2020 School Board Election Profile: Mike Theis

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

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 25 years.  We have two children, Jared (21) and Gretchen (87).  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 26 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.  My children both attended Crookston public schools and I had the honor of handing my daughter her diploma this past year.  

You were recently appointed to the school board to fill a vacancy and finish someone else’s term, but you’re obviously seeking a full term of your own. What spurs you to continue wanting to serve?

    Last fall I was elected to fill the remainder of the term of Kari Miller and since then I have had the opportunity to help our district move forward with a number of important projects.  The largest and most trying has been our response to Covid 19.  Although that issue has been challenging we are progressing.  Along with the covid issues there are routine items that we must deal with as the district must continue its mission regardless of challenges that come up.  I have immersed myself in the board and feel I can help the district succeed in the future.  To sum it up, I think I can help our community, our parents, our staff, and most importantly….our students.  A school is the soul of a community and if re-elected I will do my best to make our school the best it can be.  

If you had to grade the response and Crookston Public Schools’ overall performance and actions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, what grade would you give? Please explain.

    The Covid 19 pandemic has been a huge disruption to school life, academic progress, and sports/fine arts participation.  It is unprecedented.  This pandemic has had an impact on nearly every aspect of our daily lives.  I would give the district a “B” overall.  We are trying our best but there is always room for improvement. Our response as a district has been well thought out and purposeful.  While not everyone agrees on the processes and ways to accomplish the tasks of educating during a pandemic, everyone has been well intentioned and thoughtful in trying to make it the least disruptive as it can be and still achieve the goal of educating our children.  Superintendent Olson has provided valuable information to the community on a timely basis.  Part of the problem with Covid is the fear and uncertainty of how to best have in-person learning while still addressing those not comfortable with having their children attend school in-person.  We struggle daily with trying to do what is best for our students and staff.  

    Some of my frustration is the inability of the district to act on its own without being dictated to by the State of Minnesota.  We know what is best for our students, staff, and community at a local level.  We are not the same as other larger populated communities and we should have the ability to make decisions at the local level.  This is why we have a local board of education.  Too many times I have found we are told we have control at a local level only to have it taken away by the State.  I feel strongly we have intelligent people in our communities who sit on different boards and can make appropriate decisions at a local level.   If there was one thing I could change it would be to have issues decided locally instead of by a state department in the metro.  I do think at a local level we are very deliberate and make decisions which are best for our students.  

Can you list what you think are the three best things Crookston Public Schools has going for it at this particular moment in time, and reasons why you chose these three things?

    At first I had to think hard about this question as I can easily say things like “a nice school building”, “new lighting in our facilities” or a “new bus garage” but these really don’t make a school the best it can be.  Those items are secondary to success.   The three best things I like about our district are:

    1-Our students.  I have learned that we have really good kids that attend our school.  They want to succeed and care about their education and school life.  This was readily apparent at the start of covid.  Kids wanted to be in school where they could see their teachers and friends.  People are social beings and this was missing from their lives.  These students taught us how to persevere in the face of covid-19.  They may not have liked it but they did what was necessary to succeed in challenging times.  I think they showed many adults that it is ok….we will get through this.  In many ways they were stronger than some adults. This is a testament to how strong they are and how they will succeed in the future.  I cannot even imagine being a student during this time.  I can say I think these kids will be stronger and better prepared for the curves that life throws at them as they have “been there and don’t that”.  Well done students!

    2-Our staff.  Not one of our staff whether it be teachers, para-professionals, instructional aides, custodians, bus drivers, cooks, administrative staff or any other member of our team signed up for this type of work but they are getting it done!  Every one of them is working extra and changing what they do to meet the new method of providing education to our kids.  In my job, there is routine.  Most people like a routine as it provides a sense of control in their daily activity.  Our staff and students have lost their sense of routine and been forced to overcome changes that needed to be made to deliver education and to learn.  Everyone is putting in extra time and effort without complaint.  I could not be more proud of these people as they want to do what they can….and they are doing it and doing it well.  I long for the days when we can settle into a routine and just teach our kids without additional worries and have them have fun at school.  Each one of the personnel working at the school deserves a thank you for their efforts during this time.  They are doing a super job.

