Name: Gary Schnellert
Family: Wife, one adult daughter and one granddaughter
Employment: Doctoral coordinator of Educational Leadership for the University of North Dakota
1. Please share relevant background and experience.
I have been involved in education my entire career with the latter half of my career having been in leadership positions. My career extends from pre-K-12 to higher education, having served in capacities as teacher, instructor, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, superintendent, adjunct faculty, university professor, doctoral-program coordinator and department chairperson.
My educational experience has spanned throughout several nations and continents, including Canada, United States, Caribbean and South America. Currently, I assist in preparing school leaders at the university level for positions such as curriculum directors, principals and superintendents. I feel my education and experience can contribute a great deal to the continuing success of the Sartell-St. Stephen School District.
2. What, in your opinion, is the major issue facing the school district?
The Sartell-St. Stephan School District faces different challenges. However, one of the most pressing with this school district, as with most other districts in the state, is the financing of the district. As most people are aware, the State of Minnesota has delayed its payments to local school districts, placing a great burden on the school districts. Although the delay in payments does relieve the state financial pressures to some degree, it also places school districts in a position they must seek alternatives to meet their commitments. Another major challenge is our increased annual enrollment. It is a strength, as well as a challenge to our building capacity. While administration has made intentional shifts to help offset some of our building issues, we will continue to grow and have educational space issues to study and plan for during the next couple of years.
3. How would you address that issue if elected?
With finances being a concern, I believe my responsibilities would be to work together with the board and the Minnesota School Boards Association in an attempt to convince the state legislators to meet their commitment to schools. Another avenue I would be willing to partake in is to present the case before the state education committee as I have done in the past for another institution. If those attempts are not successful, then personal conversations with the state representatives and senators would be the next step in an attempt to rectify the situation. If we fail to convince the state to meet their commitments, there are few options left. Among them being creative financing, reduction in work force, cutting programs, raising taxes and passing operational levies.
4. If the school district is forced to make cuts, in which areas would you make the cuts?
Cuts should be one of the last areas to consider. However, having said that, the reality is there are times they need to be considered. Cuts are always painful for everyone involved. However, the main thing that needs to be considered is how does it least impact the students? The success of our students is first and foremost, and any changes in workforce or programs need to be viewed from that frame of mind. If forced to make cuts, it’s difficult to say what area I would agree to since I believe the situation needs to be looked at very closely, and if some action is needed I would request to have the community involved in voicing opinions as I have in other districts. Community input is vital, and the community in Sartell-St. Stephen has been the driving force behind maintaining class sizes, technology and programming advances as supported through our operational levy.
5. What are the top strengths and the most serious weaknesses in the district?
The success of our students in meeting goals speaks well for the district as a whole. Teachers, faculty, staff, administrators and the community at large need to take credit for the success of our students. Meeting ever-increasing goals year after year is no easy task, and achieving those goals needs to be celebrated. The pressures in preparing students for a global economy are immense, and the Sartell-St. Stephen School District has risen to the task. The most serious weaknesses are currently being addressed. The maintenance and upkeep of our facilities had taken a back seat to the other educational needs. With the most recent levy, the facilities are being upgraded to ensure our students have a safe and comfortable learning environment.
6. How do you feel about the introduction of advertising in school buildings by companies that give “perks” in exchange for those advertisements?
Advertising in school buildings has been in place for a number of years mainly by the two beverage companies – Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola having vending machines in the schools. The “perks” depend on the contracts signed with the schools. In some cases, the school shares in the profits of the beverages sold, while in other instances schools receive scoreboards for sports teams. If the schools are to embark on further advertisements, there are a number of questions to be answered. Among those questions, I would ask: What form will the ads take? Are the ads healthy and do they promote student learning? Will the ads distract from student achievement? What types of “perks” would the ads provide? And are the ads educational or only the merchandising of goods?