Princeton School Board

Four Princeton School Board members will be elected this campaign election cycle.

Terms expire for Sue VanHooser, Howard Vaillancourt, Eric Standberg, and Chad Young. All four filed and will seek re-election.

Dawn Bourdeaux also filed for Princeton School Board.

Questionnaire responses from Princeton School Board candidates appear in reverse alphabetical order.

The newspaper asked candidates to submit the following biographical information: Name; Address; Family (include spouse and children); Education; Occupation; Years in City, County, District; Community/Civic Involvement; Contact Information.

The Union-Times also asked the candidates to answer these five questions:

Question A: Why are you running for school board and what are your top three priorities if elected or re-elected?

Question B: What will be your No. 1 budget priority if elected or re-elected?

Question C: What will be your No. 1 program or service priority if elected or re-elected?

Question D: What is the biggest challenge that district parents and students have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Question E: In your opinion, what is the three greatest challenge this district faces in the next three years?

Chad Young

Biographical: I was born and raised in Princeton and graduated from PHS in 1988, along with my wife, Kim. We have three sons, Ryan a freshman at Minnesota State University, Caleb, a senior at PHS and Adam a Sophomore at PHS. My parents and siblings and my in-laws all graduated from Princeton, and I have many nieces and nephews enrolled at Princeton Public Schools as well. I am currently an IT Project manager consultant with Diversant LLC and have worked in the IT Enterprise business for 25-plus years.

Question A (Goals & Priorities): I have always made it a priority to be active in my children’s activities and education. Building relationships and staying active in the community the past 7 years has been rewarding and a great learning experience. My top three priorities for the district should focus on are low enrollment, technology, and partnerships within and outside the community. It is well known that one struggle many schools face today are low open enrollment numbers. The past few years our enrollment numbers continue to trend downward, which has a significant impact on the State and Federal funding we receive. However, the Princeton Online academy also continues to grow, especially during these difficult times. If we can continue to improve our online curriculum, we will pull students from regions that are looking for a flexible option of education. This will help generate revenue for the district as our enrollment continues to fluctuate year after year.

Question B (Budget Priority): If reelected the number one budget priority will be to work with our administration on keeping our planned budget in sync with the current climate during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many challenges that we are facing as we try to keep our children safe during these trying times. For example, our bus schedule has basically doubled since we have to maintain social distancing to and from school. In addition, the PPE is an expense that we have not endured prior to the pandemic. Our teachers and administration have worked countless hours trying to plan for the unknown situations with in-person learning, hybrid and distance learning.

Question C (Program/Service Priority): I would like to see additional community collaboration with local businesses to provide opportunities for our students to work towards vocational and/or trades that are valuable and needed. Providing these alternatives to our students will allow students to see the many options they have after high school, whether it be a 4-year college, vocational school or work.

Question D (COVID-19 Challenge): One of the biggest challenges as a parent and as a current board member during the COVID-19 pandemic is the rapid change of information that gets transmitted from MDE and MDH to the school administrators. The district has worked extremely hard to keep parents and children safe and to keep everyone updated with the newest and latest information, but it can be a challenge. I often find myself referencing the Princeton Playbook for questions or information that I may have missed through the regular communication channels.

Question E (Three Challenges): As our district continues to thrive, we will always face challenges. A few of the biggest upcoming challenges are enrollment, shortage of teachers and technology. As we continue to see open enrollment numbers fluctuate, we will need to continue to put ourselves above our surrounding schools. Showing how we are the best option in the surrounding area is how we will attract and pull new students to Princeton. This will also attract new teachers to our district. One challenge that has become even more apparent during the pandemic is the lack of internet access in some areas of our district. Princeton Public Schools has done well in offering alternatives or hotspots to those students in need of Wi-Fi, however, even after the pandemic is behind us, it is important that all students have internet access so they are able to complete homework, do research and access the technology they need to be successful.

Sue VanHooser

Biographical: I am a long time resident of Princeton. My husband Steve and I grew up in Princeton and returned here to start our careers. I taught at Princeton High School for 37 years and both of our daughters are PHS grads. If elected, this will be my second term.

Question A (Goals & Priorities): For me serving on the School Board is an opportunity to give back to my school and community. My priorities will be to continue strong programming in the areas of academics, arts and activities. It is important to continue the process to update facilities especially at the high school and intermediate school where some of the original spaces are no longer functional for today’s teaching and learning. We need robust programs in the area of career and technical training. I think it is important to expand our relationship with area businesses and technical colleges to provide more 21st century work skill training opportunities.