    3-Our community.  Our community takes a strong pride in our school district.  This is critical as the school is the heart and soul of a community.  Our parents and community members have stepped up recently as well in the past.  They have supported the district on referendums as well as through their property taxes.  They have offered to drive students to school to assist with busing issues during covid-19.  People step up in our district when they are asked.  We can be thankful people care and are engaged.  Community members have reached out to me with different issues and I try to address them as best I can.  This is good as it shows the community cares.  We have five people running for school board this year.  All good people who want the best for the kids and school district. I look forward to working with the community as we forge through covid and into a new normal.   

On the flip side, what trio of challenges facing Crookston Public Schools are the most daunting, in your view? What can/should/needs to be done to tackle these challenges?

    1-Our school district’s students are made up of many different ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.  Inclusivity of all students is something I feel we need to work on so that all students feel at home in the school.  Superintendent Olson and the school board have expanded our efforts with the recently hired Hispanic liaison.  A few years back we added the Native America liaison in Crookston.  These are all good steps to engage students and families who may feel marginalized or left out.  In addition, these positions bring families into the school setting so they feel more connected with their school.  We have to work on connecting with all students and not just some.  This is an area we have been working on and will continue to be a focus.  In my opinion, every student has value and something do add. We need to help them succeed in their academic career so they can succeed in life.  To do anything less would not be acceptable.

    2-I want to see our student achievement and test scores increase at the high school level.  I realize with covid the testing may be stalled but we must continue to increase their academic readiness so they are successful in life.  We need to prepare our children to go onto college or into the work force once they graduate. We cannot have our children graduate and not be ready for the next steps they take in life.  I have heard some of our kids are not ready once they enter college classrooms.  We cannot accept this and must work to improve our student’s readiness once they graduate.  We can do better and we will do better. Accountability is a good thing and we all need to be accountable for our students success.  

    3-Dealing with Covid-19.  I cannot stress how much time and energy has been spent addressing this issue.  Our kids want to learn and the task of teaching them has become very challenging.  Teachers have become creative and put in so much extra time thinking how they can reach kids more effectively during this time.  The kids want to spend time with their friends, they want to play sports, they want to play outside with each other without fear, and they want the old normal back.  We all do. Until such time we can go back to “how it used to be” we all need to keep plugging away.  Our kids are brave, resilient and understanding.  In this time they have taught us as much as we have taught them.  Maybe more.  Covid -19 has made us all change.  I am hopeful that this negative pandemic can be turned to a positive in the long run as we learn how to teach our kids in a whole new manner.  Maybe we can all learn a new thing or two along the way.  

Where do you see Pirate athletics in five years? Do you see the same amount of sports offerings, or less? What do you envision in five years when it comes to Pirate football and track and field facilities?

    Sports (and fine arts) are an important outlet for our students and the positive effect students receive by participating is immeasurable.  We offer many different sporting opportunities to our students.  I like the fact we offer as many as we do and would want to continue those same offerings.  Each student has their own passion and if we are able to offer a sport for them to participate I think we should.  We will need to measure numbers participating to see if we can continue a program but I am a proponent of offering as many as we can to students so they can enjoy pursuing their sport they hold near to their heart.  Will this mean we are less competitive in some areas?  Possibly, but I don’t think that is a guarantee.  Some may not choose to participate if their chosen sport is no longer offered.  My goal is to keep kids active and participating in their school with hopes we are competitive along the way.   

