Art+by+Maggie+Klaers

Art by Maggie Klaers

Meet the candidates for St. Louis Park School Board

Jim Beneke

Why did you decide to run?

I am one of two incumbents running again. I ran for the first time four years ago (because) I had been active in a lot of school committees. You name the committee, I was probably on it. I was on the Community Education Advisory Council (CEAC), the Equity and Excellence Task Force and the World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) Committee.  

What do you believe to be the biggest issue in the school district right now that you would like to address?

There really isn’t much state funding for mental health efforts. We rely a lot on community partners like at the middle school, Park Nicollet is doing telecommuter counseling — being at a computer and talking to a counselor. So, we tried to leverage help from community partners but that only goes so far. We’ve got to do more and it’s hard to say what exactly we need to do, but maybe there is more we can do with our community partners. We’ve got to keep (asking) the state legislature for more money. If we don’t get more money, we can’t use that excuse. Maybe there’s more training we can do for teachers to at least recognize mental health issues.

What other issues are you passionate about?

Educational efforts (and) academic issues are always important. I want to make sure we think about other things for the whole child or whole student. Think about other things, (for example), mental health, think about nutrition, think about maybe family support if a student’s family is having trouble. Try and think of whatever a student might need to help them succeed. 

What was your background before you first got elected to the School Board?

Most of my career, I was an engineer doing programming. Then a few years back, I had gotten a master’s in math at one point and I was qualified to become a teacher at community college. Now for the last 2-3 years I have been a math teacher at Normandale.

What skills do you believe you bring to the table for the School Board?

I am a detail-oriented person, always trying to think about what we are not thinking about. No detail is too small. I think I am a collaborative kind of person. I don’t mind conflict if someone is passionate enough to talk to me about an issue, I think that is great. People can approach me and I’ll talk to them, I’ll follow through on what they say and take a very collaborative approach.

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C. Colin Cox

Why did you decide to run?

One thing (has been) how I’ve grown and become more involved with the St. Louis Park schools. My son is currently a student, he is in sixth grade at the middle school and I got involved when he was at Aquila (Elementary School). Since then, I’ve been working on a number of things. I volunteered with the (Parent Teacher Organization). More recently, at a higher level, I did things with the start and end time committee and the learning design committee and I was also part of the parent committee that worked to vote yes on the referendum.

What do you believe to be the biggest issue in the school district right now that you would like to address?

In the recent candidate forum with the League of Women Voters, I focused on the achievement gap because I think that is one area where we talk about making sure all students are succeeding. That would be right there at the top, but there are a number of issues that I know parents and even students have raised relating to mental health, nutrition and attention to kids in the classroom.

What other issues are you passionate about?

Mental health, (which) ranges everything from the more general anxiety within the classrooms (and) within the learning experience, to some of the deeper issues. 

What was your background before you decided to run?

I trained to be a teacher and I spent a couple years directly in the classroom. I’ve had other experiences throughout my career that have touched on education. Currently I work in communications for Hennepin County.

What skills do you believe you bring to the table for the School Board?

I’ve demonstrated on some of the different committees that I’ve been on the ability to poke and ask certain questions. I also have (a) strong communication background, and one thing I have been cognizant of is helping parents, teachers and community members all understand what we are doing. 

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Jessica Janoski

Why did you decide to run?

I have two children in the St. Louis Park school district. They are in first grade and third grade and so I feel as though I have the district’s best interest in mind. The other smaller piece to it is the community. We fell in love with this community and we’ve been here for over 10 years at this point, and I want to be able to serve this community. 

What do you believe to be the biggest issue in the school district right now that you would like to address?

The biggest (issue) is making sure our students are successful and making sure we are providing a safe environment and an environment in which we are enriching our students and creating leaders for tomorrow. Also, of course, the diversity issues we are having right now. We need to close the gap on making sure that all of our students are feeling as though they are receiving the best education possible.

What changes would you like to make to address the issue?

(We must) give more programs to our students and staff. Mental health is such a big thing and helping our students at a very young age, versus starting in middle school or later, we need to start digging in there. Providing the necessary tools like food programs, making sure individuals have housing and making sure that they are being heard and that they are receiving the resources they need. 

What was your background before you decided to run?

My background is in business. I’m in human resources. I have had to manage the budgets, I have had to manage teams, I have had to create policy and so on and so forth. I bring to this position a wealth of knowledge on the business side of things. 