Question B (Budget Priority): My number one budget priority is for the district to financially survive COVID-19. As a Board member you plan budgets taking into considerations things like enrollment, operations and funding projections, but you don’t plan for a pandemic. Maybe we will now! So for now my priority is to support our distinct finance team to weather this storm and maintain a fund balance. In the future I would like to see more funding for updating curriculum and adding innovative programs especially at middle and high school. I also believe there is work to be done in equitable State funding for education.

Question C (Program/Service Priority): I always like to look at the big picture but I do think that with the pandemic we need to pay special attention to our students’ mental wellbeing. Historically, guidance departments have been understaffed and mental health resources for students are scarce. Because of the pandemic, students have been isolated from peers, school, and normal activities. The district’s continuous improvement plan does include social and emotional learning goals. We need to be sure that our students are adjusting to the current challenges and provide services where they need help.

Question D (COVID-19 Challenge): UNCERTAINTY! For the district it was uncertainty in what guidance and guidelines would be given. For parents it was what and where to choose the best education plan for their family. Unfortunately, that uncertainty still exists with fluctuating county case numbers driving the district’s learning plan. For students, I think it has been challenging for them to be away from their friends and not having their normal activities available to them. Students have also had to adjust to a completely new learning model which may fit some better but for others it could be very challenging.

Question E (Three Challenges): School funding will continue to be a challenge. Change is going to be a force to be reckoned with. How we do school has changed, the workforce has changed, our world has changed. The district will be challenged to embrace these changes in a way to continue to provide high standards, close achievement gaps, enhance literacy and be sure our graduates are ready for college and future careers. The changes we have had to make as a district have been swift and challenging but these changes also provide an opportunity as we go forward to deliver education in new and better ways.

Howard Vaillancourt

Biographical: I moved to Princeton in 1969 to begin my teaching career and currently reside in Baldwin Township. I officially retired after 32 years in the classroom in 2001 but continued to be active in the schools as a volunteer and substitute teacher. I was first elected to the school board in 2005.

Question A (Goals & Priorities: I have been involved with education for over 50 years. I am retired but not ready to halt my involvement in the Princeton schools. I believe my longevity in the district is an asset. Priorities include providing quality educational programs, providing access to digital learning and making sound financial decisions. The district needs to be flexible in its response to COVID while still being committed to serve the educational needs of the community. The district has an excellent teaching and support staff and must find ways to maintain this excellence in the face of predicted teacher shortages.

Question B (Budget Priority): The board has shown financial responsibility dealing with the district’s finances. This has allowed the district to weather the fallout from the current pandemic without causing massive disruption in educational programing. Surviving this pandemic without straining financial reserves and maintain quality education opportunities is a priority. Maintaining a sound financial plan and process is crucial to district operations and repercussions of COVID which will affect state and federal funding. Working with state and federal legislators to address issues concerning unfunded mandates is also necessary.

Question C (Program/Service Priority): Many items should be considered priorities. These include maintaining a standard of excellence in educational programs, maintaining high test scores without losing track that education is more than teaching to the test, maintaining a manageable teacher-student ratio, maintaining strong programs of requirements and electives, creating programs that meet the needs of students, maintaining and providing facilities for the district’s academic and activity programs and maintaining a quality staff. The district must also earn and maintain the confidence and trust of the community by continuing to involve district shareholders to be heard and involved in major district issues.

Question D (COVID-19 Challenge): Maintaining the continuity of educational programs while distance learning is a major learning curve for everyone involved. Having access to on-line learning is an issued for many families. The lack of normalcy and regular school routine is difficult. The problems incurred during distance learning need positive re-enforcement that everyone is working and learning how to adjust to this new environment together. There have been some concerns that students may become disengaged with school due to financial and familial situations and decide to discontinue their education. The district needs to be proactive and find ways to support these students and encourage them to continue with their studies.

Question E (Three Challenges): One challenge is the effect COVOD has on education. The district has to be prepared to continue to offer distance and on site learning for the duration and adapt as necessary. The district will have to revisit facility planning. The proposed building project was postponed due to COVID. Does the project need to be changed because the needs have changed? Where does the district allocate finances: buildings, technology, staffing? Because the educational environment is changing, there will be adjustments in these areas.

The district has seen rising test scores and graduation rates. The staff is pro student, and encourages student success. The financial status of the district is sound. These successes need to continue in spite of COVID.

