2018 Stillwater School Board – Shelley Pearson
The St. Croix Valley Gifted family-friendly candidate event is Sunday, 9/30 at Teddy Bear Park. Please check the event page for scheduling info, plus links to other candidates’ responses and voter registration support.
- Website for Shelley Pearson – shelleypearson.net
- Pearson Campaign on Facebook – @ShelleyPearsonforStillwaterSchoolBoard
- Pearson Campaign on Instagram – @shelleyforschoolboard
- Read below for St. Croix Valley Gifted Q&A
1) School Board goals adopted 8 Feb 2018 begin with these statements:
The Stillwater Area Public Schools’ Board of Education ensures outstanding learning opportunities for the social, emotional and academic growth of every student in our school district through authentic partnerships and meaningful communication with our community, parents and students. Every decision is made with a commitment to equity for all students and for future generations impacted by our actions.
What do these statements mean to you as a candidate for school board? What do these statements look like when board members put them into action?
SP: These statements mean that we do our very best to make decisions for the whole child. Our work is not simply about academic outcomes, though we recognize that academic results are stronger when social and emotional needs have been met and when students learn how to be responsible leaders and good citizens. We recognize that relationships among students, between students and teachers, and between students and vested parents and community members will yield higher results than trying to do the work in isolation.
In addition, we recognize that equity means that every child receives what he/she needs to become the best he/she possibly can. As it pertains to identified gifted and talented students, this is recognizing that the misperception that these students get all they need because they are smart is wrong. We recognize that every student has individual needs, and it is our job as board members to make sure the district is offering opportunities for all students to succeed, excel, and find their passions.
We obviously cannot be all things to all people all the time, but it is our responsibility to provide a fair and equitable education to all students. This means thinking outside the box, understanding that students have different needs, and being willing to push the envelope when we can do better. Finally, it means we listen and respond as parents share successes and challenges in our programming since they know their children better than anyone else.
2) Community-building and outreach to the communities this school district serves are an ongoing priority among local voters. In the recent two years since the last board election cycle, Stillwater Area Public Schools leadership has undertaken several initiatives (focus groups, advisory teams, communication efforts, new events, etc.) aimed at community engagement, matters of transparency, student mental health supports, understanding community priorities, developing partnerships with area business leaders, etc. In what ways do you believe these efforts have been effective? In what respects does the school district have room to grow and/or adjust course?
SP: These efforts are a good start to what needs to happen in order to build community trust and buy-in for our schools. There is so much talent and expertise in the St. Croix Valley that could be utilized in future task groups for board-led initiatives. For example, the board has a fiscal responsibility to ensure we are spending taxpayer dollars well. A task force of people from different walks of the financial world could be a key part of making sure we are doing the best we can with what we have been given. Also, when looking at district facilities, it would be great to have people who are vested in each of those buildings and surrounding communities come together to identify needs and recommend actions as part of a larger team. There is strength in bringing diverse voices to the table to identify needs. Some will make points that no one else may have thought of, and this is important for the strength and integrity of decisions made. In addition, there should be parent and community representation on all district committees (calendar, curriculum, etc.).
It is common knowledge that we do still have parents and community members who are frustrated over past actions of the board and administration. While we will never make everyone happy, much more can be done to include those who are upset in current and future planning so they feel valued in the work they would like to do. People often get frustrated when things happen TO them without having a say in the process or the outcome. Most people recognize that they are one voice of many, and the vast majority is not saying they know the best answer, but they would like a place at the table. While this may sometimes take longer and make the process seem messier, the end result will be much stronger as buy-in achieved and divergent perspectives are considered.
3) Since 2013 (Minnesota Statutes, section 120B.11), school districts must develop a World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) Plan and Annual Report for each school year. For Minnesota to remain competitive, we must have students who are college and career ready, and who are poised to lead the state’s workforce. Per MDE, Minnesota’s overall population is aging and seventy percent (70%) of jobs will require more than a high school diploma by 2018. School boards have responsibility to establish the advisory committee of community members that develops their district’s WBWF plan and related goals.
In your opinion, what skills are important for students to build across their K-12 education as preparation for the 21st Century society and workplace?
SP: There have been a lot of buzzwords being thrown around when answering this question: critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, etc. While these are all incredibly important, there is a base that every student who graduates from Stillwater Area Public Schools should have. First, students need to learn to work hard and push through difficulties to complete a task with perseverance. Information today is so easy to attain that we all have come to expect immediate results. Our students are the same. They need to know how to endure and persevere and try and try and try until they achieve results. It will become increasingly more important that students learn how to work well with others, both as a leader and a member of a team. They need to learn how to value the opinion of others in a way that even if they disagree, they can still respect those with differing opinions and learn how to find a solution that most people can get behind.
