Ten people applied for the open seat on the Brainerd School Board, and five of them will interview in front of the current members.
Bob Nystrom stepped down from the board earlier this month, citing primarily family health concerns, creating the vacancy.
Those who will be interviewed are Shelly Muñoz, Derek Owen, Tom Peterson, Sarah Speer and Mike Stanek.
Interviews will begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, with any candidates who are not able to interview that day coming at 4 p.m. the following Wednesday, Nov. 3. Board members are expected to make a decision directly after interviews are complete.
Shelly Muñoz is a science teacher at Pierz Healy High School who moved to Brainerd from California in June. She has been an educator for more than 23 years with heavy involvement in the STEM field covering science, technology, engineering and mathematics and an emphasis on space science.
Muñoz said on her application she wants to support her community, be a voice for educators and support teachers in a difficult time.
Muñoz believes accountability is key in making sure all students meet state academic standards. Board members, the superintendent, principals, teachers, parents, students and community members all need to have clearly outlined expectations to ensure standard goals will be met and students will achieve success.
“This would be a dream for me, as being on a school board has been on my bucket-achievement list,” Muñoz wrote on her application. “Since I am newer to the area, I will focus on what is best for our students, and community. I think I would be an impartial voice because of not having previous ties or commitments to the area. As I start to have grandchildren that will attend the Brainerd School District, I want to make sure that it is the very best that it can possible be.”
Derek Owen is general manager of the Northern Pacific Center in Brainerd and a baseball and football coach at Brainerd High School. He has served on various community boards and committees over the years, including the Brainerd Public Schools Foundation Board, the Smiles for Jake Board and the Nisswa Chamber Board, all of which he believes have given him valuable experiences that would help him as a board member.
As a BHS graduate and parent of students in the district, Owen said he is deeply invested in the success of the district and wants to ensure current and future students have the same high-quality experience as he did.
Owen said he would meet with as many educators and administrative staff in the district as possible to make sure each student is prepared to meet state academic standards and make sure those people have the necessary skills, support and resources to do their jobs. Accountability for board members, administrators, teachers and students plays a big role as well, he said.
“The Brainerd School Board is a team, a team that strives to be the best they can be and make the best decisions possible with the information they have,” Owen wrote on his application. “I want to join the team and have input that will assist in making our team and our schools even better.”
Tom Peterson has worked in education for most of his life, including as a teacher/librarian and district administrator of media and technology for Sioux Falls Public Schools in South Dakota. He also has experience working for a technology content company and in customer service for an online education company. Peterson is a former candidate for the Brainerd School Board and has served on its advisory committees.
Peterson has four grandchildren in the district and said he would like to work toward its constant improvement now that he has the time and energy. His training in conflict resolution and experience working in a team setting, he said, would make him a good board member.
To make sure all students meet state academic standards, Peterson said he would want to work with administrators and staff to be sure the right systems are in place and to identify areas that need improvement. Strategic planning and goal setting, he said, is key.
“I would like to emphasize that I am a team player and have no set agenda or grievance to advance,” Peterson wrote on his application. “I am a good listener who wants to hear all sides of an issue and want to make decisions based on data and planning that involves all appropriate stakeholders.”
Sarah Speer is the marketing and public relations manager for Sourcewell and a parent of students in the district, both attributes she said give her a well-rounded perspective for the school board. She has degrees in communications and secondary education as well as a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in management. She also serves on the District Advisory Committee and previously ran for a school board seat.
Speer said she has a vested interest in the district as a parent and community member and represents a sizable portion of the population as a practical, level-headed professional. She wants to support the good work teachers and coaches in the district do and be engaged as a supportive community member.
As a board member, Speer said she would welcome the challenge of helping to create and support the school board’s vision for students as they strive to meet academic standards and be accountable to the community for students’ outcomes. She said she would empower, encourage and safeguard the systems and continuous improvement cycles in place to make sure all students are successful.
“I am passionate about public education, willing to spend the time and energy needed, trusted and able to make difficult decisions, I am collaborative and function well as part of a team, and I am a strong communicator, who is also willing to listen,” Speer wrote on her application.
Mike Stanek has a degree in elementary education and has been active in Brainerd Public Schools for more than a decade as a recruiter for the Minnesota Army National Guard and a substitute teacher. He has worked with teachers of various grade levels and has military experience he said has taught him to create honest and positive working experiences while remaining calm, collected and open-minded.
As a parent who has adopted children through the foster care system, Stanek said he felt a calling to become more active in his children’s education, which led him to educating himself about the district’s elementary curriculum.
Stanek said he would help ensure student success in meeting academic standards by working with district officials — especially Tim Murtha, the director of teaching and learning, and the District Advisory Committee — to better understand where the district can improve.
“I hold dear that ‘Honesty is a virtue,’” Stanek wrote on his application. “I feel that integrity is undervalued in today’s world. ‘Do what is right, even when nobody is looking!’ Holding ourselves accountable to remain steadfast in the betterment of our educational system for all students of ISD 181, should be of the upmost importance.”