Vince O'BrienVince O'Brien answers questions on his background, why he's running for school board, and his views on this year's bond issue.
Q: What is your educational and occupational background?
A: I am a graduate of Little Falls Community High School, UMD (philosophy and political science), and William Mitchell (Juris Doctorate). I am licensed to practice law in Minnesota and Federal Court and the Court of Veterans Appeals, and am also certified as an Emergency Medical Technician and Firefighter II. My day job is programming seminars for lawyers and judges with Minnesota Continuing Legal Education and I am a 17-year veteran Firefighter/EMT with Hastings Fire and Ambulance. I am also president-elect of an international group called ACLEA. In 2000 I wrote an article on Brain Research and Learning Styles that was published in a “Best of” compendium of legal education articles from around the country and in 2006 won an international award for a very unique program on violence in schools – involving three nationally renowned psychologists to explore the strange phenomena of kid-involved shootings. I’ve also been active in the community through HYAA baseball and soccer, volunteered for Vets, taught religion at SEAS for a few years and tried to be an active parent with Boy Scout Troop 503.
Q: Why are you running for School Board? (Is there a specific issue that brought you into the race?)
A: Education really is our hope – all our hope, for the future. The Hastings area schools need to keep the focus on academic achievement, using collaboration and differentiation to further the needs of diverse learners, with continued fiscal responsibility, and strong arts and activities programs, the School Board's role is to support and enable. That's what I will continue to work for.
Q: What makes you uniquely qualified to join the board? (What specifically do you bring to the mix and how will it enhance the abilities of the board to manage the district?) (Why now?)
A: I’ve learned a lot about working as a group to lead with administration and staff – accommodating and working through differences and keeping the best goals of student achievement at the fore – not standing still but being “pro-active” in encouraging improvement and finding the best ways to do things. I’ve been on long enough to have a good understanding of the main operations and background so I can be more effective at helping us get in the right direction. It is my pleasure to serve on the Staff Development and Finance Committees, where I’ve been able to actively support tremendous gains being worked on in both areas. We now have lower class sizes, higher achievement on testing, better staff development, and after restoring resources in key areas, are being very well run financially in the midst of economic chaos. I want to work to continue and improve on those gains and efforts.
Q: The School Board has asked voters twice, unsuccessfully, to allow them to borrow money to do repairs on the district buildings. Where do you stand on this issue - a loan for repairs - for roofs, windows and the first phase of mechanical upgrades in some of the schools (questions 1 and 2 on the referendum)?
A: The buildings need repairs and maintenance. Skeptics should take the time to look at the graphic disrepair on roofs, windows, doors, walls – even parking lots – and that won’t show some of the boilers and mechanical systems that need replacing and work too. This is a unique opportunity created by the Federal Stimulus package. The economic downturn has sad and tragic repercussions nationally, statewide and in Hastings. The stimulus money would afford us an incredible chance to get the needed projects done at a discount. If we don’t pass it, other districts will get the money and we will still have very real need. This is a hard issue. The Community Task Force, which worked hard, met many times, and looked at all the sites and facts and recognized the need. We are in a position where we need to try and do this now.
Q: What are your thoughts about question 3, the addition to the middle school to accommodate fifth grade, and a renovation of McAuliffe and JFK to accommodate kindergarten classes? The question also includes the modification of Tilden to potentially consolidate programs now in leased facilities into a modified Tilden facility.
A: This is the toughest question. Tilden can’t house all-day every-day kindergarten. The state will not allow adding space there because of acreage and the way the law is written. Every administrator and teacher in this district understands and supports the tremendous benefits kids at all levels would gain from all-day, every-day kindergarten. Dollars are tighter than ever from the state and feds, and taxpayers – so the most prudent way to resolve this is using the space we have and the greatest available space is at the middle school. There are serious issues in placing our fifth-graders at that site, socially, bussing, how to teach specials (i.e. music, arts), safety, their best interests – to name a few. There are issues with splitting up and putting kindergarten back at the sites; risking the tremendous benefits the teachers and students have gleaned from being in the same building, reconfiguring specials and allocation of resources, etc. It’s not our first choice, but in light of financial constraints, pupil projections, budgetary concerns, and a tremendously gifted district staff – it is our best choice for now. As we go through this transition, the focus of the board should be to allocate as much resources and support as possible to aid the staff and students in making the switch while continuing to work at academic achievement in all areas for all learners. Putting some of the leased spatial programs into the Tilden space at that point saves money on that end.
Q: Take a small space to make a statement, not part of the questions asked, that you'd like people to know about you.
A: I tend to be a positive person; and my decision-making style is to try and gather as much information as we can and should, try to evaluate all options, and then work with the group dynamics of the School Board and district to effect change or support the right path.
I value the teachers, administration and staff. My greatest joy and where I’ve learned the most has been a series of classroom visits, dozens of visits at each site, where I can honestly say the kids in District 200 are being very well-served, and where we need to focus our efforts – always. Kids change, so do teachers, boards and curriculum, but that passion and that growth is what schools are all about!