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Spilman: Education holds a community together

October 16, 2012
By Kremena Spengler - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - Jerod Spilman is hoping to bring a multiple perspective to the school board - that of a former student, a teacher with local and international experience, and an academic.

"... I've researched and analyzed education and how it relates to the larger community," the candidate says. "Education often holds a community together. It can also tear a community apart when poor decisions are made."

Spilman, 37, is one of eight candidates running for four seats on the board. The election is Nov. 6.

Article Photos

Jerod Spilman

Spilman graduated from New Ulm Public High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from St. John's University in individualized social science, and from Minnesota State University, Mankato, in social studies education.

In addition, he has a master's degree in public policy from the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota. While at grad school, he explored issues related to international education and early childhood education,.

Spilman points to his international experience in teaching. Between 2004 and 2008, Spilman taught conversational English in China, at a university preparing students for study in Australia or the United Kingdom.

"I'm proud of my accomplishments in education, including my time as a substitute teacher in New Ulm, Saint Peter, Mankato, Nicollet and Sleepy Eye," he said. "It has given me a first-hand look at how education can vary across public/private differences, as well as community differences. Community involvement makes a big difference in the overall health of a school."

Spilman says he is running for school board "to engage parents, teachers and the community for the betterment of students."

"As a licensed teacher, it has been my experience that decisions are best made by people who understand the issues facing education," he says. "I have first-hand experience in the classroom, working with students and making decisions that affect student learning. As a member of the community, I feel I have the necessary tools to effectively work with people. As a former student in District 88, I witnessed first hand the influence of great teaching. People should vote for the person they feel will best lead the district. I feel I have the necessary credentials and experience to be a part of the District 88 School Board..."

"Education is an important job, one I take very seriously as a teacher. I understand the relationships between students, teachers, parents and the school system to be extremely important," he says. "When the ultimate goal is student success and achievement, the stakes couldn't be higher. I can make the tough decisions and hold people accountable."

When asked what he needs to learn more about to be an effective board member, Spilman said he is least familiar with school finance.

"School finance is a complex mix of student population data, tax revenue data, student need, etc. It is so complex, that I once attended a lecture given by the director of finance for the Minnesota Department of Education. In the introduction before the lecture a comment was made to the effect that this was one of the only people in Minnesota who truly understood school finance. I was skeptical at first, but after the gentleman spoke for about an hour, I was convinced that the introduction was mostly true," says Spilman.

Spilman sees "the quality of our teachers and the history of success in our students who move on to further their education" as the main strengths of District 88. Its main weaknesses, he says, have to do with providing opportunities for teacher development and growth.

"To improve our school system, we first have to ask ourselves, 'What is the problem?'" Spilman said. "Understanding what the problem is helps determine possible solutions. There are often no easy answers, but asking the right questions will help prioritize and operate on a manageable level."

"One sure way to improving our school district is to hire the best possible teachers and pay them a respectable wage," he continues. "A fresh college graduate has a number of opportunities to choose where to begin a career. New Ulm Public Schools must be competitive when it comes to hiring the best teachers for our students."

The candidate sees "attracting the best teachers and retaining the well-qualified and experienced teachers we currently employ" as the district's main challenge.

"Teachers bring energy and methods to the classroom that really inspire, motivate and enhance learning," he says. "Teachers understand their role and responsibility for leading the students and the school toward yearly progress goals. The School Board should work closely with the teachers to provide opportunities for collaboration with their colleagues. A possible solution for teacher retention is mentoring first-year teachers with a more experienced teacher. The bottom line for student success is to support our teachers as they help students work toward school and individual goals."

Asked for specific ideas on how to address budget challenges to the district, Spilman responded:

"If the community knows and understands at what level cuts need to take place, meaning that there is good communication between the district and the community, then cuts don't have to be seen as such a challenge. There would be an understanding of what is being cut, why it is being cut and if and when it will be reinstated in the future."

Spilman sees technology as a key opportunity to enrich school offerings.

"Online learning with a mix of classroom time is definitely an opportunity to enrich the school curriculum," he says. "This can happen at both the elementary and secondary levels."

"Students have always challenged their teachers to allow them more independence and self-guide their learning," he adds. "I can see opportunities where a teacher creates a class with projects such as movies, books, articles, etc. to better enhance student learning."

Asked about his ideas as to how to counteract diminishing choice resulting from declining enrollment and funding, Spilman says:

"We need to prioritize our funding to help reach those who are most impacted by cuts and those are students in the elementary grades. Declining funding means bigger classrooms with less individualized help. We need to focus on the fundamentals of learning like reading, math and science and do the best we can with our available resources.

"At the high school level we run the risk of losing even more funding with students opting for post-secondary options enrollment, transferring schools, etc.

"Our teaching faculty are some of the brightest and most creative people in our community. Already they are creating solutions like college in the classroom, Advanced Placement and various other options to increase student learning. Investing in our teachers and giving them the freedom to make decisions will help our students have choices in their education."

Other ideas shared by

the candidate:

On plans to sell the former middle school and how to address the resulting space needs of the district:

"The cost of maintaining the iconic and nostalgic structure will drain resources from what really matters and that is improving student success. Future building and classroom space needs should be addressed and brought to the community in an open dialogue. There are plans to build onto the high school, but at what cost to student learning? We need to understand that 50 years from now the face of education may mean that students are not in the traditional classroom as they are now."

On the upcoming school referendum:

"School referendums are never popular. Asking for money in this difficult economy is not easy, but it has to be done. Citizens should vote for this referendum because there is little time to waste in moving District 88 toward economic freedom and opportunity for students.

"New Ulm needs to attract people who want to live, work and send their kids to a good school. Further eroding the education system in New Ulm makes New Ulm more unattractive to businesses and people looking for greater opportunities for growth. Passing the referendum is one step in maintaining our current levels, retiring some debt and building for the future.

"If the community votes 'no,' it might send the wrong message to the students that the community does not care about the future of their education. The school might have to take on debt and or make further cuts.

"The cost of education is not cheap. We should seek to invest in technology that could enhance learning and cut cost."

Asked about his personal areas of interest as a potential board member, the candidate says:

"I'm interested in leveraging the technology available to improve student learning. This means online learning at all relevant grade levels. Technology may allow for greater collaboration across disciplines, and even geographic borders. We need to become familiar with what works best for each generation of kids."



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