MOORHEAD — Nine of 13 candidates vying for a one-year seat on the Moorhead School Board did their best to break out of the pack during a forum Thursday, Oct. 5, at the Moorhead Public Library.
A special election will be held Nov. 7 for the post, and each of the candidates had a different take on what they see as the biggest challenges facing the growing school district.
Kara Gloe told the crowd she'd like to hire more staff for the schools, including paraprofessionals, counselors, social workers and gifted-and-talented teachers.
"We need more help," Gloe said at the forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley.
Elijah Dee said he'd focus on security on school campuses to protect children. He recommends "gun alarms" be posted at all school entrances.
For Lisa Hage, equal and improved access to technology is important. While the new Horizon West Middle School and Dorothy Dodds Elementary campuses have "wonderful technology," Moorhead High School "could use a little updating with the technology" so those students are qualified for the work world or college when they graduate.
David Hallman said the district's state testing results remain "a little below" the statewide average. He said children from poor families need more help. Poverty "is where the difference is," he said, as children in poorer households generally score lower on tests.
Ruel Johnson said the growing district faces challenges, including balancing construction and staffing needs with an effort to keep property taxes lower. While the board "has done a good job," Johnson wants "solutions that we come up with to be sustainable."
The high school is "going to be pretty full soon," giving the community another decision on building construction, said Dave Marquardt. Getting state funding for pre-kindergarten is also something "we should look at to be sure that kids are ready for the future."
For David Thingvold, the gap between children of wealthier and poorer families is "just something I feel strong about." He said the district needs to study graduation rates "to be sure they're where we want them to be." At the same time, while building construction may be important, "we also have to respond to the taxpayers."
Keith Vogt said teachers "are stressed" and could use more help. It's also important to make the schools more welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds, he said.
Amy Arel agrees that staff could use more help, though funding would have to be found. Arel said it's important "to care for the whole student" and help shape kids so they respect one another.
All of the candidates agreed that the School Board should consider having its meetings broadcast to improve transparency. Candidates were also asked how they would improve suicide prevention.
For Hage, more staff is key: "There would be more people that would notice" kids with problems. More teachers are needed to reach out to kids that "need a fist bump," Hage said.
Thingvold said it's important to give teachers more training and encourage them to report if they see a child having difficulty. Teachers can build relationships with students and make them feel safe and comfortable, he said.
Arel encourages "very intentional conversations" and "intentional screening" for distress. "Ask the questions and make it open" for children to express their concerns. Plus, it's important to teach the signs of people struggling with mental health issues, she said.
Dee said it's important to talk to children and pay attention to their problems, as well as to give them encouragement and "tell them they can make it."
Mental health needs are a community issue, Gloe said. Those needs are not going to be tackled by the district alone, she said. She'd like the district to partner with Clay County Social Services, perhaps even having social services offices in the schools.
Candidates Lisa Holter, Tonya Kunza, Brian Mancini and Angie Dannewitz-Johnson were not present at the forum.
The seat being decided in the election had been held by Laurie Johnson, who resigned from the board in late November 2016 because her family was moving to another part of the country.
In January, the School Board voted to appoint a former board member, Cindy Fagerlie, to fill the post until a special election could be held.