Below are my prepared remarks for the questions at the second forum. A recording of the forum is available from the Cateye Student Group.

We ran out of time at the forum, so did not get to the last three questions. I pulled a little bit of information from them to modify my closing, but I am presenting my full, prepared remarks below.

The questions:


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.

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.

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 children graduate in 2032 & 2034 – and beyond – as it was when my wife and I graduated in 2004 and when my father graduated in 1974.

At the start of tonight’s forum, I also want to de-code a few terms for everyone, so that you can better recognize places where the candidates diverge on issues. I do this not to critique those that disagree with me, but to better highlight the differences between the candidates.

I believe that extra-curricular activities are a vital part of the educational experience and that they enrich our community. Study after study shows that students who are engaged in school-sponsored activities perform better academically and reap substantial long-term benefits. Every student should have the opportunity to participate in something that they are passionate about, and to have the opportunity to represent our school in the community. That means supporting a wide-range of activities (from theater to athletics and robotics to building a house), even if you personally are not passionate about that activity.

Other candidates, and residents, disagree. I can understand their position – they want to see our funding dollars focused on the things that they believe are important, and they do not place as much value on activities as I do. Mr. Nelson was the most explicit in this context – calling for a “pay to play” system – flatly saying that he would like to see all school-funding for activities cut and require students to cover their full expenses. I respect that position, even though I strongly disagree with it. Several others implied a similar approach, but in the softer language of “fiscal responsibility”.

I strongly believe in supporting equality and tolerance in our schools. Social change is a part of the long, slow bend of the moral arc of the universe. This social change is hard, and we will need to be mindful as we create new policies. However, the shift is also inevitable and can not be forestalled for long. Against this wind of change, a few individuals are standing behind the phrases “privacy” and “safe learning environment” to cover their opposition to at least one inclusive policy.

I also believe that support for public education is a moral imperative. Public education is the best way to ensure that everyone in our community has access to the education that they need to be their best. Every child that is private or homeschooled for their entire education pulls more than $100,000 in state funding out of our district; CCS has cost our district millions in funding as have homeschool groups.

Many of the other candidates have worked with private schools or supported the homeschooling of members of their own families. However, they are unlikely to be vocal about that now as they run for a place on a public school board.

Since I served on NL-S Student Council, I’ve always envisioned the school board as a place where I could use my skills to give back to the community. I feel incredibly privileged that it is my school that I may have an opportunity to serve. I am dedicated to this district, its students, its teachers, and the community that it serves. I am committed to our school’s vision statement: Inspire every student every day.

Q1. What qualities do you possess that will make you an asset to the school board?

I have a strong background in academia, a passion for public education, a commitment to data-driven solutions, and an inability to avoid deep analysis and loquacious writing/speaking on topics that matter to me.

However, perhaps my most relevant quality for school board is an ability to disagree without dismissing those who disagree with me. Reasonable people will disagree, and that is a good thing. It takes a willingness to hear all voices in order to find the best solution.

I spent a bit of my opening statement pointing out places where I disagree with other candidates. I don’t do that to diminish the value of their positions. While I disagree with them, we can still work together to find a path forward. We can find a way to grant dignity to LGBTQ individuals while recognizing that the pace of social change is hard. We can work together to craft policies that address legitimate concerns and still be a welcoming place for everyone. On activity funding, we can find a compromise between stretching our budget too thin and depriving students of activities that they are passionate about.

Our community holds a broad array of beliefs. I may not agree with you, but I will fight for your right to be heard openly. I will work to understand the underlying concerns of others and to craft a compromise that advances the desires of as many people as possible.

Q2. What is your vision for education in our community?

Education is becoming a commodity in this country, and I think that needs to stop.

Students and parents often think of themselves as “customers” as if knowledge is something a teacher can pour directly into your head. In some ways, we have lost the personal drive that is a necessary component of a successful education. I don’t care how many times I yell what year the Magna Carta was signed in, if you don’t care about the material, you will not remember it. We need to focus more on concepts (and less on rote memorization) to help students understand why they are learning the material, and what value it will give them.

We need to work, as a community, to drive students to excel, not just to complete. I was shocked to hear that the AP Calculus class barely ran this year, and it seems (at least in part) driven by a reluctance to do more than is necessary to graduate. When I was in high school, my friend and I pushed to take every AP test we could – including one for which we didn’t take the class and another that we took independent study. (And we walked uphill both ways in a foot of snow through the Halloween Blizzard.)

Related to this, many people now view college as a necessary precursor to every job, despite the fact that college is not designed to prepare people for many of the careers that are available today. As a college professor, I watched waves of students come in for whom college would add no value. They racked up debt for a couple semesters, and then left with little to show for it.

