Diane Cirksena

Candidate for School Board

cirksenaAfter four years on the Northfield board, and having achieved more than retirement age, I was fairly sure I would not run again.  But the more I thought about it the more I realized that, if the voters allow me to serve again, I can contribute to the stability of the district.  I don't have single issues that drive me, and I pretty much do my homework in a timely way.

So what is my platform?

AT THE LOCAL LEVEL:

1.  We must continue to carefully review budgets so that a recommended reserve is obtained and maintained.  We do not want to go back to the "Statutory Operating Debt" status of two years ago, which was the result of educational funding being frozen at the state level AND irresponsible spending of a previous administration.  Superintendent Chris Richardson demonstrated great leadership in facing the financial problems of the district and managing an open public process in making cuts.

2.  Continue to support/stabilize building leadership.  All principals now support data driven decision making and personal learning communities (study teams as the basis for staff development).  With no turnover in administrators this year the personal learning communities should be even more prepared to review the data on student performance in their buildings in order to improve student achievement.

3.  We must address more precisely (through the things itemized in #2) the student achievement lags in our special education and limited English proficient student body.  Being on the Adequate Yearly Progress watchlist is not pleasant, but does provide us with more incentive to target achievement in these populations.  And we must celebrate how well our entire student body performs.

AT THE STATE LEVEL:

1.  Pressure our state representatives and senators to demand that school funding be reformed along the lines of the original 1971 "Minnesota Miracle."  That was created following a court case (Van Dusarte v. Hatfield) which ruled that, "The level of spending for a child's education may not be a function of wealth other than the wealth of the state as a whole."  That worthy effort has been eroded by budget freezes, the continued "No New Taxes" pledge of the Governor, and a lack of willingness to revise the calculation formula for property tax equalization.

  • They should expect (nay, demand!) that the '04 funding taskforce be reconvened and its work completed with specific recommendations.
  • They should demand equalization in that funding formula.  All students should receive equal opportunities.
  • They should demand that funding be targeted towards meeting local, state and federal standards.

Return to Election 2008 page.

Responses to questions submitted by Northfield.org participants:

1. How would you address the concerns of schools not making "Adequate Yearly Progress" as identified by the No Child Left Behind Act?

First, we must be willing and able to scrutinize our own education practices, to make sure our staff understands exactly which students are underperforming and what can be done about it.  Second, we must demand amendments to NCLB in the now overdue reauthorization that would allow schools more flexibility… because under the rules as they now apply, nearly every school in Minnesota will be “in needs improvement” by 2011.  When that happens NCLB will no longer mean anything.

2. Although significant budget cuts have been made in the recent past, further cost cuts or additional income might be necessary. How would you approach such a situation?

Exactly what we did last time… very carefully examine every possible way to trim, although there are very few options left!  In the meantime, we need to yell and scream for the State to get its act together.

3. What do you see as particular points of pride in the Northfield Schools?

I’m proud of how this community pulls together for the kids.  I’m delighted in the academic performance of our student body.  I think we have a dynamite staff.  I love our administrators.  What more can I say?

4. What relationship would you like to see between the district and the two charter schools it sponsors?

As a sponsor, our board must be ever vigilant that the mission of the charter is being implemented.  Most charters that have failed have done so because the original vision has been corrupted by lack of experience or expertise on the part of the charter’s leadership team.  It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen in our district.

5. Both colleges in town have made news as leaders in bringing better --and more locally grown -- food to the students' tables. Do you feel that Northfield's public schools are doing a good job of providing our children with healthy and smart food choices?

Nope, we are not doing as well as we’d like on this job.  We have made efficient freezing and refrigeration equipment a priority in the last couple of years, so we are now confident that we have upgraded to maximum efficiency.  We laid plans to implement a composting program (with the colleges) with grant money, but were disappointed when the grant was not funded.  We have made some small efforts at locally grown produce (Fireside Orchard for apples, for example) but we’re still so focused on the bottom line that we haven’t pushed this very much farther.   So are we working on this?  Yes!  Are we getting better?  Yes, but we have more work to do.


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