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Four candidates square off in ISD 197 school board election
It may not draw the same fanfare as last year’s presidential election, but Dakota County voters will soon be asked to bundle and head out to the polls to participate in everyone’s favorite exercise in democracy.
In Independent School District 197, which covers West St. Paul, Mendota Heights and Eagan, four candidates will compete for three open seats on the school board in the Nov. 5 election.
For Stephanie Levine, running for school board is a way to pair her unique skill set with her passion for local education.
Levine, 48, of Mendota Heights, is an actuary by trade and has served on multiple boards, including the school district’s Strategic Redesign Advisory Committee, the Greater Twin Cities United Way and Mendota Heights Parks and Recreation commission.
“I think the work that I’ve done, especially at the district level, has given me knowledge of each of our schools,” Levine said.
Levine said her top priority, if elected, would be student achievement, including finding ways to close the achievement gap.
“Each of our children should be achieving at their best level, and that’s really where my focus will be,” she said.
Levine said she’s also eager to apply her analytical skills to establishing policies and financial practices that will keep the district moving forward. While the district is financially healthy now, Levine said it’s important to maintain active conversations about the budget to ensure it stays strong into the future.
“Having a woman who has studied mathematics is a good thing in our district,” Levine said.
Levine and her husband have three children, two of whom attend Henry Sibley High School and one who graduated from the school this year.
According to John Chandler, running for school board is a way for him to continue to serve the public following his retirement from the Army National Guard.
“I’m still in that service mode,” he explained.
Chandler, 44, of Mendota Heights, retired from the National Guard at the rank of major after 20 years of service. Chandler has volunteered at Somerset Elementary, where two of his children currently attend, for the past five years.
He and his wife also have a third child who attends Heritage Middle School.
“My wife and I are very passionate about the school,” Chandler said.
Besides volunteering at Somerset, Chandler also coaches youth softball in Mendota Heights and is a leader for Cub Scout Pack 37 of West St. Paul.
Chandler said he’s seen an unusual amount of excitement for this school board election while out campaigning, and most prospective voters he’s talked to are concerned about improving student achievement.
“I think academic achievement is something that everyone’s really interested in,” Chandler said.
Chandler previously ran for school board in 2011. He is endorsed by the Service Employees International Union Local 384.
A great school board, according to Matthew Klein, is one that draws not only on the insight of board members, but the entire community.
Klein, 46, of Mendota Heights, said his biggest priority if elected to school board is increase interaction and build relationships between the school board and parents and teachers — an effort he said will make the board more representational of the community.
Klein is a physician at Hennepin County Medical Center and has served on numerous boards in that capacity; he also served as vice president of the Heritage Middle School Parent Teacher Association, but stepped down from the role when he decided to run for school board.
“I know how to implement change while keeping an eye on the bottom line,” Klein said.
Klein said he’s been introduced to a wide range of voter concerns while campaigning, including use of technology in the district, curriculum and gifted and talented programs. While he’s enjoyed researching each subject raised by prospective voters, Klein said it’s also enforced his belief that the board must rely on a broad network in order to stay well informed and make wise choices.
“Nobody knows everything,” Klein said. “There’s a lot of people in the community who have skills and abilities, and we need to go find them.”
Klein and his wife have five children: one at Henry Sibley, three at Heritage and one at Somerset.
Dewayne Dill is the only incumbent running for school board, and according to him his experience will be important when it comes to building on the progress the district has made recently.
“I decided to run for another term because data shows patient, consistent leadership in schools produces better results for kids,” Dill said.
In particular, Dill said the fact that the district is in the first year of a new strategic plan and also the relatively recent hiring of Superintendent Nancy Allen-Mastro dictate a need for consistency on the board.
Dill, a technical advisor for Farmeron, Inc., is the father of five children, three of whom graduated from Henry Sibley and one who still attends the school; the youngest is currently at Heritage. Dill’s wife teaches at Somerset.
Dill said his work on the board and various sub-committees keeps him in touch with the interests of parents in the community, most notably district’s handling of 21st century skills, closing the achievement gap and programs for gifted and talented students.
Dill said he believes all the candidates in this year’s election seem well qualified for the board and will serve the public well if elected. But he added that believes it’s important for him to serve a second term on the board in order to balance new board members and keep the district on task.
“There’s a steep, steep learning curve to really understand and be effective,” Dill said.
Luke Reiter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 651-748-7815.