Four candidates are seeking seats on the Maple School Board: incumbent Adam Landwehr, of Poplar, is running against newcomers Shannon Grayson, of Lakeside, and Brule residents Shari Olson and Chris Schultz in the April 6 election.
When asked what they would focus on as board members, each candidate offered a different set of priorities.
Olson, a retired educator with the district, said she would focus on COVID-19 recovery, teacher recruitment and retention and revisiting hiring policies and practices with an eye on equity and consistency.
Ensuring a fiscally sound budget with the appropriate amount of money allocated to instructional learning; focusing on student academic success and career readiness; and connecting with community members to understand values and expectations and help guide alignment with the district were the top priorities for Grayson, an Air National Guard veteran, small-business owner and Amsoil employee.
Schultz, a former teacher, associate principal and superintendent, said he would focus on efforts to recognize exceptional student achievement, behavior and attendance, recognize exceptional teaching, coaching and advising and efforts to seek new revenue sources and target the funds for the greatest impact on teaching and learning.
Addressing the mental health needs of students and staff, keeping staff salaries in line with competing districts and creating an environment that builds teamwork to stem staff turnover are among the top priorities for Landwehr, who owns a Duluth business.
Grayson, Olson and Landwehr said the current COVID-19 pandemic was the most important short-term issue facing the district.
“Kids need to be in school learning face-to-face. This is the best and safest situation for these kids,” Landwehr said. “We need to be able to do that safely, for all involved, students, staff, and the families of the district.”
Balancing community expectations, safety, health recommendations and more will be an ongoing issue for the school board, Grayson said.
“This past year will leave lasting ripple effects that the district will have to address to ensure all students continue to progress academically both in the immediate future and likely for the long term,” Grayson said.
- READ MORE: Maple School Board candidate responses
The district’s teaching staff will work extremely hard to help students find academic success, Olson said, but more funding and focus must be put on student mental health programs and resources.
“Learning does not take place if their mental health needs aren’t met,” Olson said.
Schultz said the biggest short-term issue facing the district is developing exceptional student performance for all through guidance, direction and support.
“We can make this happen for every student,” Schultz said.
Long-term, Schultz said the district’s most pressing issue is developing active, product-focused STEAM (science, technology, engineering arts and math) programs at all levels to pique student interest and lead to lifelong success. Partnering with local businesses and expanding existing programs, such as the district’s robotics team, could offer starting points.
Landwehr said the most important long-term issues facing the district are student and staff mental health, teacher retention and sound leadership. Grayson said it is the impact COVID-19 will continue to have on students, particularly academic slide. Olson pinpointed the budget, and teacher recruitment and retention, as the district’s most important long-term issues.
“Many years ago, Maple was the district where teachers wanted to be. They would use other schools as their steppingstone to gain experience so they could get hired in Maple,” Olson said. “Now it seems we are the steppingstone.”
The candidates pointed out positive things the district is already doing.
Schultz said appreciates the district’s partnership with Essentia Health to develop the community health center.
“Having such superior equipment and access to certified physical therapists is a fantastic asset for the community and district,” Schultz said. “It provides a model for what the district can do in many areas.”
Olson was happy to see the recent pay increase for substitute teachers in response to the current pandemic.
“I am hoping that will continue after COVID, and eventually, be increased again at some point sooner than later,” Olson said.
The district relies on substitutes when teachers are sick or accompanying students to competitions and activities. Without them, teachers must cover those classes.
“I am proud of our district for keeping our students in face-to-face learning much of the past year. Academically and developmentally, this is the best choice for our students,” Grayson said. “But I appreciate that they provided options to families so they could make the best choice for their individual circumstances.”
Landwehr said he feels the board is listening to the community, although issues aren’t getting done as quickly as some would like.
“But I have learned from being on the board now for three years, it takes time to work through and come to a consensus on some of the trying issues,” Landwehr said.
This story was updated at 7:55 a.m. March 28 to correct Shannon Grayson's first name. It was originally posted at 1:13 p.m. March 25. The Telegram regrets the error.