Beverly Petrie

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 school board because I believe there is unfinished work before the current board, and, as an incumbent, I would like to contribute to the process of getting it done. Although this board has succeeded in temporarily addressing the growth in the southern part of the district by adding on to Brookview Elementary and enacting boundary changes, we must seek more permanent solutions to the growth. Similarly, although the community approved referendums created by this board to renew the operating levy and provide technology funds, there is important work remaining to make sure extra discretionary funds are used to support achievement for students. 

I believe a school board member must ensure that the fiscal health of the district remains sound and that administration keeps its primary focus on student achievement.

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

The people who make up SCEA and SCPA represent the people who understand the district most intimately. They are closest to students and know what should be done to allow them to succeed. If they judge me worthy of support, it implies that they approve of the work I have been doing for the past 20 months on the board. That is a vote of confidence that I would be honored and humbled to receive. It would be an endorsement that would resonate in our community, which holds teachers and paraprofessionals in high regard. 

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 a white Cis woman. I grew up in an Iowa town of 70,000 with one of the highest percentages of African Americans in the state. During my childhood, it was a segregated town and Blacks lived in an impoverished area where redlining was common. In the 1960s, there were race riots as the people of that community rose up in protest. My parents and the leadership of the Catholic Church to which we belonged were able to guide my thinking at that time to understand the injustice that lay behind those riots.

Today, overt redlining may be outlawed, but that doesn’t mean that communities of color are living fully equitable lives. There are fresh inequities that must be addressed. I recognize that I have lived a life of privilege even though I grew up in a working class household where money was often short. My march through life has been invisibly smoothed, compared with the lives lived by those who do not have the advantage of having white skin. It is my duty, especially as a school board member, to recognize that privilege and continually educate myself about the experiences and needs of other cultures.

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?

High functioning school boards recognize that they do not run the school district. They hire a strong superintendent and they cede to him or her the responsibility of hiring education professionals to manage the district and educate its students. It is the board’s primary responsibility to exercise fiscal oversight and to make sure that the district is headed in a direction approved by the community. If we, as board members, are spending so much time on board work that it might qualify as nearly a full time job, and we are getting down into the weeds of management, we’re doing it wrong. 

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 grew up in a town in which unions helped to provide a middle class living for the community’s families. I know that unions have sometimes used questionable tactics in their efforts to fight for members who were powerless to act alone. Although I think it’s important to call out improper actions, I do not demonize unions in general for these lapses, just as I do not demonize businesses in general for the actions of a few rapacious individuals. They both have a role to play in providing and maintaining a good standard of living for this country’s families. 

When I joined the school board, the previous board had failed to negotiate contracts with the district’s bargaining groups. Incredibly, employees had been working without a contract for 18 months. The new board settled contracts within the first few months for an amount that was just below the state average for wage increases.

Earlier this year, I was one of two board members who served on the district’s negotiating team in contract talks with teachers. After several months of negotiations, the two sides reached a deal that was in line with state average wage increases for teachers. Contract approvals came quickly for the rest of the district’s bargaining groups. 

I believe that school board members should have cordial relationships with union leaders. There is little to be gained in viewing teachers and other employees as adversaries; they are the ones who are most responsible for educating our students in a safe and welcoming environment. They should be fairly compensated and appreciated for what they do.

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?

In June of 2020, after the killing of George Floyd, the school board received a letter from BIPOC student leaders at Stillwater Area High School calling out the “blatant racism” that students had experienced there. It called for ways to improve the environment for students of color, including: the creation of an Equity Committee to discuss ways to reduce racism and improve the school experience of students of color; intentional hiring of teachers and staff who are people of color; expansion of Brookview Elementary, one of the most diverse schools in the district; and more support for students experiencing racial trauma.

Progress has happened. I proudly voted to approve the expansion of Brookview Elementary to accommodate growth in the south part of the district. Stillwater schools hired a full-time cultural liaison who works with students of color to address their concerns and help educate other students about the richness of culture that results when those of different backgrounds come together. 

That cultural liaison was the linchpin of an effort by the Student Leadership Council to address bullying in the high school. The group recently was awarded Stillwater’s 2022 Human Rights Award for its efforts. 

Despite these efforts, much remains to be done. We MUST do better to hire teachers of color. We MUST make sure teachers and staff understand how to support students of color. This is particularly necessary because of the demographic changes this district has seen over the past 12 years. In 2010, the district had 6 percent students of color. Today that percentage is nearly 25 percent. In some of our most diverse elementary schools, Brookview and Lake Elmo, the percentage is approaching 40 percent. 