Eric Strandberg

Biographical: I am a Princeton High School graduate and live in Princeton. I was first elected to the school board in 2016 and would like to continue representing the families of the Princeton School District. I have been married to my wife, Jackie, for 14 years and our children attend Princeton schools

Question A (Goals & Priorities): I care about the educational programs and opportunities available to our students. I think it’s important to keep class sizes low to allow for more 1 to 1 instructional time. I feel it is important for our district to continue to improve our facilities to keep up with technology and the newer methods material is presented to adapt to student learning styles. We must improve our instructional spaces as well as spaces used for activities. It is important that the board remain fiscally responsible and maintain a balanced budget while recognizing the burdens taxpayers incur.

Question B (Budget Priority): It is important to maintain a healthy fund balance in case of emergencies as well as trying to stay balanced. This will be especially important in the coming years with the foreseen cuts in state funding. The school board has a responsibility to the taxpayers to use funds appropriately.

Question C (Program/Service Priority): If I were to say that we should focus on one program it would be irresponsible. Princeton is doing many incredible things right now. As a school board, I think we need to allow the teachers and administrators to continue to build and enhance all of the programs Princeton has. We must also be aware of the increase of students and improved facilities that come with that. We must be proactive in planning for the future of our instructional spaces and activity spaces.

Question D (COVID-19 Challenge): The entire past 6 months have been a challenge. Parents and staff did an incredible job of adapting and continue to do a great job of adapting to changes. The distance learning, hybrid learning, the homeschooling, as well as in-person learning has changed. I know we will get through this and things will return to normal...eventually! I think every single person who works for the district has done an amazing job. Virtually everything about their job has changed and they continue to put the kid’s needs first!

Question E (Three Challenges): Can Princeton stay ahead of community growth by building and maintaining first-class facilities? Other challenges include maintaining a healthy fund balance and balancing the budget with the probable cuts from the state in school funding, and retaining our quality staff members and getting through COVID unscathed.

Dawn Bourdeaux

Biographical: My name is Dawn Bourdeaux. I am married to Brian and we have two boys Luke, a freshman at Princeton High School, and Peter, a sixth- grader at Princeton Middle School. We are business owners and I work part-time at Immanuel Lutheran Church of Princeton in the office. I have lived in Princeton since January 2005. I have worked for corporate businesses, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. I attended the U of M Crookston and St Cloud State University. I am a Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce member and the Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association.

Question A (Goals & Priorities): As a candidate for School Board ISD 477 I will bring leadership, new energy, willingness to listen and act, accountability, dedicated to being a strong educated VOICE for all students that will work with multiple partners and families to create the most supportive and successful school district, that will provide the very best education for every student. As a School Board Member, you need to work with numerous partners and need to be able to be neutral and do what is best for the Students, District & all that are involved. My top three priorities: Ensure every student as the opportunity to succeed and has the very best education, and provide programs and services that prepare and equip our students for post-secondary education/careers in this ever changing 21st Century. Communication is key at every level and every step of the way.

Question B (Budget Priority): Being a good steward of the funds. By matching our district resources with our vision. With budgetary constraints being flexible enough to change as our needs evolve. Fiscal Planning will play a role. Finally, with budgets we need to be an Innovative District providing high quality education/programs without all the traditional costs. We need to have accountability in all areas of our district. Giving every opportunity for our students and resources that are needed by our teachers and staff. Every student, family, teacher, staff, administration & volunteers are essential for our District to succeed.

Question C (Program/Service Priority): I have always been a strong believer in Early Childhood Family Education. Learning starts at a very young age. This is the foundation for their learning career, along with social and emotional development. I also believe we need to be giving all our students the resources, skills, and opportunities they need to go on to college, vocational college, trade school, technical school, military or entering the workforce. Preparing every student to achieve their dreams and succeed in this ever-changing world.

Question D (COVID-19 Challenge): Technology and every student having access to high speed internet. Having the resources and equipment to prepare all students at all levels for this 21st Century. The district currently has a wait list for hot spots for students. Not having the proper resources or equipment causes stress and anxiety for students, families, teachers, staff and all who are involved. Which can lead to mental health issues. We need to be providing more resources and tools in all these areas, so no child is left behind.

Question E (Three Challenges): Funding, updating our current high school building, updating the high School by providing innovative spaces for education, technical education, career development, resources and equipment that are needed for all students to meet the educational & workforce demands of the 21st Century. Technology and resources are needed to prepare these students for the 21st Century. Keeping updated with the best resources and equipment for our students to succeed in this ever-changing workforce. Also important is the traffic flow (safety) around our schools, especially at the primary and intermediate schools. “Educate, Inspire and Empower” are all possible when working together to provide the very best education for every student. It would be an incredible honor to be elected as a School Board Member and serve ISD 477. Thank you!

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