the district. Our schools ought to be the jewel in the crown of our communities. I believe we will thrive as a district by holding the line of the status quo and simultaneously finding unique avenues that make K-W a sought-after destination for academic, athletic and fine arts opportunities.
Jamie Sommer: My top priority will continue to be the budget and enrollment. They go hand in hand and as a board member we are commissioned to be good stewards with the voters’ money.
Michelle Wood: My top priority will always be the health and safety of our students and staff. As a former social worker and therapist, that includes physical and mental health and safety. We are in unprecedented times, our staff, students, and families are negotiating a reality that we don’t have a road map for. Our district is being asked to go above and beyond. (As an example, as a fundamental pillar of the community, our schools have always been an important support in making sure our children are fed, and we are now doing so whether they are attending classes in the building or not. But, being well nourished is critical to learning.)
Navigating our current system is going to require a lot of everyone involved, and I intend to do my best to provide the tools and support our administration and staff need and deserve to provide for our children’s education.
How will you navigate challenges created from the pandemic to keep your community/district flourishing?
BB: It’s important for us to have a plan in place, but also to have an open mind and understand that plans may have to change, or be adjusted. This is new to everyone and we need to approach it with a positive attitude and support our students and staff. It’s a blessing right now for my boys (sixth and fourth grade) to be able to attend class five days a week. I think the school is doing a great job adapting and keeping them safe.
JJ: As a school we are following the MDE and governor’s guidelines when dealing with our responses to this pandemic. As a board member I will support and vote for any needs that the school needs to keep the staff and student safe. For an example, we recently approved the hiring or two part time nurses who are on call as needed and I will continue to support any further needs that the school district needs during this pandemic.
AJL: 2020 has presented unprecedented challenges to students, teachers, administrators and parents alike. This revised method of learning may be the “new normal” for our community. I believe I can draw on my own significant online learning experience and achievements to inform and shape the governance of the district to be adaptable, efficient and effective in this new, more challenging environment.
JS: Remain open minded, understanding, have a listening ear and trust in our administration. This is uncharted territory and requires a ton of grace on all sides.
MW: Separate from my priorities above, this is a tough question to answer because I don’t think we know what exactly we’re going to be asked to navigate at this time. What I can tell you is that whatever this year brings us, I will approach it as I have similarly challenging situations, with creativity, integrity, a cooperative spirit and persistence.
If budget cuts become necessary, what criteria will you use to determine how to make those cuts.
BB: It’s obviously a hot topic and if the upcoming levy doesn’t pass, this conversation will be a reality. In those situations, it’s always best to have open and honest conversations, and to look at the big picture. What’s best for the school as a whole? How can we get the most out of our budget?
JJ: If budget cuts are needed due to a failed levy, I am not even sure where the cuts would come from, as last year when we had to make cuts we let go of our superintendent and replaced our elementary principal with a dual role from our new superintendent. We also had to let go of excellent staff members and teachers. My biggest priority is to not let any cuts affect the students. I will base my vote of support to keeping the classroom fully staffed. We are being good stewards with our budget at this time and I will continue to be prudent with our budget going forward.
AJL: If budget cuts are in the offing, the first criteria will be to meet our statutory burdens. Second, it will be essential to evaluate how any prospective cut would impact current and future enrollment. Finally, it will be necessary to evaluate the impact of a cut on the quality of the student experience in the district.
JS: If budget cuts are required, I will rest easy knowing that it will not be decisions made only by me but rather a cumulative effort by all members of the board to put that criteria together and implement.
MW: As I’ve stated above, first and foremost is always ensuring the health and safety of both students and staff. Second, the ability to recruit and retain quality teachers and services.
I think if we’ve learned anything from COVID, it is how important our teachers and schools are. Not only in that the education they provide is critical for our children’s future, but also because “doing what they do” also allows the rest of us to “do what we do.” There are two critical, equally important parts of this. First, if we want to have a top of the line education available to our children, we need to be competitive in the compensation of our teachers. Secondly, we are spending taxpayer dollars, so we need to make sure that the services we are getting in return for those dollars are also top of the line.
How will you work with the rest of the board/council to overcome challenges?
BB: Positive energy, along with open and honest communication is what has helped me succeed at my job, and I think those skills will make me a valuable school board member. I’m sure everyone on the board has been blessed with certain skills, and it’s on us to use those skills and strengths to the best of our ability while serving the school.
JJ: Working as a board member requires the ability to work together as a team to over come challenges. Over the last four years we have overcome all the challenges that have come our way.
Even when we disagree on issues, we always support the decision the board makes in the end. I plan on using my voice to speak up on issues I am passionate about and make sure we come to common ground on issues the board members disagree on. By doing this we as a board will be able to continue to overcome any challenges that comes our way.
AJL: I believe the best method to solve problems is through collaboration and consensus building. Recognizing that the school board is made up of a variety of individuals that bring with them unique knowledge, skill sets, and varied experiences; I will work to understand other board member perspectives to reach a rational solution to the challenge presented.
JS: Remembering that you are one of seven and everyone’s voice brings a different dynamic to the table.
MW: By doing my best to be informed on issues. By using my training to listen, understand and lend support and leadership as best I can. By understanding any given problem may have many solutions. By knowing that not everyone will always agree on what the problem is, much less what the solution should be. By knowing that I am only one vote of seven. By believing that good people can disagree, even get frustrated and angry, and still keep moving forward. But most importantly, by remembering that every person around that table has been chosen by you to do our best to ensure a good, quality education for all of our children.
What makes you qualified to serve in this position?
BB: I work in sales for College City Beverage, and my job requires me to excel at a few key things: relationships, communication and being responsible with budgets. All of these skills translate well in regards to the daily responsibilities of a school board member, and I would enjoy the opportunity to make a difference while serving.
JJ: As a current board member, the last four years has prepared me for this position. I have learned more about what it means to be a school board member just from being an active board member. Serving on the following committees has also helped, I am on the Ed Foundation and Technology committee. I am also on the Lion’s Club in Wanamingo. My education has also prepared me for this position. I have my Master’s Decree in Organizational Leadership and Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. I would love to serve four more years on the school board and I would appreciate your vote.
AJL: Being a lawyer has taught me to approach each issue with an open mind, active listening skills, and critical thinking. I am capable, and have experience, finding creative solutions to problems focusing on efficiency and responsible fiscal policy. I have also been accountable for organizational budgets and labor negotiations. I focus intensely on how multiple issues fit together like a puzzle versus fixating on a single piece. Finally, I have a well-rounded background supporting academics, fine arts, and athletics through participation, coaching, and advisory capacities.
JS: I have a passion for our school district and communities and want to see both thrive and be the best they can be!
MW: I have worked in special education at the high school level, served as a county social worker for children with disabilities, and been a parent educator in the K-W early childhood program. During my time working in Hennepin County, its Human Services Department went through a major, employee-led, redesign. I served as one of the founding members of what became the Autism Team.
My husband and I have been foster parents, and our five children attend K-W. I have worked closely with district employees, as more than one of my children have needed special education services.
In summary, I have spent my life thus far in the service of children and families, and feel these experiences could be put to good use as a member of the board.