Meet the Candidates for Northfield School Board

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The Northfield School Board is the main oversight group of the Northfield Public Schools composed of 7 members who serve a 4 year term. Their approval is needed on all major policy changes, budget allocations, and tax referendums.

Candidates (elect 3)
Ben Miller
Tom Barniack (incumbent)
Robert Coleman
Ricky Antino Livingstone
Jenny Nelson
Jeff Quinnell (incumbent)

Candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Northfield & Cannon Falls:

Robert Coleman

Q. Please list any civic, community, or professional organizations/clubs your a part of.
A. I am involved in many education-focused community groups and Northfield School District committees:

1. Current member and past chair of the Community Education Advisory Council.

2. Early childhood representative on committee to support passage of 2018 bond referendum.

3. School district Legislative Action Committee to advocate for our schools during the state
legislative session.

4. Member of 2020-2021 task forces to study Northfield High School needs and to prioritize district budget during budget reduction process.

5. Spring Creek PTO and Northfield Fine Arts Boosters.

Q. What qualifies for the office your running for?
A. I am currently a stay-at-home father of two young children in the Northfield School District: a first grader at Spring Creek Elementary and a preschooler in the district’s Hand-in-Hand Preschool. With them in mind, I have served as an advocate for the district’s students, particularly the youngest. In 2018, I helped champion Northfield’s early childhood-focused bond referendum to its successful passage and have served on numerous district committees as an advocate for our students, their families and Northfield’s educators. An example of this is my work with the Northfield School District’s Legislative Action Committee where I closely followed the work of the Minnesota Legislature and engaged with lawmakers to advocate on issues of school funding and education policy.

I am a passionate believer in the power of public education. Having grown up and gone to school K-12 on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana—one of the nation’s most poverty-stricken communities—I experienced firsthand how influential a successful school environment and committed teachers can be in changing children’s lives. An exceptional public education provides the opportunities for all children to gain the skills they need to be successful in whatever route they may choose to pursue in life.

Q. What inspired you to run for office? If you running for reelection why do you want to stay in office?
A. I am inspired every day by our community’s children and the strong commitment that area residents have made to supporting their education. This past year I was fortunate enough to spend significant time coaching reading with Kindergarteners at the very beginning of their educational journey in the Northfield schools, and I found myself increasingly motivated to consider the role I can play in ensuring that these students are provided with the best educational opportunities possible. I am running for election to the Northfield School Board because I believe that an exemplary school district such as Northfield’s is one of the founding pillars of a great community. This is not to say that there are not problems with our schools that need to be addressed, and I am an advocate for continued improvement
of our schools. But by challenging our known assumptions about what is working well and not, along with an awareness of the constantly changing nature of education, we can make our schools even better at serving the diverse needs of all our children. And years in the future, when those kindergarteners I read with are graduating from high school, I hope that they are able to look back and say that Northfield Schools provided them the best educational experience possible.

Q. What is something that you would like to accomplish while in office?
A. There are a number of challenges facing our schools that I hope to help guide the district through over the next four years. First is the importance of making sure our schools are providing an excellent and equitable education to all of our students of all backgrounds and identities. Black, white, immigrant, homeless, English language learner; a public education needs to serve everyone. Whatever our children’s circumstances may be, we need to be offering a full range of educational experiences that empower students developing into successful adults. An inclusive experience that offers spaces to celebrate and learn about each other’s different backgrounds benefits all of us.

I would also aid the Northfield Schools in their careful stewardship of resources over the coming years. I would fight for full funding for our schools from our legislature. For years, unfunded mandates have greatly increased costs for schooling without providing adequate monetary support.

Finally, I believe we must remain careful caretakers of the district’s buildings and grounds and continue to look at future needs. I am encouraged by current work towards finding solutions for the aging Northfield High School and hope that our students are soon able learn in the modern facilities they deserve.

Q. What does being a leader mean to you?
A. A leader is willing to step out of their comfort zone to help find solutions for the good of their community. I believe a leader listens to and works with all groups in order to find the best path forward. Effective leaders must also, after careful study, make difficult choices and be able to communicate their reasoning. Lastly, an effective leader is a strong collaborator and empowers others. If elected, I would strive toward these leadership ideals and work together with the rest of the Board of Education to make our schools the best places they can be.

