The seven candidates for Hopkins School Board answered a series of submitted questions on issues facing the district at a Sept. 25 candidate forum hosted by the Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Hopkins League of Women Voters chapter.

Debby McNeil from the Edina Chapter of the League of Women Voters was the moderator and the candidates were given up to a minute to respond to most questions.

“The purpose in sponsoring meetings like this is to provide you the voters with an opportunity to hear the candidates discuss issues that are important to you,” McNeil said.

The candidates include incumbents Steve Adams, Kris Newcomer and Dave Larson. The candidates include Shannon Andreson, Benjamin Karls, Tanya Khan and Katie O’Shea Pederson. Board chair Wendy Donovan is not seeking re-election. Voters will vote for four candidates on an at-large basis and their four-year terms will begin in January.

Candidates were asked how they would address declining enrollment, and specifically, the loss of district students to open enrollment into nearby districts.

“What would you do about declining enrollment in the school district and the loss of students through open enrollment?” McNeil said.

Many of the candidates felt that Vision 2031 was going to draw families to the district because of the quality of education the district will offer as a result of the initiative.

“If you are going from great to world-class, you put that together, that will have people wanting to have Hopkins School District be their destination,” Larson said.

“Whenever you change the way you do school, which is very much a part of Vision 2031, people will take notice and once people take notice they start to listen and hear, and they are starting to hear better things about Hopkins,” Newcomer said.

O’Shea Pederson said one of the goals should be highlighting the types of students are a part of the district and changing people’s perceptions of the district.

“I think that it’s also about misperceptions about the Hopkins School District and a bit about narrow-mindedness and the values of diversity,” O’Shea Pederson said. “If we continue to show just what type of students we produce here at Hopkins and show the world and our neighbors.”

Adams pointed out the quality facilities in the district as a positive in keeping students enrolled and the importance of marketing the district to attract new families.

“One of the things we can do to keep people, to attract people, is to maintain our facilities. I’ve looked at our facilities compared to others and we do a very good job of that,” Adams said. “We just have to do a better job of marketing, letting parents know what are the benefits of keeping their kids in the district, what do we offer that other districts don’t.”

Andreson and Karls advocated for more effort in letting parents know the benefits of being a part of the district.

“We need to stop letting numbers tell the Hopkins story and start sharing with everyone we know the success stories that we see every day in our schools,” Andreson said.

“Letting people know about the value added, the nature of our district and the values behind their decision that’s made and how we keep our scholars first and foremost in our mind,” Karls said.

Khan proposed increasing engagement by utilizing social media and a regular online presence and conducting exit interviews with families whose students have left the district.

“I would try to increase family engagement by having a strong online presence,” Khan said. “The second thing I want to do is possibly conduct exit interviews with families who have left. Just to see what we could do to improve their experience.”

The candidates were allowed two minutes to answer audience questions on the subject of closing racial gaps in education.

“There’s a number of questions about racial equity and racial disparities, so with the league’s permission I’d like to make a two-minute answer for this question,” McNeil said. “What should the school board do to address racial equity and racial disparities in the school district?”

Karls advocated that the school board should be providing training for staff.

“Some of the work the school board can do as the system-wide leader is making sure that we are providing equity training for all of our teachers,” Karls said. “As a school board would be the leaders of that we are pushing forward proposals, training, development and funding it in a way that is concurrent with our values of equity and making sure we are closing those gaps.”

Khan also advocated for more equity training for staff, as well as creating opportunities for students with different backgrounds to be able to share their experience with their teachers.

“Barriers need to be broken by a bias training. I think it’s really important for teachers to speak to people of color and become part of programs where they will understand another person’s experience,” Khan said. “We have a lot of diverse students in our district and putting them in a position where they could speak to teachers and tell their story would be another thing I think that would help teachers understand.”

Larson’s response to the question was to be supportive and providing whatever resources were needed to staff to address racial disparities in the district.

“I think some of the things that the school board can do is to make sure that we’re very supportive of the teachers, the administration, the staff with what they need any kinds of resources,” Larson said. “Basically, it’s the function of the school board to make sure we support the staff, administration and the superintendent.”

Newcomer advocated budgeting for programs that work to address these issues.

“The school board’s philosophy and the way we should be thinking about it, a very smart school board member who’s not running for re-election challenged us to think about our budget as a moral document,” Newcomer said. “We need to really think about where we are spending our money. If racial equity and solving racial disparities is really important it starts with us at the school board.”

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 5, and video of the entire forum can be found on lwvmeph.org.

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