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Published October 27, 2011, 01:27 PM

Candidate profile: Vincent O'Brien

Here is a profile on school board candidate Vincent O'Brien.

Q: Please tell us some background information on yourself – including family information, your occupation, involvement in the community and how long you’ve lived here. Also, what has been your previous connection to the Hastings school district?

A: My wife Amy and I live on 15th Street and I’ve lived in Hastings for 20 years. I continue to learn every day from four wonderful kids ranging from 19 years to 17 months. Lots of education: Little Falls High School, UMD (Philosophy and Political Science,) William Mitchell (Juris Doctorate,) as well as EMT and Firefighter II certification. My day job is programming seminars for lawyers and judges and I am an 18-year veteran Firefighter/EMT with Hastings Fire and Ambulance.

I was fortunate to serve as President of an international group called ACLEA until my term ended in August. In 2000 I wrote an award-winning article on brain research and learning and in 2006 won an international award for a program on Violence in Schools — involving psychologists to explore the phenomena of children-involved shootings. I’m currently finishing an academic paper on styles and methods of teaching called, “The Art of Teaching.” I’ve done lots of things over the years including eight years of work at Camp Courage, where I learned more about working with people than any experience I’ve ever had, OCS in the Marines Corps and a stint in the Forest Service. In addition to Fire and Ambulance work- I’ve also been active in Hastings through HYAA baseball and soccer, volunteered for Vets Appeals, taught religion at SEAS for a few years and have been active with the Boy Scouts.

No matter what I’ve done over the years, I get pretty involved and am a hard worker. I served on the School Board from 2006-2009 and was active on the transportation, finance and staff development committees.

Q: Why did you file for the Hastings school board?

A: Education is our hope — all our hope — for the future. The Hastings- area schools need to keep the focus on academic achievement, using collaboration and differentiation, continued fiscal responsibility and strong arts and activities programs. I believe we are entering challenging times. More than ever we need a board that works as a whole using good governance and communication, with all stakeholders to ensure the best possible education.

I’ll work through the budget, try and ask the tough questions, listen to people throughout the system, visit the classrooms to respect what is going on, help develop solutions and strategies and help creatively set the course where our teachers can feel good about what they do and how they do it, so students at all sites and levels can get the best education we can deliver in the 21st century. The board should be an active and respectful part of the overall process and I can help with that.

Q: What is the biggest issue or challenge facing the school district? How do you believe it should be addressed?

A: We have to respect what we have, keeping class sizes manageable, continuing to use the PLCs the best way to help shape curriculum, data and assessments and secure the kids and parents with communication and hope, listening is as important as doing. District 200 faces declining enrollment with an impact on funding and how resources will best be used (with fast-developing changes to NCLB,) on another level an important issue is drug/alcohol use especially amongst middle schoolers, and on yet another level figuring out district-wide strategies to shape the next 10 years. Finally, we need to work with all employees to make this a district where great people at all levels love their professions and can grow in them. That will help students as much as anything.

To address these: classroom resources need to be our number one priority. We need to give parents and teachers meaningful information and creative programs to address the choices kids are making with drugs and alcohol as well as other behaviors, and board/administrators need to work as hard as possible at developing strategies that evolve with societal, academic and technical change — and be a partner with parents, teachers and staff in helping to keep us at the forefront of the best education. We cannot forget the important role of activities in the context of meaningful education and we need to support both activities and involvement.

Q: How does the district maintain a high level of learning for our students in light of budget challenges both locally and at the state level?

A:?Our administrators, teachers, and staff have a comprehensive and incredibly dynamic plan to achieve this titled “21st Century Learning.” Using data (not so much the standardized tests but ongoing assessments, i.e. fluency ratings for words,) differentiation (using related curriculum tools provide meaningful teaching to all learners including high-end and low-end achievers so they all can improve and learn) and collaboration (no teacher/site is an island as teachers throughout the district share what is working, common areas of concern, novel approaches, etc.) they meet in smaller groups with ascertainable goals to accomplish the best teaching and learning. It is tremendous and difficult work on top of their daily tasks in each classroom and they need our full support. The board needs to be a creative and supportive part of that process.

Q: Do you support the November levy referendum?

A:?Yes.

Q: Why should the voters vote for you?

A: I love and believe in education both personally and as the means for our world and community to become better. I will work hard and apply myself unwaveringly to a form of governance that helps all components of our district and all stakeholders achieve the best possible outcomes.

The students in every class and at every site and parents need to know from the time kindergartners first get on the bus until they throw their hats that district 200 cares about them and will help them get the best they can out of our schools, and I will keep that at the forefront of my work on the school board.

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