First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?
My name is Mike Theis. I am married to my wife, Amy, for the past 24 years. We have two children, Jared (20) and Gretchen (17). Upon graduating from Bagley School, I attended Moorhead State University where I received two bachelor degrees. In 1989, I started my career with the Minnesota State Patrol. I have been a trooper since that time and have served the Crookston area since 1990. I have also worked part time for the Fisher Police Department for nearly 25 years. I am a member of Trinity Lutheran church in Crookston where I have served on the council for 4+ years. Currently, I serve as the president of the church council. I have proudly called Crookston my home for 30 years.
What compelled you to pursue the Crookston School Board seat made available by Kari Miller’s resignation?
I am tired of hearing that Crookston Public Schools are “less than” or not as good as other schools in the area. This is toxic thinking and I believe Crookston schools are an excellent option for students whether they live in the district or whether they are considering open enrollment to us from an outside district. The current superintendent and school board have been working hard to reverse the negative thinking about our district. We have focused on negatives in the past and not stressed the positives of our district. Current leadership is changing that and it is great to see. I want to be part of the positive solution going forward. We are on our way with making Crookston schools even better. Do we have work to do? Of course we do. We should strive for excellence, integrity, respect, accountability and honor within our district. I would like to be part of making that happen in the future.
Could you describe your impressions of Superintendent Jeremy Olson since his hiring?
I have been pleased with Dr. Olson and his leadership since he has come to our school district. He believes in accountability for the district staff, including himself. He is trying to increase the standards which we find acceptable as a school district. He has kept residents of the district informed of the districts strategic plan, the pending referendum and efforts to make Crookston schools a better district. Superintendent Olson has not succeeded in all the things he is trying to do but the district is on the right path. He is aware of the student count and future count projections at Crookston schools and has been working on realistic budgeting and planning. He has a vision for Crookston schools and I have had the opportunity to meet one on one with him to discuss those plans. I believe Jeremy Olson is the right man for the job.
With the phrase “good things are happening” in your mind, how would you rank the three Crookston Public Schools, from 1 to 3? Can you provide some thoughts to explain your rankings?
Each school building has its own pluses and minuses. Because of this, ranking them is difficult but I will explain my rankings below.
I would rank Highland as #1. The reasons are many. At this level we are molding young minds which I find invaluable. Highland recently started a gifted and talented program which is out of the norm for our district. Highland also offers after school care programming. This is important to our working families and may help to reduce losses to open enrollment. Highland also offers those children who arrive late on the bus the opportunity to eat breakfast in the classroom. This shows caring on the schools part as too many young people do not get the needed nutrition to be successful at school. I think Highland is looking out for our children in a wonderful way.
To rank Washington and CHS as 2 and 3 is difficult. Both have unique challenges that are presented to them. I would rank CHS as #2 as they are preparing the older children to enter society as productive young adults. We need to prepare this children to be ready for life. I think we can all do better with this issue. Not just the school but also many of us as parents. We need to allow the opportunity for our children to succeed as well as fail. I am just as guilt as many of being a bit of a “helicopter parent”. If we don’t allow our children to fail on their own how will they learn to adapt and succeed in the real world? CHS and the junior high allows this learning process to occur. This is a critical life skill as mom and dad won’t always be there to save the day. CHS is allowing these kids to grow into you fine young adults.
Washington would rank a very close #3. The only reason they would be third has nothing to do with the quality of the education they are receiving because that is good, but rather just the low amount of total students that attend the location. We have to look at logistics and see if different accommodations can be made. Does that mean we need three locations or two? That may be an issue we need to look at in the future with declining enrollments. Right now it is working OK but if enrollment numbers continue to decline in coming years there is a reality we may need to face that includes downsizing.
We have superb staff at each and every location. We are fortunate to have three school buildings in a district our size.
If you knew someone with school-age kids that was moving to Crookston and they asked you to describe the best thing about Crookston Public Schools, what would you say?
I would say we have some of the best teachers and para’s in Minnesota. I have seen the passion of most of our teachers. It is a fire within many of them that is hard to describe. They want your children to be successful and it shows when you go to parent teacher conferences. Are there some teachers who need to renew their fire and love for the job? I would say yes. Not many but some do. It is no different than any other profession. The one thing I would say to prospective residents is our new Superintendent is holding people accountable and getting people on board to be their best.
When speaking with Superintendent Olson I told him that para-professionals are some of the most caring, hardworking, underpaid and underappreciated staff in the school. I had a special needs student who attended Crookston schools. I can say from personal experience, and would share that with perspective residents, that these people really do care. Most of the teachers and para’s in the school are absolute rock stars. I would share that fact with people thinking about attending Crookston schools.
On the flip side of the previous question, what is the biggest challenge facing Crookston Public Schools, or what you see as the area in need of the most improvement?
As I previously mentioned, the negative image of Crookston schools has got to change and stop. We need to be positive as an entire community. We can stress the positives and work on the negatives. Both are important to be aware of but in today’s society we focus too much on the negative. We need to not resort to social media every time we have the slightest issue with something at the school. Set up an appointment with the Superintendent. He really does care about your student. Too many times people use social media to blast something/someone instead of truly trying to make a positive change. We can and must do better! I want kids to say “I graduate from Crookston schools” and be proud of that fact.
Standardized tests…do you think they should still play an integral role in how student proficiency is measured? Or do you think it’s time for a new way of thinking?
