Eight file for three seats on the Little Falls School Board

To provide our readers with information to help them in their decision-making at the polls, the Record send out a questionnaire to each of the candidates for the Little Falls School Board. Only candidates in races where the candidates outnumbered the seats available were sent questionnaires. In Little Falls, eight candidates filed to fill three seats on the School Board.

The candidates were asked to introduce themselves and to respond to the following questions. Each of the responses was limited to 100 words.

1. How would you assess the technology needs in your school district?  What are the district’s most pressing technology needs?

2. What can be done to increase the student enrollment count?

3. What steps does the district need to take to improve the rate at which students pass the grad standards tests?

4. What percentage of the district’s overall revenue should be spent directly on classroom instruction? What is your rationale?

Cathy Adamek, Incumbent
Introduction: I taught K-5 in the Little Falls schools for 39 years and have served on the School Board for two years. I am on the Board of Directors of the Morrison County Historical Society, superintendent of school exhibits at the Morrison County Fair, and chair of the St. James women’s group. My four adult children all live in the district and my oldest granddaughter attends Lincoln Elementary. I will work to ensure our children receive a quality education that recognizes their talents and differences. We must prepare our children to be critical thinkers and problem solvers and make wise use of our taxpayer dollars.

Question 1: Compared to many of our neighboring districts, Little Falls is ahead of them in many areas of technology. We have iPads, Smart boards, and sets of iPods that classrooms K-4 can check out from the media centers. We’ve placed some of our older equipment at stations in elementary classrooms. Moving forward we will focus on continuing to move our curriculums to a digital format. Teachers will continue to receive training in the use of digital tools to deliver curriculum to our students. We are very fortunate to have wonderful technology tools as part of our learning environment

Question 2: Our student enrollment has been quite steady for the last few years. Our projected enrollment over the next few years is also looking to be consistent with a few spikes here and there. We are at a comfortable size, but each new student brings funding with them. Thus, simply by providing a quality education with a variety of offerings at the high school level in a caring environment our enrollment should increase

Question 3: Our students need to pass graduation tests in three areas: writing, reading and math. Little Falls is at or above the state graduation rates in all areas. Tests are taken at different grade levels with writing at ninth grade, reading in 10th grade, and math in 11th grade. The district offers remediation with the summer school credit recovery program for those under 16. Because the math test is given at 11th grade we must encourage students to enroll in additional math classes and attend afterschool math boosters. Students must feel comfortable enough to say, “I don’t get it; show me again.”

Question 4: Personally, I feel that every dollar spent is to ensure students receive a great education in a safe, stimulating environment. There are many variables that are part of classroom instruction. Teachers, paras, administrators, custodians and nurses, are all part of classroom costs, but so is electricity, heat, good air quality, good equipment, technology, books, supplies, and the cost of maintaining our buildings. It is the Board’s job to provide all of that with the money we receive so that students have a safe, healthy learning environment.

Jerry Knafla, Candidate
Introduction: My name is Jerry Knafla and I am retired after teaching 37 years in the Little Falls School District. I am married to Pat, my wife of 39 years. We have two grown children and two grandchildren. I am a member of Zion Lutheran Church where I serve on the Board of Elders and direct the church choir. I also work part-time for the Emblom-Brenny Funeral Home and for the Falls Ballroom. I volunteer at St. Gabriel’s Hospital, direct the USA Veterans’ Day chorus and am working with GRAA to help bring community theater back to Little Falls. My hobbies include reading.

Question 1: Our school district is at the forefront in the use of technology. The iPads in grades 5-12 have created an exciting new approach to teaching. Students, no matter what their economic status, now have access to a computer. Smartboards have led to increased student participation and allowed them access to the information world. The K-12 technology curriculum has provided the tools for students and teachers to implement technology into every aspect of learning. Resources needed include time to help train the teachers, financial resources to help fund, maintain and upgrade the technology in our fast changing future.

