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District 833 School Board candidate: Heather Hirsch

Name: Heather Hirsch

Age: 32

City: Cottage Grove

Occupation: School climate specialist, Minnesota Department of Education

Family: Daughter, Lily

How do your skills or experience set you apart as a candidate?

I have a Master's in Public Health, with a focus on Maternal and Child Health. I have participated in my child's PTO at Hillside Elementary, volunteered with her school, served on the District South Elementary redistricting committee, and participated in a two day district strategic planning workshop with 833. I hold a School Climate Leadership Certificate from the National School Climate Center. I work for the Minnesota Department of Education, addressing school climate, school safety and social emotional learning. I serve on the board of a nonprofit aimed at improving literacy and SEL skills in Minneapolis and St. Paul schools.

What do you believe the school board can do to narrow academic achievement gaps?

One of my priorities will be to ensure that in every classroom, every building across the district, our emphasis is on teaching to the standards. Done well, standards can be an important tool for equity: if all kids are required to meet the standards, all schools must work to make children reach them, not just schools which have a majority of middle class, college-bound students. Decisions about professional development and curriculum choice should all be about whether it supports the teacher in meeting that goal. This works toward ensuring high quality instruction for all students, at all sites, across the district. Evidence shows that by teaching to the standards, not the test or the curriculum — access to high quality education is improved for all students.

Is the budget and school funding the biggest challenge facing the district?

The budget is a major concern. As a district, we should be looking for ways to reduce waste and eliminate duplication of services, including leveraging multiple funding sources, grants, entitlements to their fullest by looking for duplication of efforts. Part of that would be review contracting and budgeting protocols (purchasing, RFPs, criteria for spending); reducing and maximizing meeting protocols, esp. for special education staff and instructional staff; evaluating transportation funding; energy costs and efficiencies at our buildings, among other areas.

I support the three ballot initiatives, but I feel strongly that the district needs to ensure that we are managing those funds appropriately. Spending time routinely evaluating programs and services to ensure that all students identified are receiving the appropriate services; that staff are operating at the top of their licensure as much as possible; and that conversations are happening about leveraging partners with city, community and county resources to meet needs that the district cannot fully meet for students and families.