I had a neighbor there, with a 9th grade son – he was a sweet kid, but his passions lay far from school. It broke my heart when we talked about where I worked one day, and he asked how our auto-mechanic program was. He will be a wonderful mechanic, but he still had been encultured to believe that he needed a four-year degree to follow that passion.

Our labor market is desperate for tradespeople. Our community could use more of them in a number of fields. There is pride in an honest days work whether you have a college education or not, and we need to be more clear about that with our students.

To this end, we need to move away from a system that strives to have all students reach the same exact level. Though some standards should be met by all students, I know that each of my classmates needed something a little different out of their high school education. Some of my friends didn’t need calculus, but they did need to learn how to budget. Some of them needed a welding class, and others got more out of building a house than they got from any other class they took.

Our education system, more broadly than just NL-S, needs to do a better job of serving all of our students and preparing them for the path in life that they want to walk instead of forcing every student into the same mold.

Q3. Do board members/school boards have a role in the day-to-day operations of the District?

In a word: No.

A school board’s role is to set policy. We should not be meddling in every classroom decision, telling custodians which rooms to clean first, or second-guessing coaches’ play calling. We should trust people to do the jobs they are hired and trained to do.

A board should take extensive input from teachers, staff, parents, and the community about how things are working at the day-to-day level, and should integrate the competing needs of various stakeholders. From there, the board should set broad policy objectives and then rely on the employees of the district to implement that policy.

If the district is hiring good people, they will do what is right. If the results do not live up to the goals of the policy, then the board should reassess the policies that were implemented rather than micromanaging and interfering.

Q4. How can a board know if its goals are being accomplished?

As the adage goes, “you track what you measure.”

I am a data-driven policy wonk – a technocrat if you will – and I think this is a place where my analytical skills are particularly applicable to the work of the school board.

Standardized testing is one (limited) means of assessing the success of a pedagogical method. The district has an incredible amount of this data, and frequently posts the results. However, that dissemination is often limited by the manner in which the data are presented, and the analytical tools of the people currently working with the data. I have worked to expand that analysis a little bit, focusing on the publicly available MCA test results. The visualizations that I created appear to have driven some insight and to have helped de-glaze a few eyes (if you are interested, the analysis is posted at

While, as a board member, it is not my role to do all of those types of analysis, I believe that I could help shepperd in an expansion of data-driven decision making in our district.

For every major policy initiative, I would like the district to collect explicit data. If we are changing the approach to spelling, let’s track spelling mistakes. If we institute a new recycling program, let’s actually measure the amount we are diverting from the landfill. If we adopt a new metric for QComp, let’s assess the actual impact on teachers. In all of these cases, we must be willing to trust the data and change course if our approaches are not having the impact that we hoped.

We should take this a step further and insist on data-collection efforts before decisions are made in addition to plans for collecting it after. If we are replacing an aging boiler, we should consider not just the up-front cost, but also the long-term cost of operation and impacts on student comfort. With this kind of data in hand, we may be able to justify a larger capital expenditure (e.g., on a heat pump or geothermal), if we can show it will cost less over the life of the equipment and allow us to expanding cooling to a larger portion of the building.

Policy should be driven by data, though that data comes in many forms. For gym-space utilization, it may be as simple as tracking use. For workforce initiatives, we may need to survey employees to identify impacts. For changes in communication, we will need to work closely with the broader community. As a district, we need to ensure that meaningful metrics are being collected and analyzed to drive our decision making processes.

Q5. What are two questions you would ask a superintendent candidate?

First, I would like to ask:

Do you view the relationship between faculty and administration as collaborative or adversarial?

I think that NL-S has set itself apart from others in our lack of animosity between teachers and administration. While other districts may prize someone that will get teachers “in line,” that is not what we are looking for in a leader. We should make sure that is clear so that we don’t end up with a poor fit that leaves everyone (including the chosen superintendent) unhappy.

Second, I would ask:

Where is your ideal place to live?

When we select a new superintendent, we also want someone who is going to commit to our community for the long-haul. I want to make sure that we find people who have a passion for a rural, lakes-filled region as much as I want to make sure that they share our community vision for education. We don’t want to be a stepping stone – we want somebody that is going to be an integral part of our community, ideally long after they retire.

Q6. In your opinion, what has the district done well in the past five years, and what areas would you like to see changed?

At an ECFE group, this question was generally phrased as “joys and challenges,” and I think that framing helps keep us aware, both in parenting and in leading a school district, that frustrating things happen sometimes, but that it is our response to those challenges that matters.

Over the past five years, I believe that our district has done a remarkable number of things well. We have expanded our early childhood opportunities – over 80% of our entering kindergarten class now has enrolled in some form of preschool education. We can (and should) continue to expand that number, but we are moving in the right direction.

