A regular work session of the Pequot Lakes School Board Monday, April 12, is expected to garner a larger audience than usual after social media uproar over a video narrated by the district’s superintendent.

The video shares the experience of Superintendent Chris Lindholm and other district leaders with incorporating equity practices into staff development, one of a series of animated shorts produced as part of a collaborative project called “The Rural Reveal.”

Lindholm describes his perception and experiences of the Pequot Lakes community upon his arrival from the Twin Cities in 2013 and his desire to help marginalized students and families feel welcomed and valued. He outlined district efforts to involve teachers in diversity training through the National SEED Project and what he described as positive outcomes resulting from this work. One example Lindholm provided was a situation when a staff member spoke up to their colleagues about why it might be harmful to some students if these adults wore vintage attire featuring the school’s former Indians mascot on school property.

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Pequot Lakes Superintendent Chris Lindholm
Pequot Lakes Superintendent Chris Lindholm

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Lindholm’s message was not appreciated by some community members, however, and the superintendent faced criticism including calls for his resignation in comments sections as the video ricocheted across local Facebook groups and profiles. Several of the commenters took particular issue with Lindholm’s characterization of the Pequot Lakes community.

“It didn’t take long for me to see that life would probably be pretty lonely and difficult if I was a student of color or a student that is gay or transgender or living in poverty in our school district community,” Lindholm stated in the video. “The chatter in the hallways, some of our district practices, the comments made by some adults at events, and the general tone of conversations all around the community made me feel really concerned for any student that might be perceived as different. It’d be hard enough to be a student who might feel different from everyone else, but the unwelcoming tone of some of the side comments and jokes I heard would certainly feel overwhelming to some students and even some adults.”

School Board Chair Kim Bolz-Andolshek said Sunday the board has not yet had the chance to discuss the video and community reaction and will do so Monday. At that time, Lindholm will talk about the content of the video and board members will share questions and concerns they’ve received. Bolz-Andolshek said they plan to announce a time and date for a public forum on the issue during the meeting, but the board is not planning to take public comments Monday.

The public may attend in person, but Bolz-Andolshek encouraged people to view the work session via livestream due to limitations on gatherings because of COVID-19. She said it’s a possibility there will be a law enforcement presence at the meeting in case order needs to be maintained.

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If you go

What: Pequot Lakes School Board work session, where the board will discuss a video narrated by Superintendent Chris Lindholm in which he discusses district equity initiatives.

When: 6 p.m. Monday, April 12.

Where: Middle school/high school cafeteria, Pequot Lakes High School. Due to current restrictions, members of the public are strongly encouraged to view the work session via livestream at mldistrict.com/districts/mn/plpsisd.

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A post by Dijon Ledin — who recorded the video on her phone before it was set to private on the original “Department of Public Transformation” YouTube page — drew more than 400 comments and nearly 90 shares. Reached via Facebook Messenger Sunday, Ledin said she agreed with parts of the video but was concerned because she felt the superintendent made generalizations and incorrect assumptions.

“My concerns about the video are more about how Mr. Lindholm, a man so prominent in the community/school said such ‘matter of fact’ things about our community,” Ledin wrote. “ … I have always known our community to be supportive and accepting as a whole. With that being said no community is perfect, but for the people that choose to be here and the ones that have come back after years of being gone, we/they must feel that our community is pretty great as a whole.”

Ledin, a 2008 Pequot Lakes graduate who plans to enroll her children in the district when they’re old enough, said her post is getting so much attention in part because it’s the only way to see the video. She said she was saddened and touched by some comments on her post made by people who shared their own negative experiences at the school. But she also thinks the video resonates with others who feel like Lindholm “came at our community swinging.”

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“If you collect 100 black ants and 100 red ants and put them in a glass jar nothing will happen, but if you take the jar, shake it violently and leave it on the table, the ants will start killing each other,” she wrote. “Reds believe that black is the enemy while black believes that red is the enemy when the real enemy is the person who shook the jar.

“I only shared the video to make other parents aware of the kind of person our children’s superintendent is. Someone that may have had one negative experience but took it out in an entire community.”

Response to the video prompted the formation of a Facebook page called “Parents of Pequot United,” which called for people to sign a petition critical of Lindholm to deliver to the school board. The page also encouraged people to attend Monday night’s school board work session at Pequot Lakes High School, where the video and public response to it will be discussed. A public comment period is not typically part of a work session, where no board action takes place, but “Parents of Pequot United” said their voices should be heard anyway.

“The school board meeting Monday 6pm at the HS cafeteria is a ‘work session only’ where we are permitted to come ‘listen and learn’ we all need to be prepared to speak up anyways and storm the pulpit!” stated one of the posts on the page.

A screenshot of a post from a Facebook page called "Parents of Pequot United." The page has since been removed and appears to have migrated to a private group. Screenshot
A screenshot of a post from a Facebook page called "Parents of Pequot United." The page has since been removed and appears to have migrated to a private group. Screenshot

As of Sunday evening, the page was no longer visible on Facebook and appeared to have migrated to a private group by the same name.

Not all of the responses to Lindholm’s video were critical. Those same Facebook comments sections featured the voices of many who agreed with Lindholm’s portrayal of the community or had their own negative experiences to share. This included some former students, who spoke out about bullying, racism, homophobia they’d been the targets of themselves. A petition in support of Lindholm and equity initiatives at the school — created by “Pequot Parents for Kindness” — is also circulating social media.

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“Over the last few years Superintendent Lindholm and teachers in the Pequot Lakes School District have been working on implementing equity initiatives (SEED and others) to facilitate conversations for personal, organizational, and societal change toward social equity. The equity initiatives are about kindness toward and inclusion of all students,” the petition stated. “These initiatives are imperative in addressing the needs of an ever-changing, diverse community and ensuring that all students, parents, and employees feel included, accepted, and welcomed.”

More about the video series

Lindholm’s video was one of five featuring local people sharing their stories around the theme of “changemakers” as part of “The Rural Reveal,” a project of the Department of Public Transformation, Voices for Rural Resilience and the Region Five Development Commission, with support from The McKnight Foundation.

“When it comes to changemakers, there are rebels and radicals, yielding big voices filled with big passion. There are also commonplace movers and shakers, listening deeply and planting seeds for transformation,” a project description states. “They work within and against cultural inertia. And while they may not all make appearances as ‘community leaders’, they do consistently challenge us, inspire others, and build greater collective awareness for what is good and necessary to be better - better neighbors, better citizens, better people. Hear their Stories.”

Also featured were Charles Black Lance, Brainerd school board member; Therese Kunz of Outing; Carmen Urbina Oberton of Randall; and Long Prairie Mayor Jodi Dixon.

More about SEED

Since 1987, the National SEED Project, along with its Minnesota and New Jersey branches, has trained more than 2,900 educators, parents and community leaders from 45 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, plus 15 other countries, as SEED leaders, according to the organization’s website. SEED stands for Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity.

Three Pequot Lakes teachers first participated in SEED training in 2017, according to a June 2018 story by the Echo Journal. Since then, they’ve trained other staff members in the district on striving to recognize diversity among students and working to make students more aware of diversity they might encounter in the future.

As opposed to altering curriculum or techniques, the SEED Program seeks to make an impact on the perspective of the teachers involved, in essence affecting the interactions teachers have with students on a more personal level.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.