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Election set for Tuesday, Nov. 5

Three, four-year terms are up for grabs on the Richfield School Board in the Tuesday, Nov. 5 election.

Six candidates have filed for the three seats, including two incumbents.

In addition to incumbents Crystal Brakke (board chairperson) and Paula Cole, those seeking a seat at the table are Tim Dallum, Julie Olmsted, Allegra Smisek, and Susie Luttenegger.

According to school district policy, the qualifications for election are as follows: “The candidate for this office must be an eligible voter, must be 21 years of age or older on assuming office, must have been a resident of the school district from which the candidate seeks election for at least 30 days before the general election, and must have no other affidavit on file for any other office at the same primary or general election.”

Each of the candidates were asked to provide biographical information as part of their profile and also to answer three questions prepared by the Sun Current.

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Tim Dallum

Tim Dallum

Address: 7220 Aldrich Ave. S.

Family: My wife is Sarah Dallum. We have three children, Frank (10), Walter (7) and Rosemary (6).

Education: Bachelor of Arts in English, University of Minnesota

Occupation: Production manager for a magazine publisher

Years you have lived in the city or district: 4

Community/civic organizations involvement: Richfield School District’s Fiscal Planning Advisory Committee (FPAC); board member and treasurer of The Friends of the Augsburg Park Library; and youth soccer coach for Richfield Soccer Association

Have you run for any other office in the past? No

Contact information: dallumforschoolboard@gmail.com

Why are you running for the school board?

My family and I moved to Richfield in part because of its public schools and diverse community. We’ve found a great home here, and I want to give back by serving on the school board. Given my experience and long-term investment in this community, I believe I will be able to make a positive impact on the students, staff and community members within this district.

What do you consider the top three issues that should be addressed by the school board in the next two years?

Closing the achievement gaps: The district has made some great strides in closing the achievement gaps we have, but there’s still a lot to do, in particular with our Hispanic and special needs students, while also making sure the metrics we are using are an accurate measurement of achievement. For instance, even if we are increasing the graduation rate, we need to make sure those students are well prepared for life after graduation.

Behavior management: I want our district to focus more on our behavior management practices. We need to be as consistent as possible in all our classrooms across all our buildings. We need to give teachers the support they need ahead of potential disruptive behavior.

Increasing enrollment: We need to make our schools the active choice for all families in the district. The negative perception that the district has needs to change. There are so many great things happening in RPS, and we need to find better ways to get those stories out there. The district has made some progress in this area with a more coordinated branding and marketing, but there is still a lot of work to do.

What measures would you propose to further your goals for the school district?

I would propose we start recruiting community members to be more involved. We currently have an open-door policy for involvement, but we need to take it a step further and start specifically enlisting people. We need to break down the barriers to inclusion.

Another measure I would look into would be the addition of staffed quiet rooms in our schools, a place where a student can take a break and process their emotions with the help of an adult.

I would also propose that we commit to a clear and consistent system for communications. Keeping people well informed and part of the process gets them more engaged and involved.

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Julie Olmsted

Julie Olmsted

Address: 7527 5th Ave. S.

Family: I’m married to Brian Olmsted, and we have one son

Education: J.D., William Mitchell College of Law; M.Ed., University of South Florida; B.A., St. Cloud State University

Occupation: Lawyer

Years you have lived in the city or district: Throughout my lifetime, 22 years

Community/civic organizations involvement: Richfield Human Rights Commission (2011-13); Minnesota Women Lawyers; Hennepin County Bar Association

Have you run for any other office in the past? No

Contact information: olmstedforschools.com

Why are you running for the school board?

I was raised in Richfield, am a graduate of Richfield schools, married a fellow graduate, live in Richfield, and am raising our son here. This school district and community have given me so much, and I want to give back. I’m passionate about public education and student welfare and believe my experience would benefit the district. I’m a former educator, I’ve managed multi-million-dollar budgets within education settings, and as a lawyer, I think critically about issues, and I listen to and advocate for people every day. Personally, I had a tough experience in the district with my son during a lockdown drill. The questions I asked and the relevant policies were either hard to find or not available. I think parents need far more accessibility and transparency regarding the policies that affect their children.

What do you consider the top three issues that should be addressed by the school board in the next two years?

I think developing the strategic plan for 2020-25 will be the new board’s most important accomplishment, and incorporating significant input from the community – in particular those who might have been underrepresented in the past – is essential. I think it’s important to understand why many of our families are choosing charter schools over Richfield schools, and what we can do to change that course. I’d like to see more work done on closing the achievement gap and improving not just graduation rates, but college and career readiness for all our students.

