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Eleven candidates in the running for four open seats

Four Minnetonka School Board seats will be decided in the Tuesday, Nov. 5, election. 

To better inform voters, the Sun Sailor reached out to all 11 candidates in the race and asked them to participate in our voters guide. Below are responses from Don Amorosi, Sarah Clymer, Kathryn Gimse, Julie Light, Christine Ritchie, Meghan Selinger, Trevor Thurling, Josh Wilcox and incumbents Mark Ambrosen, Katie Becker and Lisa Wagner.

The elected school board members’ terms will begin January 2020. The board has seven members who are elected at large to four-year terms.

Mark Ambrosen

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Mark Ambrosen

Address: 3830 Maple Shores Drive, Excelsior

Age: 65

Family: Wife Ann Senn, daughter, Delaney, son, Zach

Education: Bachelor of arts in political science, Winona State University

Occupation: Retired air traffic control

Years lived in school district: 26

Community involvement: Citizen’s Finance Advisory Board for Minnetonka School District 2014-2017, parent volunteer at Minnewashta and Excelsior elementary schools, volunteer coach for Tonka United Soccer, board member of Minnetonka Swim Club, meet director for Minnetonka Swim Club and Minnetonka High School boys’ and girls’ swim teams

Contact information: mspmadz@me.com, 612 801-9307

Why are you seeking reelection to the Minnetonka School Board?

Serving on the Minnetonka School Board the last 3.5-plus years has been one of the most important roles of my life. I am extremely proud of the state of the district and our students. Now that we are reaching our target number of students in the district, we will be facing extreme challenges in order to continue offering the avenues for success for all of our students. With the continually rising cost of doing business (infrastructure, salaries and benefits), we must continue to follow our prudent fiscal policies and explore new revenue streams to try and ensure that we are able to continue our standards of excellence without having to cut programs and budget.

What do you consider the top issues the school district is facing and how would you address them?

We need to continue to address the mental and social well-being of our students by continuing to provide resources and education to students, their families and school staff.

Don Amorosi

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Don Amorosi

Address: 301 2nd St., Excelsior

Age: 53

Family: Father of four children

Education: Bachelor of science in finance, Oklahoma State University

Occupation: Chief operation officer, ExceleraRx

Years lived in school district: 7

Community involvement: Former board director, mental illness survivor, Archers Aim chairman

Contact information: ElectAmorosi276.com, cell, 952-288-4876, damorosi3@gmail.com

Why are you seeking election to the Minnetonka School Board?

I am seeking election to change the discussion about our kids’ education and to be an authentic advocate for the behavioral and emotional side of the district ledger. I want to be a clear voice for a more balanced and inclusive culture reflective of today’s student. As a board member, I intend to shine light on the merits and needs of all students and improve transparency for and accountability to all stakeholders. Simply put, academic excellence and fiscal prowess are not everything a great school system is about today. I share a belief that students are individuals and that each should be treated as such. Our kids are not statistical averages, benchmarks or rankings and education is by no means a scale business.

What do you consider the top issues the school district is facing and how would you address them?

The district’s ability to advance and measure social and emotional well-being are lacking severely and it is seemingly unaware of too many of the kids below shimmering “the tip of the iceberg.” Given its size and entrenchment in a culture of excellence, it is its own worst enemy when it comes to solving the challenges of today’s youth.

The administration models a narrow set of values by fiat, which leaves us in the dark about who needs help. ACT scores of the top 300 students are ubiquitous; what about the next 600? As a board member, I will champion data-driven transparency and encourage evidence-minded solutions all can take part in. Minnetonka can continue to be a great school district and be vulnerable at the same time.

Katie Becker

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Katie Becker

Address: 6372 Chandler Ct., Eden Prairie

Age: 43

Family: Married to Pat (18 years), children, Meghan (Class of 2023), Aidan (Class of 2025) and Patrick (Class of 2030)

Education: Bachelor of arts in psychology, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Occupation: Customer CARE, Evereve. Meeting/event planner, Carlson Marketing Worldwide

Years lived in school district: 10

Community involvement: Minnetonka School Board (current vice chair), Tonka Pride, Minnetonka Public Schools Foundation, District Parent Speaker Series, Minnetonka Preschool/ECFE PTO, Scenic Heights PTA  and Book Fair, National Charity League

Why are you seeking reelection to the Minnetonka School Board?