What skills do you believe you bring to the table for the School Board?

(My) business background is where (my skills) are going to be. … It’s really the business piece that I am going to be bringing to the table.

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Jim Leuthner

Why did you decide to run?

We have wonderful schools in St. Louis Park, but I don’t take anything for granted. They can get better and they could get worse, and I just want to see it get better.

What do you believe to be the biggest issue in the school district right now that you would like to address?

I know kids that are in their 20s who are married, own a house, and have started a family, and  it seems like a lot of kids end up with a lot of debt today because they did not choose the best career path, and I think the trades are just such a great opportunity. Like chef, nurse, all sorts of things, and right now the trades are screaming for people and you can make really good money. Another thing is the achievement gap, we need to have equity in the school system for people of all racial groups. … I think the schools also need to be more environmentally friendly.

What changes would you like to make to address the issue?

I would like to look at solar panels and thermal heat. I need to look more into the trades and see what kind of shop and home ec classes are offered right now (and add to that). For racial equity, the school district needs to continue to hire a diverse staff. Right now we’re doing fairly well with assistant teachers and support staff, but not as well at getting teachers, and it’s a problem a lot of districts are competing for those same minority teachers.

What was your background before you decided to run?

I was a teacher, I worked in St. Paul school district for six years. Now I’m a carpenter, and while I do swing a hammer, I still am involved in leadership. I go to meetings and I’m a trustee, treasurer, and a delegate in three different bodies in the carpenters union. I take pride in my leadership in the union because the people who elect me know me personally. 

What skills do you believe you bring to the table for the School Board?

I think I’m a good listener, I work well with people, and I’m creative, and I think I have good instincts for seeing through things. There will be points where we’ll get a whole lot of conflicting opinions on what we should do, and I think I have an ability to sort through that and see what the best option would be.

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Kari Ross

Why did you decide to run?

I decided to run after I was approached by a few people in the community who asked if I would be interested in running. I used to be an administrator in the St. Louis Park Public Schools and now I work with schools all over the state. They thought it would be good for me to have an opportunity to be on the School Board and contribute what I know.

What do you believe to be the biggest issue in the school district right now that you would like to address?

I always think school is about academic excellence and making sure that school is a safe place, and I don’t just mean that doors are locked. I mean that as long as people feel safe (work in) learning environments where all of our students feel valued and appreciated, they can contribute to their learning in a meaningful way.

What other issues are you passionate about?

I’m certainly passionate about making sure that we are better informed about some of the public health and mental health issues that are facing our youth right now. We hear a lot on the news about vaping. Are there things that we could be helping (students) to make (good) choices? Are there things that we could be doing in school to help better support mental health development? Are there things that we could (do to) help teachers learn how to better be at teaching so it feels like a more inclusive environment for students that might feel marginalized because of their race, because of how they are identifying or because of how they have been treated in the past? 

What was your background before you decided to run?

I have been an educator for more than 20 years. I have been a classroom teacher, I have been an administrator. Like I mentioned before, I have also worked for the Department of Education and I’ve been a State Reading Specialist. Right now I work for the Regional Centers of Excellence where I am a principal leadership specialist. I coach principals on how to be better principals. 

What skills do you believe you bring to the table for the School Board?

I think I am uniquely qualified to be on the School Board because I have both worked inside and outside of St. Louis Park Schools and seeing from the inside and the outside what it takes to make St. Louis Park Schools a school district of excellence for each and every learner that we have.

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Laura McCledon

Why did you decide to run?

I went to (St. Louis Park) junior high and high school. For me, the school was a good experience academically (and) because of those academic opportunities, I was able to earn scholarships to go to college. The other part is being a minority female myself. I know that there are a lot of racial equity issues going on in St. Louis Park, and I know St. Louis Park is very progressive in their work and they have started addressing those issues.

What do you believe to be the biggest issue in the school district right now that you would like to address?

I would like to address the achievement gap and racial equity and how we make sure that everyone in St. Louis Park is served, not just a certain group of students. For example, our school calendar tends to follow Christian holidays, so how are we making sure that students that observe other religions, if they’re missing school, are not being left behind. I think technology is able to address a lot of the disparities — not all of them, (you) still need a human being and a teacher that is forming relationships — but an example is we have a huge number of students that observe Ramadan, so we can have one-to-one (communication) and teachers are expected to put all their daily lessons on Schoology, and (students) can email us saying ‘I got to this part of the lesson and I don’t understand it, so can we meet about it when I get back next week’. I also think we need a hire teachers of color and hire teachers that are different ethnicities and religions because if they’re on the teaching staff, they could advocate for those students. 

