Nine candidates are vying to fill three open spots on the District 833 School Board.

The terms for board members Ron Kath, Heather Hirsch and Michelle Witte are expiring. Witte has chosen not to run for re-election. Election Day is Nov. 5. Information on polling places and early or absentee voting is available at the Minnesota Secretary of State website.

We asked each candidate to submit written responses to The Bulletin about their priorities and qualifications. Among the nine candidates, common priorities include addressing the growing student population, ensuring stable funding and supporting diversity and equity. Candidates also discussed such issues at a September forum held by the League of Women Voters, which is available to watch on the district's YouTube page.

Candidate Cecilia Domingos has withdrawn from the race.

Dwayne Brauch

Dwayne Brauch, 2019 school board candidate. Photo courtesy of Brauch.
Dwayne Brauch, 2019 school board candidate. Photo courtesy of Brauch.

Profession: Retired U.S. Marine (currently working for Department of Veteran Affairs)

Age: 42

City of residence: Cottage Grove

Why are you running for school board?

It takes a lot to be a great a school board member but with the great leadership skills the military gave me with my background, I feel I would be a great candidate for the school board because:

  • Great school board members have a clear vision for the district.
  • Great school board members communicate their actions to the community.
  • Great school board members work as a team.
  • Great school board members adopt a fiscally sound district budget.
  • Great school board members focus on what is best for all students.
  • Great school board members advocate at the local, state and national level for public education.

What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the district?

I know from reading past minutes there is going to issues:

  • with the new PreK-12 homework policy for this year.
  • Background checks for volunteers in our schools.
  • Closing the achievement gap.
  • Investing more in our teachers and staff.
  • Successful implementation of Common Core.

How do you plan on approaching these issues?

The lack of clear vision with concise goals and concrete objectives is not unique to the school board. It is rooted in the vague directive in the state constitution that obligates the Legislature to reasonably fund education where a lot of time and our tax dollars are spent on legal matters, and will continue to be spent, to argue in the courts. Common Core, while voluntary, solidifies our institutional integrity through links in the chain of command. However Common Core has severe gaps that are reflected in standardized test score measurements. They do not address special or English learners and leave it up to the teacher to figure out how to conform to the traditional curricula. Individual Education Plans help solidify this base objective, however they conflict with state policy regarding virtual education.

What qualities or skills are important for a school board member to have?

If elected to the school board, this is it. My priorities are simple, but complex. The complexity of the situation may have led to the current Type Four Problems the board faces. Type Four Problems exist where critical, and complex solutions cannot be forged through incremental change. Therefore, virtually nothing is done, and things simply stay the same unless a clear policy prescription in the form of a rational overarching district vision with clear goals and strong leadership emerges. If we continue to do as we have, we will continue to have what many believe are chronic problems. However, I don’t see these challenges and priorities as problems, I see opportunity for transformational educational growth!

Keith E. Collier

Keith Collier, 2019 school board candidate. Photo courtesy of Collier.
Keith Collier, 2019 school board candidate. Photo courtesy of Collier.

Profession: Administrative officer

Relevant experience: I am a father of three District 833 students. I have a master’s degree in human relations with over 29 years experience developing policy, setting goals, planning organizational structures and evaluating mission performance in the U.S. Air Force and at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Age: 50

City of residence: Woodbury

Why are you running for school board?

I am a father who is vested in the success of not only my three children but of all our students. I have spent my entire professional career developing the ability to see a problem, understand the need of various groups, and come up with solutions that meet the needs of the community as a whole without compromising our shared values and integrity.

What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the district?

Our district’s growth and limited budget requires innovative solutions for our staffing, overcrowded classrooms and physical space needs. I’d like to support professional development in the areas of diversity and cultural awareness. It’s also vital that we continue to improve workplace climate and strive towards diversity in hiring.

How do you plan on approaching these issues?

