Maureen Eigen has conviction, an empathic heart and wants to make wise decisions for the Alexandria School District.

Jeff Patience feels it is important to continue the strong tradition the district has had and has seen the many benefits the district offers.

Jeremy Smith wants to get parents more engaged and do what is best for the students.

Eigen, Patience and Smith are three candidates vying for a seat on the Alexandria School Board. On Wednesday, July 21, they took part in a forum hosted by the Alexandria Sertoma Club and moderated by the Echo Press. The video is available on the Echo Press Facebook page.

The candidates were asked questions related to curriculum, challenges faced by the school board, how well they work within a small group, differences between each of them, the superintendent’s role, who their heroes/role models are, as well as several others.

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Each candidate took a turn at being the first one to answer a question.

Here is a snapshot of some of the questions and the candidates answers.

Q: Regarding the current school board, what grade would you give the board on a report card and what areas could they make improvements on?

Smith said it would be tough to give a grade, but that the school board in the last year and a half has done well with what was handed to them by the state. He said Superintendent Rick Sansted had a tough job, but did well coming in during the COVID pandemic. Smith said the school board could do a better job keeping parents informed about state guidelines and do things that the community/parents want to do for their children. He said the board needs to figure out how to push back against the state if needed. Smith said he'd give the school board a B or C grade as he is not one to give out As because there's always room for improvement.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith

Eigen said she respects the board and thanks them for all they do. She gave them a B+. Eigen said school board members are liaisons between parents and the district and now that she is running for a seat on the school board, she has heard that the board doesn’t always listen to parents. She hopes that if elected, she could find new ways to have more dialogue between parents and the school board.

Patience is currently a school board member as he was appointed back in April when former school board member, Bob Cunniff, moved away from the area. With that in mind, he said he was a little biased and gave the school board an A. He said the school board is a policy board and that it has to follow the rules and regulations set forth by the state or federally, whether school board members like them or not. He did acknowledge that communication from the school board could be better.

Q: Making decisions about curriculum can be contentious and challenging. How would you approach this task?

Patience said when it comes to curriculum, decisions have to be based on factual data even though not everyone will agree and there has to be collaboration. He took the topic of Critical Race Theory as an example. He said it is currently not taught in the district and it is not on the horizon, either.

Jeff Patience
Jeff Patience

Smith said if parents in the community want a certain subject taught, the school board should find a way to figure it out. He said the board should work with the state and local authorities to make it happen. Smith said parents are electing the board members and that the board members need to follow the will of the parents.

Eigen said the school board would need to figure out what the end goal would be and what would be in the best interests of the students. She said Alexandria School District is a public school system and curriculum can be a contentious thing. But she said it’s about balance and that she would stand firm, but also would listen. Most importantly, she said, is that the kids are motivated to learn and grow.

Q: What separates you from the other two candidates running for school board? What do you see as the biggest differences between you and the other two?

Eigen had a little fun with this question stating the most obvious difference is that she is a woman and her name doesn’t start with a J. She also said she is a woman of faith and believes fully in the First Amendment. She said that by being home with her children she learned to become more patient and tends to lean on the side of empathy, which she said she was thankful for.

Maureen Eigen
Maureen Eigen

Patience joked and said he was the oldest of three. And then he also said he was invested in the community, has expertise in the finance world as he is the senior vice president of Bell Bank and that he has been a volunteer in the school district and outside of the school district for the past 20 years. He feels he has a lot to give back to the school district.

Smith said as an engineer for Aagard, he may not speak as well as the other two and he is not a politician. He said he has had experience with kids as he and his wife are foster parents and have gone through lots of different training sessions on a variety of topics. He also said he is one who will share his opinion even if someone likes it or not. He said he will bring a unique position to the board and will stand up for what the community wants.

Q: Who are your heroes or role models?

Eigen said her parents were her heroes, especially her father, Brent Smith. She said he puts others first and that she is so proud of him for being an integral part of starting the Northstar Christian Academy and Kalon Prep Academy. She said her parents taught her to create high standards for herself and she is thankful for all they have done for her.

Smith said his dad, Ron Smith, is his hero. He said his dad worked for 3M for more than 25 years and that it wasn’t always easy and that his mom had to raise him and his siblings. He said his parents are both actually his heroes and that he is thankful for how supportive they are of him.

Patience said his parents were his heroes because they taught him patience, tolerance and gave him convictions. And then, tearing up just a bit, Patience said his son is also his hero and that his son is a far better man than he’ll ever be. Patience said his son has taught him a thing or two and the fact that his son feels comfortable enough to correct him is awesome.

Each of the candidates were given two minutes to give closing remarks.

Patience said he offers balance, maturity and experience. He also understands finances and is committed to the community, which he said speaks for itself.

Smith said as a school board member, he would try to fix the lost connection between parents and the school board and that he would not be afraid to share ideas. He would also make sure parents felt they were informed.

Eigen said as Critical Race Theory is a cultural way of teaching and that there are valid concerns, she would be willing to be a voice for what is in the best interest of the students. She would have empathy and heart.