Eight Hastings School Board candidates are vying for four open seats and with only one incumbent running to retain her seat, it ensures the board will see at least three new members.

The Hastings Star Gazette interviewed the eight candidates. Each candidate was asked three identical questions and asked two to three questions based on a prior interview done with each. The interviews are running alphabetically — four were published last week and four this week.

Lisa Hedin

Hastings School Board member and candidate Lisa Hedin poses for a photo. Photo by David Clarey / Rivertown Multimedia
Hastings School Board member and candidate Lisa Hedin poses for a photo. Photo by David Clarey / Rivertown Multimedia

Age: 55

City: Denmark Township

Occupation: Stay-at-home parent, school board member, and substitute recess/aide, secretary, laboratory technician in Hastings School District

Education: Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota Institute of Technology

Lisa Hedin is the only incumbent. She emphasized her experience and said that improving the district beyond its "sound" contracts, facilities and finances is important.

What inspired you to run for school board?

I'm running for the same reasons that I've run the last three times. I have a personal value around public service and public education. I've always worked in the public sector, primarily in engineering. When I left that, I moved into volunteering opportunities and ... I like these big picture complex systems. Public education is definitely that.

What separates you from the other candidates?

The thing that separates and differentiates me from the other candidates is my experience. I've had eight years on the board, so I understand systemically what that involves. I've had experience in the annual budgeting, in administrative selections … negotiations with union and non-union members … in public forums on honestly challenging topics. … The second one is I'm really broadly and deeply involved in the Hastings community outside of education. I think I'm very accessible. The last differentiator … is my educational background and professional experience with the Corps of Engineers … I worked on projects that were complex, involved multiple local, state and federal organizations, and high levels of public involvement and engagement.

What do you want to see in the next superintendent?

I think the things that are valuable in a superintendent is experience [and] demonstrated financial capability. The ability to manage a budget that's nearing $55 million in a way that meets the needs of students and is long-term sustainable. … Then a willingness and a demonstrated ability to lead an educational organization. That means establish a vision, goals and measurements … We have an increasingly diverse student population and I would like us to be leaders in integrating all of those students. We've seen an anecdotal increase … in students that have some challenging behaviors. I think this is an issue statewide and nationally, but I would like to see a superintendent that can bring some good ideas and be willing to take that on.

This last year has been a bit more high profile than usual. Could you describe what your process was for handling some of those things that came up?

So I think high profile is the exact right way to describe this. Last year, I really thought the purpose of the school board overall is governance, and this last year we had some challenging employment issues. I was happy to see the level of public engagement. I would rather that people are expressing their opinion. I try very hard to keep my accessibility out there, to not be withdrawing from people. I really wanted to reassure the people around me … that the school district was fine, that we were going to just take on the issues that were in front of us in a respectful and fact-based manner. …[and that this] didn't reflect on the quality of education that our students were getting.

Something many of the candidates have spoken about as an issue is board transparency. What are your thoughts on the school board's transparency right now?

Well, we're certainly as visible as I think we've been in a number of years. The arc that I've seen over my [terms] is the ability to get information and see issues … is more now than it was then. You know, we're pretty much live streaming our board meetings. Our agendas are always out. Within the last year we moved to a different [website] platform and information is readily available on everything from board policies to agendas to meeting minutes. The current board, our pictures are on the district website. My cellphone number is on the website and email is on the website. I mean, this is about as accessible as anybody could be.

Stephanie Malm

Stephanie Malm. Photo submitted by Malm
Stephanie Malm. Photo submitted by Malm

Age: 35

City: Hastings

Occupation: senior paralegal at Minnesota National Guard

Education: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and pursuing MBA

Stephanie Malm grew up in Mankato and has lived in Hastings for 11 years. She said the district's funding is a major issue and emphasized her ability to "process innovate."

What inspired you to run school board?

I've always felt a desire to give back to the community and given my skill set, I think that this is a really good fit. You know … this position is not about me. It's about my children and I have a vested interest in our children because my kids go to Kennedy School and so it's something that I just really want to be an active member and just give back to them.

What separates you from the other candidates?

My drive. It is my educational qualification, I'm finishing up my MBA right now, but I also have 15-plus years working in policy. And not just implementing it, but I've written policy, reviewed it, done tons of process improvement programs … and I have this ability to look at the big picture, identify the issues and come up with solutions that benefit the individual and organization. I think that my skill set definitely puts me above other candidates and makes me a desirable board member for the community.

What do you want to see in the next superintendent?

