Three candidates running unopposed were elected to the Park Rapids School Board. Incumbents Sherry Safratowich and Gary Gauldin were re-elected, along with Jay Pike who will serve his first term on the board.
Safratowich received the most votes with 4,758; Pike was second with 4,562 and Gauldin received 4,060 votes. There were 98 write-in votes.
Here is some background on the board members and what they see are key issues for the district moving forward.
Sherry Safratowich has served on the Park Rapids School Board since 1993 and is currently the board chair. She is a graduate of Park Rapids Area Schools. Safratowich and her husband have six children, all graduates of Park Rapids. They have 17 grandchildren, of which 15 live in Park Rapids and are or will attend school here.
"We have a wonderful school system," she said. "My desire to continue to serve on this board is ongoing. The curriculum we have is outstanding! We continue to work on growing with the demands of the work world."
Looking ahead, Safratowich said she will continue to work on relationship building with staff, students and community.
"The district is in great financial shape," she explained. "I want to see that continue. Our campus is one of the best in the area. Thank you to our community for that! Without your support that wouldn't have happened."
Safratowich sees key issues for the district moving forward are similar to any business. The school is a business and needs to be run like one, and needs to maintain a fund balance while moving forward.
Other issues noted by Safratowich include continuing to offer courses through local colleges for the district's college bound students.
"Our students have the opportunity to take college level classes in our high school with our teachers and receive dual credit for them, both high school and college credit," she said. "This is a huge money saver for the parents of our college bound students. Our board, with the involvement of Mr. Gauldin, is very supportive of this program. Park Rapids was one of the first high schools to do this. Currently, there is a movement at a higher level to change this opportunity for kids. This movement will greatly reduce this opportunity for our kids."
Safratowich explains the district must keep in mind the growing need for vocational training of its students.
"Not all students are four-year college bound. The world and our community are in need of skilled workers in the vocational fields, such as plumbers, HVAC, electricians, bus drivers, CNC, mechanics, health care field, etc. We realize that and are working with community businesses in partnerships to do that. I work to grow those partnerships and expand to many more. We will continue to hire only the best staff to work with your children and grandchildren."
Gauldin's background includes being an educator and administrator with the Park Rapids school district. He came to Park Rapids in 1971 as an industrial arts teacher before becoming high school principal in 1998 and was in that position until retirement in 2014. At that time, there were three incumbents running for three seats on the school board and Gauldin decided he would run.
"I thought they needed to have a challenged election so I filed and got elected. I had no agenda as my last couple of years went very well, and if anything, I wanted to do my part in trying to preserve the program's we had worked hard to build."
Today, Gauldin is the vice-chair of the board and says the district is in good shape with quality leadership and staff, as well as competent and committed to serving Park Rapids Area Schools.
"Today I do have a two-part agenda: one is doing what I can to preserve Concurrent Enrollment (aka College in High School). This program is win-win for students, parents and the school at large. It is too invaluable to lose because of some self-serving unelected commission. Second, is my passion and knowledge of the need to get back to hands-on practical curricular opportunities for our students."
Some of the important issues facing the district for Gauldin include maintaining fiscal stability while providing quality programming and facilities; supporting school staff in providing a safe and comfortable learning environment; recruiting and retaining quality classroom teachers—especially in light of the teacher shortage facing the district; supporting administration and classroom teachers as they are faced with never-ending challenges and demands of today's rapidly changing expectations; holding Park Rapids Area School staff accountable for meeting community expectations and continuing to be a voice for and advocate of public education.
After being asked to run for school board in previous years, Jay Pike decided now the time was right for him to run. His kids all graduated from Park Rapids Area Schools. He has one granddaughter in the middle school and another entering kindergarten in three years.
He and his wife, Marlene, graduated from Park Rapids Area Schools and are both graduates of North Dakota State University. He and his father farmed together the first 15 years after college.
"The farm was both tough and joyous depending on the year. It was a great place to start and raise our kids."
Pike has spent the last 17 years helping people save and invest money, and plan for and live through their retirement years as a financial advisor for EdwardJones.
Some of the things Pike sees as important goals for the school district are increasing graduation rates, student safety and the belief that every Park Rapids graduate is not destined for four years of college.
"Vocational options in our high school are indeed present but I believe need to be grown so the school has a larger platform to launch our vocational students into their respective careers," he said. "That will take much effort and cooperation from our school leaders and our community's employers."