I will review existing programs with a focus on performing them efficiently. This in addition to our current allocations will help address our projected growth and space needs. I will work with fellow school board members, our superintendent, the district staff and our community. Together we will create continuous improvement for our district.

What qualities or skills are important for a school board member to have?

I think it’s important to have an ability to step outside one’s own thoughts, feelings and ideology to truly hear and understand desires or requirements, then develop innovative solutions to meet the most essential needs of the district as a whole. To be able to assess district systems and create efficiencies while discerning resource limitations.

Melinda Dols

Melinda Dols, 2019 school board candidate. Photo courtesy of Dols.
Melinda Dols, 2019 school board candidate. Photo courtesy of Dols.

Profession: Over 20 years as social worker in child protection, mental health, and developmental disabilities

Relevant experience: Master's degree in counseling and psychological services, 18 years experience as a union member, co-president of PTA, Booster Board/Committee member at district schools, endorsed by UTSWC Teacher's Union

Age: 48

City of residence: Woodbury

Why are you running for school board?

I’m running for school board because I love this community and want to give back to it. I graduated from ISD 833 and have three children in it. I have had one child in the special education system, one child in standard education, and one child in the gifted and talented system. This has given me a unique and broad perspective as a parent, and also will as a school board member. I want to advocate for our district's children, parents and teachers and will work hard to keep our schools safe, help close the achievement gap, and fight for the continued funding of the broad range of academic and extra-curricular programs our district offers.

What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the district?

I believe that the most pressing issues facing our district are physical and emotional safety in our schools, the achievement gap, and long-range facility planning for the projected growth of our district.

How do you plan on approaching these issues?

I will assist with the implementation of the new check-in system at our schools that will help provide school safety by running background checks on visitors. I will fight for a school social worker or counselor at every school to help address student MH needs. As far as the Achievement Gap, I will work on climate and culture issues and ensure that the district is addressing the gap through evaluation and professional development. In terms of Long-Range Facility Planning, I will work closely with administration on a proposed levy that looks at the building and financial needs our district will be facing related to the population growth in our district.

What qualities or skills are important for a school board member to have?

I believe that it is important for school board members to have a passion for public education and serving others. It is also important to have good communication and collaboration skills and the ability to make sound and ethical decisions, while following the democratic process.

Kevin Haskins

Kevin Haskins, 2019 school board candidate. Photo courtesy Haskins.
Kevin Haskins, 2019 school board candidate. Photo courtesy Haskins.

Profession: Registered nurse

Relevant Experience: Registered nurse working in multiple settings from school nursing to occupational RN. Past experience, in the Army as a medic, volunteer and paid fire fighter. I know how to serve.

Age: 39

City of Residence: Cottage Grove

Why are you running for school board?

I am running for school board because I believe education is one of the most fundamentally important aspects of a community's civic responsibility. As a member of the school board, I would be able to share my experience to the benefit of the community. I would also like to create stronger ties between the school board and the community.

What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the district?

The most pressing issue in my opinion is the rapid growth in south Washington County. How do we make fiscally responsible decisions and provide excellent education to a growing population? As a school board member you are 1 of 7 voices on the board. Working with other board members and presenting ideas and research, as well as responding to the community is imperative for the success of the district.

How do you plan on approaching these issues?

My approach is logical; looking at the facts, as well as the past and projections for the future. I believe in quality public education for current and future students.

What qualities or skills are important for a school board member to have?

I think its important for a school board member to be altruistic, honest, caring and intelligent to make sound decisions.

Louise Hinz

Louise Hinz, 2019 school board candidate. Photo courtesy Hinz.
Louise Hinz, 2019 school board candidate. Photo courtesy Hinz.

Profession: Retired teacher

Relevant experience: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. 22 years of teaching experience. Endorsed by UTSWC Teacher's Union

Age: 62

City of residence: Afton

Why are you running for school board?

Our school district continually ranks as one of the best in the state, but there is no limit on greatness. Education was not just my career; it was and is my life! I have been an ISD 833 resident for 35 years, have raised two children who attended our schools from kindergarten through high school graduation, and taught in the district for 22 years. I can bring an insider’s perspective while balancing the needs of the community and the schools.