I am running for re-election because I am dedicated to the future of the Minnetonka Schools. As an active volunteer in our schools and a candidate with children in elementary, middle and high school, I will continue to bring the pulse of our schools to the board table.

Minnetonka is rated #1 by Niche 2020 and is a district of choice with record-setting results in student achievement, a solid financial position (AAA bond rating) and has an outstanding parent satisfaction survey rating the education received 99% as excellent or good. I want to continue the innovative programs that inspire children to reach their highest level of academic and personal achievement, while keeping our district fiscally responsible and providing value for the Minnetonka taxpayers.

What do you consider the top issues the school district is facing and how would you address them?

Support student well-being: Ensure administration provides staff development opportunities and resources. Promote discussion and awareness of inclusivity using student voice to guide next steps. Determine a form measurement to evaluate students overall well-being.

Secure financial success: As the district faces flattening enrollment and a state imposed levy cap, direct administration to create a 10-year strategic plan to review the space and capacity plans, facility maintenance plan, technology plan and maximize on cost saving options.

Prepare students for life: Continue to provide personalized learning and advocate for strong academic programs.

Engage community: As 73% of families in the district have had kids in our schools less than 8 years and 70% of residents no longer have kids in our district, continue dialogue with parents and community, hold listening sessions and advocate for stakeholders’ needs.

Sarah Clymer

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Sarah Clymer

Address: 3700 Landings Dr., Excelsior

Age: 37

Family: Husband Ben, children, Brendan, Colin, Carson and Bowen

Education: Master of arts in counseling psychology, University of St. Thomas; bachelor of science in child psychology, University of Minnesota

Occupation: Mom to the Clymer Crew

Years lived in school district: 10

Community involvement: Children’s Hospitals of Minnesota, Playworks, Shine a Ligh7 Foundation, Evans Scholarship Foundation

Contact information: 4tonka.org, clymer4tonka@gmail.com

Why are you seeking election to the Minnetonka School Board?

As a parent of four children, three of whom attend elementary school, we have many years ahead of us in the Minnetonka School District. I want to offer parents the assurance that they have someone they can partner with, someone they feel confident will advocate for them and their student. As a board member, I would base my decisions on what is in the best interest and well-being of the whole student; this includes, but is not limited to, robust social and emotional support services for children and addressing the current state of overcrowding in the classroom. There needs to be a thorough examination and redirection of the district’s ongoing motivation to reach maximum student capacity in classrooms and schools. Furthermore, in order to have an open, substantive and interactive conversation in partnership with our community,  I would advocate for every taxpayer and parent to receive access to detailed district budget expenditures and related financial disclosures.

What do you consider the top issues the school district is facing and how would you address them?

Sustainable enrollment policies: A comprehensive study to identify the most effective and efficient way to reduce overcrowding.

Mental health and student well-being: Easily accessible mental health support that is private and confidential, including, partnering with community organizations to ensure we provide comprehensive resources.

Open communication on all topics between the board and the community: A new annual parent survey that contains questions pertinent to parents’ concerns with objectively quantifiable results so we can readily see what the majority concerns are and act on them.

Kathryn Gimse

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Kathryn Gimse

Address: 6381 Teton Lane, Chanhassen

Age: 51

Family: Husband Chris, daughters, Hanna (Cornell University), Hope (MHS) and Sage (MMW)

Education: Bachelor of arts in English and Scandinavian studies, Luther College; master of education in second languages and cultures, University of Minnesota

Occupation: English language teacher (Edina Public Schools)

Years lived in school district: 6, but have been part of district since 2006.

Community involvement: Family has participated in and supported recreational basketball and dance, Minnetonka Choirs, Vocal Support, the International Baccalaureate program, MHS cross country, Nordic skiing and more.

