ROCHESTER, Minn. - Election night is less than two weeks away. The incumbent Mark Schleusner and Dr. Jess Garcia will be on Rochester Public District voters' ballots, both vying for school board seat 7.
Both candidates explain their motivation to run for the position.
"I've been extremely involved in the Rochester community for about 15 years now and being on the school board has helped me be in a role where I can have a great impact on the students in Rochester Public Schoools. Four years ago, when I ran for the first time, there were a number of issues that needed to be addressed such as transparency with the district, racial disparities, mental health issues. While those issues are better than they were, there's still a lot of work to be done in all of those places. I feel I'm in a good position having been through a term to be very effective in a second term," says Schleusner.
"I'm a product of a public school that didn't have a lot of the resources that they needed and I also grew up in a poor, working-class family in a low-income neighborhood and so I had some well-placed supports in place to get me where I am today and nearly 100% of those supports were teachers in the public school system," says Dr. Garcia. "I also am a clinical psychologist by training, so I'm licensed to practice in the state of Minnesota and I work for the Department of Human Services, and I wanted to be able to offer the expertise that I have in training. I do a lot of multicultural, intercultural, inclusive work not only personally, because of the work that I do, but also becoming a multicultural, very inclusive therapist. So I thought this is just work that I can offer my knowledge to the school district, as they seem to be struggling with not only being able to retain staff and educators of color, but also having issues in disciplinary disparities."
Schleusner and Garcia both name racial equity and mental health as two challenges the district is facing that they would prioritize if elected.
Schleusner says the the district needs to improve its transparency when it comes to the discipline numbers. During his first term, he says developing consistent reporting metrics was a priority. He explains that was achieved, but the pandemic disrupted it. He adds that working with the legislature to get more funding for the school, and keeping their costs low, would allow more room in the budget to keep staff dedicated to mental health and racial equity.
Dr. Garcia says she's hearing from parents and educators that the district needs to improve overall communication, reach deeper into the community when collecting feedback, and acknowledge existing racial inequity issues.
"At least in recent history, I would be the youngest, if not one of the youngest, the only queer identified or out candidate, the only woman of color elected to the board. There are a number of other things as well. I'm an intersectional human being, so there's a lot of things about me that I think haven't been on the board before and representation matters," says Dr. Garcia.
"The school board is responsible for supervision of the superintendent, we're responsible for approval of the school district's budget, and we're responsible for setting policy for the school district. I understand what those three very important items mean and I understand that if the school district is not moving in the direction that we as a community would like our school district to move, I know how to work within our system to move it in the direction it needs to go," says Schleusner.