Andrew Thelander

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

I am running for a 4-year seat on the Stillwater Area School Board because I have a passion for service and believe in a well-rounded educational experience for all students. The most important role of a board member is to focus on responsible governance to foster a culture of stability that serves the greater good of our students, schools, and communities in the best way possible. We must be responsible stewards of district finances and taxpayer dollars, but I also believe we have a shared responsibility to wisely invest in our student’s long-term success. To improve student performance and increase student achievement, we need to support excellence in teaching and learning initiatives to meet the unique needs and interests of every student in our district. To engage and honor the journey of each of our students through our public school system, we need to support diverse offerings of extracurricular activities, co-curricular, integrated support services, and other district learning programs. Lastly, we need to responsibly address our district’s continued growth and diversity by ensuring that all Ponies in ISD 834 have access to safe, effective, and equitable learning environments.

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

The SCEA and SCPA have an important voice and a direct influence on the educational experiences and outcomes of our students every day. To have your endorsement means you are entrusting me to be a responsible steward of Stillwater Area Public Schools. I am grateful for your time and consideration.

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 am proud of my mixed-race identity as my father is Caucasian and my mother is Hispanic. This along with my business and finance background that has been sensitized through my liberal arts educational background affords me a diverse perspective. Yet, each person is prone to developing inherent biases due to their own cultural lenses in how they view and experience the world. To this point, I continue to be intentional about increasing my own intercultural competence in having completed Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) training. My wife and I have also participated in classes on Parenting for Racial Justice offered through the ECFE program at Stillwater Area Public Schools.

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?

Governance means being able to effectively collaborate with fellow board directors and the superintendent to develop a strategic plan with clear expectations and parameters for adopting policy. This involves input from all stakeholders and clearly defined roles for the administration and school board with the purpose of providing the best achievement outcomes for all students in our district.

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?

I have some personal familiarity regarding unions and collective bargaining as both my parents retired from working in the public sector. In addition, my wife’s background is in elementary and early childhood education having previously worked for two large public school districts. My mother-in-law also taught second grade in a Minnesota public school for over 30+ years. In my professional career in personal finance, I have also worked with clients who are current or retired members of various unions and have seen first-hand the impact it has had in providing them with the opportunity for financial well-being by having access to competitive pay and benefits.

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?

Although our district has started to be more intentional in the last couple of years about addressing systemic inequities and institutional racism there is still significant work to be done to dismantle these barriers in Stillwater public schools. I believe we have a moral obligation and fiduciary responsibility to provide all students with access to safe, effective, and equitable learning environments. The district has yet to meet this standard for Lake Elmo Elementary which happens to also be the most racially diverse school in the district. Furthermore, a successful board director should be a person of conscience and empathy who can imagine other ways of being in the world than the one in which they have grown up or been accustomed to. To do this takes moral imagination and moral courage to do the right thing and to stand up against what is wrong or unfair.

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?

There needs to be a balance of both a bottom-up and top-down approach to collaboration within district governance and school leadership. There’s not one right approach and no one person or group will have all the answers, but we all need to be curious and open to learning from each other. I think of the district organizational chart as being a large team of specialists where everyone is encouraged to share their expertise, insight, and ideas so that it can be brought forth to the school board to ensure the board is well-informed and deliberative in all its decisions. Teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators are essential to the success of our schools and their perspective is imperative. By fostering a culture of stability, the school board can focus on effective board governance who along with the superintendent can develop a clear strategic plan that involves input from all stakeholders to enact district policies that are in the best interest of the students we serve, and where the district administration, teachers, and staff are empowered to do what they do best to serve all the students of ISD 834.

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

Collaboration means working together as a unified team in the pursuit of a greater purpose. Successful board collaboration is dependent upon a culture of stability that is grounded in empathy, mutual respect, and a willingness to be open-minded. As a board we have a responsibility to foster trust and transparency and to make informed decisions and vote intelligently with the best interests in mind of our students, schools, and communities.

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.

To build trust with each group, I will foster inclusive outreach and engagement to build authentic relationships over time with integrity and by leading with a servant’s heart. Integrity will be my most important asset as a school board member. The more I am able to meet and interact with individuals and groups will consistently demonstrate my authentic self to others and reinforce my intentions of wanting to bring a responsible, thoughtful voice to the Stillwater Area School Board.

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

The current and future initiatives that should be priorities for our district are as follows:

–Support excellence in teaching and learning initiatives to meet the unique needs and interests of every student in our district to improve student performance and increase student achievement.

–Support diverse offerings of extracurricular activities, co-curricular, integrated support services, and other district learning programs to engage and honor the journey of each of our students through our public school system.

–Address our district’s continued growth and diversity by ensuring that all students have access to safe, effective, and equitable learning environments.

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?

Unsuccessful future district levies would have a significant impact on the stability of our schools that would likely result in a reduction in student performance and student achievement. If this happens, we would need to re-group, assess, and develop a new plan of action to manage short-term realities while actively looking to bring it back again for public vote. If new state legislation cuts funding for Minnesota’s public schools that would likely be even more devastating. I do not have a good response to offer at this point for how to address the potential for this sort of reduced state funding. How to address these economic challenges would involve significant collaboration and input from all stakeholders in our schools and communities.

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