NEW ULM - Matt Ringhofer's commitment to public service makes running for the District 88 School Board his next logical step, the candidate says.
Ringhofer, 40, is one of eight candidates for four seats on the board.
Ringhofer was born and raised in New Ulm. He attended Minnesota State University, Mankato, earning a bachelor's degree in child and adolescent psychology. He then completed a master's degree in K-6 grade school counseling. He is licensed as a professional school counselor through the Minnesota Department of Education.
Ringhofer worked as an inner-city school counselor in Las Vegas, Nev., for three years, before being employed for the past 12 years in District 77, Mankato. He is a member of the American School Counseling Association, Minnesota School Counselors Association, Minnesota Teachers Association and the Southwest Minnesota School Counselors Association.
Ringhofer has a record of public service. He serves on the New Ulm Cable Advisory Board, has been serving as a board member for Turner Hall, and spent six years as a board member for Habitat for Humanity.
"I spend a great deal of time with my kids and traveling with my family as time permits," Ringhofer said. "I enjoy cooking, woodworking, reading and home improvement projects."
Ringhofer is married and has two daughters who attend Jefferson Elementary School.
"Since my children are part of the New Ulm Public School system, I have a vested interest in a strong, well supported school system," he said. "In addition, I have always strongly believed in public service and this seems like the perfect next step for my family and me. I also believe that I am able to look at many situations regarding district concerns, and can make decisions based on the best interest of ALL involved. I can bring the unique perspectives of a community member, parent and educator all in one."
"I think I can be a voice to many that may not be speaking up regarding different issues that might face the future of a school district," said Ringhofer. "I also believe that I can be a positive listener to those who need to be heard, regarding the countless concerns that face a community about their school district. I have always been the type of individual who will hear all sides of a disagreement and/or concern and then will move to a decision, even if the decision is a tough one."
Asked about specific personal strengths he would bring to the board, the candidate says:
"I think my experience the last 15 years in education in a public school system have allowed me to get an understanding for what goes on in a district and a glimpse into the often complicated finances a district manages. In addition, I have seen some of the major challenges facing many Minnesota independent school districts and some of the creative ideas utilized to help those districts succeed."
Asked what he needs to learn more about, to be an effective board member, Ringhofer highlights "the high school curriculum and what kind of support a high school needs from a school board member."
"Many of the budget concerns and processes surrounding the finances of District 88 are something I will [also] need to gain detailed information about," he said.
Asked to identify the main strengths and weaknesses of District 88, he says:
"By far the strength of this district is its dedicated and qualified staff, as well as involved and supportive parents. An area for improvement would be building community support that reaches past those immediately impacted by public school issues. Our schools belong to everyone, and everyone benefits/hurts along with the schools. More collaboration needs to be fostered between public and non-public schools and families."
"Being involved within the schools is a great way to help the school system become stronger," Ringhofer continues. "I think a school board must be fully informed and aware of the many facets in the school system, like appropriate curriculum, union negotiations, teacher/administrative evaluation processes, just to name a few."
Asked to identify the main challenges facing the district and some potential solutions, the candidate says:
The financial burden on the district is ALWAYS, and likely always will be, the top concern. There is never an easy 'fix' to this problem. Continued discussion about other ways to fund a district must always be considered and, of course, thoroughly researched."
The candidate acknowledges that budget constraints are "very difficult to combat, but not impossible."
"Creative ideas will need to be solicited and investigated," he says. "Influencing legislators to pass more adequate funding to schools is also essential."
"Another issue that may face the district is ensuring that the curriculum is reflective of the current state standards," Ringhofer said. "For example, state standards in science include a new engineering component. Curriculum must be updated to address this."
Asked what the school district could do optimize learning for diverse student groups, Ringhofer says:
"Perhaps one of the reasons I appreciate a publicly-funded school system like District 88 is because EVERYONE has the opportunity to go to our schools, no matter who they are or where they come from. Optimizing this for diverse student groups happens through open and accepting attitudes and teaching styles, a strong support system within the school, and broad cultural awareness and training."
Other views shared by the candidate:
On plans to sell the former middle school and the resulting space needs of the district:
"From a fiscally responsible stand point, selling the middle school is the best option with either permanent use or conditional use of the auditorium space. From a historical standpoint, it's a sad loss to see the district making a decision like selling a building. As far as the space for the administrative staff, there should be some existing spaces that would allow for the move, such as the former River Bend School. The cost of updating and making that space 'office space' must be seriously considered."
On ideas that might come up for consideration (four-day week, curtailing the kindergarten program):
"I see the four-day week being beneficial in that instead of having staff development, workshop days, conferences, IEP meetings during after-hour times, parents and teachers could use the fifth day of the week as a day to hold these important programs. I see some of the concerns of a four-day week being an increased need for day care and after-school programs. I would also be concerned that a four-day week might limit or eliminate certain electives from the high school curriculum. Research shows a four-day week benefits students academically so it warrants serious consideration.
"As far as kindergarten goes, it is well-known that full-day kindergarten is beneficial, so, without a doubt, full-day kindergarten should continue. Losing full-day kindergarten would be a huge step backwards for the district.
On the upcoming school referendum:
"I fully support the referendum and would absolutely vote 'yes' for a positive future for District 88 as a whole. If the referendum does not pass, my concern would be one of larger class sizes, less support, a lowered morale for staff, and concern that this community does not fully support its school system. By passing a referendum, the district can MAINTAIN - and only maintain, not supplement - all the services that are currently in place. I don't think, financially, programs would be added. This referendum is CRITICAL to keeping things running as they are now."
On issues of special personal relevance and interest:
"I am very concerned about the increasing class sizes. My daughter is currently in a kindergarten with 26 students. Without an infusion of funds for more teachers, we will need to get creative to get more adult help in the classrooms to assist the teachers we have.
"Another issue that is a big concern for parents, myself included, is that of a positive, yet supported, after and before-school program for the kids going to their respective school (speaking directly at Kids Connection). There is almost always a waiting list for kids to get into the program - that tells me that this needs tending to.
"Another program that I feel is critical to a stronger school system is the ECFE programming that is in place. The stronger this program is, the stronger the families are as each child comes into District 88 ready to learn.
"If I were to be a board member, I would make it a point to be visible in the schools and at events when possible to be supportive of the staff (teachers as well as support staff, custodians, food service workers, etc.) that are in the trenches keeping our schools going everyday," Ringhofer said.