Below are my remarks in response to the questions at the first forum. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the recording from the first forum was lost. As such, my responses below are accurate to the extent that my memory and note-taking allow.

The questions:


I first want to take this opportunity to thank the League of Women Voters and all of the invested constituents who have taken time out of your schedules to attend tonight and to watch the recordings later.

I have bragged about NL-S everywhere that I have been because our school district has always been committed to providing every student the education and experience they need to be their very best. Since moving back home, I have sought out opportunities to help the school continue to improve, including participating on the Strategic Planning Committee and analyzing testing data. Now, I am running for school board to serve – as the retirement of our superintendent pushes us into a new era – to help make sure that NL-S is as strong when my daughter graduates in 2034 – and beyond – as it was when my wife and I graduated in 2004 and when my father graduated in 1974.

NL-S helped me build an incredibly solid foundation, which I relied heavily on as I earned a bachelor’s degree from the U and a doctorate from Indiana University. As a college professor, I saw first-hand the impact that a strong high-school makes. As a district, we need to continue to prepare college-bound students for the challenges (both academic and social) that they will face in college, while also ensuring that the students who are going to enter the labor-force directly are given the support and training that they need to be successful. We should be working with area businesses to help us prepare students for the careers that are available to them.

I want to make sure that the school district continues to grow and prepare students for the ever-changing world in which we live. Mr. Carlson has led us wonderfully for the past 23 years, and it is important that the board that selects his replacement is looking out another 23 years into the future. We don’t want to stagnate or revert on the phenomenal progress that our district has achieved. If retrograde policies had always been accepted, we would still have hitching posts in front of Old Grey instead of this gorgeous new PAC, and inkwells would dot every desk in lieu of our computer labs and iPad programs. The students graduating over the next 23 years are going to find a different world than the one that any of us on this stage were raised in. We will be doing them a severe disservice if we don’t continue to advance with the world around us. That includes actively building a district focused on preparing students for this new world, and providing teachers the resources to teach to the ever-rising demands of the world around us to prepare NL-S for the impending teacher shortage and allow us to continue recruiting and retaining the best teachers.

Q1. The school board will be hiring a new superintendent of schools. What are some questions you would ask of the candidates for this position? What do you see as the most important qualities and characteristics of a superintendent?

Perhaps the single most impactful decision the next school board will make is the selection of our next superintendent. I hope that the selected person is able to lead us steadily for another 23 years. However, that means that we must be cautious and forward-looking in our decision making and thorough in our assessment of applicants. In addition to their background in education, we will need to assess their fit with the community, their vision for education, and their ability to be the face of the district in many circumstances.

Starting next week, the current board will be interviewing search firms that will help recruit and screen applicants for the position. This selection will lay the groundwork for our process, including what candidates to target for recruitment, what filtering we expect the search firm to conduct, and what information we want to collect before choosing a short-list for interviews.

I think that it is important that we draw the largest applicant pool possible, to ensure that we identify as many high-quality options as possible. Among other things, we should ask the search firm to actively seek out women to apply for the position. With our the current male-bias of our district administration, some candidates may incorrectly surmise that we would not be welcoming – either in the application review or once they arrive for the job. While there are likely a few misogynists still in the area that would prefer to see no women in administrative roles, we need to make sure that the search firm projects a more accurate picture of our community as a whole.

Once we have identified a broad pool, we can begin to winnow through the candidates to find the best option for our district based. I would like to see a candidate with a history of commitment to public education, particularly in rural districts. I expect to select an applicant who can articulate a vision for the future that includes support for trades, college-prep, and broad exposure of students to emerging technologies.

Q2. Given that budgeting shortfalls are possible, what would be your budgeting priorities?

I would say that our schools are currently underfunded, and that we should be working to increase funding through any means possible, particularly coordinating with the MSBA to lobby the state to increase the funding formula.

Given that, I think one of our top priorities has to be teacher and staff pay. We are facing an impending teacher shortage and, if we want to continue to recruit and retain the best teachers, we need to make sure that we are paying them fairly. Related to that, we need to ensure support for classroom resources to give teachers the materials that they need to teach.

