Alison Sherman

1. Why are you running for the school board? In your opinion, what is the most important role of a board member?

In my less than two years of service on the school board, along with the support of the community and staff, we have planted the seeds to help improve student achievement.

Some of the seeds planted include hiring a permanent superintendent, renewing the district’s critical operating levy, passing our first-ever technology levy, investing significantly in teacher professional development, developing and updating district policy, expanding learning space in the growing southern area in our district, allocating resources to provide appropriate learning spaces for our Bridge Transition 18-21 year-old learners, and making decisions aimed to improve the district’s student transportation services.

These seeds need to be nurtured and many more need to be planted. Just like any seedling, it takes time to see the results of the work. We need to stay the course, continue to do good student-centered work, seek continuous improvement, remain united, and be patient, being sure to celebrate small successes along the way toward achieving our goal of improving student achievement.

A school board provides oversight and governance through policy development and budget oversight. A board hires one employee – a superintendent. A board’s role is to hold the superintendent accountable to implementing its vision, achieving district goals, and improving student achievement across the district.

I am running to:

– Work with community stakeholders (students, families, staff, taxpayers, and state legislators) to improve student achievement.

– Benefit every student at every grade level wherever they attend school with clear, decisive action.

– Ensure the limited financial resources of the district are spent for the benefit of students.

– Lead through the respectful sharing of ideas that produce thoughtful solutions based on the facts and guided by an unwavering commitment to our students.

– Represent the whole district with an open mind and with a commitment to doing my best for all.

2. Why are you seeking our endorsement? What does the endorsement of our unions mean to you personally?

Our teachers and staff are on the front lines serving students and families every day. To most families, teachers ARE the district. As a result, their voice is one of the most important one’s voters trust when selecting school board candidates to support. Teachers and staff who feel supported, valued, and respected are better teachers for our students. 

It would be a great honor to have the teachers, paraprofessionals, and custodial staff groups place their confidence in my ability to help lead the district in a way that works with and listens to staff to better advocate for student-centered board decisions.

3. How has your racial identity shaped and informed your world view? How are you actively working to expand your own racial and cultural lens?

I know a critical step in expanding my own racial and cultural lens is to first have a deep understanding and awareness of my own identity – how I show up, my own biases, being aware of social and political contexts, and understanding our nation’s deep and complicated history. I humbly acknowledge I have much more to learn and am committed to doing so.  

As a school board member, I am committed to listening, learning, and to help elevate the voices of those who are most impacted by our decisions. I believe I have a responsibility to use my voice when and where I can to create a more inclusive and affirming environments for all our students and families and will continue to approach my own growth and development with curiosity, humility, and honesty. 

4. As described by the Minnesota School Boards Association, what does governance mean to you in terms of board work and the role of the school board members?

The school board’s role is one of governance and oversight. Simply stated the school board is responsible for the “What” and the superintendent and staff for the “How.” When operational roles and responsibilities are not respected in an organization, confusion and frustration take over resulting in dysfunction, chaos, conflict, lack of trust, low employee morale and most importantly a lack of progress for students. If a school board spends its time and energy focusing on the “How”, the essential strategic planning and oversight work the board is responsible for is put on the back burner.

5. What has been your personal involvement or knowledge regarding unions and collective bargaining? How would you, as a school board member, interact with union leadership?

Having been on the board for nearly two years, I have been through a contract cycle with our bargaining groups. I think the latest contract negotiation cycle was a step in the right direction, but there is work to be done to make negotiations a more mutually beneficial and satisfying process. The board and the SCEA may at times have different perspectives, but they have a shared interest in serving the needs of all students. We need to focus on that shared priority and step outside our individual roles to better understand the needs and challenges of the entire organization. 

When the board and bargaining groups only communicate during the collective bargaining process that does not serve anyone well. For example, there is a real opportunity to work together to advocate legislatively to support efforts to fully fund the state’s cross subsidy. For perspective, our district’s cross subsidy is now over $12.5M annually. The cost of these important, but unfunded mandates are negatively impacting all our students. If reelected I will continue to work to build a healthy relationship based on trust, respect, honesty, and a mutual understanding.

6. Share examples of systemic and institutional racism that you have experienced or observed in Stillwater public schools. How will you work toward dismantling those barriers?

An example of institutional racism is the disproportionality in the over-representation of BIPOC students in special education and discipline referrals and the disproportionality in the under-representation of BIPOC students in the GATE program and AP classes.  Institutional racism can also be found in school policies and procedures which can adversely harm and impact BIPOC students. I would like to see the board continue to take proactive measures to seek out input from community members, staff, and students when developing policies. This would require collaborating with building leadership in our most diverse school communities. The lack of teachers and administrators of color is another way that institutional racism shows up in our schools. After serving on the board, I believe there needs to be more intentional support to help retain staff members from diverse backgrounds. 

