New School Board candidates emerge
The field of Duluth School Board candidates has begun to fill out.
Four new candidates have announced their intention to run: Josh Gorham, Bogdana Krivogorsky and Sally Trnka are vying for two open At Large seats, and Kurt Kuehn for the eastern Duluth District 1 seat. One At Large seat is being vacated by Annie Harala, who has chosen not to run for a second term. At Large incumbent Harry Welty is running to retain his seat. Rosie Loeffler-Kemp is also running to retain her District 1 seat.
The candidates emerged at last week's local DFL convention, where Loeffler-Kemp, Trnka, Gorham and Jill Lofald were endorsed. Lofald is running against western Duluth District 4 incumbent Art Johnston.
Gorham is a public health nurse for St. Louis County. He and his wife have one child at Lester Park Elementary and two younger children.
He will have kids enrolled in the Duluth school district for the next 15 years, he said, and he was thinking of them and their peers with his decision to run.
"Our public school system is the backbone of our community," he said.
A Coon Rapids, Minn., native, Gorham has degrees from Bethel University and the College of St. Scholastica. His experience working in Duluth schools as a public health nurse has shown him the poverty that exists in many schools, he said, and the importance of meeting the basic needs of kids in order to learn.
"Does everyone have housing, a safe, comfortable bed to sleep in and food to eat? It's a big systems issue we need to look at" he said, rather than only schools, if the achievement gap is going to be addressed.
Other priorities include selling unused buildings and attracting and retaining students.
Krivogorsky is a research scientist who most recently worked in the chemistry department of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She has one child enrolled in the Spanish immersion program at Lowell Elementary, and a younger child. As a first-generation immigrant from Ukraine — she came to the U.S. in 1992 — she can contribute "a fresh look" to a School Board, she said.
"A lot of people are born here, but I consciously chose this area," she said, and she's passionate about Duluth and its schools.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she's also worked for Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and says her research background would be an asset to the School Board.
Working to find "common ground" would be a priority, she said, because from her observations, communication between teachers and district administration, and parents and schools "is a little bit broken."
"The idea is to get everyone talking," she said. "I've been told my ideas are too idealistic but I am OK with that."
Kuehn is retired from work as security police with the U.S. Air Force and the 148th Fighter Wing Minnesota Air National Guard. He grew up on the North Shore and graduated from Two Harbors High School. His children are grown. He's running, he said, because he thinks the School Board "needs positive change."
"Watching the board the last four years, I think a lot of people are disappointed with how they've conducted themselves, and the direction they are going with financial issues and the achievement gap," he said. "I care about my community, and this last (presidential) election has brought a lot of people out of the woodwork that weren't previously politically active, and I am one of those people."
He hopes to get more community members involved in the decision-making process.
"A lot of people don't feel their needs or concerns are being met, or listened to," he said. "I aim to be more receptive to that."
Trnka is executive director of the Northern Minnesota Network, a provider of health information technology systems. A native Duluthian who graduated from Central High School, Trnka has a child at Myers-Wilkins Elementary. She's running to "give back to a community that's given so much to me."
"I received a really incredible education through Duluth public schools," she said. "I feel confident that the quality of education my son is getting will undoubtedly shape the person he is becoming."
The system isn't "perfect," she said, but it's important to "look forward. ... We can't allow the future of our students to be sacrificed based on frustrations with decisions made by a previous administration."
Trnka, who earned a degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said her experience working in the health care industry helps navigate challenging situations, such as cuts to funding. Her priorities as a board member, she said, would include "looking at the social determinants of education and education equity, reducing achievement and education access gaps" and addressing the district's budget issues.
Filing for board seats runs July 5-18. A primary, if needed, is Sept. 12. The general election is Nov. 7.