Family: Wife Melissa Hanzsek-Brill. Four children ages 16, 13, 11 and 8
Employment: Management team for Wilkie Sanderson, Sauk Rapids.
1. Please share your background and relevant experience?
As a political science student in the 1990s, I developed an interest in fostering change at the local level. That led to my work with Habitat for Humanity, where I was the Central Minnesota affiliate’s executive director and later the finance and technology program manager for Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota. After six years with HFH, I moved to the private sector where I’ve used my skills in data analysis, computer programming and finance to help manage a local manufacturing firm that produces high-quality products shipped globally. My background in academics, the non-profit arena and the business sector give me insight into what today’s students need and what organizations like District 742 need to function efficiently.
2. What is the school district’s biggest issue?
The district must ensure it has adequate funding from state and local sources. While problems are not solved by throwing money at them, few problems are solved without money. Thoughtful people working together can ensure monies are spent efficiently so our students will be able to tackle the complex problems of the 21st century.
3. If elected, how do you propose to address this issue?
For the last two years I’ve served on the board’s legislative committee, which communicates with our legislators in Washington and St. Paul to voice our concerns on education policy and works to ensure funding is maintained for Minnesota’s students. I will continue this work, and will be an advocate for renewal of the operating levy.
4. If the school district is forced to make budget cuts, what areas are off limits?
Beyond items required by law, there are no areas off limits. However, the priority must be given to academic programs and technical education.
5. What areas would you cut?
Given District 742’s academic performance relative to surrounding districts, which is good once controlling for the socioeconomic challenges the district faces, and given the per-pupil spending is lower in this district than in comparable areas, we should be thinking about greater investments in our educational system rather than cuts.
However, given much of the revenue side of the budget is beyond the district’s direct control, it’s possible cuts will have to be made. In this case, academic and technical training programs at the core of the district’s mission must be maintained. Cuts should first be made in administrative and clerical expenses.
Communication with parents could be transitioned from paper to electronic documents. Parents without Internet access could still opt into paper communications, but a great deal of printing and administrative cost could be eliminated. We also need to examine our reliance on traditional text books, which are very expensive. Electronic texts are becoming more widely available and could be substantially cheaper than traditional books.
6. What are the school district’s strongest assets and weaknesses?
Tech High School was recently recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the leading high schools in the state and nation. This is attributable, in large part, to the wide variety of advanced-placement classes our high schools offer. Giving students the opportunity to study a wide variety of subjects at an advanced level gives them a tremendous advantage when they start college.
In addition to the AP courses, I’m a strong advocate for our Spanish and Chinese language immersion programs. Students in these programs are at the right time in their lives for language acquisition. Americans are generally weak at foreign languages compared to Europeans and Asians. In the interconnected global economy we are moving into, this is no longer an option. Students who have a grasp on multiple languages will be better equipped for the challenges of the future. There is no reason every student could not graduate being fluent in a second language.
There are also areas in which we need improvement. Since the 1980s, there has been a de-emphasis on vocational and technical education. Students have been given the message, either implicitly or explicitly, that success means getting accepted to a four-year college. As a college instructor, I read too many bad freshman essays written by 18-year-olds who did not really want to be in college but did not know another pathway to success. As someone who now hires people in a 21st century manufacturing facility, I often lament more young people don’t see the opportunities they could have in careers in making high-quality products, using software and high-precision machines. We need a renewed emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, and we need to make sure these have a hands-on component so more students are exposed to CAD, CNC, 3-D modeling and the other skills they need for today’s industry.
While I think the high schools do a good job of providing demanding academic programs for students who choose to pursue them, the middle schools are not as rigorous and need to do more to prepare sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders for the demands that will be placed on them in high school.