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Four elected to Willmar School Board

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WILLMAR -- Mike Carlson, Mike Reynolds, Jackie Saulsbury and Liz Van Der Bill were elected to the Willmar School Board Tuesday.

Six candidates had filed for the four seats on the board. The only incumbent to file was Reynolds, of Willmar. Other candidates were Carlson, Saulsbury, Van Der Bill and Sahra Gure, all of Willmar, and Don Thorpe of Kandiyohi.

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Incumbent Sandi Unger decided not to run for re-election after serving on the board for several terms. Two other incumbents whose terms would have expired this year, Eric Roberts and Wayne Lenzmeier, resigned last summer after each of them moved outside the district.

Unofficial vote totals were: Reynolds, 6,782, 21.76 percent; Carlson, 6,426, 20.61 percent; Van Der Bill, 6,003, 19.26 percent; Saulsbury, 5,512, 17.68 percent; Thorpe, 3,383, 10.85 percent; and Gure, 2,979, 9.56 percent.

The new board members will face some serious challenges when they take office. The district's two elementary schools have been ordered by the state to reduce the achievement gaps between students of color and white students and also between low-income students and their more affluent peers.

The district recently received a $500,000 federal grant to implement new programs at Kennedy Elementary, and the district is following the same plan at Roosevelt Elementary.

Carlson was at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services, where county officials were processing ballots on election. He served two terms on the board in the last decade. He said he was excited to be returning to the board to work on the district's new challenges.

Carlson, 46, is a Lutheran pastor. He left the board to complete his master's degree and make a transition to a new job. He wanted to return to the board to work on improvements at the district's elementary schools and to focus on school funding issues.

Reynolds, 51, is director of business development at SourceOne Solutions in Willmar. He has elected to the board in 2008 and had also served on the board in the 1990s. Boosting reading levels for all of the district's students is one the major issues of his campaign, along with working to make changes at the elementary schools.

Saulsbury, 29, is director of health services at Copperleaf Senior Living in Willmar. Her top issues were focusing of helping the district's elementary schools make a turnaround and focusing on early childhood education, which she sees as an investment in the community's future.

Van Der Bill, 38, is marketing coordinator at Christianson & Associates in Willmar. She listed her top issues as encouraging academic achievement for all students and also looking for ways to address poverty issues in the community. She said she would like the board to develop effective programs to help at-risk students.

Thorpe, 47, is a farmer of beef, ostrich, elk and goats, as well as a rural mail carrier. Thorpe would focus on state funding that has been withheld from districts and also in reducing unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments.

Gure, 46, is office manager for West Central Interpreting Services, a business offering trained Somali interpreters in the Willmar area. Before the election, Gure said that the student achievement gap was the single most important issue facing the school district. She said all segments of the community need to work together to help children succeed.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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