St. Anthony-New Brighton School Board candidates name achievement gap, hiring new superintendent as top challenges

ELECTION 2017


Four candidates vy for three seats on board

Voters in the St. Anthony-New Brighton School District will soon have the chance to elect three people to the school board.

A total of four candidates are competing; three are incumbents seeking to hold onto their seats. 

There was a fifth candidate, Dave Isaacson, however, after filing, he said he’s opting out of the race in support of the only other challenger, Ben Phillip. 

Phillip joins current school board members Barry Kinsey, Laura Oksnevad and Leah Slye in seeking a spot at the table. 

However it maps out, board members will be facing a number of challenges and to-dos in the near future, including the selection of a new superintendent to replace retiring Bob Laney, working to close the achievement gap, and addressing long term financial needs as well as other issues. 

One thing the new board will not need to do — as it’s already been done — is get a bond referendum passed for the general re-vamping of Wilshire Park Elementary School. That $14 million bond was approved in a Sept. 7 special election. Going forward, however, the board will have to provide direction and oversight for the project. 

The candidates were asked via email why they are running, what skills and experiences they will bring to the office, what they believe to be the top challenges the district faces, and what issues or projects they would prioritize if elected.

 


Kinsey, 63, is married to Bernice Kuure, has lived in St. Anthony Village since 1985 and has served on the school board for 27 years. 

He’s the owner of Sun River Marketing & Advertising and has a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College, where he studied political science and chemistry.

As to what qualifies him for the job, Kinsey cited his nearly three decades on the board, noting that he’s held “all school board leadership positions,” and has served as chair for a decade. 

He said he has a “willingness to listen to all members of our community,” and that he has “an understanding of school district finance.” 

“I have a passion for serving our community and for public education,” Kinsey said. “I believe that I have made a difference through my service on the [board]. My experience and leadership skills will be important assets to the board and our community in the next four years.”

According to Kinsey, two important issues the district will face in the next school year include selecting a new superintendent to replace Bob Laney who’s retiring from the position, and guiding the Wilshire Park project.  As a long term goal, Kinsey said the board “needs to focus on the school district’s approved strategic goals of closing the achievement gap so all of our children will succeed and to maintain the long-term financial viability of the school district.”

“We must remain focused on providing a quality education for the students of St. Anthony-New Brighton Schools,” he said, noting that, “Making sure that all learners succeed,” is a top priority.

 


Oksnevad, 37, lives in St. Anthony with her husband Bjorn and their two daughters, ages 7 and 9. She’s currently serving out the remainder of her first four-year term.

Oksnevad holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Minnesota. She’s a stay-at-home mom and a volunteer in the community. 

Asked what skills and experience she brings to elected office, she said, “dedication and commitment” to the district’s mission to “educate, prepare and inspire a community of lifelong learners in our small, caring environment.” 

She also said she has a “willingness to listen, and continually learn and improve,” the ability to collaborate with students, staff, parents, community groups and legislators.

A nursing and public health background, she said, helps her “view education and student achievement holistically.” 

“I am running for re-election because I believe our district does amazing things for students and I want to continue that positive trajectory,” Oksnevad said. “I believe that all students have the right to a quality, well-rounded education, taught by teachers that care for them in a supportive community.”  

As for the district’s top challenges, Oksnevad said, “Confronting institutional racism and continuing conversations about race and equity in schools in order to eliminate the achievement gap.”

If she’s re-elected, Oksnevad said she would prioritize monitoring and supporting “the continued work in the district of closing the gap.”  

 


Phillip, 43, lives in St. Anthony with his wife Laura and their three children. 

He works at Hamline University, as the director of academic client and technical support and has a bachelor’s degree  in organizational management from Concordia University-St. Paul. 

“I am a problem-solver who likes to use history and data to mitigate risks and then reflect to find new ways to improve,” Phillip said. “I can bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to allow the St. Anthony-New Brighton School District to continue on an upward trajectory, giving all students an equitable chance to succeed.”

He called himself an “active listener and project manager” who is “engaged with the community.” 

Phillip said his 20-year history of working in education, will able him “to help steer the ship in the right direction.” 

Phillip listed several challenges for the district, including hiring a new superintendent, “eliminating the achievement gap, and achieving equity for all.”

He also said he wants to ensure that teachers have “21st century skills in both curriculum design and technology to be effective.” 

“Finally, being more transparent with the community, holding people accountable, and asking tough questions is a must,” Phillip said. 

Phillip said said his top proprity if elected would be equity. 

“We need to have a transparent plan on how to address and eliminate discrepancies in our schools,” he said. “We need to give everyone a fair chance to succeed — our students, our teachers, our parents, and our supporting community.”

 


Slye, 59, lives in St. Anthony with her husband Terry and their four children, who were students in the district. She’s currently completing her third term of service on the board. 

Slye holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Houghton College in New York. She has worked as a charitable grant-maker in the banking industry. She’s also worked as a piano teacher. Currently, she volunteers in the school district and at her church, where she’s involved with mentoring and ministry for children.

During 28 years of volunteer work in the school district, along with her time on the board, Slye said she’s helped pass operating referenda, has served on curriculum committees, has aided in classrooms, advocated at the legislature and has served both as chair and treasurer on the board.  

“People tell me I am approachable, listen well, and am responsive to concerns and ideas,” Slye said. “I am passionate about rigorous, relevant, well-resourced public education that is meaningful and accessible for all students.”

She said the district’s top challenges include closing the achievement gap, getting adequate funding, and hiring a new superintendent “who has the qualities and qualifications to successfully lead us forward.”

“My goal is for all students to feel safe and valued, and to ensure that educational material is presented in ways that are meaningful and accessible for students from different backgrounds and experiences,” Slye said. “My priority is student achievement Ö I will work to ensure that each student receives the inspiration and support needed to reach his or her highest potential.”

 

Election Day is Nov. 7.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.



 

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