When voters in St. Francis School District go to the polls Nov. 5 they will be asked to elect four representatives to the St. Francis School Board.
The seats up for election include three regular four-year term seats, as well as a special election seat for a two-year term.
Incumbents Marsha Van Denburgh and David Roberts are running for the regular term seats. Also running are Shannon Collier, Barbara Jahnke, Juanita Reed-Boniface and Malcolm Vinger II. Current school board members David Anderson and Harry Grams are not seeking re-election.
Betsy Roed and Scott Schwarz will vie for the special two-year term.
The Anoka County Union asked the candidates a few questions to help voters get to know them better. Below are their responses.
Shannon Collier: I am a 38-year-old stay at home mother of four wonderful children with an education in dental assisting. My husband and I have girl/boy twins in third grade and a son in kindergarten at East Bethel Community School. We also have a four-year-old daughter in pre-school at the LifeLong Learning Center. My husband is hard at work serving our community as a K9 deputy for the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.
Barbara Jahnke: I am a recently retired school counselor with a dedication to public education. Holding a master’s of education degree, I have been employed as an educator or counselor for 30 years, worked as a school teacher, school counselor and community counselor. One of my more noteworthy accomplishments has been raising three wonderful sons. And, I now have eight beautiful grandchildren.
Juanita Reed-Boniface: Juanita Reed-Boniface is president and educational consultant JRB Associates, Oak Grove. She was educated in Nebraska public schools and holds a BA degree from the University of Nebraska and a MA degree from the University of Minnesota.
Juanita has over 35 years experience in education including teaching, instructional design and delivery, administration and public relations. Her longtime career was with University of Minnesota Extension Service as extension educator, 4-H youth development responsible for statewide programs.
She is a 39-year resident of Oak Grove where she is an active community volunteer. Juanita served on the Oak Grove City Council for nine years, current vice chairperson of Lake George Improvement District and chairperson of the Anoka County Extension Committee.
She has been involved in the school district through the multicultural/diversity team, a guest reader in the pre-schools and elementary schools and a member of the Sandhill Center of the Arts Senior Advisory Committee. She is a leader in state and national professional organizations and is the recipient of numerous honors.
Her two adult children were educated in Minnesota public schools and are St. Francis High School alumni. She is married to Dick Boniface, University of Wisconsin alumni.
David Roberts: I am 33 years old, a father of four and reside in the city of Oak Grove. I am the owner of Dave’s Heating and Air Conditioning in Columbia Heights. I have been in the HVAC field for 18 years. I attended school in the Columbia Heights and Fridley public school systems, and went on to study at Dunwoody for residential HVAC certifications.
Marsha Van Denburgh: I have nine children, six of them adopted from the foster care system. I am a therapeutic foster parent for Anoka County, so I have parented many, many children over the past 14 years. I am a co-owner of a small business with two of my sons that provide services in the agriculture industry. I work providing services to young disabled adults. These professions allow me the flexibility I need to continue to serve my foster children. I graduated with a BS from St. Cloud State University and an AA from Miami University. I moved to ISD 15 14 years ago and am 51 years old.
Malcolm T. Vinger II: I am 44 years old, married with two children. My career choice was an electrical engineer. I am a graduate of Mankato State University. I finished the four-year engineering program with a BSEE. I have been working as an electrical engineer for 20 years problem-solving and creating new products.
2. What qualities will you bring to the school board if elected?
Collier: The qualities I would bring to the school board, if elected, are knowledge about children with special needs. I have a son who has autism, ADHD and mild cerebral palsy. When doctors told me that my son may never walk or talk, I was determined to be his advocate and get him the help he needed.
I will be an advocate for your family and be a voice for your children. I also have three other children that are currently enrolled in the school district which means that I have as much vested interest as every other parent with children currently enrolled. I believe that joining the school board would be a great way for me to give back to our community.
Jahnke: With a passion about the quality of education in Independent School District 15, I would like to make a meaningful contribution to the district, now that I have the time to do so in retirement. The 20 years I’ve spent as a school counselor at St. Francis Middle School have given me a wide-angle lens view of District 15, from enrollments to exits. I am willing to work hard to gather information and research issues. With my educational background and years of experience, I am confident that I will be a valuable asset as a school board member.
Reed-Boniface: I will bring experience in education and public service. I have lifelong experience and commitment to public education as demonstrated in my academic training and career. I understand the educational process, staff recruitment and selection, staff development, curriculum design and have skills in budgeting for educational programs.
