As in the past, the League of Women Voters has generously agreed to facilitate a forum for Brainerd School Board candidates on Monday, Oct. 15 at 6:30 p.m. in the Brainerd High School Little Theater. The forum provides the 10 community members who are vying for three open board seats with an important opportunity to introduce themselves to our community.
In connecting with Marcia Mans, president of the League of Women Voters of the Brainerd Lakes Area, to discuss plans for the upcoming forum we both thought it would be wonderful if Brainerd Public Schools students would assist in the organization and facilitation of the event. The ideal students? The newly formed Students for Political Awareness (S.P.A.), a nonpartisan group of Brainerd High School students who are interested in political issues and the political process. Brainerd High School teacher Dave Borash, who serves as the group’s adviser, thought it was a perfect fit for the group’s mission and interests.
As a result – and thanks to the wonderful environment of collaboration that is alive and well in our community – the League of Women Voters and the Students for Political Awareness have been working hand in hand to organize Monday’s candidate forum. The students are digging in deep and are taking active roles in every aspect of planning the forum. “The most challenging aspect of organizing debates such as these is how we determine the time distribution,” explains Carlise Sorenson, the group’s publicist. “We have 10 candidates, each with something to say. That could easily take hours. We must plan out every detail in order to ensure that everything runs smoothly and each candidate has the chance to answer the question that they are invested in without holding everyone there until midnight.”
One interesting aspect of the planning process that I was fortunate to observe was how the event organizers – including the students – determined the list of questions that would be posed to the candidates. The group researched and drafted a series of 20 potential questions that were then narrowed down by consensus to 10 questions, some of which include:
• To what degree are students in this district on track for post-secondary and career readiness? How do you know?
• How should teacher performance be measured? What are some of the challenges inherent in evaluating teachers?
• How will you build consensus and support in the community around the work of the school district?
•How would you determine priorities for staff/program/budget cuts if finances were to dictate the need for such cuts?
Every candidate will receive the full list of questions. During the forum, however, each candidate will only be asked to address four of the 10 questions, of which two they will not know in advance.
Audrey Lothspeich, the president of S.P.A., echoed group sentiment that the greatest lesson in organizing the forum is the importance of planning. “There are many more parts to organize and contingencies to prepare for that you don’t realize are part of the process until you actually try going through setting something like this up yourself,” she said. “Having so many different people come together to try to form a functioning debate needs every detail laid out, so a plan is paramount.”
For me, the most inspiring aspect of this entire process has been watching a group of the district’s key stakeholders – our students – take an active, positive role in the political process. As Maya Hermerding, S.P.A.’s vice president, said, “As students prepare themselves for the workforce and approach the age of voting, it’s important for us to remain informed and active. S.P.A. gives me a chance to cover both of these in an exciting atmosphere.”
Steve Lund is the director of business services Brainerd Public School District 181.