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McElwee-Stevens picked for open South Washington County School Board seat

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District 833 School Board members, after conducting five interviews, take a final look at resumes before voting to appoint Katy McElwee-Stevens to serve on the board until the Nov. 5 election. She will fill part of the term left open when Leslee Boyd resigned because her husband took a new job in Oklahoma. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner2 / 2

Katy McElwee-Stevens is headed back to the South Washington County School Board.

The District 833 School Board on Friday picked McElwee-Stevens to fill an open seat on the board, putting her in a similar position to when she was appointed to serve for two years beginning in 2006.

McElwee-Stevens, of Newport, was picked following interviews with her and four other candidates: Daryl Parks and Jonathon Hunt, of Woodbury; and William Thermes and Rick Goecke, of Cottage Grove. She will fill a seat left vacant when Leslee Boyd resigned late last year because her husband took a job in Oklahoma.

"I've got experience," McElwee-Stevens said in her interview. "I know the players and would fit right in."

McElwee-Stevens will serve until the Nov. 5 election, a process called for in Minnesota law. Voters will select someone to fill the remaining two years of Boyd's term as well as fill seats currently held by Marsha Adou, Laurie Johnson, David Kemper and Tracy Brunnette.

The five candidates were selected from 14 applicants whose resumes were reviewed by board members Johnson, Brunnette and Adou in a selection process facilitated by Superintendent Keith Jacobus.

McElwee-Stevens is a paraprofessional employed at Newport Elementary School to assist "high needs" fifth-graders and will keep her job while serving on the board. A board member cannot work for the district if the salary exceeds a cap set by Minnesota law, according to Jacobus. McElwee-Stevens' salary falls under the cap, he said.

During her interview, McElwee-Stevens said she has remained passionate about education in the time since she last served on the board.

Each candidate was asked six questions during a 45-minute interview. Questions came from previous the board appointment processes and from board members, Jacobus said.

Candidates were asked about their vision for the district; what they would change and the process they would use to accomplish it; what board members' roles are in day-to-day operations; what education will look like in 10 years; and about a decision they made that didn't turn out as intended.

McElwee-Stevens said she applied for the seat because she wants to help the community and has seen education from an employee's point of view and as a board member.

As did the other candidates, she said the district must be in the forefront of technology. The students are showing teachers and staff how to use various devices, she said.

Board members shouldn't get involved in day-to-day operations, McElwee-Stevens said. "Let the people we've hired do their jobs," she said.

One issue McElee-Stevens raised dealt with how student medical issues affect them at school.

She said Newport Elementary has dentists come into the building to treat kids whose parents have dental insurance, but more is needed. Some students are not insured and also need eye glasses.

"They can't learn if there are medical issues," she said.

As a board member, she would find out what other districts do in similar situations.

If approached by a special interest group, she would suggest the group follow the district's chain of command.

When asked what she knows about Minnesota school finance, McElwee-Stevens said there's a state formula for determining funding and local referendums. District 833 doesn't get as much funding as other districts, she said. "The equity piece hasn't been taken up," she said.

The next highest vote getter was Thurmes, a Cottage Grove resident and property manager in St. Paul who is married to a teacher in the district.

District 833 is one of the best in the state, he said. "I want to help bring that forward."

As a board member, Thurmes said would be very active in his liaison role with schools.

Hunt, of Woodbury, is director of education at the Minnesota women's prison at Shakopee.

The district has to continue to emphasize math and science, he said, and make sure students are taking those classes.

Parks, of Woodbury, is a professor of English at the University of Minnesota. He said the district needs to do long-term planning to cope with critical issues.

The day of learning solely from teacher lectures is over, he said. Students learn from multiple sources of information.

Goetke, of Cottage Grove, runs one of the companies within the 3M-Cottage Grove plant.

Students need to be prepared for college and for the workplace, he said. If the district doesn't use technology, it will be left behind, Goetke said.

Katie Schwartz, of St. Paul Park, who was the fourth-highest vote getter in the last election that sent three incumbents back to the School Board, submitted a resume for the latest open seat but not selected to be interviewed.

Schwartz, who attended the interviews held in the board room at the District Service Center Friday night, said that she intends to run for the board again this fall.

After the interviews and before the board voted on an appointment, board member Jim Gelbmann said the board needs a new process for appointing someone when there are multiple candidates applying for a vacancy.

If prospective candidates have run for election to the board in the past, as Schwartz did, for example, they should be on the list to be interviewed, Gelbmann said. He suggested the board hold a workshop to discuss the process for future appointments and board members agreed.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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