Serving on the city council, the county extension committee and the Lake George Improvement District have prepared me well for serving in the public/political arena.
Connectedness is one of my strengths. I am part of a wide number of networks that I have been able to use in bringing programs and educational resources to the district. My network through Minnesota Ag in the Classroom and Anoka County Farm Bureau was able to provide children’s literature book bundles valued at $1,000 to the district’s elementary schools.
I am a longtime resident of the district, currently involved in school programs. Personal attributes include: thoughtful; ethical decision making and problem solving including the ability to seek out and study the facts to analyze long and short-term consequences for students and staff; listening skills; dependability; caring for students, teachers, staff and citizens; philosophy of working together; democratic leadership style; accountable; dedication and commitment.
Roberts: I feel that I have demonstrated many of the qualities necessary to serve on the school board during the current term that I am serving. I was appointed to the board in March 2013 to fill a vacant seat. While on the board I feel that I have served with integrity, transparency and determination. I have held myself accountable to the voters of this district in all of my decision making.
One quality that I feel that I have demonstrated most is my objectivity. On all of the discussions that have occurred at the board table in my term, I have made sure that I have gone into the meetings with an open mind and well informed on the issue at hand.
At the same time, I have not been afraid to ask the probing questions. There are many tough questions that have to be asked as a board member, and I am always in favor of voicing them.
Van Denburgh: My role as a foster parent allows me to have parented a wide range of children with many different abilities. I understand both the challenges and the gifts that different learners can bring to a school system. This provides me with a unique perspective to public education. I listen and problem solve really well. Constituents can bring an issue to me and I have the ability to dissect that issue from many angles. Currently, I do this successfully as a school board member. I ask good questions, wait for the answers, then make a decision. I do not rush to a decision and seek out information to make a well-informed, fiscally sound decision. Sometimes that means I do not vote with the majority, but I have the conviction to stand strong and not bow to the administrative pressure.
Vinger: I will bring my problem-solving, out-of-the-box, critical thinking abilities to the school district. On a daily basis, I prioritize information and research to coalesce the definition of a problem or a new product and develop an implementation plan to overcome the problem or obtain the final goal of a new, viable, profitable product. I also have done all of the work, been in the trenches, to obtain the final goal.
3. What is the main emphasis of your campaign?
Collier: The roles of the school board are very important, they help ensure that our district is getting the best quality of education and that we stay within our limited budget. I would like to be a voice for us, as parents, and to listen to concerns and hear about great opportunities for students from the school staff.
I feel that communication is the key to success for our children. We, as a community, need to make sure that our school district stays current with all the new and up-to-date educational opportunities out there for our children. With the epidemic of Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD we need to make sure that our special education programs are also giving our children the best educational benefits. I would like to share how great our school district is with other communities and to pioneer new ways of teaching our children that other schools will model themselves after. I would like to help you feel confident that Independent School District 15 is a wonderful and safe place for our children to grow and learn.
Jahnke: I believe there is a growing frustration among school staff, parents and community members about the decision making process in our district. Complaints abound regarding a nondemocratic approach, where opportunities for input are reserved for few. I want to be part of a board that restores the democratic way and makes fully informed decisions, which consider the welfare of all.
Reed-Boniface: My vision for our school district is to nurture a spirit of “working together” with school board, administration, educators and support staff to achieve high standards of excellence, creativity and innovation in the educational process for citizens “cradle to grave,” in a safe and respectful environment, while maximizing human and capital resources.
Some things I am emphasizing in my campaign to achieve this vision are: (1) increasing life-long learning opportunities for our district’s senior population, (2) a balance in curriculum offerings that prepare students for career and advanced education in a technical world as well as giving them skills in human relationships and community participation, and (3) cooperation, respect and cohesion within the school board and among school personnel and community members.
Roberts: The main emphasis of my campaign is to be part of the solution. My signs read “Committed to Excellence.” Many people have asked me to explain what that means.
I feel that the pursuit of excellence keeps us motivated. It is also a pursuit that does not limit us. If we stay committed to that pursuit, we will always strive for the best. How this applies to being part of the solution is simple. There are many issues that face the district. I am not afraid to talk about them.
The budget issues will always be there. I believe in being fiscally conservative and transparent in all aspects of the district finances. I believe that there needs to be more communication in the decision making process at all levels of the district.
I also believe that in the midst of the issue of mood altering chemicals that face our children, we need to be part of the solution there as well. I am strongly in favor of having a chemical dependency professional on staff in our district.
