Election 2015 - District 621 candidates focus on crowding and achievement

John Hakes
John Hakes
 Robert Helgeson
Robert Helgeson
Amy Jones
Amy Jones
Jonathan Weinhagen
Jonathan Weinhagen
Sandra Westerman
Sandra Westerman

Five candidates are running for four seats on the Mounds View Public Schools Board. Current ISD 621 board members Robert Helgeson, Amy Jones, Jonathan Weinhagen and Sandra Westerman are all running for reelection. Challenger John Hakes is hoping to take one of these spots.

Weinhagen was appointed to the board in July 2014 to replace Lisa Sjobeck.

All four seats will be voted on at-large and all will carry four-year terms.

The Bulletin asked candidates about what skills and experience they would bring to elected office, what challenges they think their cities face in upcoming years and what issues or projects they would prioritize if elected. They answered via email.

John Hakes

Hakes, 50, describes himself as a self-employed advocate and writer as well as a community volunteer. Hakes received his master’s degree in advocacy and political leadership from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is married to Jennifer.

Having invested significant time and energy over 15 years volunteering in the district schools and being involved in district committees, Hakes says he realizes the value of a full menu of course and activity options.

“I’m dedicated to providing as much academic and co-curricular student opportunity as possible,” Hakes says. 

Hakes adds there are unintended consequences of Early College programs, which is a challenge that needs to be addressed. He also believes limited choice means students are being thrust into coursework they’re not ready for.

If elected, Hakes says he will prioritize creative solutions for overcrowding issues caused by growing student enrollment.

“621 schools are preferred by more families each year, but the district lacks physical space,” Hakes says.

The possible solutions Hakes offers include adjusting daily schedules, collaborating with space-rich partners and increasing hybrid learning options.

Robert Helgeson

Helgeson, 60, has been on the board for 12 years. He is a teacher and English department chairman at Apple Valley High School where he has worked for 28 years. Married to Joanne, Helgeson received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa.

Having been a teacher for 35 years, Helgeson says he has genuine working knowledge of different aspects of public education.

“I have extensive professional experiences that afford me broad and diverse perspectives, as well as professional contacts that provide many vantage points from which to understand educational strategies and priorities,” Helgeson says.

Helgeson says one challenge facing the district is maintaining the excellence that the district is known for. This can be done through continued implementation of programs such as Early College along with development of quality pre-K opportunities.

“Quite simply, I want to uphold the legacy of educational excellence that has been a hallmark of the Mounds View Public Schools,” Helgeson says.

ISD 621 also needs to maintain its buildings and facilities in a fiscally responsible way, he says.

Amy Jones

Jones, 44, has been on the board for four years. She is the director of elementary education for Minneapolis Public Schools. She received her master's degree in education from Hamline University.

Jones has 23 years of experience in public education and was chair of the board last year. She says her skill set and background make her uniquely qualified to succeed in the role.

One of the challenges the district faces in upcoming years is maintaining the academic excellence the community has come to expect, Jones says. This needs to be done while balancing increasing enrollment and the need to update facilities.

Jones notes an upcoming challenge for the district will be identifying program models and facilities in order to expand its pre-K 4-year-old programs.

“We know that our district’s youngest citizens deserve excellent early childhood education, which prepares them for future academic success," Jones says.

If reelected, Jones says she will work to strengthen and expand Early College programming and fulfill the Equity promise, “which ensures all students are prepared for post-secondary success regardless of race, class and disability.”

Jonathan Weinhagen

Weinhagen, 32, has been on the board since mid-2014. He is vice president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. Weinhagen received his M.B.A in business administration from Bethel University. He is married to Nicki.

As an alumnus, taxpayer, parent and current board member, Weinhagen says he has a variety of perspectives and experiences that position him to continue contributing to the steady leadership of the board.

Weinhagen says the achievement gap remains both a top challenge and opportunity for the district. The Equity Promise “is a bold statement that directs us to maintain, develop, and implement programs and services that ensure that race, class, and disability will not predict a student’s success in our schools.”

“This guiding principle has led to innovations that have yielded measurable results in closing these gaps; however, ongoing changes in demographics require us to continue looking for ways to ensure this progress is sustained,” Weinhagen says.

If reelected, Weinhagen says he will also prioritize ensuring all students have access to high quality pre-K experiences and assessing facilities.

Sandra Westerman

Westerman is a lawyer for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and is married to Dan. She is finishing her first term on the board. Westerman, 45, received her juris doctorate from Hamline University School of Law.

Raising her family in the district, Jones says she brings day-to-day experience in the elementary and middle schools to the board. She says her training as a lawyer guides her service on the board as she seeks to understand issues in front of the board.

Westerman said challenges facing the district are aging facilities and growing demand.

“This past year, we closed several of our schools to new open enrollment applications because we just don’t have extra classroom space,” Westerman notes.

The board needs to evaluate facilities, projected population growth to determine a long-range plan for programming at all levels, Westerman says.

There is not one particular issue or project that is driving Westerman; rather, she wants to see Mounds View Schools continue on its path of excellence.

“Mounds View cannot rest on where we are today, but we must be always looking at how we can do things better,” Westerman says. 

Election day is Nov. 3. Most polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Find your polling place at http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us or by calling 651-266-2171.

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or staffwriter@lillienews.com.


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