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ELECTION GUIDE: Wrenshall School Board - Seven candidates

There are a total of seven candidates vying for three seats on the Wrenshall School Board, and there are profiles of all seven of them within this file. So please read all the way to the bottom before you make any decisions.

Ben Johnson (Appointee)

1. Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications. (limit 50 words)

I serve as a captain with the Duluth Fire Department, and have a degree in Business Management and Administration from Minnesota State University, Mankato. I have served as an interim school board member for the past year, and work as a substitute teacher for Wrenshall School.

2. What made you decide to run for school board this year? (limit 50 words)

I started as an interim member, wanting more involvement at the school. After getting to know the students and staff, I became more passionate about the issues our district faces. As a board, I know that we can do a better job, and I want to help lead us into the next chapter of Wrenshall's history.

3. What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed? (limit 100 words)

I truly believe that our School Board has lost the trust of the community, staff and students within the district.

It is imperative that our board moves forward with meetings that are transparent: someone attending a meeting should be able to see democracy at work. ALL stakeholders within the district must be treated with dignity and respect. Board members must be more accountable to the rules that govern our body, and we must restore trust between the board and our staff members, community members and our students.

4. Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years. (limit 75 words)

Our school board was state mandated to create a policy that handled payment of school lunches. We worked together to limit the cost increase to families, and created a policy to make sure that all of our students receive a school lunch each day, regardless of their lunch account balance. We made an agreement that if there was a shortfall, we would cover it using stipend funds for board members.

5. Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position? (limit 75 words)

I feel that communication must start between the parent and the teacher if there are concerns about books. Books must be age appropriate for the classroom, and curriculum that is controversial must be discussed with parents allowing for them the option to not involve their child(ren) within the lesson.

Curriculum decisions are hard; it is very difficult to satisfy all of the parents within the district while serving a diverse group of students.

6. If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions? (limit 75 words)

While substitute teaching at Wrenshall, I have witnessed first-hand the damage that distance learning has done to our children. Learning lagged, and statewide we are seeing decreased test scores in reading and math. I want to avoid distance learning as much as possible.

That being said, we are still living within a world-wide pandemic. If the pandemic surges and medical experts state that we must make changes to keep in-person learning, I will follow recommendations.

7. How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence? (limit 75 words)

We must continue to operate a secure building- doors must be locked, and visitors must be screened to enter. We must work to address mental health within our school- and continue our work to eliminate bullying within the school. Children and staff must be familiar with "lock down" drills, and we must ensure that our classrooms can be secured.

8. Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming? (limit 100 words)

Enrollment is an issue within our district, and a large amount of our funding comes from students that are open-enrolled from surrounding districts. We provide amazing opportunities, with our Careers in Technical Education building, and College in the Schools. Beyond that, we have wonderful, dedicated faculty and staff members. I feel that by expanding our offerings and partnering with local trades groups, we can attract more students to our district which will in turn increase enrollment and improve our budget. We need to balance being financially responsible to our taxpayers with providing an excellent education.

9. Why should people vote for you? (limit 50 words)

I want to restore trust between our board and our students, staff, and community members. I want to search for creative solutions to provide our students with opportunities while spending tax dollars responsibly. I will work hard to make sure staff, students, and community members are treated with dignity and respect.

10. How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts? (limit 50 words)

My son played on the first Raptor's football team. I witnessed first-hand the benefits of combining for sports, but we can do more. I'm absolutely for collaborating with surrounding districts wherever we can. As for consolidation, we have two districts close together; if we combined, we could offer even more opportunities.

Cindy Bourn (Appointee)

1. Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications. (limit 50 words)

I've been involved with the school since moving to the area. I served on the facilities subcommittee, preparing the third referendum. I ran for school board four years ago. I was appointed to the school board last November and have served on multiple committees, recently starting a new policies committee.

2. What made you decide to run for school board this year? (limit 50 words)

I've just begun working on the school board. It's challenging but so rewarding. Because it's such a steep learning curve, it will take more time to do a really good job for the students and the community. I would love the opportunity to finish what I have started.