Van Denburgh: I want a top quality education for our students. I believe strongly in collaboration between administration and staff. Our district used to partner with our teachers but has moved away from this and administration is making too many decisions alone. We have a great group of teachers producing really good results. For instance, St. Francis Elementary is a reward school for two years in a row due to the way they teach. I want our teachers to use their abilities and allow them the flexibility they need to reach every student. Sometimes our district mandates are too heavy handed and not based on best practices nor sound research. Too often our top administrators make decisions without the input they need from our staff, thus alienating them rather than embracing their expertise. I want to include teachers and staff who know our students the best to be able to cultivate who they are. Lastly, I want to value parents for their role as the number one educator in our student’s lives.
Vinger: My emphasis is for the school district to provide a quality education on a realistic budget without raising taxes. We need to make sure we have the right talent in the district, allow them to get the job done and pay them commensurately. From school board meetings I have seen, ISD 15 is facing declining enrollment and also a work environment that may not be allowing our talent to shine. We need to emphasize the good we are doing while making sure we are dealing with the tough issues in a constructive and productive manner.
Betsy Roed: My family moved to East Bethel in 1978 when I was two years old. I attended East Bethel Community School, St. Francis Middle School and graduated from St. Francis High School in 1995. I graduated from the College of St. Scholastica with a bachelor’s degree in business management.
My husband, Patrick, and I moved from East Bethel to Oak Grove in 2005. We have a third- and a first-grader at Cedar Creek Community School, and our youngest is in her last year of preschool at the Lifelong Learning Center. I worked in the accounting and finance field until 2007, when I decided to be a stay at home mom.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering in the community, in our schools and at our church. I was on the Early Childhood Advisory Council for three years at the Lifelong Learning Center. I chaired and volunteered at many events. Starting last year, I spread my availability, and volunteered at both the LLC and at CCCS.
Scott Schwarz: My family and I have lived in the Independent School District 15 for eight years. Our four children have all attended and graduated from St. Francis High School. I graduated from Coon Rapids High School, graduated from Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Moorhead State University and University of St. Thomas. My work has been in sales, selling products/services to companies.
2. What qualities will you bring to the school board if elected?
Roed: I am the type of person, that people feel comfortable approaching and expressing their issues to. I am confident that I can get the answers they need. I feel that this is one of my strong suits. I keep looking for an answer, until I find it. I don’t give up.
Helping guide the community and inform them of the correct information, will always be a priority to me. I want people to know that they can come to me. I want people to know that I am here for them. I am already very easy to be found.
I have three kids that are involved in many district events throughout the school year. I volunteer at many of these events already. Our children’s lives are so short. I hold a bachelor’s degree in business management and we learned that communication is one of the biggest factors when it comes to management and teamwork.
As school board members, we need to be present. We need to be visible. We need to be available for the community. This is our job. We need to be a team that can work together productively – and get the job done.
Schwarz: My main quality is the experience of my four kids going through District 15. They each have different learning habits, desires and plans after high school. Working with them and their teachers gave me an understanding of the different things that are offered for different kids, with the same result of graduating and being ready to move forward after graduation.
Also, my kids’ involvement with soccer, band, pit orchestra, college in the class room, conferences, etc., staying involved with their learning and the learning process. In addition, I follow what is going on within the district, with mandates from the state and funding from the state.
My experience with budgets with small organizations will also be helpful with reviewing our funding, options for saving money and planning for the future.
3. What is the main emphasis of your campaign?
Roed: I am here to create a positive atmosphere for our children to live and learn. I want to encourage more community members to attend meetings, volunteer at events and join committees. I also would like to promote open and honest communication. I would love to know that all the members of the community would feel comfortable approaching a school board member at any time, with questions or concerns.
For years, I’ve seen and heard uninformed people jump to conclusions because they’ve either received inaccurate information from an unreliable source, or they’re just unsure about how to obtain an answer.
I would also like to tackle the bad press. This is not a new issue, and it will not go away if things continue the way they are. As the bad press accumulates, the list of people that enroll their children to other schools grows. I’m on a mission to keep our children here. I have a lot of time here and I’m here to make the most of it for our children. I am a graduate of St. Francis and I want our children to be just as proud of their school, as I am.
Schwarz: The main emphasis of my campaign is common sense for education.
As school board members, we have the responsibility to make sure the funds we receive are used to educate and work with the students, to achieve the best education possible. These dollars need to be allocated to the people and the services that are working directly with the students.
My vision is that each child can be educated to their full potential and be ready for the next step when they graduate, whether it is college, military, the trades, self-employed, or working for others.