The race for the Sioux Falls School Board election this June only has two candidates, an incumbent and a newcomer.
Current school board president Cynthia Mickelson will face off against Sarah Stokke, a nursing professor who once worked for the school district.
The candidates were sent the same questions via email. Answers are presented here by candidate in alphabetical order. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Cynthia Mickelson, incumbent
Mickelson was first elected in 2017, and has since played a role in some of the district’s latest big decisions. That includes approving to hold a bond election for $190 million to build in schools and address other construction projects, which passed in 2018, and hiring Superintendent Brian Maher’s replacement. She is currently involved in the process of deciding new school boundaries for the district with the rest of the school board.
What made you decide to run for school board again this year?
Providing hope for all children so they may reach their full potential. Our greatest resource is our children. A community is as strong as their public-school system, and I want to ensure a prosperous future by harnessing my knowledge gained through my involvement in schools, community service and business/legal training. I care deeply about our children and community (former Children’s Home Society board member, Capital Campaign co-chair for VOA Homeplace that provides housing and training for homeless youth 16-21, The Promising Futures Fund board member).
If re-elected, what do you want to accomplish during your term?
(I would) continue to provide the premier education at the lowest tax cost in the region by adapting to needs and meeting students where they are socially, emotionally and educationally. This year will be an especially tough budget year. Furthermore, providing equitable experiences and a safe environment for our student and staff has been a priority of mine as a board member. Communication and transparency with our families, students, employees and community will always be at the forefront for me. Finally, easing the transition for families and staff when the new boundaries are announced to ensure that all of the buildings have equitable opportunities.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing Sioux Falls schools today, and how do you hope to tackle that challenge if re-elected?
Three months ago, I would have said boundaries would be our biggest challenge, but due to COVID-19 our budget this year (and probably in the next year), will be our biggest challenge. We rely on state, federal and local funding to operate and we have all heard the forecasts on the economy. However, SFSD has a 5-year budget plan, has invested in our buildings, and has set up a long-term strategy for our funding to mitigate these issues as best we can. Coupled with the budget will be how do we return to school this fall and what will that look like. We are working with the state, county and city to make sure we are ready for multiple scenarios (school in person, remote learning, or a hybrid fashion).
Stokke is a nursing professor at the University of South Dakota. She taught health career courses at the district’s Career and Technology Education Academy prior to joining USD, according to the university’s website.
What made you decide to run for school board this year?
As a mother, nurse, and educator, I have witnessed areas of strength and areas for growth within in our school district. My plan is to build upon those strengths and work through those areas for growth, utilizing evidence-based research and the input from our parents, students, staff, and community to make our school district even better than it is today. I was raised to get involved when I felt the need for a change, and so here I am. I bring many strengths with me from all of my roles. I am innovative, open-minded, and always willing to listen. I am passionate about education, and I believe that every student should be challenged to reach their full potential on whichever path they choose.
If elected, what do you want to accomplish during your term?
As I look at the majority of my ideas, most can be combined into three main categories: teamwork/communication, faculty, and students.
For teamwork/communication, I think the biggest goal for the district is creating and building on relationships around the students (and including the students).
For faculty, we need to retain amazing teachers, leaders, and staff. Not only do we need to retain the wonderful faculty we have, we also need to grow our own new faculty so that that they have that same passion to come back and work for our amazing district through programs in middle and high school that promote working in education.
For students, we need to engage students in their learning through active classrooms and showing our students how to implement what they are learning in real-world scenarios and experiences—showing them the value of their education.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing Sioux Falls schools today, and how do you hope to tackle that challenge if elected?
I truly believe communication, teamwork, and relationships are the foundation of many of our issues within the school district. If everyone in the school district viewed their role as part of the team with the student, I believe that our way of dealing with issues would greatly change. In nursing, I always teach new nurses to treat every patient as if they were your closest family member, and you will always treat them the right way. Education should be no different, treat every student as if they were your own child. How would you talk to them? How would you want to be talked with as their parent? Empathy goes a long way in every situation.
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