There is both an enormous opportunity and responsibility to ensure every space in our district is safe and inclusive for all students, staff, families, and community members.  Ensuring that every person experiences a sense of belonging in our schools goes beyond just one’s racial identity and it will require the collective efforts from all stakeholders to ensure that each person truly feels a part of our school community.   

7. How do you think decisions should be made that impact curriculum, assessment, staffing, and school management? What are the roles of teachers, paraprofessionals, and administration in these decisions? What is the role of the school board in these decisions?

The board hires and evaluates one employee, the superintendent. The management and day-to-day operations are the ultimate responsibility of the superintendent, not the school board.

I respect and value the knowledge and expertise that every educator and staff member bring to our district, but it is the administration’s responsibility to ensure appropriate staff groups are able to provide input before decisions are made. 

The school board has the responsibility to establish the process for staff to follow in recommending and evaluating curriculum by establishing and reviewing relevant policies. These important board policies guide the way staff works. It also provides opportunities for board and community input before administration requests the board’s approval.

Updating the Curriculum Policy Series is a part of this year’s school board working goals.

8. How do you define collaboration? What would collaboration among your fellow board members look like to you?

True collaboration comes from the absence of ego and personal interests. It is a cooperative effort of people working together to solve a problem and create a new solution. In my experience, collaboration becomes easier after defining shared goals. Having a common purpose makes it easier to work together to accomplish those shared objectives. Collaboration requires trust, respect, and the ability to encourage and cultivate an environment where creativity and outside the box thinking is encouraged. In a public-school system, it also requires transparency in the decision-making process where all voices within the school community are considered.

9. What steps would you take to actively work on trust-building with each of these groups? a) District administration; b) District staff including paraprofessionals, custodians, food service workers, counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, secretaries, school bus drivers, early childhood educational assistants, community education staff, technology support staff, nurses, and teachers; c) District students and families, including racially, culturally, linguistically, and socioeconomically diverse students and families; d) Fellow board members; e) Our community at large.

While I appreciate the various roles and unique responsibilities of people within the district, the way I approach building trust is not dependent on someone’s position. For over a decade I have worked hard to build trust with all members of our school community through a commitment to seek out diverse perspectives and to listen and learn from the experiences of others.  In my relationships and interactions, I strive to lead by example, be consistent, honest, and admit my mistakes. I will continue to do my best to stay curious, remain humble and value every voice to make the best decisions for our students.

10. Describe current and future initiatives that you feel are priorities for our district.

There is a lot of important work to be done on behalf of our students, staff, and other community stakeholders. Some priorities include:

1) Create a Strategic Plan – In order to know where our district is headed and what goals we want to accomplish for our students, creating a Strategic Plan including the voices of our community must be the board’s top priority. This plan will address our urgent needs regarding our students’ academic achievement, curriculum, social emotional supports, special programming, facilities, operations, and other areas identified since the pandemic. Creating a Strategic Plan offers the opportunity for all stakeholders to coalesce around the identified goals that represent our shared vision of what we want for the future of schools. Most importantly, this plan will include concrete action steps, benchmarks, indicators of progress, and other components that ensure alignment toward these goals.  

2) Develop and sustain a high performing school board – A high performing school board has a deep understanding of its role in governance and oversight, and they work in partnership with its Superintendent to ensure all stakeholders have a voice. Our district has certainly felt the ramifications of a school board that steps outside its governance role and into management. The long-term success of our school district is incumbent upon a high performing school board which can set its Superintendent up for success by governing effectively, responsibly, and respectfully to create the most optimal learning environments for every student in our district’s care.

3) Provide stability in leadership – Imagine a corporation in the private sector changing CEOs every two years. That has been the experience of our staff, students, families, and community members for well over a decade. My own son had 6 superintendents in his 13 years in our school district. Excessive turnover in key staff positions destabilizes the organization at every level.

11. Thinking about the next five years, there are bound to be economic challenges facing public education in Minnesota and in our district. How do you propose to address these economic challenges?

Funding will be a challenge for the foreseeable future. It’s important for the board to advocate legislatively to address the problem of an ever growing cross-subsidy. Our district’s cross-subsidy is over $12.5M; this is money that could be spent investing in class size reduction, additional staffing, curriculum, and other student programming. Not being paid for services we are providing is negatively impacting our ability to serve students and families.

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