Editor's Note: This is the last of five school board Q&A articles running this week. 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?
Pam Rykken: I want to make sure all the kids in the district are represented. I don’t have a particular agenda. I’m not going in to increase one program, or decrease another program. I’ve been there for four years, and I’ve enjoyed it, so I’m ready to go again.
St. Louis Park Patch: Do you have any specific policy goals?
Rykken: One of the things I’d like to see done is finding a new way to get some revenue into the district. We’re looking at the new normal. The more I think about it, it may be 20 or 30 years before education sees more money, because the aging population will take up more of the Minnesota budget. So, looking toward outside resources like grants and private partnerships (is important) … I’m also on a number of different taskforces in the district. One of them is the nutrition taskforce … Frankly, (all the food) is breaded, it’s not fried, but it’s “open bag, heat, serve.” I know it meets all the nutritional guidelines, but it’s such a far cry from what I had when I went to school. There were actually school lunches I really liked. We’ve moved away from that across the state, largely for financial reasons, and I’d like to see if there’s a way to bring that back—having some real cooking done. Another taskforce I’m on is the immersion taskforce, looking at sixth grade programming at the … Now that we have all the kids together in sixth grade, there have been sides saying let’s get rid of it, to the other side saying let’s increase it. And this is a very loud conversation in our community. I think this means there needs to be some collaboration, some time, some reflection and some working together.
St. Louis Park Patch: What do you think are some of the big issues facing the school district right now?
Rykken: The immersion (issue) is one of them. The other is funding. For two decades, the schools in Minnesota have received less than an inflationary increase. The school that I went to is very different than the school that my children are going to, in how it is supported. That is a major challenge, because funding directly correlates to class sizes.
St. Louis Park Patch: What do you think are some strengths and weaknesses of how the district operates currently?
Rykken: A strength is that we’re a Children First community. We have the same boundary lines as the city, and I think that helps tremendously. It’s a small district. So we can have relatively small schools. That gives kids more chances to get into the type of play they want to be into, the type of team they want to be on, and be more involved. At the same time, being small doesn’t give us a lot of flexibility in having a robust immersion track and the robust IB track. So we have to kind of do each as well as we can with the funds we have.
St. Louis Park Patch: How has campaigning gone so far and what strategies have you used?
Rykken: Campaigning is actually much easier this time around because I’ve been down the path before. I know a lot of people in the community. I have a track record that people can look at. I’m not losing any sleep over (campaigning). Last time, I did. I was nervous.
St. Louis Park Patch: What do you think makes you a good fit for this position?
Rykken: I listen, and I listen to understand. You and I my not have the same feelings about something, but I like to reach some kind of collaborative agreement. I’m always trying to bring in the larger value of what’s best for everyone. Because I really do believe to have all our kids graduate is in the best interest of everyone. When they graduate, they go on to college, they get a good job, they pay taxes, which feeds the next generation.
St. Louis Park Patch: What experience do you have in the field of education, school board included?
Rykken: I was the chair of the site council at for a couple years. I was the chair of the legislative action group here for three years. I went from being on site council and learning about No Child Left Behind, which kind of propelled me into advocacy for kids. Because I looked at that law as a very unfair law. When you recognize that a certain population isn’t doing well, the outcome is to penalize the school. So it’s a very punitive law. I’d rather see it turned into really a supportive law … That really catapulted me into advocacy. Then I started looking at what my elected officials were saying about education, and what they were doing. The words and the actions didn’t always match, and that’s when I started looking at who I needed to get elected to a (position) to see the kind of changes I wanted to see.
St. Louis Park Patch: What do you do professionally?
Rykken: I just finished my registered yoga certificate, so now I can teach yoga anywhere. (I’m also) an independent consultant and I work on political campaigns.
St. Louis Park Patch: What’s the balance between those two jobs?
Rykken: It depends on what the election is. I worked for Secretary of State (Mark Ritchie) last year. I raised money for his campaign.
St. Louis Park Patch: What do you like most about living in St. Louis Park?
Rykken: I grew up here. My parents and I moved here in 1966, and they bought Susan Lindgren’s home. Went to Central as my junior high. I moved away briefly, and then came back to buy a home here and raise my family here. I think it’s the small-town feel ... Someone from the East Coast came to visit here (recently), and she told the school board, “You have a very unique district here. People smile at me on the street. Kids open doors for me.” So there’s this pleasantness and this cooperation. I just like that a lot. We take care of each other.
St. Louis Park Patch: Tell me a little bit about yourself outside of work and campaigning. What are some of your hobbies and interests? And tell me about your family.
St. Louis Park Patch: I’m married. My husband and I are both bike riders. My daughter is in her senior year at Gustavus—she graduated from . My son is on track to graduate in 2015. So if I win this election, I’ll be able to hand him his diploma as well … My mom lives in St. Louis Park still. I’m an artist. I do some mosaic work. I like to do beading and jewelry making. I like to draw and paint. And I like to read.