What measures would you propose to further your goals for the school district?

I would like to work with the community to determine their needs regarding the strategic plan, and to ensure that it continues to emphasize the need for equity in our district. I think that can only stem from trust within the community, which needs to continue to be built. Why and how we’re failing some of our students surrounding the achievement gap and college and career readiness is incredibly complex, but I want to learn more and see what we as a board can do to help all our students. I’d like to see better communication around lockdown policies: notice to families, age-appropriate language, and consideration of student welfare in step with modern research.

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Allegra Smisek

Allegra Smisek

Address: 7500 Fremont Ave. S.

Family: Kyle Schmidt (spouse), expecting our first child in January

Education: Master of Education, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; PK-12 Administrative Licensure, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Bachelor of Arts in History, Religion, and American Studies, St. Olaf College

Occupation: Assistant Director of Innovation, Design, and Learning for Hopkins Public Schools

Years you have lived in the city or district: 5

Community/civic organizations involvement: Education Minnesota; SD50 DFL; Women Winning

Have you run for any other office in the past? Special Convention Candidate for 50A State Representative DFL Endorsement in 2017

Contact information: facebook.com/allegraforrichfieldschools

Why are you running for the school board?

I am running for Richfield School Board because I have the knowledge, experience, and passion to develop policies that create an environment where all kids thrive.

The morning after the 2016 election altered my career path. My middle school students told heartbreaking stories about their experiences with systemic and institutionalized racism. I felt called to do more to change the systems and policies that impact my students outside the classroom. I pursued an administrative license and joined my school’s principal team the following summer. In my current district leadership role, I actively work to bring the innovative vision co-created with our community to life.

My husband and I are expecting our first child this January, which means that I will be invested in Richfield Public Schools for the next 20 years. Our daughter would begin school in Richfield at the end of my four-year term. I would work tirelessly to make Richfield Public Schools the number one choice for all Richfield families because all students deserve the world-class education that I want for her.

What do you consider the top three issues that should be addressed by the school board in the next two years?

Racially predictable outcomes continue to be the greatest challenge facing schools. A recent billboard in Richfield stated that, “Minnesota schools are the worst in the nation for our students of color.” Educational research shows that the highest predictor of student success is a teacher’s belief in their ability to positively affect their students. That belief must be nurtured by our community with supportive policies from the school board.

Second, it is crucial that our schools develop greater community partnerships to crowdsource innovative ideas and utilize existing programs and talents.

Though we are addressing a nationwide problem of inequitable outcomes, the solutions are within our community. 

Third, I would like to see more student voice and leadership in Richfield. As a society, we severely undervalue the human capital of our young people.

What measures would you propose to further your goals for the school district?

Since all students have unique gifts and talents, all students deserve “gifted and talented programming” to nurture those strengths. Traditional grading methods use a deficit-based approach. I would support adopting a holistic, strengths-based grading policy that gives clear feedback for improvement within a learning progression.

Personalized learning should be more than an electronic device.

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Crystal Brakke

Crystal Brakke

Address: 7015 Columbus Ave.

Family: Nate (husband)

Education: Ed.M. in Education Policy and Management, Harvard University

Occupation: VP, Teach For America

Years you have lived in the city or district: 10

Community/civic organizations involvement: Richfield School Board (2016 - present); Community Services Commission (2014 - present, as member and liaison); League of Women Voters

Have you run for any other office in the past: I ran for and was elected to the Richfield School Board in November 2015 and serve as board chairperson

Contact information: facebook.com/CrystalforRichfieldSchools

Why are you running for the school board?

I strive to be a champion for Richfield Public Schools in ways that both challenge and celebrate, and hope to earn the community’s support to continue doing so as a board member. We need to lift up the good work that is being done within the district and share the concrete progress being made in our schools, while at the same time talk openly and specifically about the urgent work still in front of us. I am energized by challenging and celebrating our district in pursuit of excellence and equity for every one of our students.

What do you consider the top three issues that should be addressed by the school board in the next two years?

The first issue for me will always be improving academic outcomes and social experiences for young people in our community. That’s our charge as a school district, and one the board needs to stay focused on. The second issue is developing a coherent, collaborative, and community-centered strategic plan to guide the district’s next five years. We will begin that work in 2020, and I am excited about the opportunities it presents for all of us. Finally, the board needs to continue working with our community and administration on student enrollment. Understanding why families are, and aren’t, choosing Richfield Public Schools and responsibly responding remains an area of focus––especially with so many school choices available in or near to Richfield.

