Plymouth Patch asked Wayzata School Board candidates five questions about their backgrounds and important issues facing the school district.
Check back with Patch regularly to see information on each candidate and feel free to ask your own questions of the candidates below each article.
Incumbent Linda Cohen is one of seven who have filed for the four open seats on the Wayzata School Board. The four spots are each a four-year term. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Background: (Political experience, career/job experience, family, volunteer or other civic engagement.)
Cohen: "I have served close to 12 years on the Wayzata School Board and have been elected for three terms. I also ran to become a Regent of the University of Minnesota, which is elected by a vote of the full state legislature. Currently, I am Chair of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Those two board positions combined with my professional background as an educator and a psychologist provide an enormous amount of experience, expertise and a somewhat unique perspective on education, which I can bring to bear on deliberations of the Wayzata School Board."
"My own educational background is co-valedictorian of Washburn Public High School in Minneapolis and I am a Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Wellesley College as well as a Master’s degree in the History of Science from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Minnesota."
"My husband, Henry and I have lived in the district for more than 40 years. He practiced medicine in Wayzata for many years. All three of our kids (Laura, Andy and Will) attended Wayzata schools, grades K-12 and one granddaughter graduated last year from Wayzata and another is in ninth grade. Please visit my website at www.re-electlindacohen.com
Budget: How do you plan to address the school district's budget issues? What are the main issues with the district's budget? What can or cannot be done at the School Board level to address those issues?
Cohen: "The board has been very financially responsible and the community extremely responsive to both operating and technology referenda. So with prudent money management and the support of our constituents, the district is in very solid financial footing. Despite the state deficit and a shift (or delay) in school payments, and the district needing to borrow $30 million to cover the late-state payments, we have ample money to cover the interest payments on that borrowing because of an increase in state funding of $50 per pupil. Making sure that spending is scrutinized carefully and budgets always have an ample fund balance can help ensure strong financial status. We are currently one of only three school districts in the state with a AAA bond rating."
3. Enrollment/facilities: How should the district address enrollment and facility use issues? What are the main issues with the district's enrollment and facility use?
Cohen: "The administration and board are in the midst of a facilities review to assess what options are available to attend to some of the overcrowding in some of our elementary schools. We recognize there is a problem and we are addressing it. We have closed open enrollment (allowing students to attend from outside the district) at all grade levels, except for kindergarten, another way to keep our student body at an optimal number (not too many and not too few)."
4. Curriculum/testing: What do you think should be changed with what is being taught in the classrooms today? How do you think issues of meeting state and federal student achievement standards can be addressed? What is missing to improve student achievement in the Wayzata School District? (Or do you think nothing is missing?)
Cohen: "Student achievement is very high in the Wayzata School District. With 35 National Merit Semi-finalists last year and 26 this year, we are the highest in the state. We are improving appropriate interventions for all learners with better professional development (which is already outstanding) and better assessments. From struggling readers, to the achievement gap, to Vision 21 (gifted and talented) programs, the district is working on addressing the needs of each and every student. We also want to be sure that we use technology in ways that enhance learning and promote critical and creative thinking, as well as prompt deep discussion and more thoroughly engage students in learning. I am always on the look out for a rigorous program for our students."
5. Image: How do you think the district is perceived by those who live in it and those who do not? What do you think can be improved for the district to better communicate with the community and others? How would you address issues with the district's image?
Cohen: "A recent poll showed a very high percentage of our district residents—parents, guardians and community members—were very satisfied (giving good or excellent ratings) with the education being provided by the district. Very high marks were given for the excellent teaching and learning that is happening. All three areas: academics, arts and athletics are important. Many people not in the district want to open enroll their children in our district. The Wayzata district has an excellent reputation and provides an excellent education—we can do better and cannot be complacent. I look forward to continuing to build strong relationships with all our constituents and to provide a superb education for each of our students.