NEW LONDON - Being at the table to help select a new superintendent for the New London-Spicer School District - along with the fact that three veteran school board members are not running this year - has resulted in a full slate of candidates seeking a seat on the NLS School Board.
Ten candidates, including one incumbent, have filed to run for a total of four seats. All seats are at-large, and the top four vote getters will be elected.
The vacancies represents a big change for the school board as well as opportunities for people who want to serve on it, said Superintendent Paul Carlson, who is retiring in June after serving 23 years at NLS.
"When you lose 54 years of board experience and expertise, that's going to generate some conversations in the community," Carlson said.
The strong response to the school board election is also a sign that people "want to be part of a good thing," he said.
Selecting Carlson's replacement was the first question asked of candidates during a two-hour candidate forum last week sponsored by the Willmar Area League of Women Voters.
Candidates also responded to questions about budget priorities if the district faced future deficits, bullying, addressing mental health needs of students, raising funds for student activities and how to develop a relatively new NLS Foundation.
Questions also delved into controversial topics the district and school board has addressed in the past, including bathroom use by transgender or gender-non-conforming students and parental objections to curriculum material.
The candidates include: Del Brouwer, Gary Danielson, Josue Gamez, Cherrish Holland, Larry D. Nelson, Mark Peterson, Kristina Reuss, Walton Smith III, Jeff Vetsch and Nancy Wehseler.
The candidates have a wide variety of professional work backgrounds and volunteer experiences in the district.
Some of the candidates are NLS graduates, most have children currently enrolled in the district and some have grandchildren or other relatives attending NLS.
All talked about their desire to bring their skills and perspectives to the board to improve the district for students, staff and the community.
Del Brouwer said it's a "real privilege" and a "huge responsibility" to run for school board.
"I'm running because I care deeply about the future of our country, and the future of our country is our students right now," he said, adding that selecting a new superintendent is crucial for the district.
Citing his 40 years of experience as a coach, teacher and school administrator, Brouwer said he would promote fiscal responsibility, produce "excellence in the classroom" and keep the district "forward-looking" if elected.
Gary Danielson said he has a desire to share his talents with the NLS district, where he and his five adult sons graduated.
Now that he's retired, he has the time to "give back" to district, he said.
Danielson said his experience working with the public and elected officials during his job as the Kandiyohi County Public Works Director would serve him well on the school board. Danielson said he would represent different groups in the community and make sure those voices were heard.
Josue Gamez stressed the importance of creating a community commitment in education. As an addiction counselor and youth pastor, Gamez said mental health services are important for students, as well as age-appropriate, "community-approved" academic curriculum.
He said he's seeking a position on the school board "not to succeed where someone else has failed" but to continue the successes of the school district."
Cherrish Holland is completing her first term on the board and is the only incumbent running this year.
Along with skills developed in her job as a program director for financial counseling with Lutheran Social Service, Holland cited her long involvement as a volunteer with the district, including her role launching the Parent Teacher Organization and involvement with a technology levy referendum.
Holland said she has spent "the last 15 years finding ways to serve and strengthen the NLS School District" so "other young families" would choose to live in the community as she and her husband did.
Larry D. Nelson said he comes from a family with a long history with NLS and would bring his skills in communication and collaboration honed as a former educator - and his passion for education - to the school board.
"I think I would be useful on the board," he said.
In discussing why he decided to run for school board, Nelson said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
Mark Peterson, an NLS graduate who is a data scientist at Life-Science Innovations and former college professor, said after moving back home, he has volunteered in the district in several ways, including serving on the strategic planning committee and analyzing student testing data with the goal of helping students "be their very best."
Peterson said he is running for school board to help select a new superintendent "to help make sure NLS 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 (from NLS) in 1974."
Kristina Reuss, who moved to the district two years ago, said her experience as a business owner has equipped her with the "confidence" and ability to recognize realistic outcomes and the problem-solving and financial management skills she would need to serve on the school board.
Being an entrepreneur has taught her to have an open mind, gather all the facts and "make the best-informed decision that you can," said Reuss, who volunteers in the school, including serving on the district's advisory committee.
Walton Smith said he's running for school board "because I believe that the children are our future and I want them to have the skills necessary to succeed, not only academically but in life and through their careers."
Smith, an information system analyst, said a safe and financially sound school district, as well as adequate tools of technology, are needed so students can concentrate on their studies to "set them up for success" for their future.
Jeff Vetsch said he learned from his parents that "if you want a vibrant community, you've got to pull your weight," which he said is why he has a long history of volunteering in the community and why he is running for school board.
Vetsch said his goals include recruiting and retaining "forward-thinking" school staff, making the most of the district's new facilities and "preparing students for life in a changing world" through effective communication, adapting to circumstances, being a lifelong learner and being a team player.
Nancy Wehseler said she has volunteered with youth since she was a teen, and her professional career has including working with youth at several colleges and nonprofit organizations.
"I've been involved with the school ever since we've moved here," she said, including working as an aide and volunteering on multiple levels at NLS, including co-chairing the most recent building referendum committee.
"I'm very proud of this community and very proud of everyone sitting up here at this table," Wehseler said, referring to the 10 candidates on the stage of the new Performing Arts Center.
A final candidate forum will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Performing Arts Center. This event is co-hosted by Education Minnesota NLS and the NLS Parent Teacher Organization.
Election Day is Nov. 6, however, no-excuse absentee voting is currently underway at county auditor's offices.