Our student participation and engagement rates are phenomenal. Our district really does live the vision of Inspire every student every day, and we are continuing to offer new programs to serve more students (I am working with a couple of the elementary teachers to expand our robotics team to elementary and pre-K students, for example – we start in two weeks, if anyone is interested).

We have faced our share of challenges along the way. The building project faced delays and related issues, and it sounds like a few students got a bit carried away in last week’s homecoming activities. However, what stands out to me is how well our school administration, teachers, and employees have handled those issues.

In a recent survey, our students report higher rates of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use than other schools in the area. Notably, our students have substantially lower rates, however, of encountering those substances in school. Against a backdrop of substance issues that our community must address, our school is already achieving some successes.

Even in places where our district has faced challenges, our community and our school have risen to them and handled them well. While setbacks are likely to greet any organization this size, there are no places where I can point and say that an issue was handled poorly or that our district is not moving in the right direction.

Q7. If not elected, how will you continue to support the NLS school district?

NL-S is my home. My father graduated here, and my grandparents taught here. My roots in this community are deep.

As disappointed as I will be if I am not elected, I have no intention of taking my ball and leaving.

The short version of this answer is that I will keep doing the things that I have already been doing.

My drive to analyze testing data is to improve decision making. I am working with the communications director to revamp the way we manage and display school policies on the website because the limitations of the current system frustrate me, and I believe that I can make it better. The time and energy that I devoted to the Strategic Planning Committee crystalized my desire to give back to the school, and I will continue to participate actively in community feedback.

I go to as many school sporting events, plays, concerts, etc. as I can because I enjoy doing so, and I enjoy showing my support for the dedication and effort our students put into these activities. I bring my kids to as many as bedtimes will allow because it is important to me that they learn to be active community members. Even if it means sprinting to the bathroom a half-dozen times per game, I want them as excited about our community as I am.

I think that I can be an asset to our school board, but I know that I will continue to be an engaged parent and community member because I simply don’t know how to be anything else.

Q8. What factors will influence your decision making as a school board member?

As with tracking what we measure, our decision making must be guided by our core goal: What is best for the students?

Now, “best” can mean a lot of different things, particularly as I laid out in my vision of education. It might be “best” for some students to take calculus and for others to take additional Industrial Technology courses. I think that is at the core of the vision with Inspire every student every day.

There are a few common themes, however, that I think can guide us. The biggest may be that our goal is to help students grow up into contributing members of our society. They will leave this school building, and what happens then is the real test of their education. Some of that will come from the material they learn, but a lot of that is also about the character that they build.

I have said before, and will say again, that we need to work with area businesses to understand the skills they need students to have. Cursive is no longer a marketable skill, but being able to use Google Docs or Microsoft Office effectively will put you substantially ahead of others in both college and in a job. With how rapidly technology is changing, many employers now value adaptability and a willingness to learn as more important than content knowledge. We need to help students learn how to learn as much as we must fill their heads with content.

In our increasingly connected world, our students must learn how to navigate complex social situations and work with other people. These “soft” skills are a vital part of our society and economy now, and the district should be working to address them explicitly throughout the curriculum. We should work with recent alumni to identify the things they wish they had encountered in high school to prepare them for the wider world that they were entering.

These are the inputs that must drive the decision making of a school board. We should be focused on the broad guiding principles of our educational goals. We should listen more to those that can help us see what students need after they leave our school, and then we must weigh those inputs against the feedback from within the school. I think every student has asked at some point “Why do I need to learn this?” and we should do a better job of showing them the employers and alumni that understand those reasons.

Q9. Please share with us your thoughts on extra-curricular actives at NLS and how these activities should be funded?

I hope that we can get 100% of students in at least one activity, and that means funding a range of options. 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.

Ask any alumnus about their favorite school memory, and I bet that they will mention something that happened outside of the classroom. These activities are an integral part of learning, and of finding a place in the broader community.

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.

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.

However, our district should remain committed to supporting student activities, and protecting them in the face of budget shortfalls.


Thank you to everyone for taking the time to be here today or to watch online. 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. Please stop me to talk if you see me elsewhere, or reach out through other means. However, I believe that it is also important to disseminate this information in a medium that is accessible to everyone in the community..

If we want another 23 years on our successful path, we must be looking to the long-term future. I think that is key to my vision for our district: we are a fantastic school. We don’t need some radical overhaul or change to our direction. We need to select a steady hand to replace Mr. Carlson and a board with long-term vision to see us through the impending retirements of a large number of our employees. Some of the institutions at our school – from custodians to coaches and receptionists to teachers – are nearing retirement.

My kids will be in the district for the next 15 years. That gives me about 4 terms before I will likely be making the same decision that Mr. Moller, Mr. DeGeest, and Ms. Cogelow-Ruter are making now – to step aside as their kids leave the district. I hope that I can make as much of an impact in my time on the board as they have made in their combined 54 years of service.

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