Mark Grondahl is a candidate for the School Board in ISD 197. He has provided the following answers to our standard 10 questions for candidates.
1. What should be the overall goal of a public school education? Knowing that children have different gifts and needs, how should student achievement be evaluated?
The overall goal of public education is to develop well-rounded students that can contribute to society in their own way. Public school education is designed to be for all students. One set of students is college prep. The schools should emphasize teaching the basics+ (reading, writing, arithmetic, social studies, arts, sports, history). This allows the student to be prepared for college and become well-rounded. Another set of students is non-college prep (trades school, journeyman, apprenticeships, military, etc.). These are great choices for many students. Public school education should have facilities for wood working, plumbing, electrical, engine repair, design, computer aided design, etc.). The student should be able to choose based on their wants.
Student achievement is very personal. For those that are college bound, the classic grades, AP courses, SAT and ACT probably work just fine. For those on a route to trades, apprenticeships, etc. then new evaluations are needed. Are they good at the details? Do they forget steps? Are they improving overtime? These grades are based on hands-on abilty and are very different than a written test. We should adjust our "grading" to the knowledge learned.
2. How should teacher performance be evaluated? What can be done to improve underachieving teachers ’performance or encourage teachers to continue their own education?
In my career, annual goals consist of a few items: continuing education/training, specific goals of projects or programs to complete, corporate level goals that I help with, and "the how" that I accomplish these goals. I am evaluated by completing these goals (some are self-set and some come from a manager or from "corporate").
I do think that evaluation is dictated within the Teacher's Union Contract. So that would need to be evaluated, discussed, determined if it is working, and negotiated if needed.
From my thoughts, for teachers, a similar method could be used as I stated above. Continuing education should be part of the annual goals (I think training already is through workshops, conferences, union, etc.). The teacher specific goals could be a new teaching technique tried, getting kids to learn the material and show proficiency, adding current topics that help the students learn, etc. The high level goals may be related to budget, conferences, evaluations for students and peers, an all school goal, etc.
I would want to get input from current teachers, former teachers, the Board, the Union, the community. Usually, if the goals are met there is a cash bonus as an incentive.
3. Do you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or as a representative of the school system? How?
I represent the community but the students first. If a program doesn't benefit the students, then it should be discussed and stopped. For all current programs, I would look at them and determine what they are, what the outcome is (not the intended outcome but the actual outcomes), the cost, the group served. If these serve a large group or small group and are benefitting the students, then I would vote to continue the program. If there were unintended negatives for the students, I would vote to stop the funding for the program.
4. What would your priorities be for your first year as a board member? Why and how did you choose these issues?
I would need to listen and learn about the schools, their programs, their successes, their needs, their challenges.
I would want to understand their budget and how they are spending the money that the tax payers provide them. The annual operating budget is $78 million. I do not know if that includes the levies. The budget should be reviewed. Some programs are very successful and should be continued and maybe even expanded. Some are not successful and should be stopped. That is true within any large group and large budget.
The final priority is with the timing of the voting on the Levies and Referendums. In the past these have been presented to the voters in off-year elections. Off-year elections have much lower turnout as compared to Presidential Election years. I want the most people to cast their votes to make their voices heard. Whatever the voters say, we should follow. I would push for presenting for vote levies and referendum only during Presidential years.
In 2014, nearly half of all voters voted in an off-year election. That was an incredible turnout. The vote was 65% against vs 35% for. The voters spoke loudly with a resounding defeat of the stadium.
The 2018 vote was conveniently not even in November. Only 15% of registered voters voted. In the end only about 10% of the registered voters made the decision for all tax payers.
The voters spoke (voting No in 2014) but that Board chose not to listen. The Board should communicate the why of these needs in a better manner rather than sneak these bonds through the vote in off year elections.
2014 Stadium Question – $4,585,000 – 5,974 Yes (35%) vs 10,706 No (65%); out of 37,293 registered voters (about 44% of all voters voted)
2016 – Presidential Year - no bond election found
2018 – Many improvements including the Stadium - May 8 – $117,000,000 – 3,601 Yes (62%) vs 2,180 No (38%), if 37,293 registered voters (about 15.5% of all voters voted)
2020 – Presidential Year - no bond election found
2021 – Elect 3 Board Members, Levy election for $1 million
5. What do you think is the greatest challenge in District 197? What are your ideas for addressing this challenge?
There are many. I am fit to address any challenge that presents itself. I am strong, certain, willing to listen, creative. I can read and understand the financial statements. I will ask questions and get answers. I can learn and understand about the district's programs and their results. I will ask questions and get answers. I can understand when they call something new, that it may be the old program under a new name. I will ask questions and get answers. I will put the students first with every decision. The public schools are for them and their betterment.
6. What motivates you to want to become a school board member for district 197?
I see most votes are 7-0 in the school board. In an environment like today, that shouldn't be. I feel we need diversity of ideas on the Board. As I am conservative, I would add to the diversity of ideas on the board. The current board has the backing of the DFL and special interest groups. I feel that to put the students first, we need to get politics out of the school board and the schools. We also need to be skeptical when special interest groups contact us. Nothing is for free. The students deserve better. They deserve the best education we can afford.
7. What do you think about vouchers? Tuition tax credits? Charter schools? School choice?
I am for parents having a choice in where they send their kids to school. If I can help make the high school into a great "All of the Above" high school (not just college prep), ISD 197 shouldn't have to worry about losing students. We would become a magnet for open-enrollment and add students.
8. What is your opinion of District 197’s policies toward students with behavior problems and school discipline in general?
Kids that are disruptive should be disciplined according to the disruption and the specific circumstances (potentially from no discipline to expulsion). I do not believe in Zero Tolerance as it does not allow for specifics of each case to be taken into account. If school is more interesting for all students, you would see less disruption as the students would want to be there because they are learning a skill and doing something they are enjoying. I also think that school should be a welcoming place for all (no bullying, no gangs, no fighting, no taunting, etc.). The tone gets set at the Board and the Superintendent
9. What is your understanding of Critical Race Theory and how does it fit within District 197’s current teacher development program?
I would need to understand CRT more and how it is being taught in ISD 197. Based on some of the answers from the other general candidates, they think it either doesn't exist or isn't being taught. Well, it shouldn't be taught that one race is better than another. All races are great and equal.
10. In what areas are District 197 residents getting value for their money? Are there any in which they are not? What would be an idea for saving the district money?
I would want to look at the budget with new eyes and see where money is being spent, where is value being received, how do we increase that value? There are certainly good programs, but maybe we should spend more on them. There are certainly less good programs, maybe we should spend less on those. If there are bad programs (bad results, too expensive, limited value), then we should cease funding those programs. To me, in any large, $80 million budget with 10's of program being funded, some will fit into every category. I don't know if this will net increase the budget or net decrease the budget, but we should look to make sure we are getting value and our monies worth.
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