We also need to protect our extra-curricular activities. These activities have incredibly positive impacts on students (both in and out of the classroom), and we should be trying to expand rather than contract these programs. It would be great to push established programs toward revenue-neutral (e.g., setting ticket prices to cover a greater share of costs), but these activities are a valuable piece of our education system.

Q3. Mental health is a factor in student success. What do you think our school should do to facilitate good mental health for all our students?

I think that one of the most crucial things that we can do is improve the ratio of trained counselors to students. This is incredibly difficult to do given the budget constraints that we face, but I support the current board’s submission of an MSBA resolution calling for additional state funding for counselors. I think that it would be wise to dedicate some of our school safety funding to this need as well.

Beyond that, we need to continue to recruit the type of teachers and coaches that can serve as a community connection for our students. It is amazing how much of a difference one adult connection can make in the school, and we should be doing what we can to facilitate that. I still count many of my teachers and coaches as friends. When I come back to the building, it always feels like home because they are still there, connecting me to the school. To encourage this, we should continue to support student passions through extra-curricular activities, to increase the connections each student makes.

When I was a student here, we had an outbreak of suicides, including one of my classmates. He was an amazing young man, and the rest of us all saw a bright future for him. Unfortunately, he appeared to view the end of high school as some sort of end. He invoked a permanent solution to a short-term problem. I don’t know what, if anything, could have saved him that day. Maybe another counselor would have recognized warning signs; maybe with today’s awareness, a friend would have spoken out. Maybe a connection to the broader community would have ease his transition out of high school.

I’d like to see the community explicitly build some connections with students. Can we connect our students to local coffee or breakfast groups to help build a social bridge between generations? We should be working to get students involved with local organizations and building connections to the fabric of the community as a whole.

Funding is necessary, but it will only take us so far. We need the whole community – in and out of the school – to be involved if we want to raise complete young citizens who know that they are all welcome in our community, no matter who they are.

Q4. NL/S has been developing policies and procedures about bullying, weapons, and violence. What changes will you pursue to keep students safe from violence or internet and in-person bullying?

I think that one of the most important things that adults in the district (from parents to teachers to administration to school board members) can do is to model appropriate behavior. This includes the peer-intervention strategies that the other candidates are calling for – they are phenomenal, but students need to see adults actually implementing those. When we, as adults, witness bullying (particularly among adults), we need to call it out publicly if we expect students to do the same. This can also occur at the district level. If we implement inclusive policies, we will be modeling the tolerance that we seek from our students. If we instead choose to pass policies that single out groups of students, others will take notice and may follow that example instead.

The other thing we need to do is to work with students to understand the role of social media in their lives. Facebook was just rolling out when I was in college. The world is different than what any of us grew up in, and we need to be active in understanding that change. While bullying is far from a new issue, its manifestations may be very different in today’s school settings. We cannot neglect those mediums in our approaches to addressing the problem.

Q5. Two years ago the school board tabled a proposed policy on bathroom use by transsexual students, pending input from the MN Dept of Education. Since then, we’ve had a court ruling and MN Department of Education recommendations. What policies do you believe our district should adopt concerning Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students?

I don’t think that who is peeing in the stall next to you is a particularly important issue. Your bathroom at home is presumably not gender segregated, and most people that I know have peed in the opposite sex bathroom at least a few times when long lines conflict with full bladders.

My research background is largely in sex-differences in animals. There are very real differences between the sexes, but humans layer an enormous amount of socialization on top of those differences to construct gender. People are advocating to let gender, rather than sex, govern the use of bathroom facilities.

If the concern is about reducing confusion, and keeping people comfortable, then consistency demands that both trans- and cis-men use the men’s room and that trans- and cis-women use the women’s room. Note that a trans-man will cause a far larger uproar walking into the women’s room than the men’s room.

I want to make sure that a trans-student finds a welcoming and supportive environment at NL-S. If it is your child or grandchild, I don’t want school policies to encourage bullying or to make basic bodily functions a challenging social problem. Nobody is suggesting that we allow assaults or peeping to occur in bathrooms – those things are already illegal whether committed by a cis- or trans-individual. In fact, forcing trans individuals to use the bathroom that matches their biological sex, rather than their presenting gender, is more likely to lead to an assault.