Ben Miller

Q. Please list any current political offices you hold. Please list any previous political office you’ve held.
A. School Board – Prairie Creek Community School

Q. Please list any civic, community, or professional organizations/clubs your a part of.
A. n/a

Q. What qualifies for the office your running for?
A. I have more than 20 years of leadership experience in state government and the private sector, as well as previous school board service. I’d be honored to share my experience with the Northfield schools. A lifelong Minnesotan, I grew up believing that if we all do better, then we all do better, and I would bring that philosophy to my service on the school board.
The district faces challenges in the coming years, with declining enrollment, stagnant support from the state, workforce retention, an aging high school building, and an ongoing gap in academic performance and outcomes within our student population. These problems aren’t unique to Northfield, and I believe we need to enlist the creative energy and unique strengths of the Northfield community to implement innovative solutions.

Q. What inspired you to run for office? If you running for reelection why do you want to stay in office?
A. I believe parent involvement and representation are important on a school board. I stepped off the Prairie Creek Board as my youngest was moving on to middle school and I currently have two children currently at the middle and high schools in the district. If elected, I would bring my previous school board and professional experience to the board, in part informed by the successes and challenges our and other families are experiencing in the district. My goal would be to end my service on the Northfield School Board knowing that the district was strategically and financially better than when I joined.

Q. What is something that you would like to accomplish while in office?
A. For me, the most important thing is to ensure the district has the financial and human resources and support it needs to educate and prepare our students. Adequate funding helps us keep class sizes down and allows us to provide much-needed physical, social, and mental health resources for our students. It also helps us exceed the academic requirements needed to participate in a fast-changing world and create or sustain opportunities that support the wide range of student interests in our community.

Public schools remain one of the few institutions where everyone in the community comes together and has a shared interest in supporting the next generation of Northfield residents, Minnesotans, and Americans and I hope to be someone who fosters this shared interest.

Q. What does being a leader mean to you?
A. In my experience, the best leaders are those who are life-long learners and excellent listeners. A good leader doesn’t assume that they immediately know the answer or solution to every problem. They take the time to learn about the complexities of an issue, seek input, and listen to multiple perspectives to better educate themselves. At times, leadership requires developing understanding to reach consensus, and, at other times, it requires making hard decisions that may not be immediately or widely popular. I believe that good leaders understand the goals of the organization and the role of the leader in that organization. As a member of a seven-person school board, I would bring my experience and expertise and would look to others on the board to do the same. Our aim should be decisions that are best for both the short and long-term health of the students in the district and the Northfield community.

Jenny Nelson

Q. Please list any current political offices you hold. Please list any previous political office you’ve held.
A. n/a

Q. Please list any civic, community, or professional organizations/clubs your a part of
A. n/a

Q. What qualifies for the office your running for?
A. I have been volunteering in schools for the past 22 years, including fundraising, before and after school care, recess supervision, and classroom activities. The amount of understanding of a school system is incredible when you are a volunteer, not only working with students but getting to know teachers and staff. I currently have 2 children at the Northfield Middle School. Within my career, I have been working alongside the Department of OSHA for 18 years to create policies for construction companies. This has allowed me to easily understand the Department of Education’s guidelines and State and Federal law that school districts follow when creating policy and staying in compliance. I would be bringing experience from two sides to the school board: my knowledge of policy, contracts, and legislation, and my experience volunteering in schools and bringing the parent perspective that can help encourage and engage the families within our school district. I take pride in attending our school district’s events such as Rock and Roll Revival and Varsity football games. I am inspired by the excellence and determination our teachers and staff demonstrate, and in turn, I will work hard to add value to our already strong, dedicated leadership here.

Q. What inspired you to run for office? If you running for reelection why do you want to stay in office?
A. It was a difficult decision for me to transfer my children from a private school to Northfield Public Schools, but our Northfield teachers and principals had welcomed us and made it the best thing I’ve done for my family. I have been inspired and motivated by our teachers and administrators to serve our school district, and ensure that all families have the opportunity for the same success here in the Northfield School District. My own vision involves seeing that every student feels safe and loved in their school, that every student is motivated to come to school everyday, and motivated to learn and grow. I also see our district producing students who are respectful, responsible, and who understand our society so that when they go on from high school, whether it is college, a full time job, an apprenticeship, or anything in between, that they will work hard and be productive in our society.

Q. What is something that you would like to accomplish while in office?
A. I believe that finding solutions to bring better mental health and well being to our students will increase their academic performance and proficiency as well as allowing students to feel safer and more welcomed. I would like to open up to discussion to add a practical, low-cost element such as a Mind Up program to our K-12 grades, which focuses on teaching ways to reduce anxiety and negativity. We need all students to be strong for themselves in order to help lift up one another- that is a goal of mine for our district.