Question 2: I believe that we need to continue to offer a well-defined, rewarding and challenging K-12 curriculum to our students. One that focuses on and meets and needs of the whole student, regardless of their learning style or level of achievement. Also, a strong partnership, with open communication, between the school district and the community, each working towards the shared goals of student success. We also need to promote, with pride, our town and school district and what we have to offer.

Question 3: I feel our school district is doing an excellent job at preparing our students for passing the grad standards, but there is room for improvement. We have excellent teachers and administrators that are positively challenging our students to meet these goals, but the distict is not in this alone. It takes parents to make sure that the student has had enough sleep, proper nutrition, finished homework and good attendance. Students also need to take responsibility for learning. The community needs to support the district with its endeavors. It needs to be a partnership with the district, community, parents and students all working toward success.

Question 4: I don’t feel that you can pinpoint a certain percentage of money and say this is just for classroom instruction. Yes, teachers need materials, new curriculum, and tools to implement that curriculum, which is very costly, but what about heat in the winter, a nutritious lunch, a clean working environment, a positive learning atmosphere? All these things are needed to make sure that classroom instruction can successfully take place. We must make sure, however, that when the revenue is spent, it is spent with the students’ interest in mind. If if doesn’t positively affect the students and classroom instruction, then maybe it shouldn’t be spent.

Todd Kosovich, Candidate
Introduction: John Adams said, “You will ever remember that all the end of study is to make you a good man and a useful citizen.” School must prepare students for any future they choose, farming or pharmacy, mechanic or mechanical engineer. I’ll fight so that all our kids will be ready for life, whether that is straight to college or straight to work. My wife of 23 years, Martha, and I have twins in 10th grade, our Katie graduated in 2011 from Little Falls High School. I am a Morrison County prosecutor and my family lives in Little Falls

Question 1: iPads for all students is a great start, but it is just the beginning. All classrooms should have Smartboards and information should be directly shared from the teacher’s computer to the students. My only disappointment is that my children need to have any books at all! You cannot have an oil change without seeing a computer. Kids must be comfortable with technology in order to thrive. A priority should be the expanding use of computers for parent, teacher, student communication. Parents without home computers should be encouraged to use these iPads themselves to understand their children’s studies.

Question 2: This district has a rich tradition of parochial schooling. Nothing should interfere with a parent’s right to use that option for their children. I went to parochial school until sixth grade when I moved seamlessly into middle school. The public schools should be ready to receive the parochial students as the move into the public school in the later grades. The district should provide a competitive option to parochial and home-schooling by having great teachers, great technology and great school facilities for learning. The public schools should always be seen as a viable, attractive option for an excellent education.

Question 3: Education cannot be simply preparation for standardized testing. “The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” (Malcolm Forbes). Teachers should be encouraged to provide broad intellectual stimulation in the classroom, as a well-rounded student will be ready for the standardized testing. A recent study that found that if teachers and parents had high, positive expectations of each student, those students will thrive. As a former juvenile delinquency prosecutor, I know the devastation caused when people lose faith in an individual child. We must work together to keep our children interested in their own education.

Question 4: There is no magic number that will automatically improve our schools. The definition of “classroom instruction” must first be agreed upon. “The 65 percent Solution” implemented by Governors Bush (Florida) and Perry (Texas) defined this as the money spent on classroom teachers, instruction supplies and activities such athletics and field trips. Critics of the 65 percent plan noted that no monies were considered for teacher training. I agree with a Washington State study that concluded that dynamic leadership and high expectations for all students was as important, if not more important for student success than some standard budgetary percentage.

Mike LeMieur, Candidate
Introduction: I am a lifelong resident of Little Falls. I attended Little Falls Schools and am a graduate of Little Falls Community High School. My wife, Julie and I have three children, Elijah, Isaac and Nicholas, who all attend Little Falls Schools. I am running for the Little Falls School Board because I believe it is important to have parent involvement on the Board. The education of our children is the best investment we can make for the future of our state and nation.