In 50 years, history will look on anti-LGBTQ efforts much like we view the racial discrimination of the 1960’s. While such social transitions are difficult, and should not be undertaken lightly, we must recognize that there is no harm caused to cis-gendered individuals in granting trans-gender individuals the dignity of peeing in the facilities that match their gender.

Q6. Many schools are seeing parent attempts to censor books and topics teachers want to include in their curriculum, such as climate change or diverse gender identities and cultures. What role do you think the school board should play in determining curriculum?

If standards are being met, we should trust teachers to know what is appropriate by age level and not let a veto from a vocal minority impact the education of other students. Students will face the world eventually, and sheltering them does them no favors. We should trust our teachers to help students wrestle with difficult concepts before they encounter them without that support in place.

Note: I have added additional thoughts on this premise in a Facebook post

Q7. How will you aid in the development and promotion of the NL/S School Foundation?

I think that the Foundation is a wonderful opportunity to build the links and mutual support between our community and the school. Our alumni are rightly proud of our district, and we should lean on them to support the Foundation.

In addition, however, this is an opportunity to connect the school to the outcomes the community wants to see. I was door knocking Sunday for the New London Food Co-op (I actually got Larry to sign up for a membership – thank you again, Larry). I think that there are great opportunities for the school to engage with this effort to bring a grocery store back to New London.

Can we also use the Foundation as an avenue to work with local businesses to develop the kinds of programs that specifically train/develop the skills that they want future employees to have? I never thought that there would be a job for me back “home,” right up until I was connected with Life-Science Innovations. I know that many of my classmates felt the same. Could having Rambow, Nova-Tech, or Relco (or, more locally, Dahmes – I was reminded after the forum) work with our students help build pipelines to careers that would draw our graduates back to the area when they start families?

I also think this may be a way to enact one of my favorite ideas – a course called “Life” that teaches things the community believes are important. You fund it, we teach it. If Marlyn Orson wants everyone to know how to wire an outlet so that I can stop bothering him and he can retire, let’s teach students to do it. The number of times that I have been the only one at a wedding with a sewing kit is atrocious – can we use this to make sure that our graduates are never the ones so ill-prepared. Whatever is important to you, cut a check to the Foundation and we will find a way to teach it. I love that idea.

I think that there is a lot the Foundation can do, and the school should work hard to promote this type of idea to develop the Foundation into a group that connects the community and school more intimately.

Q8. Many people think that children should not have to beg additional funds for their education. What are your views on funding student activities?

I hope that we can get 100% of students in at least one activity, and that means funding a range of activities. As a district, we build a house, have choir/band, athletics, robotics, and more. We should keep growing and adding new activities to find every student’s passion.

For equity, a parent’s financial situation should not prevent a student’s participation. We should seek funding for scholarships where we can (including budgeting for them), but this could also include building community connections. Can Greenwater Garage and Gallery help us build an arts community for our students? Can we work with Mayor Gossman to utilize the public spaces near the school for art installations?

I will say that I think that fundraising is, to a point, good for students. I learned a lot about life selling pizzas door-to-door and running a sloppy joe supper. If structured well, fundraising can be a part of the learning process and can increase buy-in from participants.


Thank you to everyone for taking the time to be here tonight. The time for each candidate was limited, so I want to point everyone to my website: and my facebook page: if you want more information about me or my positions. I would love to engage with people about the issues that are important to them, whether I agree with you or not.

I am driven to provide our teachers the support and resources that they need to teach in an increasingly demanding (and digital) classroom. I see a severe teacher shortage looming on the horizon, and I want to push NL-S to prepare before it arrives by focusing on the recruitment and retention of quality faculty and staff. I plan to work with area businesses to make sure that we are providing our graduates with the skills they need to compete in the local workforce. I want to make sure that every student is able to participate in school-sponsored activities that support their passions. I stand strongly behind the motto that we chose as a Strategic Planning Committee: Inspire every student every day.

This website is prepared and paid for by Mark Peterson; PO Box 91, New London, MN 56273