Standardized test scores do not measure everything that will indicate future success. While I understand the thought process of having these tests I do believe we need to make a shift to a more fair way to measure how a student is doing in school. I have heard for years that teachers have to alter their lesson plans in order to “teach to the test”. This doesn’t allow the ability for a teacher to create a lesson plan that are anything but the same thing, year after year. We need to allow teachers the ability to “change things up” in order to engage students. This may spark the students desire to learn and enjoy their education. Teaching to obtain a certain standardized score doesn’t seem to be working. I think it is time for a change.
Open enrollment…what are some things that can be done to reduce the number of Crookston families who open-enroll their kids to other neighboring districts?
Open enrollment is an issue that will we will strive to solve but we will not ever completely solve it where no students leave the district. We need to strive to minimize the amount of students leaving our district. We have put forth programs such as after school care, gifted and talented, early childhood classes, ECFE, a large amount of sport/extra-curricular offerings and other program that will hopefully lead to a decline in students leaving our district. We want to have these programs make it desirable to stay in Crookston schools.
I believe communication with parents is critical to curb the open enrollment issue. Superintendent Olson has a policy where he expects the staff to respond to a parents email within 24 of receipt. This is a great first step. Fast communication can foster a better relationship with parents, students, staff and the school. Communication is critical. Once a parent and student have open enrolled elsewhere it is normally too late to intervene to correct an issue that may have led to the student leaving the school. They are frustrated and no longer want any communication with the district. If we can intervene prior to that point maybe we will be able to understand and help address an issue so the student can remain in the district. That is not to say that open enrollment will cease to occur. This is not a realistic outcome for every situation but a better understanding of “why” is a good first step.
The word “bullying” gets tossed around a lot when the topic of kids struggling in school comes up, and the conversation is typically magnified on social media. In your mind, is it a big issue at Crookston High School?
I read a story recently on social media (credit to Signe Whitson LSW) that addressed this exact topic. The author made me really think and I agreed with her stance and will use some of her thoughts on the topic of bullying. We need to differentiate the difference between behavior which is rude (inadvertently say or do something to hurt someone else), mean (purposely saying or doing something to hurt someone, once or twice), or bullying (intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time and involves the imbalance of power). We need to know the difference between them so we know when administration and staff need to act and intervene. I believe we use the term “bullying” as a catch-all. Some behavior is not bullying but kids being jerks to one another. We do the same things as adults. Rude and mean behavior is often hurtful but is part of growing up and becoming an adult who can adapt and deal with life adversities. After all, who has never had a boss who has not been rude or mean? We have to learn to deal with all types of people while going through life. Rude and mean people will always be present and we have to deal with them. Not fun, but a fact of life.
Now bullying, that is different. I do not believe anyone should have to put up with repeated, intentionally aggressive behavior. Kids often times do not know how to deal with these types of behaviors so we as adults need to intervene. We should error on the side of intervening to assist those who may not have the ability to do so themselves. Social media does influence this issue and has made it bigger than I think it really is. I do not think Crookston schools has a bigger issue than any other school and too often a kid being a jerk is misclassified as a “bully” Having said that, we do need to hold children (and adults) in the school responsible for their actions should they decide to bully. After all, we have all dealt with bullies of all ages. With teen suicide rates going up I do not want our district to ignore this important issue.
Pirate athletic teams in general seem to lose more games than they win, sometimes significantly more? Do you have an ideas on what can be done to have more athletic success? Is reducing the number of extra-curricular offerings part of your thought process?
High school athletics…….a subject that creates more discussion that that of academics. Sadly, this is too often true. I love athletics and extra-curricular activities that are offered in the Crookston school district. Sometimes we take athletics too seriously. After all, 99% of the kids that complete do so for fun and are not going to make the big leagues. Athletic teams in Crookston have struggled recently to maintain a winning record. Does that make them unsuccessful programs? I say “no it does not”. Each activity allows a youth to enjoy an activity that they hold dear to their heart. I don’t have a “solution” on how to make our teams have a winning season. But I don’t think winning is everything either. I suppose we could reduce the number of extra-curricular activities but I don’t see that as a solution. I would rather offer the programs so that our kids can choose what activity they would like to participate in.
I look at it this way. If we reduce the amount of activities what is the cost? Not just financially or from the “win-loss” column but what is the cost to the kids? The real cost is taking away the chance for the kids to have fun and take part in an activity they have a passion for. I don’t want to do that.
Describe one thing about you that most people would be surprised to know.
One thing that you may be surprised to know about me is that we have three horses on our 9 acres north of Crookston. As many of you know, I am a bit of a tight-wad so to buy hay is not on my top 10 list. Neither is hauling 5 gallon pails of water all winter or cleaning horse poop out of stall. Do I swear under my breath every time I have to put a bale into the pasture when it is 20 below? I most certainly do. However, I would not trade the smile on my daughters face when she is racing these animals for anything. She loves it…..and so do I. It scares me every time she races (after all, I am still her dad) but it is so cool to watch her tame these 1300 lb animals. I guess I am just a proud dad. We do things for our kids that we never even imagine we would do……..that’s a good thing.
Are there any other topics/issues you’d like to address and want voters to know your views on that were not addressed in this Q & A? If so, feel free to offer your thoughts here.
If I am elected to our school board I will do my best to represent the residents and students of the district. I feel that when running for an elected office a person should go into it thinking that they will represent the residents and not bring a personal agenda with them into the office. I will support and vote for what the majority of the residents ask me to support. After all, an elected official is just a representative of the people who elected them. They should not lose sight of the fact they are put in the position to represent the people. I will do that to the best of my ability.
My name is Mike Theis and I would appreciate your vote for Crookston School board on November 5.