Give a little background information about yourself, including age, hometown, education, job history and how long you’ve been in office (if you’ve been the incumbent)
RAPHEAL: My wife Kim and I have lived in Scandia for the last 27 years where we have raised Erica, David and Jackalynn. I’ve been on the Forest Lake School board for 17 years and was chair for 13. A software engineer by trade I have worked primarily in machine vision.
THEISEN: I have proudly been on the Forest Lake School Board for eight years. When I lived in Scandia my daughters attended Scandia Elementary and I became involved with PTO. I eventually became employed by the district with the Title 1program, t ECSE (early childhood special education). My love of the district inspired me to get involved with vote yes and the efforts to pass referendums, in turn it naturally lead me to a desire for a higher level of involvement, running for school board. I have always been employed or a volunteer in social services. I worked for 10 years with Head Start in various capacities, and as a quality coach for Parent Aware of Minnesota I am also a volunteer Guardian ad Litem.
If you are an incumbent, what made you want to run and have those objectives been accomplished. If you are a challenger now, what led you to run.
RAPHEAL: I originally ran to be more active in the positive things happening in our community. The major issues that have motivated me are pushing for academic rigor for our students, up to date buildings that match our student needs, and achieving funding that gives us the ability to keep our low class sizes and academic excellence. With our reconstruction project we met many of the deep needs of our buildings. While we have achieved an amazing improvement in our facilities and gotten our funding to better meet our needs, we always need to push harder to ensure that our academics are rigorous, relevant and equitable for all students.
THEISEN: Forest Lake is a unique district in that we are the third largest district geographically in the state of Minnesota. We have 8 elementary buildings that are based in smaller, individual communities. I believe public schools are the backbone of society and I feel our community elementary schools bring people together. They are vibrant hubs, busy with activities and learning! My desire has always been to help communicate and engage the public in our efforts to make the necessary improvements to our district. Forest Lake has strong academics, music programs, top academic courses as well as trade programs. Together we have accomplished a lot.
Excluding COVID-19, what are some of the challenges the District is facing right now and how would you like to tackle them
RAPHEAL: Because our district is so large and busing is allocated funding based on student counts, we spend more for transportation than many districts despite having very good per mile busing costs. This pulls money out of the classrooms and needs to be fixed at the state level through our lobbying efforts. Not all students feel welcome at our schools and all students deserve an equitable education and experience. We need to do more to be one community and district. The number of students attending Forest Lake Schools has been decreasing over time because of demographics and competition. Forest Lake Schools offer students a great education that can be tailored to the passions of the student. Having a strong academic record and diverse offerings in activities, sports, music, and classes make Forest Lake Schools a great choice for students and parents but we always need to be adjusting to the needs of the student.
THEISEN: We are fortunate our stakeholders view education as a priority. I’d like to thank them for their support over the years. I am very proud to serve on the Forest Lake School Board. We still have significant work to do in the area of the transportation funding formula, along with the antiquated state per pupil funding formula that determines the amount a district receives. Creating equity in how districts receive funding from the state is critical. Both are topics to keep in the fore front with legislators at the Capital. We have specific goals in our strategic plan that address equity and access for all students. We want to put an end to disparities across our district, so every student experiences success in school.
Your thoughts or opinions in general on how the District handled/operated reopening plans and how they’ve gone so far
RAPHEAL: Ensuring every student get a good education while a pandemic ravages our country is a huge challenge but the staff of the Forest Lake Schools have really risen to the challenge by having full enrollment at the elementary level and a hybrid model and the middle and high schools. I believe we’ve done a good job.
THEISEN: Our reopening plan has gone very well. Making the decision June to hold summer school was very helpful and bold on our part. Our surveys showed that parents wanted their children to be back in school. Our administration very conscientiously pour over and follow the protocols and information provided by MDE and MDH. Our Superintendent communicates with calm consistent messaging that is both informative and reassuring to parents and the community. The health and safety of our students and staff is of utmost importance. Forest Lake Area Schools has a team of educators that is both exceptional and professional. Having teaching staff that values the opportunity to provide the best possible education to their students, no matter what has been a blessing. With nothing being linear, the pandemic has forced us to be trailblazers, coming up with solutions and being dedicated to continuing to provide an equitable education in whatever model deemed necessary.
The Country Messenger did not receive replies from incumbent candidates Jeff Peterson and Julie Corcoran.