Bemidji school board welcomes 5 new faces
Anna Manecke, Dave Wall and Jenny Frenzel earned four-year positions on the board, and Justin Hoover and Julie Laitala won two-year positions in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
BEMIDJI — Five fresh faces will comprise the Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education come January after the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Three four-year positions and two two-year positions were up for grabs this year.
Anna Manecke, Dave Wall and Jenny Frenzel earned four-year positions on the board, and Justin Hoover and Julie Laitala won two-year positions.
Incumbents Carol L. Johnson and Sarah Young lost their bids for reelection to the four-year seats, finishing sixth and seventh respectively.
A special school board meeting is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16, in the district office board room where the current board will canvass the votes and authorize the district clerk to perform other election-related duties.
Anna Manecke, 38, is a registered nurse. She received 5,294 votes or 13.45% of the total cast in the four-year race.
Manecke detailed several priorities she wants to address once she begins her term. Some of these include the district’s budget, school safety concerns, transparency between the board and community as well as test scores.
Specifically, she expressed interest in visiting Bemidji schools to get a first-hand look at issues surrounding school safety.
“Safety is a big concern with parents and faculty, so I’m excited to get on the school campuses — mainly at the middle and high school — and see what is happening with the safety aspect that we can do better,” Manecke said.
Regarding transparency, she advocates for live-streaming public participation at board meetings as a means for others to come forward with their own questions when concerns arise during public participation.
“If a parent comes forward with a question or concern (and) we don’t know an answer right away, hear it out and get back to them as they’re our constituents,” Manecke said. “They elected us for a reason and believed in us, so we owe that to them to be their servants.”
Expressing optimism for the upcoming slate of school board members, Manecke added, “I know there’s a lot of work to be done and the public shouldn’t expect results overnight. … But overall, I’m excited to get in there, roll up my sleeves and get to work.”
Dave Wall, 56, is a financial worker at Beltrami County Health and Human Services. He received 5,148 votes or 13.08% of the total.
Come January, Wall said his main focus will be to facilitate a return to the basics of education that prepares students for life, and will also do a deep-dive of the district’s budget.
“I’m pretty concerned with what’s going on at a national level and can expect a lot of those things to be happening on more of a local level, too,” Wall said, “a lot of political indoctrination coming into the classroom that’s really not needed.”
Wall looks forward to collaboration with other board members to enact what’s best for the district and details an “open door policy” where parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders can get in touch with him.
“I want to engage people and listen to what their concerns are, and come up with good solutions to see that people’s concerns are addressed,” he added.
Wall also expressed thankfulness for people who rallied behind him throughout his campaign and hopes to fulfill their expectations.
“I do have a couple of months to let it sink in, but we’ll let the work begin in January,” Wall said. “It’s a new thing for me, of course, and there will be a learning curve, but I’m up for the challenge.”
Jenny Frenzel, 42, is a licensed pre-primary and elementary teacher and a business owner. She received 5,015 votes or 12.75%.
Frenzel detailed her hopes to help the school board achieve its district goals that formed during an Aug. 15 meeting: enhancing school safety, rebuilding enrollment and expanding mental health supports.
“Those will be my top three priorities … so I can work on those goals with the superintendent and the teams he has in place to work on those goals,” Frenzel said.
She would also work on forging trust between the board and the community. In doing so, she stated a potential referendum would be easier to pass given the regained support of the community.
She also vowed to collaborate with other board members, cabinet members and stakeholders throughout the district across political differences and beliefs.
“We all ran for a reason and that reason is that we have a passion for education and fighting for what is right for our kids,” Frenzel added. “I’m hoping that collaboration with everybody is a common theme among all of us … and we can work together for what is best for Bemidji Area Schools.”
Looking ahead to January, Frenzel left off, “we all should have a voice, so I’m looking forward to working with each and every person that would like to be heard and would like to have a voice so we can come up with the best solution for concerns and decisions that need to be made in our district.”
Justin Hoover, 44, is the owner of Blue Ox Storage. He received the most votes in the two-year race at 4,469 or 17.11% of the vote total.
Hoover seeks to create an environment within the district where staff, teachers and other stakeholders can address concerns and give feedback that shapes their vision of where they want the district to go.
Doing so by creating committees that represent these different groups is one way the board could effectively collaborate with the rest of the district to address enrollment issues and the budget, Hoover mentioned.
“We’re here to serve the public, address concerns that the public has had over the campaign and incorporate that into the vision,” he said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I think we can make a difference.”
Hoover is excited to build relationships with other board members and noted the importance of working together to achieve a common vision.
Incorporating different district voices into board decisions is a method that he feels will create the best environment for academic excellence.
“We want to work together to create the best academic environment we can for our students and for the next generation,” he added. “It’s the bottom line. It’s about the next generation and seeing them be blessed with an excellent education.”
Julie Laitala, 47, is a lead ophthalmic assistant at Sanford Health in Bemidji and the owner of Revolution MMA Fitness. She received 4,137 votes or 15.83% of the total.
With a mix of nervousness and excitement, Laitala wants to ensure that the community understands the role of the school board and the district budget in simple terms.
She also wants to bring every voice to the table — students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members alike — to ensure the district produces successful students.
“What community wouldn’t want successful students? These are your future doctors, lawyers, car mechanics, plumbers, electricians,” Laitala said. “You want to have successful students coming out of the school system to take those projects on.”
She spoke to different methods of communication when telling the district’s story to different stakeholders, citing conversations with parents of the district versus people who rent property and don’t pay property taxes.
“We have to have conversations with them that are completely different than how we would with parents of children in the school,” Laitala added. “How do we communicate with them so that they get excited about wanting to make sure students coming out of the schools are successful?”
Regarding board decisions, she left off, “as a leader, you are not going to please everyone. It’s highly unlikely. There’s always going to be people who are going to be upset or angry, but we can come to a common place where it’s understood that this is the best decision not just for your kids, but for the community as a whole.”