Question 1: The use of the iPads/digital books is a positive step toward the use of technology in our schools. The use of this technology can make the interaction between teachers and students more effective and productive. If implemented correctly, there can be a positive change in our children’s lives and in the way our teachers teach and our children learn.It is also important, when investments in technologies are implemented, that we first invest in training teachers to effectively use these new tools.

Question 2:  I believe the best solution to increasing student enrollment is to make certain we provide our students with a quality education in a safe environment. Our schools should focus on the basics; reading, writing, math and science. And we should also look into strengthening the industrial/technological and agricultural education.

Question 3: This question is directly related to the previous question. A quality education starts with great teachers and engaged parents. I believe we can always improve the quality of our education in our K-12 programs. We must make sure our teachers have the tools necessary to teach and we must make sure we have quality teachers teaching our kids. I support our school board hiring classroom instructors and teachers who have the experience and background to teach children in a particular area of expertise or business. They should be able to do that without interference from the public teachers union.

Question 4: This question is a difficult issue to quantify because conditions/needs vary from school district to school district. Currently, salaries and benefits make up for 74 percent of the Little Falls School District’s expenditures. I understand there needs to be flexibility to meet classroom needs. I would work to make certain our school children have the necessary books, classroom technology and qualified teachers. I would favor a conservative approach to fiscal issues. I will work for a cost effective administrative budget and a conservative approach to the salary/benefit demands of the public teachers union.

Lisa Lintner, Candidate
Introduction: As the mother of four young children, I want to ensure that our children’s educational experience is enriching and academically challenging. I will approach my service as board member as a parent looking forward to the future educational needs of our children. With a growing family, and the rising cost of living, I understand the importance of balancing and maintaining an efficient, effective budget. I will apply this experience to service on the School Board. I feel it’s important that we involve everyone in our educational system as it is vital for the growth and enrichment of our community.

Question 1: To assess technology needs, I would ask those who are utilizing the current tools. Taking the time to find out from the teachers and students their opinion through their first-hand experience in daily operations. Listening to the actual end users, we can create a more productive change when needed and achieve the helpful criticism we are in search of.  Finding key elements, such as what motivates the children to learn, we will get the answers we are looking for. To determine the district’s most pressing technology needs, again would be best determined from the ongoing assessments through our educators and students. Documentation and an open support system will give us our best hand to address the issues as a community for the district.  Trying new avenues is wonderful, the follow-up is critical for success.

Question 2: The best way to increase student enrollment would be to promote the tools of our community. Parents want the best  education for their students. When we provide a safe flourishing environment for our children, along with parental involvement in academic and athletic programs, that produces a positive community and a strong school base system. These are the key factors to promote our schools. Community and school pride as a whole will translate into positive marketing for enrollment to our schools.  If we want our children to do well, we need to reward and recognize them for their achievements.

Question 3: To increase success in standard tests, I feel we need to turn to our teachers and education professionals and let them teach. More assistance to our teachers, more support groups for the students. Our classes should be structured to be receptive to each child’s pace. Once we have a more focus on each child, their scores will improve, but to do that, the teachers need to have more help at their disposal. I am a huge advocate for assistance for the teachers and students.

Question 4: I feel most of the district’s overall revenue should be spent directly on the classroom instruction. The children are our most important resource. We need to bring back perspective of what’s important, leading focus on the children, their future. Children’s education is the most important investment you could ever make. I want each child to feel nurtured, safe, and be proud of where they go to school. As a parent, and if elected to the School Board, I will also be sure that our children continue to achieve a higher level of education.

Danny Noss, Candidate
Introduction: My name is Danny L. Noss and I live in Randall.  I have managed technology for public school districts in Minnesota and Nevada as well as a private Catholic School in Nevada over a 12-year period.  I lived in the Little Falls area in 1969 and 1970 before joining the U.S. Army.  I retired from the U.S. Army in 1993 as a Chief Warrant Officer 3 after serving more than 22 years.  My spouse, Sandy (Strand) Noss graduated from Little Falls High School in 1975.  I want to help the Little Falls School District move forward into the future.

