Welcome Minnetonka families! We are very excited to have you here and look forward to representing you!
4Tonka is a nonpartisan group of individuals with children or family members actively enrolled and involved in the Minnetonka School District. Our respective candidacies for School Board this fall are in direct response to parent, teacher, and community member concerns that we feel are currently not being adequately addressed and that deserve representation in the future.
We are all running because we are passionate about the benefits of public education and believe that the Minnetonka District provides the best opportunities for families to give their children a solid foundation to thrive. If elected, we look forward to working closely with our fellow school board members, the Superintendent and school administrators, teachers, and most importantly, all of you to ensure that your voices are heard and that our schools are always something we can be proud of.
Reducing overcrowding and working towards smarter open enrollment policies, with a focus on optimal classroom sizes and optimal grade-level sizes, based on national studies showing what is best for all students.
What we propose will have no impact to current students, siblings of current students, or families that benefit from open enrollment.
We support a comprehensive study, including use of a professional and proven education-based demographer, to identify the most effective and efficient way to reduce over-crowding.
We support basing grade level and classroom sizes on what is most effective and sustainable for the best comprehensive student experience education given the size of our buildings.
The district says the breakeven financial point is 6,500 students. There are currently 7,300 resident students. District says optimal financial efficiency starts at 9,000 students. District currently has 10,774 students (based on audited 2018 financial statements).
Creating open and transparent communication on all topics from the Board to the community and stakeholders, including welcoming and encouraging feedback from all community members.
We support complete and easy-to-understand transparency on all financial matters.
We support a new annual survey, facilitated by an independent 3rd party, to ensure statistically meaningful questions and full reporting back to community on results.
We support creating more opportunities for ad-hoc feedback to the Board and Superintendent from community members and school district staff.
Promoting and actively working towards the well-being and connectedness of all students.
We will identify and utilize a broad set of independent measurements (not just academic) to assess and monitor well-being of all students, including keeping those metrics consistent year-over-year to ensure transparent, unbiased tracking of success. Academics are critical and should be the base for all educational institutions, but the well-being of the entire student body should not be lost.
In addition to ongoing analysis of our overall students’ well-being, we will make sure that each student with unique needs has appropriate and available support. We will enhance resources for our schools’ outstanding professionals who work with students experiencing social/emotional challenges and or mental health conditions. We will also strengthen our services by utilizing other professional organizations.
We believe every student needs to be connected in his/her learning community. Therefore, we will consider broad well-being when making decisions about school sizes, classroom sizes, academic programs and co-curricular activities.
Supporting all students.
We pledge, first and foremost, to advocate for all students, and we believe that many in this district need even more support than they are currently receiving. This is one of the primary reasons why we are running, to offer greater support to ALL students. Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, academic or athletic ability, ethnicity or religion, we champion ALL students. Not only academically, but emotionally and socially.
We embrace and celebrate all students.
Further, we condemn and reject hatred and discrimination against any student, teacher, or member of the community, for any reason, especially when such hatred is due to their race, sexual orientation, religion, culture, or socio-economic background.
Our community and schools are stronger because of diversity. Diversity of race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, and thought. We cannot be effective board members unless we ensure that every student and community member is treated with equal respect, has an equal opportunity to have their voice heard, and ultimately feels valued and fully supported to be who they are by both our schools and our community.
Click to see our responses to the District's OE FAQ document:
Click to learn more about topics that impact our schools:
Paid for by Sarah Clymer, Julie Light, Trevor Thurling, Josh Wilcox. PO Box 441, Excelsior MN 55331
Our nine K-12 buildings have all been fully open and running for more than 25 years, and our resident student numbers have fluctuated between only 7,442 and 7,759 from 2001 to 2018, with no trend in these resident numbers (resident students were 7,659 just one year ago). Yet, this fall, our school district has enrolled an additional 3,746 students who live outside our district, compared to 75 in 2001. Open enrollment numbers now represent almost 34% of our total enrollment.
fully embraces open enrollment. The open enrollment policy as designed by the state legislature reflects this program being an outstanding option for families looking for a school choice. It was not intended to be a money-maker.
The current number of students who live outside our district is approximately 3,750. It is noteworthy that this open enrolled number alone – over one third of our students – is greater than the
number of enrolled students in each of two highly-ranked school
that border us.
The district stated, when asking taxpayers in 2015 to approve a tax referendum, that the “capacity” of our K-12 buildings was a total of 10,550. Within
, however, the district chose to surpass that number. We are now at approximately 11,100.
(Note: the district has provided two totals this fall: one of 11,085 and one of 11,172; while we recognize numbers fluctuate at any time in a school year, these two totals were given in the same document.)
