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Candidate drops out of race for Alexandria School Board, position 4

Dennis Conn's name will still be on the ballot but he said he's decided not to run for the office. The two other candidates for the position, Sandy Susag and Laura Knudsen, respond to Echo Press questionnaire.

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ALEXANDRIA — One of the candidates running for position 4 on the Alexandria School Board has dropped out of the race.

In a July 1 email to the newspaper, Dennis Conn said he has decided not to run for school board.

His name, however, will still be on the ballot for the Aug. 9 primary, because the period to withdraw from the race ended on June 2, according to Vicki Doehling, Douglas County elections administrator.

The two other candidates for position 4, incumbent Sandy Susag and challenger Laura Knudsen, remain in the race.

To provide more information about the Alexandria School Board candidates who are running in the Aug. 9 primary election, the Echo Press sent out questionnaires. The Wednesday, July 6 Echo Press included responses from the four candidates vying for position 3 — Lynne Lommen, Joel Novak, Greg Odell and Shawn Reilly.

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The Echo Press sent out questionnaires to the candidates that are running in the Aug. 9 primary election.

The following are the responses from Susag and Knudsen. Conn did not send a response.

The two top vote-getters for each position in the primary will advance to the general election this November. There is one other contested race for the school board, position 2, which includes incumbent Alan Zeithamer and challenger Vern Engstrom.

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Laura Knudsen

LAURA KNUDSEN

1. Please provide some background information and qualifications for the school board position (brief bio, occupation, experience, skills, etc.)

I’m a parent who has navigated children through our district from Early Childhood Family Education classes into high school. I have worked as a paraprofessional, with assignments in classrooms of every grade level, giving me a unique perspective as an employee. I’ve volunteered in our district as a member of the Early Childhood Advisory Board, eventually serving as its President. I’ve volunteered in classrooms, including in an art appreciation program. I’ve been a member of district referendum campaigns. The most rewarding accomplishment was working in the Carlos Parent Action Committee to raise over $200,000 in order to make our playground safe. Past community leadership has included serving as President of the Friends of Knute, a volunteer committee supporting the residents. This lead to a term as the Legislative Issues Chair for the Health Care Auxiliaries of Minnesota.

2. What motivated you to run for office?

I’m motivated by my love of education, compassion for students, understanding that quality schools support our community and the need to preserve parents’ rights. Our students deserve the highest quality education. We are currently not meeting our potential, as illustrated in the state ranking of our high school. Quality education creates a home-grown work force, meeting the demands of our local industries, attracting professionals from outside our community and create new innovative businesses. Parents are the primary educators of their children, and schools should be partnering with them. Unfortunately, the trend is moving in the opposite direction.

3. What differentiates you from the other school board candidates?

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Being on the frontlines with students as a parent and a paraprofessional is valuable first-hand experience. I’ve seen the issues facing our schools from inside and outside. For over a year, I’ve been connecting with parents and organizing our community to address issues, including the district ignoring parents’ rights during covid mitigation. I have experience advocating for issues to lawmakers, a skill that is a growing need for school boards in order to remain independent with local control.

4. What do you see as the primary work of the school board?

Minnesota State Statutes define the work of the school board. Statute 123B.09 Subd. 8 - Duties states, “The board must superintend and manage the schools of the district; adopt rules for their organization, government, and instruction; keep registers; and prescribe textbooks and courses of study.” To do this effectively as elected officials, the work must include engaging the community to understand expectations. Board members must work with a range of parents to understand the needs of students and respect parental rights.

5. If elected, what are your priorities or what issues should the school board address?

Quality education, school safety and parental rights are leading issues. The number one job of our schools is to teach our children the skills needed to be well-rounded adults, who can function productively in our society. Math, reading and science are core knowledge areas, where all students need to reach their full potential. School safety includes providing an environment where students are physically safe. Ensuring a safe mental health environment is also necessary. Current climates at our schools are negatively impacting the mental health of students. Parental rights is a growing concern. I intend to preserve these rights.

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Sandy Susag

SANDY SUSAG

1. Please provide some background information and qualifications for the school board position (brief bio, occupation, experience, skills, etc.)

I have lived in Alexandria for several years, raised our two sons here and have been actively involved in supporting Alexandria. My last 17 years of employment involved working for the Douglas County Hospital Mental Health Unit/ Lakeland Mental Health as primary intake worker. I have served as president of AAAA (Andria Theatre); original creator of the Concerts on the Courthouse Lawn; creator of Saturday Art Market. I currently serve on the Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors; raise money for the Traveling Treehouse Literacy Program; assist at Small Mall.

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2. What motivated you to run for re-election for office?

I am running for re-election because I am committed to the students of District 206 and to the community of Alexandria. I have 12 years of previous service on the School Board. We possess the most amazing kids, staff, administration. We are held in high regard across the state for our commitment to excellence in education. Our school system is stil! toured 8 years after we built the new high school, after implementation of the Academies model. Our students achieve on so many levels. The importance of a high functioning school system is of utmost importance in attracting new businesses and new residents to this area. It is an indisputable economic factor when people choose to relocate.

3. What differentiates you from the other school board candidates?

As I stated previously, I have 12 years of experience on the school board. Our school board is made up of highly professional individuals from this community whose only goal is to do what is best for kids. I have spent many years working on problem areas within our community: homelessness, food insufficiency, literacy, currently engaged in trying to solve the childcare issue. I serve on a committee that includes City Council reps, County Commissioners and School Board members. We work toward solutions for common problems. I see the glass as “half full." When I encounter a problem, I seek input from others to help reach the best solution. I am a team player. I will never ask you to do something that I am not willing to do myself.

4. What do you see as the primary work of the school board?

Our School Board is a governing board. We make policy. We hire outstanding individuals to carry out these policies. In the case of the recent COVID pandemic, we relied on medical information from sources such as the CDC and our local medical community to make informed decisions. We are also governed by federal and state mandates, that when in place, we must follow. We need to offer a curriculum that helps "grow” every student. We offer educational choices of new opportunity – maybe a new career path choice. We want each and every student to be the very best form of themselves. We partner with local businesses (Champions Committee) to gain input and leadership for our students. We partner with parents and invite them to contact their child’s teachers with concerns or suggestions.

5. If elected, what are your priorities or what issues should the school board address?

I want every student to be and to feel safe. Public focus on assault weapons attacks is of concern to everyone – including me – but there are many types of assault weapons —including verbal and physical assault on our students, especially LGBTQ students or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students. Bullying is not acceptable — ever. The Code of Conduct in our schools include: Acceptance, Kindness, Empathy. We need to do better. We need to continue to help our students excel educationally but we need more work on the tolerance and acceptance factors.

PHOTOS OF POSITION 3 CANDIDATES

Photos of the four candidates running in the Aug. 9 primary for position 3 on the Alexandria School Board were inadvertently omitted from the July 6 print issue that included their responses to the questionnaire.

Here they are:

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Lynne Lommen
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Joel Novak

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Greg Odell

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Shawn Reilly

Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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