Question 1: From what I have seen and read, the Little Falls School District is a leader in providing technology to the students through the REAL program for fifth graders and above.  The Little Falls School District, as with all school districts in Minnesota, has a three-year or five- year Minnesota State Department of Education approved Technology Plan.

Question 2: Provide an interesting and challenging learning environment.

Question 3: Provide a working and learning environment where staff and students enjoy coming their school building every day of the school year.

Question 4: Without analyzing the current budget reports, I cannot provide a clear percentage figure to answer this question.

Jay Spillum, Incumbent
Introduction: Hello, I’m Jay Spillum candidate for the Little Falls Community School Board. I have lived in Little Falls for the last 48 1/2 years and have been involved in education for 48 1/2 years. My wife and I have grandchildren going to school in Little Falls and I would like to be involved in making sure that their education in our schools will prepare them to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Thank you for your continued support in this effort.

Question 1: The Little Falls School District is a state and national leader in offering and using technology for learning. We have had many schools in Minnesota and around the nation come to Little Falls to see the advances in using technology for instruction and generating enthusiasm from our students to become better learners. Since this last year was Year 1 of a three-year project, we have high expectations that the next two years will show even more excitement and hopefully can show that our technology will help prepare our students for the next level of education and endeaver that they may choose. Question 2: We need to continually offer our students the curriculm that they need for the present and on into the future. By offering college level classes in our schools we should be able to retain all our students and perhaps convince students elsewhere that they should attend Little Falls schools. We also need to build partnerships with businesses and industry in our district so that our students could get training that could lead them to a career in our community. We also need to see new businesses and industry locating in our district that would lead to more school age children for our schools.

Question 3: One of the most important things that can be done is to try to get the grad standards test moved to the end of May and not give them at the beginning of April. That way students won’t miss over a month of the curriculum which may be part of the grad exam. Then these results must get back to the schools as soon as possible so assessment and planning for the next year can begin. Areas of weaknesses can then be identified before the next school year and plans to improve on these standards can be implemented.

Question 4: Ideally, 100 percent of the school revenue should be spent on classroom instruction. However, that doesn’t work out as we need building and grounds maintenance, we need to maintain a fund balance to cover shortfalls in state aid and other unforseen expenditures that may come along. We are spending money on some mandated issues from the state and federal governments that is unfunded and this money comes out of our general fund.

Sandi Stalmer, Candidate
Introduction: Hi, my name is Sandi Stalmer. I have been a resident of Little Falls for almost 14 years. I am married and have three daughters. Two of my daughters are in middle school and one in elementary school. I am very involved with my daughters with ballet, ice skating, Girl Scouts, basketball, and church activities. My husband, Craig, is retired from the Army with 27 years of service and is currently attending CLC in Brainerd as well as working a full time job in Little Falls. I am a computer programmer with a company in Waite Park. Little Falls is a wonderful place to raise a family and we are very glad we call Little Falls home.

Question 1:  I feel that our district has made major improvements in the technology area. We are now enabling our students to be competitive with other students across America with the use of iPads and the Project REAL program and giving our students more access to computers. I’m not sure if the district has a pressing need, but we need to continue to build on the Project REAL program and continue to train our teachers on the use of iPads and educational material that our students can learn from accessing their iPads.

Question 2: Open enrollment along with the Project REAL program is one of the ways to increase enrollment counts. Being one of the districts that offers post-secondary enrollment option (PSEO), allowing our high school students to take college courses in another offering that could increase student enrollment.

Question 3:   I feel the district is constantly monitoring the test scores and evaluating changes that need to be made to help our students pass the grad standards test.

Question 4:  I would like to say 100 percent, but that would be unrealistic. I am not sure what the current percentage is, but it is very important that our teachers are kept up-to-date on current technology and teaching skills. We have wonderful teachers and I hope we can help them in every way so that they can continue to give our children the best education possible and prepare them for college or the workforce.