Minnetonka Public Schools has never had enrollment numbers of this size, and natural population changes did not bring us to this number.
Further, the district did not adhere to its stated capacity of 10,550, and it will not give a number of what our current buildings’ total capacity is . . . or how that capacity is determined or changed.The District has only recently said capacity is actually 12,000, with no schools being at current capacity.
We are an exceptional school district in many ways. Our school district cites one ranking system that puts Minnetonka Public Schools at the top in Minnesota.
, in the most recent US News and World Report of Minnesota high school rankings, Minnetonka High School is behind Eastview, Orono, Wayzata, Mounds View, Eagan, Mahtomedi, and Edina, with Orono having only 947 students in its 9-12 high school. And Mound-Westonka High School, with 662 students, is just one ranking below Minnetonka High School (MHS). In comparison, MHS has 3,420 students. Our families, students, teaching and support staff, and employees are great! But bigger is not necessarily better.
Now, because of our district’s open enrollment practices, new problems have arisen. The current enrollment is approximately 11,100 – with over 1/3 residing outside our district. This has now brought Minnetonka students overcrowded schools, overcrowded classrooms, overcrowded non-instructional spaces, and overcrowded hallways. Note the following that has occurred due to overcrowding in our facilities:
Important spaces in our schools have been – and continue to be – repurposed in response to this over-crowding. Examples of this repurposing include the following:
Some direct instruction and small-group classes have taken place in hallways and building entryway vestibules (this differs from small groups of students working on projects in open spaces outside classrooms).
Some of our elementary “Specialists” (Art, Music, Media, STEM, etc.) have had their positions reduced and/or their rooms repurposed to accommodate the large enrollment numbers.
There are concerns that some Physical Education spaces are being looked to be repurposed into classroom areas.
Beginning this school year, our elementary schools now have these “Specials” every six days instead of every five days that had been in place for many, many years. The instruction and experiences provided by our “Specialists” and their curriculum is a vital component of our students’ overall experience, and it is being reduced and compromised to accommodate unprecedented enrollment.
Residents are wondering if a response to this overcrowding might be an initiative from the district asking for new land purchase(s) and/or additions to current school building(s) or construction of new school(s). This is a fair and logical concern given neighboring districts enrollment numbers and facilities.
fully embraces open enrollment. Because our schools could be fully open and flourishing with resident enrollment only, we propose that our district’s open enrollment practices be reduced to more sustainable numbers so that:
If open enrollment demands drop, we will not be left with facilities that have been added onto, modified, or repurposed.
We will be able to give all our students – resident and open-enrolled alike – the outstanding experience we promise them.
We also propose that, beginning with next year’s kindergarteners, our open enrollment be reduced so that:
All current open-enrolled students will always be a part of our schools and our community.
Beginning with the graduating class of 2033, we will admit open-enrolled students as required by state law, with additional consideration given to siblings of current open-enrolled families so as to maintain graduating class sizes commensurate with actual building capacities, which will be made public.
With natural K-12 teacher and support staff attrition, this shift in open-enrollment practice can be done without laying off any teachers or support staff for at least six years, with a high probability far beyond six years. We will not need to cut any programs.
A clear and transparent financial analysis of all programs and funding sources will be completed to balance ongoing decreases in student population with required funding and required programs.
recognizes our community’s concerns regarding communication from our district leadership and the community’s residents and families. Too many of our residents have had their voiced concerns dismissed, discarded, and disrespected.
proposes a communication culture that not only respects and embraces the voices of all residents and parents, but that invites parents’ and residents’ concerns. We propose a culture of open, trusting communication full of civility, clarity, and transparency. In order to accomplish this culture, we propose the following:
A new parent/resident survey that would have clear, quantifiable, straight-forward results that we would accurately communicate and respond to in the most professional and respectful manner possible.
A more independent, ongoing measurement of the success of the District, with methodology communicated to residents.
“Town Hall”-type forums, during which families and residents could express their concerns with candor and authenticity, expecting nothing less back from the district leadership and professionals who work with and advocate for the students in our schools.
recognizes that our students need additional staffing and resources so that their well-being and mental health issues can be adequately addressed. Minnetonka Public Schools’ counselors, social workers, psychologists, teachers, and mental health professionals all deeply care about our students and families.
, they need additional resources to best be able to meet the needs of our community. Additionally, 4 TONKA recognizes that many families do not feel the needs and accomplishments of their hard-working children with various challenges and academic needs are celebrated as much of those with very high capabilities and performances.
proposes a complete analysis of our students’ well-being and mental health. We will do this by continuing grant-writing and establishing the following:
Student and parent surveys that are designed and analyzed by an outside, fully unbiased organization.
