Archive for Friday, March 25, 2011

School board forum answers: Shawn Nelson

March 25, 2011

Position #1 Candidate

Shawn Nelson

Knowing the current budget position and potential future reductions, would you support or oppose reopening the Vinland and/or Marion Springs schools at this time, and why?

While I understand the gist of the question, I do believe it is a bit of a trick question. It is easy to understand our current budget position, but we do not know what future reductions there will be. Of course, we can guess, but I think the heart of the current School Board’s decision to close Vinland and Marion Springs was based out of “fear and not optimism”. The strength of a community is its ability to draw together to overcome common problems- even in the face of grave adversity such as potential budget cuts. Baldwin is a strong community. Vinland is a strong community. Marion Springs is a strong community. These communities would have, and can, pull together to face budget cuts in order to maintain the excellence and traditions of the District as a whole. I would support reopening both rural schools as I believe the communities in our school district are far more capable of finding a way to support themselves then the current board believed possible.

If elected, what will be your top three objectives, and why?


Our district is in a major transition from three elementary schools to one. For our young students, staff, parents, and community this is a major change. It is our jobs as adults and professionals to help our students grow in a positive way from this change. It would be foolish to think that the community has not been split, over the consolidation decision. It is very important that we do not allow the emotions of this split to spill over into our children’s way of thinking. Children are resilient, but they also highly influenced by the emotions of their parents and teachers- and they are VERY perceptive to these emotions. We must help our students maintain dignity and respect of others through this change.

Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability

We are living in a time of great economic pressure from many sides in this district and community as a whole. It is easy to make decisions out of fear because it gives a place to put the blame; it is harder to make decisions out of optimism and a “we can do it” attitude. If there is transparency and accountability then there is room for creativity and “thinking out of the box”. We have a strong community- let’s be strong.

Student Achievement

Of course, the entire reason we educate our youth is to give them the gift of personal worth. This district has a long history of providing students with the ability to achieve to their full potential. Providing and improving this continued gift is the greatest challenge of the district. We have to constantly be providing ways for students to grow and be successful and to do it ways that students learn to teach themselves.

In a time with so many negatives within our school district, (job losses, budget cuts, closing of schools, etc.), how can you promote a more positive climate as a board member?

There is no greater quality in a leader then to lead by example. I am a true “kid at heart”. I am passionate about providing opportunities for children to grow in ways that provide meaning in their lives. Education should be rich and fun. It should be based in a balance of theory and real-world practical experience. It should involve challenging students to the point of success and not to the point of failure. It should involve challenging students to promote and support each other and not to tear down and degrade others. Lastly, Education should involve teaching kids how to do their absolute best despite money, politics, or the bitterness of disengaged adults.

Sports and extracurricular activities are viewed by many as part of a well rounded educational experience. With the strain on the districts budget, at what point would you consider cutting the funding on these activities?

I agree that extracurricular experiences are vital to any students’ education. These experiences can sometimes even surpass certain rote concepts that are often necessary for a balanced education. I do not view these extracurricular experiences are separate from the educational process and that one or the other must be cut. I believe that if cuts are needed that cuts should be made across the board. I do not believe you cut out all text books to save a football program, or that you cut out all the Tubas in order to keep AP Spanish. Moderate cuts in lots of places goes just as far in the budget, but preserves the core of both strict academics and extracurricular activities.

In your opinion, what is the goal of public education (K-12)?

The goal of K-12 public education is to provide students with their own self-worth. It is not about who was the 23rd president or who can solve a second level differential equation, or even who can get a scholarship to a Division I or II football program. The goal of K-12 education is to provide students with the ability to believe in themselves so that they can learn anything they want to learn. ALL our students are capable of achieving great things. ALL are students are intelligent- even if that intelligence is not displayed at the same age and in the same school subjects. The district’s job is to prepare students to be lifelong learners whatsoever their circumstances.

Do you believe that the current board and administration is performing their duties at an acceptable level, why or why not?

I believe the district as a whole is doing a great job of teaching our youth. As to whether this is due to the great leadership of the board or the administration or in spite of poor leadership, I do not have enough firsthand information. I have heard the same rumors that the general public has heard about school board members not ever having visited every school, of board members falling asleep in meetings, and talk of not even getting an appraisal before trying to sell district property. It is not my right to judge anything where I do not know all the facts. However, I do believe the leadership of district could do a better job communicating a sense of strength and a sense of hope and optimism within the district. I have a very strong background in business and 5 years classroom experience teaching high school, and I do know that the “culture” and “mood” of an organization is extremely important. I think the culture and mood of the district has been greatly damaged by the consolidation issue and I do not feel the district has adequately addressed reversing and improving this essential topic.

What other issues, besides the budgetary concerns, do you feel need to be addressed? Please explain.

As mentioned above, my sense as a member of the general public, as a business owner in the district, and as a parent is that the district is moving in the wrong direction in terms of its relationship with future growth within and around the district. I get the sense the district is acting out of fear and ignoring the huge potential growth that lies ahead for the district. I believe the Intermodel project will bring many new residents to the area, and my fear is that not only will the district be underprepared for that growth, but that the City itself will not only be underprepared, but that it may take efforts to prevent that growth. I have been amazed at the separation in the economic relationship between the city and the district. Any city and its educational system are bound together, and in many ways a city is dependent on the education it provides its youth. I would hope in the future that the city and the district can move into a deeper and mutually beneficial relationship.

Describe your personal and professional experiences that you feel make you the most qualified candidate for the USD #348 School Board?

Qualifications come in many areas of expertise and I believe the collective and diverse experiences of the board are what make any board successful. If every board member is a parent or if every board member is an accountant, etc. then the board may lack the diversity to be truly successful. I believe I am uniquely qualified for the position because I do not come from a narrow background of experiences. I am qualified from three distinct perspectives. First, I will be a parent of 3 elementary students in the district next school year. Second, I have 5 years previous experience teaching in a public high school, and thirdly I have 7 years experiences as Managing Partner and Business Manager for a restaurant development group. While teaching and business are my work experiences, I am an extremely detailed yet creative person who pays attention to every level of detail. I am as passionate as I am determined.

Assume that you have been elected to the school board and the district is faced with needing to make an additional cut to its budget. The school board is given the following 6 categories to make those cuts, list the categories in the order in which you would look to make those cuts (1 – the 1st category you would cut, 6 – the last category you would cut):

6 Teachers

4 Sports/Extra-curricular Activities

3 Support Staff

5 Curriculum

1 Administration

2 Maintenance/Repairs

What are your thoughts on the district adopting a “shop local” policy, in which the district would look locally for goods and services whenever possible?

I believe this is a great idea. I think it is important for communities to be self-sustaining. While some opponents of this concept may say that things can be bought cheaper elsewhere, the overall economics actually provides the district with more resources because area parents and business members are more inclined to make financial contributions to the district when their business is better off. I firmly believe it takes a village to raise a child and a “shop local” concept helps build deeper cohesion in the village. Let’s do it!


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