3. What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed? (limit 100 words)

The budget is the immediate issue. Enrollment is down and enrollment provides the funds we need to pay staff, offer programs, pay the bills and maintain the facilities. I think the campaign for school board has hurt the school. It's been surprisingly negative since June at school board meetings and in the paper and it drives people away. It's heartbreaking to see the community as polarized as it is right now. But, in the meantime, we need to cut expenses. The budget committee is working to find places to cut.

4. Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years. (limit 75 words)

The school board has handled the construction project very well. I've attended most construction meetings since being appointed 10 months ago and hope I've contributed something positive but, the board member who has been most involved is Jack. He has given hundreds of hours of his own time outside of regular meetings and committees to follow up on the construction progress and assist the custodians wherever he can.

5. Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position? (limit 75 words)

I feel very strongly that we should not be sexualizing the children. Several years ago the Minnesota House passed a Comprehensive Sex Ed curriculum that was so inappropriate. Thankfully, it was buried in committee in the Senate. Where these things are mandated by law, they need to be opposed at the legislature, not at the school, and parents need ample opportunity to opt their children out. Sex Ed belongs at home, not at school.

6. If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions? (limit 75 words)

I believe the school needs to comply with mandates supported by the state. Where interventions are optional, we should choose the absolute minimum. Many studies are now showing that the children were irreparably harmed socially and educationally by the masking and isolation from the earlier covid mandates.

7. How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence? (limit 75 words)

The board is in the process of updating many safety related policies through the policy committee. The policies will be refined and implemented through the safety committee. We need to implement a program whereby staff are accountable for knowing the safety policies and procedures. In the meantime, the school has installed cameras in strategic places, has updated controlled access to the school and is repairing and replacing exterior doors.

8. Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming? (limit 100 words)

Please see #3 and # 10 for my answer.

9. Why should people vote for you? (limit 50 words)

People should vote for me because I am dedicated to the school and want the very best for the school and the community. I want both the school and the community to survive and thrive. I'm constantly looking for ways to improve the school and my service to it.

10. How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts? (limit 50 words)

Each of these small communities has benefited in so many ways by having their own school. While consolidation may be inevitable and necessary as populations decline, for now, a cooperative rather than competitive relationship with each other would most benefit everyone.

Eric Ankrum

1. Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications. (limit 50 words)

Born and raised on County 4, Wrenshall has always been my home and I am grateful to share it with my family. Twenty years of professional and volunteer experience has given me a solid background in construction, facility maintenance, project management, and emergency response.

2. What made you decide to run for school board this year? (limit 50 words)

Our community thrives when our school thrives, and thriving is not what has been happening lately. The staff and students of the Wrenshall district deserve positive leadership from board members who can work together toward common goals. I believe we need a change to see this accomplished.

3. What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed? (limit 100 words)

Uncertainty is the most pressing issue facing our district, and many like it. We have all been pulled back and forth with talk of referendums, consolidation, test scores, curriculum, budgets, and many other topics. I believe the Wrenshall district is poised to charge forward and rise above the uncertainty with honest and positive leaders sounding that charge. We must all look inwards, understand, and accept what brought us to where we are, and decide where we need to go together. Only then can we work towards the success and sustainability of our school.

4. Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years. (limit 75 words)

Our current school board has faced many challenges the last two years. Throughout all of it they have delivered us an outstanding facility we can all be proud of. The many upgrades and repairs were much needed, and the staff and students have a great opportunity to capitalize on all that hard work.

5. Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position? (limit 75 words)

I believe the education and opportunities provided by any public school district should support all students as they find their path to success. I believe students should be encouraged to seek and acquire knowledge at every opportunity. The staff and ultimately the board must however ensure these opportunities are age appropriate. They must also support parents and caregivers of students by addressing concerns with understanding and open communication.

