Two Rivers High School

2021 ISD 197 School Board Election: High School Name Change

Thanks to Cherokee Service for their support.

There are 10 candidates running for three seats on the ISD 197 school board this year. We’ve asked the candidates a series of questions to see where they stand on the issues. We’ll share one question and the responses at a time leading up to the election on November 2. Be sure to see our ISD 197 voter’s guide for more.

We already asked about COVID-19 precautions, candidates’ top issues, the levy renewal, and equity, so this week we’re asking about the high school name change.

What was your opinion of the high school name change? What lessons should the school board take from this process moving forward?

We posed this question to all candidates. Here are their answers in random order:

Timothy Aune

(no campaign site)

Tim Aune worked as an executive for a global financial information services firm. He was involved as a parent and engaged in issues around special education.

I applaud the Alumni who raised the issue, and I applaud the students for supporting the name change. With regard to the choice of the new name, my personal view is that the Board should have given more weight to the students and allowed more opportunity for student input. I did express that view to the Board. I was informed the issue was not going to be revisited so for me it is time to support Two Rivers. Were a similar situation to come before the board I would have the consultant’s role be more limited.

Morgan Steele

(campaign site)

Morgan Steele works as a French teacher and instructional leader at Richfield High School. She has one child at Somerset and another who will be there in a few years.

I think the name change was long overdue and I thought the process was really focused on getting information and opinions for stakeholders. I had personally applied to be on the committee and, while I wasn’t selected, felt that the process was extremely transparent. I know that there are people who are upset over the change but I think it is important that we keep all of our students centered in this conversation. Students gave feedback and students were behind the push to change the name; if the name change makes even one of our students feel more seen, heard or validated, it was worth it. 

Marcus Hill

(campaign site)

Marcus Hill works as the senior manager of research and analytics at Best Buy. He has two children in the district and one recent graduate. Hill was first appointed to the school board in January.

When I joined the school board, the name change process was already underway. Changing the school’s name has been an emotional and challenging process for our entire community, but I believe the change was necessary given the complex history of Henry Sibley.

I have a great deal of respect for those who have emotional ties to the school’s name, and I have enjoyed listening to all of the great memories past students of all ages have shared with me and why this is important to them. Those memories still exist, as do where they occurred; the name change doesn’t erase those great memories.

I think the Board handled the process well. There was a great deal of transparency provided to the community. Community members participated in the renaming process but decided on the recommended names that the Board ultimately voted on.

Following the name change, some community members expressed interest in modifying the process to allow for even more transparency and community input. I believe the Board should listen to their concerns and recommendations and consider opportunities to improve the process. 

I also hope that we will consider commemorating the name change via documentation readily available to all future students to know more about Henry Sibley and why the district moved forward with changing the name. 

John Chandler

(campaign site)

John Chandler works as a nonprofit executive. He was first elected to the school board in 2013 and reelected in 2017. He has volunteered extensively in the district, and he has children at Heritage, Two Rivers, and one recent graduate.

As a current school board member, I have to be careful what I say about school board decisions. What I believe should be fair for me to say is why I voted the way that I did this past year. I supported the decision to change the high school name but believe that our process to change the high school name was flawed and needs to be reviewed. We have to do a better job with community engagement and listening to the voices of our students.

Robert Reese

(campaign site)

Robert Reese works as a physician and surgeon. He has not been involved in the district but has coached youth football and baseball.

I do not support a name change for Henry Sibley High School and I’ve previously notified the School Board about this. The high school name change is divisive, and, I believe, to be primarily political in nature. Not one of us has lived a “perfect” life. And it seems to me that those who like to throw the first stones have a tendency to live in glass houses. So, be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it back, in spades.

Stephanie Auran

(no campaign site)

Stephanie Auran works as a technical recruiter. She has volunteered in the district since her children started pre-school in 2009. She served as a president and vice president of the Home and School Association, chaired the school carnival several times and assisted in fundraisers.

If I understand correctly, the recommendations of the hired consultant as well as the survey results pointed to names other than what was selected. Discussing lessons learned doesn’t solve the problem. Engaging and listening to the concerns of the community to determine how to fix the situation should be considered. It is presumptuous to ask the community to support the school if the school doesn’t acknowledge and take in account the views and opinion of the community. This is a partnership. We are better together.

Jon Vaupel

(campaign site)

Jon Vaupel works for the Minnesota Department of Education in Early Learning Services and is a former kindergarten teacher. He served on the Mendota Elementary PTA Board, including the Parent Ambassador Network and working on diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

I think—like many things in education (including but not limited to COVID-19)—this is a topic that has spurred strong feelings. Looking at the name change through the eyes of our Native American students and families, this was the right decision. Completing the renaming process during a time in which the community was grappling with COVID-19 and grieving the murder of George Floyd, however, likely impacted whether community members were aware of the change and were able to engage on the issue.

As for lessons for the School Board, I think the process could have been more transparent and accessible. There may be value in establishing a framework for making difficult decisions like this in the future; being more transparent around how individuals are selected; how different perspectives are welcomed; and what efforts were made to elevate the voices of people who traditionally might not be included or heard.

Mark Grondahl

(campaign site)

Mark Grondahl has worked as an entrepreneur, banker, and accountant. He has not previously been involved in the district but did coach youth sports and serve as a Cub Scouts den leader.

As a person who was not closely involved, I only heard about the potential change via friends. I hadn’t heard anything about the potential name change until then. Other than that, there was little information in the general arena as to why the name should be changed. They should have done a better job with explaining the why. All I saw was the potential new names.

Sarah Larsen

(campaign site)

Sarah Larsen works for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and served on a team setting up COVID testing and vaccination sites. She has kids at Friendly Hills and Two Rivers, and has volunteered throughout the district with the Strategic Planning Core team, Parent Ambassador Network, PTA, and more.

Our schools are a source of great pride, and it’s important to acknowledge the loss many in our community feel about the name change. But our pride is not in the name of any one school; it’s in the people, the experiences, and the community our schools represent. It would be impossible to select a name that pleases everyone in the district; I trust that the school board had good intentions in pursuing and selecting the name Two Rivers. I’m looking forward to embracing the new name and moving forward together as a community.

Note:

Elena Villarreal suspended her campaign in September. Her name will still appear on the ballot, so in the interest of focusing on candidates who are still in the race, we are no longer running her responses.

Vote on November 2

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. The ISD 197 website has details on where and how to vote. Be aware that elections will happen at combined polling places, which are likely not your usual polling location. Voting options also include absentee voting, either by mail or in person, which starts September 17.

We’ll share more candidate responses as we get closer to the 2021 election. You can also see our ISD 197 voter’s guide for more.

Thank you to the candidates for taking the time to respond.

This kind of local election coverage only happens thanks to our generous supporters. Consider joining them with monthly or annual support through Patreon and help keep your community informed.

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