In addition, we need to get away from the expectation that every student attends a four-year college. Students need to be taught how to identify their gifts and talents so that they can determine a path by which they can work in their greatest areas of strength. It is important that we provide many opportunities for them to do by creating community partnerships so that students participate in internships, apprenticeships, attend trade schools or four –year universities. Every one of our students can and should succeed, and we can help them do that.
4) Conversations about equity and K-12 education are happening across the country. Minnesota’s federally approved ESSA Plan includes a list of 10 Equity Commitments. Access to services (counseling, student advocates, ELL and GT services, reading and math supports, etc.) and classroom supports receive attention through an equity lens. St. Croix Valley communities and district schools are seeing rapid growth in cultural, socio-economic and linguistic diversity.
What importance does equity have in the day-to-day classroom experiences of educators and students across the Stillwater school district (primary and secondary)? What should voting residents of this school district understand about the role equity plays in the well-being of our communities and in helping students develop the skills you identified in question three?
SP: Equity is about every student getting what he/she needs to be the best person possible. Great teachers have been providing these opportunities for students for centuries. Students have always had different learning styles, life experiences, and challenges. While there are more and different needs today, providing an equitable educational experience does not have to be complicated or cost a lot of money. The end result of providing an equitable experience is a well-rounded student who knows his/her strengths. By providing different avenues toward success for our students, we can help our students determine which path is right for them. By providing tools and resources that cover a variety of avenues, we can more easily meet the needs of our students. Our teachers have already been doing this in many areas, and the board must support this work.
5) Advocacy on behalf of Stillwater School District is among school board duties. Board members are charged with using ongoing, two-way communications to build trust and support among community, board, superintendent, staff, and students. They also are responsible for addressing issues that affect education on local, state, and national levels. The district’s 2018 Legislative Platform includes two named advocacy priorities concerning boosts in State funding toward the special education cross-subsidy and pensions that impact the General Fund. How have past experiences prepared you to fulfill these assorted advocacy duties as a school board member?
SP: I have had nearly four years on the board to learn about these areas and develop a deeper understanding of our legislative needs. In addition, I have listened to numerous speakers talk about legislative issues at a state level and have attended the Minnesota School Board Association’s advocacy tour which seeks to identify district and state educational needs.
As for the trust to be built among community, board, superintendent, staff and students, this is a top priority for me as a school board member because I recognize how a lack of trust is a sticking point that often renders a district ineffective. When there is a deep level of trust between the aforementioned groups, schools perform better and people are more involved. In addition, I have learned the importance of process in making decisions, specifically the importance of making our decisions in an open, transparent way so that the community can understand why and how we reached a decision.
6) During the 2017-2018 academic year, this MCGT chapter conducted a Community Feedback Initiative to gather local input about access and availability of GT supports at St. Croix Valley area schools. Local sentiment can be summarized in this statement from page one of the resulting report:
Broadly speaking, local access to GT services in K-12 is unpredictable and inconsistent; identification offers no promise of supports, services, or programs.
The feedback we collected shows agreement around core concerns: student access to and continuity of GT services and supports (academic and socio-emotional learning) across K-12; whether promises about the type(s) of GT services to be delivered are kept or broken; and whether instruction strategies and decisions (procedures, personalized learning, acceleration, etc.) utilize evidence-based practices and reflect deep understanding of common GT attributes vs. being rooted in stereotype.
Where do GT learners fit within district priorities and accountability (under Minnesota’s ESSA plan) to demonstrate year-to-year growth and to provide personalized learning for all students in elementary and secondary classrooms?
SP: The unique needs of gifted students will be met if we are considering everything through the equity lens discussed above. Gifted learners often have different needs to get them to become the best they can be. We cannot dismiss the needs of gifted learners because they often perform well. Our goal should be that every student receives what he/she needs to be as successful as possible. We need to empower our staff and families to support these students, and it is important also to make sure there is a clear point person in administration who understands the needs of gifted students.
7) School Board Members must balance the work of being both listener and ambassador. What would you tell prospective families and/or voting community members who don’t have students currently enrolled about Stillwater Area Public Schools?
SP: I would start out sharing about general successes in academics, athletics, and the arts in our district, but then I would go on to share about how well my children have done in each of those areas. Often, people do not want to send their kids to our schools because of the sheer size of the district, but I can truthfully tell people that even though I went to school in a very small school district and was nervous about sending my own kids to schools that are as big or bigger than the entire population in my hometown that I have been pleasantly surprised at well the schools have done in providing a quality education for my students. I would end by sharing about how many amazing teachers we have who truly invest in our students.
8) Why should voters consider you in particular as they choose among candidates for Stillwater Area Public Schools’ open board seats?
SP: I have shown that I listen to community members in a thoughtful way. Community members and parents understand they can bring their concerns to me. If it is a board issue, I consider their desires when making decisions. If it is something to be handled by administration or at the building level, I will encourage them to seek resolution in that place and then follow up with them. In addition, I also desire our district to be the best Stillwater Area School District possible. I believe we have great potential to do unique things so that our students are excited about learning and parents want to send their kids to our schools.