With the superintendent there's going to be a lot of challenges ahead. Superintendent Collins has been a part of our community for so many years. He’s done some really good things for our schools so filling his shoes is going to be difficult, so we need to be able to identify somebody whose values are committed to our community, is able to make those hard decisions … but also has a clear vision for the district and a way forward. So making sure they’re … not afraid to take educated risks and is a leader, somebody who can communicate well with the teachers and be that liaison between the board members, community and our educators.

You mention your skill in things like process innovation and policy work, explain how that could directly work on the school board.

I'm a paralegal with the Minnesota National Guard and we deal with a lot of regulations. Being the subject matter expert, there's only three of us in the state that do this. I need to be able to take those regulations, take those laws and put it into layman's terms so that we can push that out to the field. For example separating soldiers — so one soldier does something that is against our regulations. We have to be able to process them out of the military and give them due process. This process is continuously evolving and is kind of my my bread and butter. We're making this as seamless as possible for the individuals. I'm trying to explain that there's all these different bigger variables that play into focus groups, into process improvement, and you have to be able to really take all those variables and understand them. Then also be able to communicate them so that they are understandable to everybody and that they are easy to do.

One of the main issues you mentioned was handling the district's budget appropriately. What is your personal philosophy towards how a public body should handle the budget and how would your qualifications specifically help you approach the district budget?

Let's start with qualifications. I manage quite a few budgets within our legal community and then I also had previously managed a program in a prior military position. I am familiar with budgeting and finance. So my philosophy. The budget is a huge thing and I believe in transparency. I think that as a board member, it's my duty to communicate what we're doing with taxpayers' money and that we're spending it wisely … and it's not being misused. So one of the things that I am very firm about is doing the right thing and not taking the easy wrong. Quite frankly I've seen it on on the military side to where you know there's misuse … of funds and it doesn't go well for anybody. It creates significant distrust. So if you approach it from a standpoint of ‘Hey this is what we're doing with our budget, this is what we're looking for,’ and going further, answering the ‘why do we need this funding?’ … Making sure that we're communicating how we're allocating and spending our finances is vital.

Melanie Peters

Melanie Peters. Photo submitted by Peters
Melanie Peters. Photo submitted by Peters

Age: 42

City: Hastings

Occupation: Program manager and instructor — STARBASE Minnesota

Education: Bachelor of Arts in German and Elementary Education, Hamline University – licensed K-6 teacher

Melanie Peters previously was a council member and the mayor of New Trier. She said the district's high profile year and its effect on the community is a top issue.

What inspired you to run school board?

I love education. I love my job. I love teaching. The sort of tipping point for me ... there just was more and more commentary in the public about the school district and some of it was starting to take a negative tone and that really worries me … I don't want that public support to wane in any way. I also am deeply committed to teachers. I was having a conversation with some of my coworkers and one of the underlying things that we've been talking about this year is ‘what can we do to help the students and teachers feel supported and empowered’ ... I just thought this is the time is right for me to try to have the same influence in my own community.

What separates you from the other candidates?

I have the combination of both being an educator and having experience in public service. In my role as mayor in New Trier … there are a lot of regulations that you have to meet. Like with a school board, almost every decision you make has dollar signs attached to it. So I have a strong background in that. The other thing is that in my current job, we work a lot with STEM organizations. There's a lot of outreach that I'm a part of. I’ve had this role and experience of working with a lot of different stakeholders in order to support an educational program. I have a broad background of serving diverse students. I know that in Hastings, especially in the elementary schools, there is a growing population of diverse students and that’s who I've been teaching my whole career.

What do you want to see in the next superintendent?

There are certain things that you just really have to retain from Superintendent Collins and that is his business mind. So whomever comes in needs to have that strong business sense. I think that it is great for a superintendent to have sort of a rallying warmth about them. Someone that teachers and principals and the public are going to want to have as their leader. I also think that we need a superintendent who is going to help all of the schools work together a little bit more. Every principal does a great job within their schools, but as the students move from school to school within the district … I think there can be a stronger continuity between those schools, especially with how behavior is addressed. I also think that it's very important for a superintendent to be experienced in some of the issues that our district will be facing. [I] touched a little bit on diversity and inclusiveness and it would be important for a superintendent to come from a district that has also worked toward bettering their policies and how all students are served.

You've emphasized your experience in STEM education and you've emphasized its importance too. Can you elaborate on why you feel that STEM is so important for the district?

