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2021 ISD 197 School Board Election: How Will You Make ISD 197 Better?

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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. See our ISD 197 voter’s guide for more.

We already asked about COVID-19 precautions, candidates’ top issues, the levy renewal, equity, the high school name change, and working with people who disagree with you, so this week we’re asking about how candidates will make the district better.

How will you make ISD 197 better? What specific strategies or policies can the school board put in place to create positive change?

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

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.

I will make ISD 197 better through my experiences, understanding budgeting, understanding testing scores, listening to all sides, voicing my side, and voting the way I should.

As for, specific strategies, I think all current work needs to be looked at, many will be continued because the results are good, or it is meeting a niche. However, some should be stopped because they are too costly or not improving the school experience for the children. I think looking at all with an open mind is important. Positive change comes in many forms. I want our schools to get our children ready for whatever may come next in their lives. Whether that is College, Trade school, directly into the work force, Military, etc. None of these outcomes is better than the others, our schools need to do many things well to meet the needs of all our students.

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.

  • I will be transparent and available to talk to the parents and students of ISD 197.
  • I will promote school board meetings and invite people to attend.
  • I will get input from the teachers and administration as to what is going well and what needs improvement.

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.

I bring a fresh perspective and wealth of lived experience to the school board position that is invaluable. I am a coalition builder professionally and personally, certainly required of anyone seeking this position. I am also a leader in my profession. I’ve led many multi-million dollar projects, so I understand the need to bring people together to accomplish a common goal while remaining balanced and fiscally responsible. Some examples are:

  • I am a champion for Diversity of thought, Inclusion for all, and building equitable systems.  As the Chair of my company’s Black Employee Resource Group, I’ve been instrumental in growing the group from 200 members to over 1,200 today. That could not have been accomplished without building a strong coalition. All of us together have been on our journeys to bridge gaps across our collective communities. We’ve intentionally partnered with our Military, Women’s, LatinX, PRIDE, Asian, and Disabilities Employee Resource Groups to learn how to work together. 
  • I make Human-centered decisions, keeping our kids and our community as our North Star (the single star at the top of my signs). And that we must all come together to do the best for our kid’s futures and understand that our kids come with a full range of gifts, talents, and developmental and learning opportunities. 
  • I feel we must make data-driven decisions to help us identify, understand and target the areas where we need to focus our efforts, set relevant and attainable goals, and measure our progress. 

I bring a unique perspective to the Board, and because of that, I hope the community values the perspective I bring and will value me as a school board candidate. 

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 hope to increase transparency, push back on some of our testing requirements and keep the focus on the success and opportunities available to each individual student. As we look towards getting Covid relief funds from the state as well as the budget from the U.S. Department of Education, I hope that our pre-k offerings and childcare offerings expand with more affordable options, more flexible schedules and better transportation options. I spent this summer looking for new childcare for my 3 year old and pre-k for my cousin and was shocked at the times of classes, costs of programs and incompatibility of both of those things with work schedules. If we are truly hoping to close gaps in achievement, then we need to ensure that opportunities available for early childhood programming are equitable also. Looking at teacher biases, assessments and grading policies and practices is also something that I think is extremely important and will push for to ensure that students are being assessed fairly and based on standards objectively. 

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 want ISD 197 to be as strong as possible for ALL students, both current and future. Our educators have gone to exceptional lengths the past two years to educate, care for, and support our students and families through a very difficult period. Just as teachers are constantly working to improve their instruction, our students, educators, families, and community deserve someone who will bring the same passion and desire to the work of the school board.

Throughout my career, I have worked to improve education policy, strengthen public school systems, and fought to address educational disparities throughout my career. Those experiences have informed my top three priorities: (1) 197’s response to COVID-19, (2) making equity, diversity, and inclusivity central to all conversations and policy decisions, and (3) strengthening transparency around decision-making. I think my experience—including time as a teacher—will allow me to hit the ground running and be a thoughtful, constructive, and collaborative member of the school board. Our students depend on our teachers and schools more than ever as we continue to navigate COVID-19. While difficult, let’s use the opportunity before us to commit to transformative changes that make our educational system more positive, responsive, inclusive, and accessible for ALL students.

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.

In my experience, a Board is successful if they can both challenge and inspire staff to achieve realistic and measurable goals. I would like to see if the resource pool could be expanded by exploring ways to encourage volunteerism. I feel this could be a tool to raise the percentage of 3rd Graders reading at grade level above the current 60%.

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.

The current educational system demands that parents/guardians and students “Trust”, without verification. If elected to the ISD-197 School Board, I will demand that there be a, “Trust but Verify”, policy. The educators and administrators must provide full and complete information on any/all issue(s) that arise. Based upon the substandard academic achievement that exists in ISD-197, there is no time to waste, “peeling back each layer of the onion”, to get answers to existing systems, issues, or problems. As a surgeon of cancer patients I operated to remove “all of it” to allow the patient to have the best chance of surviving. I look at this opportunity as serving my community in similar fashion. Let’s quickly address issues and move forward as a community to provide the students with their best chance at obtaining future success.

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.

I will continue to be an independent voice and speak up when I believe something needs to be said and heard. My military experience has taught me that a single source of information isn’t enough and I haven’t done my diligence if I don’t consider a variety of viewpoints before making a decision. As a result, I favor consulting  multiple sources of information to help me with decision making rather than gravitating toward perspectives that validate my existing ideas. That is why I am always eager to engage with community members about how we can make our schools the best they can be, and see it as my responsibility as a school board member to be available to anyone who wants to talk about our schools.

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.

I want to continue to build our district community into a district of choice, a place of community pride, and a system where every child can thrive. Our school board needs to be a group that listens, has thoughtful conversations and seeks to understand their community prior to making decisions. The four-way equity test, and the process behind the strategic framework are both great examples of solid starts, but this work is a continuum rather than a single event. I would like to see the board follow through on their strategic framework with workgroups and communications plans around the focus areas, specifically social/emotional learning and support during the pandemic. 


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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