    The question of Pirate football and track/field is a real concern.  Initially when UMC ended their football program I was hopeful we could purchase the land and upgrade the field at UMC.  At a minimum I was hopeful to enter into long term lease with the University but they were not willing to entertain either option.  As many people know I am a bit of a tightwad so to try and save money while getting a facility was an option I was interested in pursuing.  This option is off the table due to restrictions that cannot be overcome.  Options are very limited for the district.  I do not like having Crookston Pirate games being held on fields that are out of town.  I also don’t like Crookston not having a safe track for our kids.  We need to do something and I am open to any suggestions. Now for the part I don’t like.  I do not see that we have funds available through the general fund to build a football field and track.  When the board went to the voters for the bus garage we had no idea that UMC was going to end their football program which would leave us without a field in the near future.  Now we may need to go back to those same voters and ask for money to build a football field and track.  I don’t like doing that as we gave our word we wouldn’t.  Did things change outside of the districts control?  Yes it did but it still leaves me very uneasy to go back and ask for an additional referendum.  I think people understand the situation.  Do any of us like it?  No, but I do think we need to go to the voters and explain why we may need to pursue this further and seek to build a field and track.  I do not think it wise to raise property taxes to pay for them without voter input.  I think district residents will understand and agree we need to make this happen.  

Please finish this sentence, and try not to simply recite a mission statement:

    Crookston Public Schools is…a place that cares about you and your children.  We want to include all students to make sure they are successful in their career as a student.  This includes academics, social aspects, sports and fine arts.  We strive to make your kid’s school day something they enjoy and that they look forward to every day.  

Can you list two people in your life that have particularly inspired you, or two people that you especially admire and try to emulate? Please explain your choices.

   I would hope many could list their Dad as someone who has inspired them throughout their life.  I know I can.  My dad taught me things along the way that I still hold on to every day.  He was a hardworking man who put family first.  As with any person he was not perfect.  However, he tried his best.  I learned many things from my dad.  I learned to appreciate hard work, family, community and doing the right thing.  We grew up not having everything we wanted but that was OK.  I valued the lesson he taught us that you will value something more if you worked for it.  This applied to everything from education, sports, a new pair of shoes, or the coolest new gadget.  I also learned some things from him that I did not internalize.  He was from a different generation.  Acceptance back then was not the same as it is now.  He was a good man but things were different back then.  I learned to be more accepting of different people and ideas.  I learned not to prejudge people by a difference between them and myself.  We should strive to emulate the good things and to change things we did not agree with as we grow up and form our own ideas and thoughts.  We do things as adults, especially as parents, that we think will be beneficial to our kids.  We strive to do better than our parents did.  If they did something we did not like we vowed not to do that as adults.  If they did something we liked, we tried to duplicate that as an adult.  That is a good thing as it helps raise smart and independent kids into productive adults.  I will be forever grateful for my dad teaching me everything he did, the good and not so good, as it has made me into the man I am today.  

    The other person I admired----Mr Bob Norland--I could pick some historical figure who was instrumental at making a change in society.  However, I am not going to do that.  I am going to address a person who molded and guided me when I first started my career in law enforcement.   When I first came to Crookston I had to be field trained by a veteran trooper.  This is standard procedure and has been done for years.  A veteran teaches a new guy (me) how to do things.  Trooper Bob Norland, from Fertile, was assigned to teach me the ins and outs of being a new trooper.  Back in 1989, I thought I knew everything about life.  After all, what young person doesn’t think that?  I was proven wrong fairly soon in the start of my career by this man.  He guided and taught me how to be firm but fair in my dealings with the public.  He taught me that no matter the position someone holds in life they should be treated the same regardless of their position.  He instilled in me to speak to everyone like you were talking to your own mother. He said if I did this I would never garner a complaint.  He was right.  He taught me to have compassion all while doing my job.  Not everyone needs a ticket, sometimes a firm talking to or calling mom or dad had the same effect.  I have taken the advice he handed down to me and taught others these life lessons.  Bob would argue that he just taught me what he thought I should know to make it through a career in law enforcement.  He did more than that.  He taught me to look out for my fellow man and to help out when people may be down.  In other words, he taught me how to be a better young man.  As I near the end of my career I thank Bob for taking the time to teach me.  He understood that he was not just teaching me for that day but for the next 30+ years.  I may not have understood that at the time but I certainly do now.

Mike Theis and his wife Amy