Editor's Note: This week, we will introduce you to the five school board candidates with Q&A articles. Look for a new article every morning through Friday. The school board election is on Nov. 8 and four seats are up for grabs.
St. Louis Park Patch: Why did you decide to run again?
Julie Sweitzer: Because I think that providing a quality education for all of the kids of Minnesota, and in particular St. Louis Park, is the most important kind of work I can be involved in. That’s why I ran eight years ago, and that’s why I continue.
St. Louis Park Patch: What are some of your main policy goals?
Sweitzer: My main goals are always trying to provide the most rigorous education that we can for our students, in order to prepare them for the world of their future. I know from my day work (at the University of Minnesota’s College Readiness Consortium) that graduating from high school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready for college. It often does, but it doesn’t for all kids. So, I think St. Louis Park has to be at the front of that work, which fits with our mission and vision about all kids succeeding. That’s my overall policy perspective, and I’d like to see the , through its , really redesign and deliver a high-quality education to all of our students.
St. Louis Park Patch: What do you think are some of the main issues facing St. Louis Park schools right now?
Sweitzer: From an academic standpoint, I think the challenges are getting the high school through the i3 process (and) making sure all of our students are graduating. Most of our students get a fantastic education, but we still need to work on all of them. The in the same way—making the transition into being a middle school, and what that means for working the sixth graders in. At the elementary schools, really making the Primary Years Program part of the way everything happens. Through that all is a communications challenge for our community, so they understand what’s going on and the importance of it. (We need to) see ourselves as “all Orioles,” that we all come together toward the same goal. Some kids are taking different paths for lots of different reasons, including ending up at or being in a gifted and talented program, but in the end, we want them all graduating, ready for success in college and career.
St. Louis Park Patch: What do you think are some of the strengths and weaknesses of how the district operates now?
Sweitzer: The strengths certainly go right back to the community. We are very lucky to have a district that has the same borders, roughly, as our city. That helps with the identity of the school from parents, and from residents who don’t even have kids here. And there’s a lot of cooperation from city government and city services. It’s a strength on many levels. There’s a strength in (the district’s) history. People … are all very proud to be (graduates of) St. Louis Park, and proud of the education they received. That kind of foundation, you can’t underestimate the value of that … What needs to be done is, again, making sure all of our students are feeling engaged and are obtaining the education they need in the way they need. And then graduating with tools they can use going on in their careers and their lives. Instead of a weakness, I’ll call it an opportunity.
St. Louis Park Patch: How has campaigning gone so far and what strategies have you used?
Sweitzer: I may be wrong, but at least it has worked for me twice before: I think the primary way you get elected in St. Louis Park is based on what you’ve done in your recent past. I am constantly pleased and surprised at how many people watch (board meetings) on cable TV. I think people really are informed. So, I’ll do a mailing, and I’ll go out and do any meetings I can.
St. Louis Park Patch: What do you think makes you a good fit for this role?
Sweitzer: I think having some history matters. There is a learning curve when you first get on any board. But that’s not enough (by itself). I work at the College Readiness Consortium because I’ve decided that for this stage of my life, my focus in on education and education policy. My background is as a lawyer, and I was director of equal opportunity at the University of Minnesota for almost nine years. Both of those give me an appreciation and an ability to work with complex systems and complex projects. And (I have) a commitment and an experience driving for equity among our schools and students. During that time, I’ve had two kids go through the system, so I’ve seen what it’s really like to be a student in our schools. And I’m seeing what pays off and what doesn’t pay off in terms of their college experience.
St. Louis Park Patch: Tell me a bit more about your history in the field of education.
Sweitzer: I’ve worked in higher education for 22 years. The last five-and-a-half have been focused on K-12 policy, preparing them for some form of post-secondary education. My work is with K-12 principals and administrators, and teachers … I’ve been on the board eight years. Before that, I was on a school PTO (and) a district-parent advisory committee. Since then, I’ve been involved with Bookmark in the Park the last six to seven years. (Bookmark in the Park) is a community reading initiative, and it’s not out of the schools, but part of it (involves) working with the schools.
St. Louis Park Patch: What do you like most about living in St. Louis Park?
Sweitzer: It goes back to when I first moved in here (about 16 years ago). When we were new residents, the first call we got was, “Welcome to the Park.” And it’s that kind of community-sense that has (continued) ever after. When we first went to City Hall to get the utility bills under our name, they said, “Can we register your kids for school?” My kids were 2 and 3—I hadn’t thought about registering them for school. And then I got a call from the district not long after that checking in with us. It’s been both the personal sense of welcome, and the connections across school and city that just keep coming up again and again. I like the sense of community is the short answer.
St. Louis Park Patch: Tell me a little bit about yourself outside of work and campaigning. What are your hobbies and interests? And tell me about your family.
Sweitzer: I have two daughters, Josie and Emily, one who graduated (from St. Louis Park High School) in June and one who graduated two years ago. They’re both at the University of Minnesota, one in the Twin Cities and one up at the Morris campus. I’m very proud of their St. Louis Park connection and feel they are prepared for college. My husband, Steve, is a video producer, but (also) a gardener by avocation. A year ago, somebody nominated him for an (). It has both of our names, (but) I had nothing to do with it (laughing). Between work and school board and family, that takes up a lot of my time, but I’m an avid reader. Whether it’s detective mystery novels for my relaxation, or biographies or education books.
St. Louis Park Patch: Do you have a favorite book?
Sweitzer: Not a single (favorite). I have a long list of favorite books. I should always know the recent ones. I did just read “The Art of Fielding,” which is a new novel out about baseball players at a small college in Wisconsin. That’s a wonderful book.