Why are you seeking election to the Minnetonka School Board?

I am seeking election to the Minnetonka School Board because I believe that I have the experience necessary to help lead the district in making innovative, data driven and student centered decisions. As a public school teacher with over 18 years of experience teaching in both urban and suburban districts, I advocate for students and programs every day. I will bring the same student-centered focus to my work on the school board if elected. In addition, I bring the experience of participating in my daughters’ educations at all levels of Minnetonka Schools – elementary, middle and high school – over a span of 13 years.

What do you consider the top issues the school district is facing and how would you address them? 

Two of the top issues our school district is facing are student wellness and mental health and the rapid growth of our district due to increasing enrollment. I will actively support and promote student mental health and well-being through researched, best practice. I will work to create a whole district climate where students’ mental health and well-being is prioritized and is a measure against which we place all major district initiatives and decisions. I will also work to ensure that student enrollment numbers, classroom sizes and open enrollment policies support student well-being and academic achievement. In consultation with parents, teachers and administrators, I will help review current demographic information, open enrollment practices, student enrollment data and class sizes at each school site. I will help make data-based decisions that support student wellness and academic achievement at all levels.

Julie Light

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Julie Light

Address: 4208 Marlborough Ct., Minnetonka

Age:  61

Family: Daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren

Education: Bachelor of science in elementary education, University of Minnesota; master’s/gifted education certificate, Hamline University; doctorate in educational leadership, Capella University

Occupation: Over 21 years in E-12 education as a teacher/leader (Excelsior Covenant Preschool; Minnetonka, Wayzata and Anoka-Hennepin Schools); currently an academic coach for advanced learners with special needs

Years lived in school district: 49 (1976 MHS grad)

Community involvement: Minnetonka Public Schools, community volunteer, professional collaboration group member; undergraduate mentor; homeowners’ association president; Billy Light Scholarship  

Contact information: 4tonka.org; light4tonka@gmail.com

Why are you seeking election to the Minnetonka School Board?

Since 1969, I have deeply loved this community and its families. My husband, Billy Light, and I raised our daughters here; I taught in the district for 10 years. I am a champion for the families, stellar staff, and our schools’ outstanding programs. However, in the past few years, I have listened to numerous voices of our community’s residents – residents with concerns that need to be addressed. I have read and listened to communication that is out of touch with what many residents are looking for from our district’s leadership. With my education/professional experience, a commitment to accountability to the residents’ voices and a passion for having trusting relationships between the residents/parents and district’s leadership, this is the time for me to run for Minnetonka School Board.

What do you consider the top issues the school district is facing and how would you address them?

We have long provided our students with an exceptional experience. When managed well, state-required open enrollment is great. However, due to enrollment practices (one-third of our students live outside our district), we have overly crowded schools – overcrowding that compromises the academic and social-emotional well-being of our students, resident and non-resident students alike. With over 11,000 students in our district – thousands beyond what we need for all our schools and programs to be open and running – I commit to establishing reasonable enrollment (by reducing grade level numbers) beginning with next year’s kindergarteners, without laying off teachers.  I care about all students: I have worked in three public school districts designing and implementing programs/lessons for all types of learners. Residents pay 100% of their district’s referendums and deserve to be heard.

Christine Ritchie

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Christine Ritchie

Address: 4728 Fairhills Road W., Minnetonka

Age: 45

Family: Husband, Duke; children, Alexander (seventh grade, MME), Genevieve (fifth grade, Scenic Heights), Penelope (second grade, Scenic Heights)

Education: Bachelors and masters in accounting/taxation, University of Texas at Austin

Occupation: Carleton College Endowment

Years lived in school district: 7

Community involvement: PTA treasurer, Bravo volunteer, Rock the Street Wall Street board member, Scout leader, Minnetonka girls softball, frequent charity volunteer

Why are you seeking election to the Minnetonka School Board?