Gathering of valuable input from our schools’ guidance counselors, mental health professionals, psychologists, and social workers – those experts who work directly with our students.
Providing adequate resources to our professionals as needed in order for them to fully support our students. This will include continued writing of grants, enhancing our partnership with Relate Counseling, and considering partnership with NAMI, Canvas Health and the Livin Foundation.
Implementation of a more robust student well-being measurement that can assist in helping students and staff.
Nationally, the “Achievement Gap” is the gap between white/Asian Americans and students of color. 4Tonka is concerned with the district’s shifting of language with this issue. While the district claims there is no “achievement gap” in our schools because our students of color perform as well as white/Asian-American across the nation, we choose to recognize the more authentic gap between our district’s students of color (African-American, Hispanic, Native American) and those of white and Asian/American ethnicity.
recognizes the persistent achievement gap between white/Asian-American students and those of color. To better address this situation, we propose deepening the use of the Wilson reading program and pursuing an early intervention program similar to the Young Scholars Program (YSP) as a specific initiative to close the gap between identified students and those of differing SES or racial backgrounds.
A Minnesota resident since 2010, Trevor completed his undergraduate studies at Pepperdine University (B.A. German, Economics), and earned his MBA from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
He and his wife Stephanie live in Excelsior with their three children, Calvin (7, Minnewashta 2nd Grade), Griffin (5, Minnewashta RSK), and Harriette (3). The Thurlings moved from Minneapolis to Excelsior in 2014 in large part due to the outstanding reputation of the Minnetonka School District.
Currently employed at U.S. Bank’s Foreign Exchange division, Trevor brings over a decade of experience helping companies identify and quantify their FX exposure and instill robust, proactive risk management practices to manage it. His experience working with customers of varying size, industry, and geographic profile enables him to think outside the box to creatively apply proven, straightforward solutions to unique challenges.
Trevor believes strongly in the power of human connection, and has consistently sought to create an environment of engagement and continuous improvement by encouraging those around him to leverage their unique skills, talents, and passions to think boldly, take appropriate risks, innovate, and champion change.
If elected, Trevor will invite more dialogue between parents, teachers and administrators in a bid to increase transparency and ensure that the district is working for all students and families. A key component of this communication will be a thorough review of current enrollment levels relative to building and classroom capacity, with an objective to efficiently use the existing facilities without overcrowding classes or losing access to shared resources like music and art rooms.
Josh and his wife, Erin, live in Deephaven. They have 3 children, including a second grader in the Spanish-immersion program at Deephaven Elementary, a first grader in the English program at Deephaven Elementary, and a pre-schooler at the Minnetonka Preschool. Josh and Erin moved to Deephaven in large part due to the Minnetonka school district and strong academic reputation.
Josh completed his undergraduate studies at Augustana University and his M.B.A. at University of Nebraska. He works for a private equity firm in Minneapolis, but has spent time in management consulting, corporate strategy, and corporate development roles. Erin obtained her undergraduate and Pharm.D from the University of Minnesota.
Josh benefited from elementary through high school public education and believes strongly in the benefits it can provide. Minnetonka has a strong track record of delivering academic results for students. Josh wants to build on that by ensuring that all students, regardless of natural ability, have all the tools and support necessary to succeed academically. Josh also wants to ensure that beyond academics, all students are fully supported and the District does what it can to care for students’ well-being, as defined by a broad set of non-academic metrics. To contribute to broader success for the entire student population, school and classroom sizes should be anchored by independent, expert-driven studies on optimal student populations. Finally, to accomplish this and ensure common alignment, Josh believes in full transparency and accountability from the Board, on all matters, including proactive solicitation of community input by independent parties.
Dr. Julie Light has over 19 years of experience in K-12 public schools, both as a teacher and in leadership roles designing and differentiating curricula, providing professional development to teachers, and implementing programs designed to best ensure student growth. Passionate about strengthening students academically, socially, and emotionally, she has extensive experience bringing families, staff, and administrators together to help meet students’ varied learning needs. While the majority of her work was with highly capable/highly talented students, she also has experience teaching preschool as well as advocating for and working with students with special needs. Her public-school career was in three major metro school districts: Minnetonka, Wayzata, Anoka-Hennepin.
Julie’s bachelor’s degree in elementary education is from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Her master’s in education and Gifted Education Certificate are from Hamline University. Her doctorate, from Capella University, is in Educational Leadership and Management.
