Sarah Speer will be the new face on the Brainerd School Board in December.
Current board members voted Wednesday, Nov. 3, to appoint Speer to fill the spot Bob Nystrom vacated last month.
“I’m so excited to be a part of this group and just to be able to serve in the community in this way,” Speer said when Superintendent Laine Larson called her to give her the news Wednesday afternoon. “I am speechless. … There’s just so many good things happening in our schools. I’m just proud to support the good things that are happening, and I’m just thrilled that the board chose me.”
After interviewing the last of five finalists Wednesday, the five board members cast ballots for their top picks, with Ruth Nelson, Charles Black Lance and Jana Shogren choosing Speer, while Tom Haglin and Kevin Boyles chose Derek Owen.
After counting the ballots, the board then unanimously voted to appoint Speer to the position.
The appointment will be official 30 days after passing the resolution, meaning Speer will begin her tenure on the board at the Dec. 6 meeting.
"I’m so excited to be a part of this group and just to be able to serve in the community in this way."
— Sarah Speer
A special election will take place in 2022 to fill the remaining two years of Nystrom’s term.
Ten people applied for the position on the board: Michael Erholtz, Misha Freeman, Shelly Muñoz, Mark Nesheim, Derek Owen, Jeffery Phillips, Tom Peterson, Cameron Sharp, Sarah Speer and Mike Stanek.
The board chose to interview Muñoz, Owen, Peterson, Speer and Stanek. The first four interviewed last week, while Stanek went in front of the board Wednesday.
Mike Stanek is a former recruiter for the Minnesota Army National Guard and a substitute teacher who has children at Brainerd Public Schools. He has an elementary education degree and has worked with various grade levels.
He began his interview by addressing an email sent to school board members, administrators and the Brainerd Dispatch Oct. 26 — the day after he was selected as a finalist — with copies of controversial retweets from his Twitter profile, dating back to 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2020. The posts in question included jokes about women and with sexual innuendos.
“Those that decided to read every single tweet or retweet that I’ve ever posted in more than 12 years says more about their character than those few posts say about mine,” Stanek told the board. “Even though political perspectives may sway our moral and ethical decisions, I feel that politics don’t belong on a school board, and that’s what I truly stand for. We need to come together as a collective group regardless of where we stand to find middle ground for the betterment of the people.”
After working so hard to adopt children through the foster care system, Stanek said he and his wife felt compelled to become more involved in their education, which led to them talking with board members and administrators and learning more about the curriculum. Had he been appointed, he said he would have worked to find common ground by giving students, educators and the general public a voice and trying to bring the community together instead of dividing it.
Stanek said the school board could improve on transparency, as perception is everything. He said the board owes it to the community and the taxpayers to be transparent in decisions that affect the public.
When asked about the opportunity between white students and those of color, Stanek said, first of all, there is a difference between opportunity gaps and educational gaps, neither of which should exist if the district is remaining true to its policies. The district needs to address any shortcomings, he said, and figure out how to close any gaps that exist.
Equity and inclusion are a big reason Stanek said he and his wife started to collaborate with the district in the first place. As a parent of a biracial child at Brainerd Public Schools, Stanek said he believes every student deserves to be treated with educationally equity, dignity and respect.
“There are currently some questionable curriculums on racial equity in elementary reading books versus educational equity,” he said. “I believe the responsibility is to be able to differentiate between equity, inclusion and equal opportunity. It’s a fine line that can exist in our small little corner of the world in Brainerd.”