As Minnesota “expats,” we chose Minnetonka for the schools when we relocated over six years ago, and I recognize how fortunate we are to have our children in Minnetonka Schools. Our family is incredibly proud to be a part of the Minnetonka community.

I believe there are five factors that contribute to student achievement: curriculum, teachers, parent engagement, tools for teaching and student wellness. Minnetonka does a great job in each of these areas, but there is still more to be done, especially regarding student wellness.

I’ve been talking to parents and educators and visiting schools – I hear your concerns. There are areas where we can do better – we need to work to find innovative solutions while we continue to provide the opportunity for our kids to reach their highest potential.

I’ve been told by educators in the district that I am not afraid to ask the hard questions. As a voter, I ask the same of you – please drill down and ask the candidates pointed questions.

What do you consider the top issues the school district is facing and how would you address them?

I believe the top issues are:

1) Planning for the future – how to provide top educational opportunities and increased student support while stabilizing the size of the student body.

2) Student wellness

3) Transparency 

While I don’t have all the answers, I do have some ideas – most importantly, I care enough to work as hard as I can to get all the facts to make the best decisions for our students. I will listen and that is the first step.

Meghan Selinger

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Meghan Selinger

Address: Highland Avenue, Deephaven

Age: 40

Family: Two sons, ages 4 and 7

Education: Masters in education, Stanford University

Occupation: Full-time mom, previously a high school chemistry teacher

Years lived in school district: 2

Community involvement: Classroom and school committee volunteering, community education participation

Contact information: electmeghanselinger.com

Why are you seeking election to the Minnetonka School Board?

I am running for school board because I feel my background in education and personal investment in the district would both be assets in the position. I will be an objective and data-driven board member with our students’ well-being and success as my number one priority. My own children will be students in this district for many years so decisions made now will be very impactful to their educations.

What do you consider the top issues the school district is facing and how would you address them?

I believe we must ensure our students are the first priority. It is important that we continue to offer top academics and a wide-variety of programs while also considering matters such as mental health and enrollment. To address issues, I will push to collect and analyze data and current research to determine areas of improvement and establish goals for the district. I will also advocate that students, parents, school staff and the community be involved in the process. For example, to support student mental health we must first generate and analyze data (which, within compliance with privacy needs, should be available to all constituents). If that data shows a problem with anxiety in our students, then a measurable goal should be set and a research-based plan enacted to support students at all grade levels to both prevent and reduce anxiety. I would encourage a similar process for other issues.

Trevor Thurling

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Trevor Thurling

Address: 7061 Mill Creek Ln., Excelsior

Age: 34

Family: Wife Stephanie, Children, Calvin (7, second grader at Minnewashta), Griffin (5, Minnewashta RSK) and Harriette (3)

Education: Bachelor of arts in German, Pepperdine University; Master of Business Administration, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota

Occupation: VP, Foreign Exchange, U.S. Bank

Years lived in school district: 5

Community involvement: Member of Westwood Community Church, Minnetonka Baseball Association assistant coach, Tree House Hope and Children’s Minnesota sponsor, Operation Christmas Child host and volunteer

Contact information: 4tonka.org, thurling4tonka@gmail.com

Why are you seeking election to the Minnetonka School Board?

I benefited greatly from a strong public education, and built a home in the Minnetonka district so that my children could have a similar experience. The diversity of opportunities available to students, our incredible teachers and a community that stands firmly behind our schools are things I am very proud of. I believe that public service is incredibly important, and I am confident that my personal and professional experience will make me a valuable addition to the school board.

What do you consider the top issues the school district is facing and how would you address them?

There is a lot of confusion out there as to why our schools seem so crowded of late. Students are suddenly dealing with larger class sizes, loss of access to shared resources, crowded hallways and the need to split up some classes at the elementary level for music, art and physical education. Many don’t feel as if the district has sufficiently explained the need for these changes, and are frustrated at the narrative that increasing enrollment is an absolute necessity to ensure financial sustainability. As a board member, I would make school capacities public information and share what space is available for open enrolled students. That means publishing real numbers and only accepting open enrolled students for available space.

