Brief personal background, education, career, bio:
You could say my roots run deep in Pelican Rapids, and you’d be right! Though Pelican Rapids prepared me to find success anywhere, I’m Rural By Choice and Pelican by choice. All four of my grandparents farmed and raised families in Pelican Rapids, and my parents chose to raise their family here. In 1998, I graduated from PRHS, and I earned my bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Concordia College, Moorhead, MN, master’s degree in educational leadership from Southwest State University, Marshall, MN, and district/school administration licenses from Minnesota State University, Moorhead, MN. In 2020 my husband Darin and our family moved back into the Pelican Rapids School District. Together, we have six children, ages 14 to 24, with four who are still attending Pelican Rapids High School: an 8th grader, a 10th grader, and two seniors.
In addition to being a parent, I have invested the past twenty years of my career as a teacher, principal, adjunct professor, and educational director in rural communities. I am currently employed by Lakes Country Service Cooperative in Fergus Falls as the director of the Western Lakes Regional Center of Excellence. Our team supports districts and schools across MN to improve outcomes for all students.
Please explain your motivation for seeking the Pelican Rapids School Board seat.
The school and community of Pelican Rapids played a major role in making me the person I am today. My hometown gave me the opportunity to learn leadership, community, hard work, dedication, family, and stewardship. Rural education has had my heart all my life. Our current school board members and administrators deserve thanks for responding to incredible challenges over the past years; no easy task. As a grateful community member, I believe it is time for me to give back to my community by serving the families and young people of Pelican Rapids via a seat at the School Board table. My promise is to work hard to fully represent the voices and perspectives of the Pelican Rapids community in school board decisions.
What do you see as the opportunities and challenges in the Pelican district?
I am a champion for Pelican Rapids and the progress the district has made. Looking into the near future, I see even further opportunities to raise involved and skilled citizens. When we engage our young people to use their voices, experiences, and perspectives to inform community and district planning as engaged partners, we are vesting in citizen development. As engaged partners, youth join into conversations with community leaders, and we all work together to educate the whole child, develop relationships, and honor the young people we serve and who we hope will move back and give back to the Pelican Rapids district and community.
Increasing enrollment is named as a district priority, and one I see as a tremendous opportunity. Students and families vote with their feet (enrollment). In the last three years, approximately 200 students left the Pelican Rapids district to open enroll into districts around the region, while only an average of 20 students open-enrolled into the Pelican Rapids school district from other communities. When students leave Pelican Rapids, the state aid leaves with them. That means Pelican Rapids missed out on an average of 1.2 million dollars per year due to students and families choosing to open-enroll out. The burning question is why students choose to leave, followed by what we can do to keep our young people and families engaged in our district, and how we will work together to address needs, so Pelican Rapids area students choose Pelican Rapids.
Another area of interest is the district’s five-year graduation rate, which averages 87%, with the district goal to improve our graduation rate to 95%. We may assume students drop out when they reach high school, yet research shows students begin disengaging long before their senior year. What can we learn from students who elect to walk away before completing high school, and how can we ensure family engagement begins in preschool and carries throughout the school career? Together, we can solve both open enrollment out and improve high school graduation rates.
Within any of these priorities, as well as other issues that come to the fore, the community of students, families, and teachers can provide tremendous insight. Listening sessions with each group would help clearly define the problems prior to designing solutions. A secondary rich source of information lies in the MN Student Survey data, where our students share their perspectives and experiences. If our priorities are community engagement, increasing enrollment, and increasing our graduation rates, I believe our young people, our families, and our teachers and staff can be great advisors to improving these outcomes.
In your view, what has the district done well in recent years?
This is not an exhaustive list and rather a high-level summary of the district’s strengths. Developing programs that interest and engage a variety of student interests, continuing to build the programs that have always existed, maintaining high academic standards for all students, meeting the needs of individual learners, investing in early education and our youngest learners, hiring and retaining strong teachers and staff, and graduating students prepared for career, college, and lifelong learning stand out to me.
I’m #PRoud to live in and have my children attend an education system that celebrates our differences. Pelican Rapids today is rich in its diversity! The MN Report Card’s data shares that in Pelican Rapids, 53% of our students are White, 47% are Indigenous students and students of color, 15% of our students receive special education supports, 50% of our students receive federally subsidized meals support, and 17% of students are multilingual learners.
What has the district done that you would change or improve upon?
Pelican Rapids has always been a determined place, looking to improve. Believing in continuous improvement is important if Pelican Rapids schools want to create lifelong learners. One area I strive to do in my own practice as an educator is to remain committed to staying current about and then working to meet the needs of our young people. By this, I mean Pelican Rapids Public Schools was great for me, yet if my kids received the same experience today as I did 30 years ago, they wouldn’t be career, college, or life ready tomorrow. I don’t parent the exact same way my parents did, but that doesn’t mean they were wrong. It means times have changed, and we all need to change with those times if we wish to remain relevant. Investing in our teachers, so they are skilled in facilitating learning experiences is critical. Our teachers must feel confident in helping students to develop as critical thinkers and feel like they have the time and permission to listen to students’ thoughts and ideas and come alongside them in support of their own continuous improvement journeys. Parents, too, want a high-quality education, and they want engaged students who love going to school. The good news is, we don’t have to choose. Students can and should have both.
The specific change I would make involves getting to the root cause of open enrollment out by listening deeply to those who chose to leave and working with the Board to respond. Meanwhile, I will certainly support the continuous improvement journey of our young people, staff, families, and community as we work together to create positive outcomes for each student.
The “achievement gap” has been an issue in almost every school district. What causes it? What can be done?
This is a complex question with many opinions and much research behind it. MN is home to the nation’s largest systemic disparities between racial and socioeconomic groups. The “achievement gap” can be redefined as an “opportunity gap,” “knowledge gap,” “motivation gap,” “institutional gap,” “intervention gap,” etc. Most recently, since the COVID crisis, we have heard the term “learning loss” or “accelerated learning” and mental health and social-emotional learning as other terms connected to “the gap.”
So what are the causes, and what can be done? The million-dollar question that requires intense systemic change. Are we able to look and listen outside of our own experiences? Can we identify and address systemic barriers for historically marginalized communities? Do our policies, programs, and decisions ignore or worsen existing disparities or produce other unintended consequences? How have our families and community partners been involved in decision-making, and who is affected by the decisions?
Here again, I believe that the Pelican Rapids educational system is working phenomenally well for some student groups and that success should be celebrated and maintained. However, where the data shows a gap, no matter how you name that gap, the voices and perspectives of all young people and their families are critical in decision-making and closing that gap. By listening to constituents and looking at data, the School Board can identify barriers in our system and help our administration assure accountability for improving outcomes for all student groups. Academic rigor and equitable learning opportunities for each student will improve system outcomes.
There are three mantras I live and work under –
“Know Better, Do Better” (credit to Maya Angelou)
“Hold The Vision, Trust The Process” (author unknown)
“Nothing About Us, Without Us” (a mantra that has fueled the disability rights movement)
It would be an honor to give back to the district and community that served me as a young person. #PRoud