Willmar School Board candidates discuss strengths of district
WILLMAR -- Three candidates for Willmar School Board generally agreed at a candidate forum Tuesday on issues of diversity, achievement gaps and the strengths of Willmar Public Schools.
WILLMAR - Three candidates for Willmar School Board generally agreed at a candidate forum Tuesday on issues of diversity, achievement gaps and the strengths of Willmar Public Schools.
Five people are on the Nov. 6 ballot for three four-year seats on the board. Incumbent Mary Amon, Jay Lawton and Michelle Marotzke, all of Willmar, attended the forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area.
Candidate Michael O'Brien, 69, of Willmar, was unable to attend because of another commitment, and he submitted a statement to be read at the forum.
Candidate Teresa Larsen, 64, of Kandiyohi, did not attend. League officials said they had not heard from her before the forum.
During the forum, the candidates answered questions that had been submitted by the public.
Asked about their vision for handling the district's diversity, all three said they consider the diverse population of the community and the school district to be a strength.
Lawton, 61, said he saw the demographics of the district change while his daughters attended Willmar schools and believed they benefited from it. "My daughters are much better equipped to deal with people different from themselves," he said. He is inventory logistics coordinator for Jennie-O Turkey Store.
"This is one of the things I love about Willmar," said Marotzke, 43. "There's a lot of interesting people here." It's important for adults to be good role models for children in welcoming Willmar's diverse population, she said. She is an analyst and safety coordinator for Willmar Municipal Utilities.
Amon, 53, said it's important for the district to teach children that every individual has value. Kids will accept people different from them when they are younger, but that can change as they age. "We need to encourage people to be the best person they can be." She is a physician/owner of Family Practice Medical Center.
In naming strengths of which the Willmar Public Schools should be proud, Amon returned to diversity, putting it first on her list.
"I feel this is the way the world is," she said. "I think the school district should see that as a strength."
Another strength she listed was strong community support for the school district, as evidenced by a bond passed in a 2015 referendum. "It tells you the community thinks education is worthwhile," she said.
Lawton talked about the quality of education students receive. "I've been watching trends," he said, and he has seen that a high percentage of graduates go on to some type of post-secondary education.
The district's athletic programs are another strength, he said. Students learn a lot participating in activities, including learning teamwork and how to handle disappointment and joy, and "that is going to help them in adult life," he added.
Marotzke listed the district's dedicated staff, at all levels. "Everyone is committed to the job they do every day," she said. "They do an amazing job, sometimes with fewer resources than they would like."
Marotzke also talked about the strong, diverse community in Willmar. "I think that a lot of people support our school in the community," she said.
The candidates agreed that more staff training could help the district recognize students with mental health challenges and steer them to the assistance they need.
They also discussed ways to attract and retain teachers. Their ideas included having a strong community with amenities that attract young professionals and providing a mentoring program for teachers in their first years.
In his prepared statement, O'Brien said he served on the New London-Spicer School Board for 14 years and "I believe I can give this relatively new school board some stability." He said he hoped the board and staff could "work together to provide safe and effective education facilities."
O'Brien is a retired state conservation officer and is currently a driver for Willmar Bus Co. and works as a substitute paraprofessional in the Willmar Public Schools.