Well I think that one of the reasons why STEM is so important is because we're preparing students to go into either college or the workplace. And many more of those are either STEM careers or will rely heavily on the use of STEM. It relates to other subject areas because STEM is enabling students to have access to volumes of information that they've never been exposed to before. I think that having the sort of critical thinking that comes along with a focus in STEM will help students digest all of that information. But the biggest reason is that many careers are either directly STEM or will require STEM skills.

You've talked a decent amount about how this past year has kind of spiked community discourse around the district. In some cases a negative tone, and so you've talked a lot about how this provides an opportunity to engage or re-engage with the community. Elaborate on why you think that's important and then also how you think the board should go about doing that?

Well there's a direct correlation between public support of education and eventual funding. We've been very lucky that Hastings has … supported and provided financial security for our district. I worry that if there is any negativism around how the district is functioning … it could cause people to distrust the school district or feel like maybe their money isn't being well spent. I think how helpful it could be to have times where people can come and interact with the school board and ask questions … I cringe sometimes when I know that people are questioning or giving feedback using only digital means through email or social media. I would like there to be more of that face-to-face interaction.

Andy Trembath

Andy Trembath. Photo submitted by Trembath
Andy Trembath. Photo submitted by Trembath

Age: 30

City: Hastings

Occupation: Training specialist in the public sector

Education: Bachelor's degree in law enforcement from Minnesota State University — Mankato

Andy Trembath moved to Hastings at 10 and is a Hastings High School graduate. He said that the district should improve its workplace culture and its board meeting space.

What inspired you to run school board?

At the age of 7 I was diagnosed with ADHD and I was on an IEP all the way through high school. So school wasn't something that was necessarily easy or natural to me. I struggled with that and it was through the help of a lot of really great teachers, mentors and coaches that I was able to make it through. For me, it's coming back and supporting teachers so they can support kids like me. It's very important to me that our staff are supported so that they're their best selves when interacting with our students. Another big reason why I'm running ... [is] I have two sons, ages 4 and 2, that are going to be future Hastings graduates. My wife has two more children on the way, which will also be Hastings graduates. The third reason is a commitment I made to myself a long time ago. I have always wanted to make sure that I gave back and was a big part of my community.

What separates you from the other candidates?

You know, I think what separates me is my past life experiences. I'm not saying that others haven't had struggles ... I [also] think that's what separates me from them is I have a deep understanding that teachers are really there and they want to put in the extra effort, they want to take the time. I had a lot of teachers do that and develop relationships with me and really helped me succeed and they went the extra mile probably more than their job descriptions said they had to. And I want to make sure people are supported so they can do it again. I have younger children than a lot of other people that are running ... so when we talk about long-term investment in this community, I got it.

What do you want to see in the next superintendent?

I do want to keep some of the qualities from Collins. Specifically in his budget management experience. I think he was excellent at keeping the Hastings books looking good ... The things I'd like to see … is someone that's more positive workplace centered, someone that's going to push for a top-down change in our culture to ensure that our staff are being supported. I think that'll be an extremely important part of it. I want somebody that's very community oriented. I want them to not just realize that the Hastings School District is not a separate entity but a part of the Hastings area.

You've emphasized the need to improve workplace culture in the district. Why do you think this is a problem and how do you want to see it addressed?

It's from conversations I've had with teachers. I'm not saying that every teacher is super unhappy and that they hate everything they do. What they're saying is they want culture change. They want to feel like they're supported from their administration. I mean obviously this would be in a collaborative effort with our administration and with our new superintendent and with other school board members, but I think really what you'd have to start with is a blanket survey finding out where we're at. Where are those culture numbers? Where's our understanding of leadership? Culture starts from the top down, whether we like it or not. That's why we need to install a superintendent ... that comes in with that sense of mind. Then we watch those qualities and those traits of being "power with" instead of "power over," ... trickle down and become an emphasis at every level of our staff.

One of those things that you want to see is the district and the board work better with the community ... What types of district issues do you see benefiting from this? What might that actually look like?

So I think you'd go about this a lot of different ways. First and foremost, we need to find another venue for our school board meetings that's more applicable to our community coming and ... be present in what we're doing ... Another thing I think we could do ... to make sure we're garnering trust and transparency is ... I think we really need an easy access video library, not only to all of our school board meetings, but also with some of our documentation. Making sure that if we're writing goals for staff or something like that, that they're easily found ... And then we need to be aware of how we're phrasing things and making sure that when we're coming out to the public … that we're giving the whole story... I would [also] love to see like a meeting of the minds ... influential people in our community talking about how we can make Hastings the best possible place for our students.