6. If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions? (limit 75 words)

I believe masking, distance learning and other recommended precautions are tools to be considered when the need arises. Like any tool, the effectiveness depends on how well we use it. I understand the huge challenge many families face with distance learning, and why our priority should remain keeping the students on campus. A proactive approach will certainly improve our chances in accomplishing that goal.

7. How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence? (limit 75 words)

Something as vitally important as school safety and security will not happen by accident. The district must lean on available resources, be proactive, and be prepared. Security measures must be thorough in design, reviewed and understood by all staff, and enforced diligently by responsible employees. There will always be opportunities to learn and adapt in these matters, but there can be no room for error.

8. Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming? (limit 100 words)

Budgets must be constantly monitored and adapted to fit the needs of the district, as well as the constraints of the budget itself. Board members must work closely with school staff to scrutinize budget details, be creative where possible, and ensure necessary sacrifices are truly unavoidable.

District leadership must also promote a positive and inclusive learning environment for all staff and students. Only after addressing issues leading to declining enrollments, can we turn towards growth and sustainability.

Lastly, the district must be honest and transparent with its taxpayers. Only with the support of their community can a district truly succeed.

9. Why should people vote for you? (limit 50 words)

If elected, I can assure you I will bring my continued pride and commitment for this community to the position. I will bring a level and open mind to the issues facing our district. I will support our students, staff and community with the honesty and respect they deserve.

10. How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts? (limit 50 words)

Rural school districts such as ours must work together. The size of our community is not limited to the lines on a map, but by our willingness to help one another. I will support the best path forward for the success of our students and the prosperity of our community.

Deb Washenesky (Incumbent)

1. Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications. (limit 50 words)

I'm a lifelong Wrenshall resident, taxpayer and a current board member.

2. What made you decide to run for school board this year? (limit 50 words)

Already a board member and would like to see the CTE (career and technical education) project up and running and start working on bringing back some form of Home Ec (food science).

3. What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed? (limit 100 words)

Testing scores, I know the teacher tells me that there's more to a student than their scores, but for our district it looks poorly upon us to be ninth out of nine public schools in Carlton County. And we can do better. We need to install PRIDE and self worth into our students. Reach for the stars.

4. Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years. (limit 75 words)

The start of the CTE project. It will be a great tool for all students to get some hands-on feel for some of the trades. Phase 1 and 2 of the renovations.

5. Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position? (limit 75 words)

I believe in an education with a foundation built on basics. We need to focus our time and energy working with students and families to set them up for success with their future plans. I believe that if we have strong programs for reading, writing, arithmetic and trades, we will see more student success moving forward.

6. If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions? (limit 75 words)

I believe in personal choice on the masking, distance learning is not helpful to the kids trying to learn.

7. How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence? (limit 75 words)

When safety items are in place they need to make sure they are being used properly. I'm not opposed to having a safety office on site.

8. Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming? (limit 100 words)

If we could concentrate on education and not so many social programs (which the family can and should take care of). And if there were real consequences for everyone, behavioral problems could be on the downward movement. There needs to be respect for all. Parents need to be involved more in school/student education.

9. Why should people vote for you? (limit 50 words)

Because I believe in a strong small school education and want a BRIGHT future for our Wrens.

10. How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts? (limit 50 words)

I'm for consolidation/collaboration as long as it's good for both districts and all students.

Kristin Reinsch

1. Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications. (limit 50 words)

My husband and I, along with our children, have lived in Wrenshall for almost 8 years. I am the operations manager for a local family owned dealership, Kolar. Currently I serve on both the Hermantown and Cloquet Chamber Boards. Community engagement is important to me and my family.

2. What made you decide to run for school board this year? (limit 50 words)

Our kids, their teachers and the school staff are the reason I am running for school board. After spending time paying attention to the behaviors of the current board and hearing about the division and unrest, I decided that I wanted to take the time to get involved.

3. What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed? (limit 100 words)

Transparency and communication. Our school is facing the tough decisions that all small schools are facing concerning budgets. The future of our school depends on the decisions that are made by our board. We need a united board that is working to create a culture of transparency and communication with our administration, teachers and community. Our board should be focused on strategic planning and ways to be sustainable.

4. Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years. (limit 75 words)

The board has taken leaps and bounds with the construction and remodeling of the school. It is great to see the gymnasium updated, it is beautiful with the new floor, updated ceiling and natural light. Having an additional gym is more functional for our kids and sports programs. I'm excited to attend the open house for the new Career and Technical Education space. It is a great addition for the students.

5. Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position? (limit 75 words)

Making these decisions requires thoughtful research and leaning on the experts in the field we are discussing. As a board member I would commit to communicating with the community members, teachers, and other stakeholders to discuss all sides of the position to make the best decision possible. Lastly I would ensure we communicate the final outcome, why and how we came to it.

6. If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions? (limit 75 words)

If the pandemic surges I would need more information to make a decision on masking, distance learning and any other precautions. What I have learned over the last few years is that situations rapidly change and we need to be prepared to change our response with information. Overall I am not a proponent of going straight to distance learning, all masked or any other all or nothing plan. Information leads to sound decisions.

7. How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence? (limit 75 words)

Policies, training, and resources should be available to the administration, staff and students. These should all be put in place, if not already, leveraging our local resources. In an area with many schools we should work together to share best practices, research what has worked and partner with our first responders to formulate the best plan possible for our school. Safety should always be a number one priority.

8. Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming? (limit 100 words)

Our school board needs to manage our budget and be accountable to it. Utilizing resources available at the local and state level, grant writing and collaboration with other school districts. There are ways to both remain solvent and provide what is needed, if we are strategic and flexible in our approach. The first step is to prioritize what is necessary and look for ways to get everything we want and need included. What we need doesn't just come from the board, it comes from the community, kids and teachers.

9. Why should people vote for you? (limit 50 words)

Change is needed on our board to move forward in a positive direction. I will bring servant leadership, collaboration, transparency and communication to the board. My heart is for the kids, teachers and community and I value the opportunity to serve in the capacity of a school board member.

10. How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts? (limit 50 words)

Whatever benefits the kids, we need to explore all options. If the only thing holding us back is nostalgia, we need to set that aside and be realistic. Collaboration or consolidation are always on the table, it has to be what's best for everyone.

Jack Eudy (Incumbent)

1. Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications. (limit 50 words)

I have been working with the district for 6 years and serving on the board for my fourth year. I have a background in the trades and a desire to see our school succeed.

2. What made you decide to run for school board this year? (limit 50 words)

To finish the work we started with the CTE Rec Building. Build the programming for our students to transition into the trades. I would like to ensure the building is completed to our specifications, safe, and secure.

3. What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed? (limit 100 words)

I believe the budget is the biggest issue we are facing and enrollment is directly tied together. I believe if we are able to get the CTE space up and running the students will come. I want to see our district show other districts how it is done. I feel a responsibility to our students to provide all opportunities possible.

4. Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years. (limit 75 words)

During Covid, we fast-tracked a construction plan to fix what we could when the students were not in the building. We were able to get a majority of Phase 1 and Phase 2 finished before students returned. I am proud of what we accomplished.

We were also able to get all of our students devices during Covid and offered supplemental hotspots for families that needed them. That was extremely important during distance learning to keep students connected.

5. Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position? (limit 75 words)

I believe we need to keep a close watch on curriculum so that we are ensuring that we are able to cover the basics. I believe that we need to keep the parents in the loop and it ultimately is the parents' decision to decide what is right for their child.

6. If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions? (limit 75 words)

I believe the students should be at the school to ensure that they get a quality education. I don't believe the school should decide what is best for everyone. We need to let the parents decide. If you want to wear a mask you are welcome, but I don't believe in forcing anyone. We learned the impact on students when distance learning is in place and it is detrimental. Students thrive at school.

7. How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence? (limit 75 words)

We all need to do our best to ensure a safe and secure building. We updated our cameras and other security features in the building during construction. We all need to be diligent and make sure we have training for our staff.