What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the district?

We are the sixth largest school district in the state and we continue to grow rapidly. To continue to provide high quality education, we need to focus on our classroom environments. To start, we need to be committed to reducing our class size.

How do you plan on approaching these issues?

Typically, student-teacher ratios are calculated by dividing the total number of students by the total number of licensed teachers. The resulting number is misleading and doesn’t truly reflect a typical classroom, so there is a need to build awareness of this fact. We also need to learn from our neighboring school districts that have much lower class sizes than we do. They are demonstrating the possibility. We need to learn how to make it a reality.

What qualities or skills are important for a school board member to have?

An effective school board member needs to be a thoughtful decision maker. They need to seek out and listen to varying perspectives from all stakeholders with an open mind. They must be able to collaborate with all stakeholders even when they disagree.

Heather Hirsch

Profession: School climate specialist, Minnesota Department of Education

Relevant experience: Master's degree in public health, Park High School graduate, district parent

Age: 34

City of residence: Cottage Grove

Why are you running for school board?

I am running for re-election to the school board of South Washington County Schools. I have had the privilege of serving our district on the school board for the past two years. I have been actively involved in our district's teacher negotiation committee as well as our district policy review committee. I am a graduate from Park High School, and my only daughter attends Cottage Grove Middle School. I have a master's degree in public health with a focus on maternal and child health. My undergraduate degree is in English literature and women’s studies from St. Catherine’s University. I work for the Minnesota Department of Education in the areas of school safety, social emotional learning and school climate improvement.

What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the district?

My priorities on the school board include deepening our teacher and staff engagement, addressing and enhancing our comprehensive school mental health programming and resources, and ensuring that all of our efforts are working to reduce or eliminate our achievement gaps.

How do you plan on approaching these issues?

The staff in South Washington County Schools work tirelessly to create a high-quality learning environment for our students. I think we need to continue our investment and support for our staff and teachers, including high-quality professional development, adequate staffing support, and working to continue to increase teacher pay. I think that one of the strengths of District 833 are the teachers and the staff that are behind our students. However, we struggle compared to neighboring districts in recruiting and retaining new teachers and staff of color. In terms of school mental health, I will push for a full-time social worker at each of our school buildings. Our students are experiencing mental health needs that we currently are not able to address. We need to continue taking leadership in this area and deepen our commitment to addressing school mental health. This includes investing in community partnerships, investing in additional licensed staff in our school buildings, and in evaluating the impact of our work.

What qualities or skills are important for a school board member to have?

School board members need to be willing to collaborate; knowledgeable about issues in education and in the community they serve; willing to engage with members from all sectors of our community with an open mind. In my past two years on the board I have learned so much from our parents, students and staff – they are all willing to come together when given the opportunity.

Pauline Ho

Photo courtesy of Pauline Ho, 2019 school board candidate.
Photo courtesy of Pauline Ho, 2019 school board candidate.

Profession: Supplemental education business owner, medical laboratory scientist

Relevant experience: More than two years of working with over 200 students and their families to improve the student's math skills and confidence in school. Parent volunteer of Pine Hill Elementary School. Busing coordinator for Woodbury and Cottage Grove students in the University of Minnesota Talented Youth Mathematics Program.

Age: 43

City of residence: Cottage Grove

Why are you running for school board?

I am running for school board to ensure all students in the district have equal access and opportunities to learn, growth and reach their full potential toward a better place in life.

What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the district?

  1. Two out of three high schools are reaching capacity
  2. Budget reserve has dipped down to 3.5% (healthy level is 9%)
  3. Transportation department doesn’t meet all student’s needs for transportation

How do you plan on approaching these issues?

