by Dave DeMars
With an election approaching on Nov. 6, five people have filed for seats on the Sartell-St. Stephen school board. Two of them – Jeremy Snoberger and Patrick Marushin – are incumbents. The others are Taryn Gentile, Melinda Vonderahe and Amanda Byrd. The Newsleader contacted each of them by phone and posed several questions to them. The following is a summary of their answers.
What motivates you to want to become a board member? What skills and qualities do you possess that would make you a good board member?
Gentile: Sartell is a great system with great schools, great teachers, great facilities, and great technologies and I wanted to run for the board to make sure my kids continue to have access to all the wonderful assets that make up Sartell. I am an attorney and work for a bank, so I have a strong background in both finance and the legal arena and understand and am able to articulate what financial documents mean.
Vonderahe: I believe in a strong school system. The stronger the school system, the stronger the community. In my role as publisher at the (St. Cloud) Times I worked with a number of school board leaders and believe those experiences have prepared me well for the role of board member. One of my chief strengths is I ask very good questions. I have a very good business mind and I understand how businesses operate. I understand dollars and cents, and fiscal responsibility.
Snoberger: I’ve been very active and involved with the district for quite some time and was excited to be part of the bonding campaign for the new high school. My mind tends to view things in bigger pictures and I’m happy to use those talents for the district.
Marushin: As a stay-at-home parent I wanted to have an opportunity to get more involved with my children and their peers, and it’s a great chance to give back to the community and be involved in something great.
Byrd: After being active in the community-school planning group, I developed a passion for it and want to help make Sartell schools stay as great as they are. I have four kids, and after talking to others in the district, I developed a desire to help keep Sartell schools great by being involved.
What do you see as the opportunities and challenges in this district?
Gentile: Right now it is the building of the new high school with the operating levy. I think that is a challenge because when we passed the building levy, the board always said there was going to be a need for another operating levy to run the building. The time has come, and people are asking why are they asking for more money? Didn’t we just pass a referendum to build the school? I think the challenge is to make sure people are educated about understanding the difference between building the building and running the building. There are two different levies. There are additional expenses that occur as a result of having another building.
Vonderahe: First it’s going to be getting the operational levy passed. I have heard from people in the market place who question why they have to have so much money and why they have to keep paying into the school district. It will be a tough sell.
Snoberger: Obviously with the bonding for the new high school and moving into it, we have quite a bit in front of us in the next year. After that we have a lot of transition in the district as we reallocate the current facilities to make them meet the needs of the rest of our students as well. There are a lot of logistics and pieces in play. Add to that the need for clear communication to all of the district and the task of staffing to meet the needs of students.
Marushin: The challenge of going forward is to manage a growing population that demands excellence in our educational activities. We want to be current with our program and instructions, and prepare the students for a world of changing technologies. The short-term challenge will be opening the new high school and funding the new costs. After that it will be optimizing programming for new grade configurations. If the levy doesn’t pass, we will have the challenge of opening a new building without having the funds to properly operate the building.
Byrd: Maintaining our top-notch educational opportunities for our kids while at the same time being responsive and responsible in every way to the taxpayers. After the opening of the new high school, we will be facing the challenge of moving lots of students and staff to different buildings in the district. Along with that is creating new programming to take advantage of building improvements and still maintain balance. We want new 21st-century learning, but how much is too much?
How should teacher performance be measured?
Gentile: It should be done in several ways. One way is measuring performance on statewide tests. But it’s more than that. Teaching is about shaping lives. What is their class like? What kinds of extra activities are they taking part in? Can they adjust their teaching style for some kids? It needs to be a more wholistic way not just off tests.
Vonderahe: There is no clear-cut method of assessing the performance. It’s a challenge because you can’t just use grades and tests necessarily because there are students who struggle. Seniority should be part of it, but there is no clear-cut answer to performance evaluation.
Snoberger: A lot of evaluation is done at the staff level. As a board, we want to set policies and guidelines, and set procedures in place to help teachers succeed. As we set goals, administrators need to set goals within their buildings that will help in achieving those goals and provide an environment for success in doing that.
Marushin: We use “The World’s Best Workforce” as a model from the department of education. It has a teacher-evaluation format in it. Our staff uses the guidelines set forth by the state. The evaluation has several components and we rely on the administrators to perform that function. As a general rule, the board is not involved in that aspect.
Byrd: There is a standardizing of tests but I don’t know if that is the right way to go because, as a substitute teacher in the district, I see students struggling. Some classes have more students that have learning difficulties and it would be unfair to compare a teacher with several struggling students to one whose class has all high-performing students. Teacher evaluation, especially in this district, can be done on a much more personal level.