What was your background before you decided to run?

I currently teach at Washington Technology Magnet School which is part of the St. Paul Public Schools. I teach 6th grade physical science and I’ve been doing that for 7 years. 

What skills do you believe you bring to the table for the School Board?

Obviously having deep roots in St Louis Park. I’m committed to the community and know what St. Louis Park is and what it’s all about, and I know the values of  St. Louis Park. (I also) have a Master’s degree in genetics, so I have that science piece of trying to get females into the STEM classes and and being competitive as they move out into the workforce.

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Heather Wilsey

Why did you decide to run?

I am a first grade teacher in a public school out in West St. Paul. My kids are getting older, I have one in high school and one in middle school. I was thinking about what I was going to do next. I thought about it a lot this summer and I came to the decision that I would really like to (run) because it matches my experience and my area of expertise.

What do you believe to be the biggest issue in the school district right now that you would like to address?

The biggest issue facing St. Louis Park is the opportunity or achievement gap. We are getting better at it and we are changing the structures to support students, but more can be done. One thing that I have used in my own classroom and one thing that I would advocate for in our schools is looking at a more personalized learning approach to teaching. 

What other issues are you passionate about?

The strategic plan is up for renewal in 2020, and there will be a huge focus on the curriculum and adapting it for the district and I think this is so important. Our curriculum really needs to reflect our diverse population so we need to be very strategic in deciding which curriculum we want to implement or adapt. It should really represent our students in the pictures and the stories it tells.

What was your background before you decided to run?

I started teaching in (West St. Paul) during my first years out of school in kindergarten. I switched to St. Paul Public Schools and taught kindergarten for three more years. Then my husband and I decided to serve in the Peace Corps as volunteers so we moved to Ecuador for two years, and that’s where I learned to speak Spanish. Then we came back and moved to Florida for three years and I taught while we were there, that was an interesting experience too. While there, we spent about three or four months (in) Oaxaca, Mexico, while my husband did his dissertation research and we brought our kids there. Then we came back and lived in Duluth for five years and then I came back to the West St. Paul School District. 

What skills do you believe you bring to the table for the School Board?

First of all, I have a teacher’s perspective. We currently do not have a teacher on the School Board. Secondly, I’m the parent of two children currently in the district, and I also have the perspective of living abroad and living in an indigenous community.

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Ken Morrison

Why did you decide to run?

When I first decided to run I was a (Parent Teacher Organization) chair at Aquila (Elementary School). That was about seven (or) eight years ago. We had some complications getting things passed through the regular chain of command and a seat was vacated and they interviewed four people to replace that vacated seat. I put my name out there and they interviewed and selected me. That gave me an opportunity to be part of that office, the School Board process and making decisions and leading policies. 

 

What do you believe to be the biggest issue in the school district right now that you would like to address?

I have multiple biggest issues. I think discipline is a big issue and how it’s disproportionate as far as the application of discipline. We do have the metrics so people (including) the teachers can understand which area the discipline can be administered, but even with that, our black and brown kids are being disciplined way more than any other race. I think if we had some other methods in which we could conduct discipline, like restorative practice or circles, we would be better off … What I could do is view the policies (to) make sure we have equitable policies in place so all are treated fairly and all have a voice at the table of the policy making.

 

What do you believe to be your biggest accomplishment?

I’d say number one was hiring Astein Osei as our superintendent. He’s a great leader. He has good vision and a keen understanding of where this district should go and needs to go to be progressive. Under his leadership and tutelage, we’ll make huge strides as a school district. 

 

What was your background before you decided to run?

I work for a medical company in the supply chain area. I am really a process improvement type of person and that’s where most of my background is: process improvement and project management.

 

What skills do you believe you bring to the table for the School Board?

My skills are around process improvement, project management and looking at things a little differently. (Not all students) have to all go through a four year degree or six years or whatever they do for a major university, (they) can also go through some trades and other types of education, and I think we can bring those trades inside of our schools and also have our kids in school learning some of those trades.

 

Jim Beneke
C. Colin Cox
Jessica Janoski
Jim Leuthner

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