Julie is a life-long Skipper, with deep roots in the community. With the exception of her undergraduate days on campus and a year near Hopkins, Julie has lived in the district since 1969. She and her husband, Bill Light, raised their four daughters near Minnetonka Middle School East; and, like her daughters, Julie (née Munger) is a grateful graduate (class of ‘76) of Minnetonka High School. She now has grandchildren who attend Minnetonka Public Schools. Retired from her public school career, Julie is currently working with families and students as an Academic Coach where she continues to support and celebrate Minnetonka Schools’ outstanding students, families, staff, and programs. She also loves spending time with her grandchildren at the same Lake Minnetonka beaches in Deephaven, Excelsior, and Tonka Bay where she taught and supervised swimming lessons for Minnetonka Community Services (now MCE) before she began teaching at Minnetonka Middle School West.
Julie will bring to the School Board an intellectual energy that embraces dialogue around differing viewpoints, encourages clarity in communication that is honoring of perspectives and concerns, and recognizes the need for full analysis of issues. Additionally, she recognizes what so many other families in our schools recognize: that as we have continued to increase the number of students we enroll, other issues have developed that bring challenges to our students’ learning environment. Hence, there is a need to lead the future of the district’s enrollment practices to be more sustainable, given the size of our facilities, and given the importance of listening to residents’ voices – voices to whom she would be accountable.
Julie’s praise for Minnetonka’s services to advanced learners:
I have provided many professional development sessions and workshops for teachers of advanced learners, and have worked extensively designing and evaluating programs, designing and modifying qualification criteria to match services, designing various levels of rigor in courses and lessons, working with the social and emotional needs of gifted learners, and working with students and families as they select high school options. Minnetonka Schools is a national model for how it meets the needs of and provides services and programs for its advanced learners. We have exceptional types and levels of services, courses, programs, competitions, and co-curriculars. We are at the top nationally in this area, which can be credited to the hard work of our leaders, teachers, and Minnetonka’s MCGT chapter. That we offer both AP and IB to our high school students is remarkable. As a leader at Anoka-Hennepin Schools, I worked with IB families, promoted IB as a great option for students, and provided training to IB teachers.
Also, almost 16 years ago, with IB courses and its diploma program already as options at our high school, Minnetonka Schools, looking to build its elementary and middle years program options, established “Instructional Strategies Study Groups.” Members of each study group were to research the one instructional strategy/model to which they were assigned. There were six study groups. The one I was put on was whether or not to take the major step of having one or more of our middle/elementary schools be designated as an IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) and/or IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) school/s (not just offer IB courses or the Diploma Programme – as could still be continued at the high school level – but to become IB School/s in entirety, where all students in the school need to participate).
As a teacher in the district, I was put on the IB MYP/PYP Study Group committee directed to determine how these programs might align or not align with our district's Vision and mission statements AND to “Identify Barriers or Disadvantages of the Strategy or Model.” In addition to IB MYP/PYP, there was a study group for each of the following other instructional models/programs being considered: 2) Language Immersion, 3) Continuous Progress, 3) Montessori, 4) Magnet/Specialized Programming. There was also a sixth group that was to do an informal descriptive summary of the High Potential elementary and middle years programs.
I shared to the board the facts I had found. The school board used information from the committee to make its decision about whether to have one or more of our middle or elementary schools become IB schools. I was not a part of that decision.
Note: There seems to be some confusion for some people about a newspaper quote surrounding religion; it did not come from me. As can be seen, the quote is from the 2005 Minnetonka School board and was the speaker’s or board’s perspective.
Sarah Clymer and her husband, Ben, have been residents of Excelsior for the past 10 years. They have four children, three of whom attend Minnewashta Elementary school. Their youngest child attends Excelsior Covenant Preschool. A few years ago, when their son was diagnosed with a developmental delay, they felt fortunate to be at Minnetonka Preschool in a school district with special education resources.
Sarah has a Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of St. Thomas and a bachelor’s degree in Child Psychology from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She is dedicated to personal and professional pursuits that maximize her education, experiences, and her desire to promote community and individual well-being. She is a full-time mom and thrives as a school and community volunteer.
In 2014, Sarah completed her practicum in counseling psychology at the First Street Center Mental Health Services in Carver County. At this facility she worked primarily with high school students at Waconia’s Alternative Learning Center and at a day treatment center in Jordan, Minnesota that provided programs to teenagers needing mental health services. Prior to returning to school, Sarah worked in development and special event coordination for local non-profits.
While Sarah recognizes Minnetonka’s stellar academic reputation, as a Board member, she will base her decisions on what is in the best interest and well-being of the whole student; this includes, but is not limited to, robust social and emotional support services for students and addressing the current state of overcrowding in the classroom. There needs to be a thorough examination and redirection of the district’s ongoing motivation to reach maximum student capacity in classrooms and schools. Furthermore, in order to have an open, interactive and substantive conversation in partnership with our community, Sarah would advocate for every tax payer and parent to receive access to detailed district budget expenditures and related financial disclosures.