What measures would you propose to further your goals for the school district?

The most consistent measure needs to be authentic and responsive engagement with students, families, and staff. They are the ones who experience our schools every day, and as such are best positioned to guide us forward. A strong example of this from the past school year was the work we did to revise our behavior policy for the district. This process took months because we took the time to do it right – multiple rounds of discussion and review involving groups of students, staff, families and community members before finally coming to the school board for approval. A second critical measure is ensuring that we are specific and transparent in our goals and our outcomes. We can’t improve and grow if we don’t know how our students are doing, and in ways that go well beyond standardized tests.

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Paula Cole

Paula Cole

Address: 7324 17th Ave. S.

Family: I live with my husband, Alan, and our children, Aidan (11) and Nadia (3)

Education: I earned a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University Extension School, and a Master’s degree in Teaching from Hamline University

Occupation: I am a licensed K-6 elementary teacher working as a mathematics instructional specialist in grades K-4

Years living in Richfield: 8

Community/civic organizations involvement: The Minnesota Latino Heritage School Board Members; The Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA); and The League of Women Voters

Have you run for any other office in the past? I was elected as a member of the Richfield School Board of Education in 2015 and I am currently serving my first term

Contact information: paulaforrichfield.org

Why are you running for the school board?

During my tenure as a school board member, I have advocated for measures to increase graduation rates, shrink the achievement gap, and make our school district more attractive and competitive. I am running for re-election to continue this work. Additionally, I would like to continue my work to increase culturally relevant parent engagement and to ensure that students’ voices continue to be part of the decision-making process.

What do you consider the top three issues that should be addressed by the school board in the next two years?

The top three issues are increasing enrollment, eliminate the existing gap in behavior and disciplinary actions by race, and continue to shrink the academic achievement gap between the highest and lowest groups. We have made substantial gains in shrinking these gaps on behalf of black students, students with special needs, and those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. For Hispanic and English learners, however, while graduation rates have increased, they have not increased at the aggressive rate that we would need to see in order to close that gap.

What measures would you propose to further your goals for the school district?

We need to improve the method in which we seek feedback from the diverse group of families and stakeholders of our school district. This is especially true for families who choose to enroll their students in other districts. These families are looking for specific things that our district is not providing, and we need to know what those are.

We also need to continue our work reviewing behavior policies and behavior support referrals to ensure that disciplinary actions are applied in an equitable manner. If we are to succeed in reducing disciplinary disparity, we need to meet the social-emotional needs of all students in a manner that proactively reduces conflict and increase a sense of community.

Finally, to eliminate the achievement gap for Hispanic students we must partner with families in a culturally relevant manner. Expectations for students in the United States are often quite different than those in other countries. For example, many families do not understand that moving across grades does not necessarily mean that students have met grade level standards. I firmly believe that all parents want the best for their children, but parents who are not aware of how the education system works or how their children are doing are at a disadvantage when trying to help them.

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Susie Luttenegger

Susie Luttenegger

Address: 2819 W. 70-½ St.

Family: Tom Luttenegger, 2 adult children

Education: BA Community Recreation from the University of Northern Iowa

Occupation: Fitness instructor

Years you have lived in the city or district: 31 years

Community/civic organizations involvement: Community Center volunteer; Richfield school volunteer; team parent for several high school sports

Have you run for any other office in the past? No

Contact information: suedee1910@hotmail.com

Why are you running for the school board?

I want to continue to be involved in the schools and be a strong liaison for community members, school staff and students. I want to assure that all voices are being heard as we meld the diverse community that we share and choose to live in. I will work to ensure that all students needs are being met in a safe, secure and welcoming learning environment that supports physical and mental well-being.

What do you consider the top three issues that should be addressed by the school board in the next two years?

• Retention and improving achievement of all students within our district

• Strengthen a strong working relationship with schools, city, business and community members

• Fiscal integrity as we continue to maintain and improve school facilities and equipment

What measures would you propose to further your goals for the school district?

• Monitor the movement of students entering and exiting our school district and sharing information with the community

• Initiate an annual open forum that invites all community, business and interested parties to inform of opportunities for sharing knowledge, facilities, and programs

• Monitor and assist in evaluating the best uses of our resources

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