Other states offer firearm training to staff and conceal and carry permits. Not all would be interested, but I don't see an issue with allowing responsible gun owners to be able to protect if needed.

8. Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming? (limit 100 words)

Administration and School Board have to come together to make the difficult decisions to ensure a future at the district. We need to be actively looking for opportunities to co-op with area districts. This will allow more programming at a lower cost. Taking the advice from our financial officer. When our programming is completed with the CTE Building, I believe we will see an increase in enrollment. We would like to be a model for other districts to follow.

9. Why should people vote for you? (limit 50 words)

I have put my time in and have a lot of valuable information to help complete these projects. It takes time to gain knowledge and understanding of how a district runs. I've learned a lot in the past 4 years and I would like to continue to serve this community.

10. How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts? (limit 50 words)

I'm in full support of consolidation and/or collaboration. We need to see collaboration from area districts to ensure all of our futures. I don't favor spending any more funds on surveys, but I'd be in full support if we were able to come to an agreement with Carlton.

Mary Carlson

1. Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications. (limit 50 words)

I'm a mom, an entrepreneur and animal lover. I've built my business from the ground up with two kids at home with me. My business is customer service driven and has prepared me to have difficult conversations while maintaining a positive attitude.

2. What made you decide to run for school board this year? (limit 50 words)

I decided to run while at the July school board meeting after I realized our kids are stuck in the middle of this dysfunction. Our kids deserve more from our school board. Our teachers deserve to be heard and supported. The future of Wrenshall School is on the line.

3. What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed? (limit 100 words)

We are facing a budget crisis in the district. The board needs to be transparent about the severity of the deficit. There should immediately be a public budget meeting with all school board members present. The budget committee needs to report to us about where the excess spending has occurred and how they are going to rectify the situation.

As a school board member, the budget is going to be one of my top priorities. We run our household on a budget and I believe all government entities should run on a budget as well.

4. Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years. (limit 75 words)

I'm really excited about the CTE building. The board has done an excellent job moving that project towards completion. It's going to be a dynamic space for our kids to learn practical skills in, which will help prepare them for the world beyond school. It'll also really help students see that the trades are an excellent career path.

5. Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position? (limit 75 words)

This isn't a new issue. If any curriculum came up for review I would review the curriculum options, hear what our teachers think of the proposed curriculum and make a decision based upon what is best for the future of our school.

I'm a supporter of the Constitution and our first amendment rights, so if we were asked to ban any books, I would need to seriously consider if banning those books violates our students constitutional rights.

6. If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions? (limit 75 words)

We need to carefully balance what is required of us by state/federal mandates and the needs of our children. We have seen the toll that the pandemic has taken on mental health, so that will be front of mind when I make any decisions relating to COVID protocols. I also want to make sure that any protocols do not call out certain children (for example, vaccinated versus unvaccinated) as this opens them up for bullying.

7. How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence? (limit 75 words)

Our safety committee needs to review and revise current safety protocols. There needs to be a check on the protocols in place ensuring that everyone within the school is following appropriate safety procedures. Working together, we can keep our students, staff and teachers safe.

We also need to make sure we are taking care of the mental well being of our students. In doing so, we can help prevent tragedies we've seen in other schools.

8. Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming? (limit 100 words)

We need to increase enrollment by making sure that every child in the district is enrolled in our school. We need to talk to families that are driving out of the district to find out what it would take to get them back. We need to listen to those concerns. Then, we need to develop a strategic plan to get those kids back in our school.

We also need to get back to the basics. It's time to focus on the good that's happening within our schools. Families will see and feel the positivity.

9. Why should people vote for you? (limit 50 words)

Vote for me because I'm a mom first. In every decision I make, I'm going to make the decision based upon what's best for our kids and the school. Vote for me because I believe in the good in our district and the people that live in it.

10. How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts? (limit 50 words)

If we could get the right deal to the table, I fully support consolidation. The right consolidation deal would strengthen our schools, provide better educational opportunities, and make our sports teams more competitive. To me, it just makes sense.

 
 
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