  1. The school district will go back to the voters for more funding to address the space and physical plant needs. I will work with the leadership team to restore trust and transparency regarding funding with the public before the referendum is put on the ballots.
  2. I anticipate that the district will start cutting staff and/or services to balance the budget. I will make sure that those cuts are not inside the classrooms to minimize the impact on our student academic.
  3. I will request a careful study and analysis of the transportation department’s operation to identify inefficiencies and develop plans for improvement of services.

What qualities or skills are important for a school board member to have?

A passion for public education, integrity and the ability to work as a team toward a common goal.

Ron Kath

Photo courtesy of Ron Kath, 2019 school board candidate
Photo courtesy of Ron Kath, 2019 school board candidate

Profession: Director of sales operations and communication

Relevant experience: Current school board member, accounting degree, 34 years with Schwan Food Company, past City of Cottage Grove parks commissioner, past council position at Christ The Lord Lutheran Church

Age: 58

City of residence: Cottage Grove

Why are you running for school board?

The school board will need strong proven leadership and experience. Tough decision will need to be made. My years of proven leadership and experience will allow me to be objective with all of the tough decisions that will be facing the school board in the upcoming years. I want to make sure we continue to increase student achievement and I want to make sure we have a strong financial position. I want to build on key past accomplishments like: upgrading our schools to support our growing communities, updating many of our schools entryways to prevent unwanted intruders, putting a greater share of our funding directly into the classroom verse other metro districts and passing balanced budgets. Test scores, in subjects like English, math and science, are some of the highest in the metro area with a high graduation rate, adding new inventors and robotic laps. providing the district employees many more personal learning and training opportunities.

What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the district?

We need to continue to improve student achievement for “ALL” students through personalization. We will have space issues with all of our communities continuing to grow. School buildings will need to be expanded. We need to pass balanced budgets while improving our fund balance position.

How do you plan on approaching these issues?

Build strong communication work streams with staff, parents and students. Make sure policies and budgets align with the districts strategic goals. Be an active participate in committee and community events.

What qualities or skills are important for a school board member to have?

A school board member needs to be a good listener, a hard worker, have high integrity, a willingness to work with others and make tough decision for the benefit of the entire district.

Simi Patnaik

Profession: Marketing consultant and director, Woodbury Thrives

Relevant experience: More than six years service on PTO, including two as co-president. More than three years service on Citizens Finance Advisory Committee. 2013, 2015 and 2017 referendum volunteer. Parent volunteer advocating at the Capitol with legislators. Endorsed by United Teachers of South Washington County.

Age: 44

City of residence: Woodbury

Why are you running for school board?

I am passionate about education, and believe all kids deserve the same opportunities to learn and flourish – no matter their background, school or family income. Part of flourishing at school means kids feel safe, secure and ready to learn – we must ensure they have what they need. Our district is growing, and we should be thoughtful about planning so we can continue to pragmatically invest in and maintain quality instruction, curriculum and facilities.

What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the district?

  • Consistent, predictable funding for the district, at a state and local level

  • Advocacy for all students to ensure access to resources, including closing the achievement gap across school communities.

  • Help for the 20% of students with mental health concerns, giving staff tools/training and bringing in more expertise (counselors and social workers).

  • Focusing on long-term planning for programs, curriculum and facilities; maintaining our excellence and investing for the future

How do you plan on approaching these issues?

Communication, collaboration and action. Each school has a designated school board partner. I will be active within my school communities, meeting with educators and available for parent/student feedback. This helps flag critical issues and creates a communications pathway. School board members must advocate on behalf of the district to get the resources our students and staff need. Building a strong district requires us to give teachers the time/tools to help students and requires board members to work externally to ensure the needs of our district are met.

What qualities or skills are important for a school board member to have?

School board members need to be student-focused and have a passion to make students’ lives better; be empathetic and respectful of community members who share concerns; be open to new ideas and willing to change their minds; be thoughtful decision-makers who are willing to make difficult decisions; be able balance the concerns of various stakeholders; be communications- and team-oriented; and be willing to do the work of making a better place for our kids.