Additionally, families of children with special needs, unique learning requirements and mental and emotional needs do not feel as though the district supports them enough. That is unacceptable to me when we have surplus funds available. We should support and celebrate all of our students, not just the top academic and athletic performers.

Lisa Wagner

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Lisa Wagner

Address: 4770 Manitou Road, Tonka Bay

Age: 52

Family: Married to Todd (28 years); daughters, Nina (MHS, 2016), Lexi (MHS, 2019)

Education: Bachelor of arts in international relations, Stanford University

Occupation: Controller, Burl Oaks Golf Club; business manager, Microgigantic; 15-plus years HR executive.

Years Lived in School District: 26

Community Involvement: 12 years Minnetonka School Board (current chair); 18 years district volunteer leadership: ECFE/Minnetonka Preschool, Minnewashta, MMW, MHS, CASE, Tonka Pride, Minnetonka Schools Foundation, Vocal Support, Tonka Cares; Habitat for Humanity, Stanford Club.

Why are you seeking reelection to the Minnetonka School Board?

For almost two decades, I’ve been an integral part of the team implementing Minnetonka’s formula for success. Through my extensive district involvement and 12 years on the school board, I’ve achieved proven results.  Minnetonka has exemplary performance based on key indicators: nationally recognized student achievement, outstanding parent satisfaction (99%), strong financial health (AAA bond rating), and #1 ratings in Minnesota on Niche.com. As a resident of the district for 26 years, I’m dedicated to our future and invested in this community. Continuity of effective leadership is critical to organizations in today’s rapidly changing world; I want to continue to bring that to the school board.  

What do you consider the top issues the school district is facing and how would you address them?

If re-elected, I would: 

Build on district efforts to support students’ academic, social and emotional well-being. Task administration with providing measurement indices, staff development and a personalized student experience. Utilize student voice to inform this work so it’s meaningful and relevant. Promote inclusivity.

Direct creation of 10-year strategic plan considering the implications of flattening enrollment and state imposed levy cap. This plan will address space and capacity, technology, maximizing expense efficiencies and curriculum to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce. Since district enrollment will no longer be growing, addressing these factors will ensure continued financial success, educational excellence and maximization of the taxpayers’ investment.

Continue to dialogue with our community and enhance communications using their feedback. More than 70% of our residents no longer have children in school and many are new to our schools; therefore it’s important to have open and effective two-way communication.

Josh Wilcox

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Josh Wilcox

Address: 3360 Hill Lane, Deephaven

Age: 37

Family: Wife, second grader in Deephaven Spanish immersion, first grader in Deephaven English program, preschooler at Minnetonka ECFE

Education: Bachelor of arts in finance and management, Master of Business Administration in strategic management

Occupation: Varde Partners

Years lived in school district: 3

Community involvement: Deephaven Planning Commission, church council

Contact information: wilcox4tonka@gmail.com

Why are you seeking election to the Minnetonka School Board?

I believe in the benefits of public education and want to support the great work being done by our teachers and school staff. The district does a great job providing opportunities for academic success, as evidenced by the many accolades received by students in the district. I want to continue that excellence, but ensure those opportunities are available to all students, regardless of natural abilities. The district also provides a wide range of opportunities and extracurricular activities, which is tremendous; however, more transparency can be provided to the community around how those programs are funded and the benefits to students from the programs. More transparency is also required on an annual basis with the long-term plan for the district and how it is updated annually to account for changes in the district, learning strategy evolution and broader changes in the community.

What do you consider the top issues the school district is facing and how would you address them?

I have three key priorities. One, I think more can be done to ensure appropriate classroom sizes and sustainable open-enrollment policies to optimize the education experience. I am not against open-enrollment, but it seems to have grown rampantly without clear, transparent financial analysis or assessment of impact to students and teachers, i.e. around one-third of students are open-enrolled and not residents of the district. Two, the well-being of students can be supported and monitored in a broader and more formal way. Three, we can improve the transparency on all district matters and proactively encourage more feedback from the community. Please see 4tonka.org for more information.

 

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