Another idea I have to help increase academic performance and proficiency is to become successful in engaging all families of students in our district. As parents are the link to students’ academic achievement and involvement, I would like to explore options to extend our community school program into the Middle School and expanding family engagement at elementary and high school level. At our Greenvale Park Community School Program, I saw a remarkable level of encouragement, family involvement, and a sense of community working together to create stronger learners with equal opportunities for all.

Regarding our strategic commitment to ensuring students are ready to choose their preferred pathway after high school, I would like to see that every 6th through 12th grade student has access to Career Trees. I would also like to help with expansion of 11-12th grade Youth Apprenticeship programs, as well as skilled trades classes at the middle school and additional courses such as: contractor, auto technology, landscaping, agriculture and podcasting offered at the high school.

With inflation and declining enrollment affecting our budget, and legislation not coming through on funding, I would like to help maximize enrollment with the district reaching out and encouraging communication in order to increase the chances of additional enrollment and to maintain the current enrolled students. Also, the state education funding formulas seem complex and I think if more parents and community members would be able to understand and identify the inequalities, more could help advocate at the legislative level, and so I would like to offer education resources to parents. We have a lot of untapped talent and motivation in our parent community that we could be reaching out to because without it, we are going to keep seeing our legislature disappoint us.

An area I would also like the opportunity to work on is the issue of our High School facilities. I am in agreement with the board’s decision on setting it aside in order to gain more research and support, but the high school is in need of an update and I would like to help the board accomplish a cost effective building modification or new construction plan while contributing the knowledge I have gained as a project development director in the commercial construction industry.

Q. What does being a leader mean to you?
A. When it comes to being a leader within a school district, I think it is important to understand that the schools belong to the public they serve for the purpose of providing educational opportunities to all, and so remaining open to the goals, concerns and opinions of all community members, staff, and students is a critical component to that obligation. Seeing and understanding the many perspectives on the concerns and issues we are facing as a school district is the step that is necessary for success. The well-being of students should also be central to a leader’s decision making; every student is one caring adult away from a success story.

Tom Barniack

Q. Please list any current political offices you hold. Please list any previous political office you’ve held.

A. Northfield School Board member.

Q. Please list any civic, community, or professional organizations/clubs your a part of.
A. Board member of Cannon Valley Makers. School board liaison to the City of Northfield Human Rights Commission. Board president of Northfield Daycare.

Q. What qualifies for the office your running for?
A. I have 4 years of service on the school board. I’m on boards in the community and serve in leadership roles on committees at work at Carleton college. I’ve had two kids graduate from Northfield schools. I put in the time and effort to learn about the issues and the time and thought to understand them. I am informed by a lifetime of experience, reading, learning, thinking, doing. I work selflessly in the interest of those I’m serving.

Q. What inspired you to run for office? If you running for reelection why do you want to stay in office?
A. I have a passion, conviction, and commitment to public education for every student. I believe in the potential for everyone to achieve their dreams and will continue in my next 4 years to work to provide the means and support to help them accomplish that. I understand the issues and challenges, but also, and more importantly, the hopes and dreams. I’m confident, and have shown with my past 4 years on the school board, that I can serve the school district and the community in positive, constructive ways that propel us forward to serve the generations that come and the future they create.

Q. What is something that you would like to accomplish while in office?
A. It’s not about what I want to accomplish, it’s about what can I do to help and strengthen the educational experience for the students in the Northfield Schools. To that end we will all work to help recover and reset from the pandemic. That includes academics and mental health. I will stand up for the silent voices and those in the shadows. Students of all stripes will have my unwavering support. Having a technical background I will continue to support tech ed including agriculture. Help navigate the budget stresses. Finally getting a new and long overdue educational learning environment for the high school. The issues are many, the solutions not simple, at a cost we will all bear even if we don’t want to, one way or another.

Q. What does being a leader mean to you?
A. Understanding the issues and making the best decision as it affects the students, teachers, and staff. Standing up for and behind the decision. Educating others about the decision and bringing them on board.

Ricky A. Livingston
Ricky A. Livingston has not completed the 2022 Election Guide Questionnaire.

Jeff Quinnell

Jeff Quinnell has not completed the 2022 Election Guide questionnaire, Jeff currently serves on the Northfield School Board as the treasurer. (Picture courtesy of the Northfield Public Schools)

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