We must ensure that our entire community understands the strength that comes from celebrating a mosaic of cultures, rather than expecting everyone to disappear into a homogenous melting pot.

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?

School board members are elected members of the community who oversee the work of administration to make sure it is consistent with the standards that the community expects of its public schools. In most cases, school board members are not education professionals. That is why the board’s most important responsibility is hiring a superintendent who will form a staff of experienced, smart professionals who will do the work of developing curriculum, assessment, staffing and school management. 

It is true—and appropriate—that the school board must sign off on these decisions, since it is the controlling authority of the local schools. But I am not the sort of board member who would substitute my Googling expertise for the expertise of staff people who have obtained a PhD in their field. 

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

Seven individuals come together to form a School Board. In an ideal world, this means a collection of people from different backgrounds holding various opinions about the agenda items they must discuss during a board meeting. 

Collaboration in this context means healthy, respectful, detailed discussion of the issues without resorting to personal attacks or sarcasm about another board member’s point of view. It means a back-and-forth discussion that works hard to find a middle ground that is reasonably satisfying to all parties. It means trusting that other board members will explore their concerns in advance with the superintendent and the board chair, without trying to play gotcha at the board table. 

High performing boards recognize that the authority to act does not rest with any one individual. It rests only in the collective board.

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.

I believe that trust building with all groups is largely the same. It involves honest, but respectful, communication with all groups. It means reaching out to those groups to hear their concerns and to simply listen without defensiveness or a desire to solve problems in a shoot-from-the-hip fashion.

This district has undergone a tremendous amount of upheaval in the past few years. The closure of schools because of Covid, the need for students to learn at home and the controversy over mask-wearing were all obstacles that, alone, would tax a school district tremendously. But District 834 also endured a separation from a beloved superintendent forced by a previous board. That led to a near total turnover of top leadership in the middle of the pandemic. On top of that, the new bus company hired by the previous board was unable to meet its obligations and created havoc for families during the 2021-22 school year. 

I believe the board has already taken a step toward soothing the situation by hiring a permanent superintendent, an experienced leader who is rebuilding expertise among the leadership of the district. He is reaching out to all these groups to try to repair relationships and set a course for the future. The board must support these efforts fully.

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

The district has a lot on its plate right now. Stabilizing leadership is a key component of success as our new superintendent begins his tenure. However, there are two overriding issues that must be addressed soon.

1. ACHIEVEMENT. Nationwide, there has been tremendous learning loss because of the effects of the pandemic. Although the district continues to score above the state averages on standardized tests, there is definite room for improvement. The district has already spent extra funds on tutoring and other interventions to address learning loss, and we will need to see what effect those interventions have had before investing more resources to address the problem. I am hopeful that this year will represent the first year of classroom normalcy after the pandemic, and that the dysregulation of students that was apparent at every grade level last year will ease. I believe we are all hoping for a normal year of success for students.

2. GROWTH. Nationally, demographics have led to declines in school enrollments. This trend has not been obvious in District 834, however, because of the housing growth in the south part of our district. Lake Elmo, in particular, and Woodbury, to a lesser extent, have seen an explosion of growth in the past decade, and the pace does not seem to be slowing. New families are coming to our district, and the students they are bringing must be served. A boundary change initiated by the board helped to lessen the effects somewhat, by pushing students north into the less-used schools in Stillwater. But that was a band-aid, not a permanent solution. Not only does the district need a new elementary school in the south, to replace the aging Lake Elmo Elementary, but it may need to address overcrowding at Oak-Land Middle School, brought on by the growth in the south.

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?

District 834 is in a fortunate spot right now. Last fall, voters in our community generously approved two levies: one to replace the longstanding local levy that provides about 16 percent of our operating budget, and a new levy to support educational and operational technology. This gives us a bit of breathing room, but it does not allow us to spend recklessly to support new initiatives. We must be frugal and prioritize the most important student-centered needs in the district. 

The district gets the majority of its funding from the state. Last year, I advocated at the state legislature for adequate funding for schools. We simply cannot support students academically without proper funding from the state. I will continue this advocacy in the future. 

One of the reasons this board chose our new superintendent was because of his proven track record in Albert Lea in balancing that district’s budget and putting it on a path to fiscal prudence. I am confident that he will do the same here. With greater fiscal restraint and smart spending by administration, coupled with advocacy for proper financial support from the state, I am hopeful that the district will be able to weather economic downturns and challenges in the coming decade.

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