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Shaffer steps down from District 518 school board, calling it one of his 'most rewarding experiences'

“There’s no doubt that the best, most enjoyable part of school board is standing on stage during commencement and handing out diplomas."

Brad Shaffer
Brad Shaffer
Anne Foley / District 518
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WORTHINGTON — Serving on the District 518 Board of Education has been a tremendously rewarding experience for Brad Shaffer, who is stepping down at the end of January, and he encouraged prospective board members to apply for the open spot.

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“This might’ve been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, other than raising my children,” said Shaffer, who has served on the board for 15 years. “It allows you a voice. It allows you to see how things work. … if you really want to see what the education system’s all about, if you care deeply and feel like you can make a difference, then you certainly should give it a try.”

The school board will need to appoint a successor to fill the vacated position until November, when there will be an election to fill the remainder of Shaffer’s term — just one year.

Shaffer, who began his time on the board with a one-year appointment, said it meant someone could give the position a shot without the usual four-year commitment required. Following his initial year on the board, Shaffer was reelected to the position in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020. He announced his resignation at the board’s organizational meeting, as he is getting married and moving out of District 518’s borders.

While serving on the school board has sometimes been challenging, it also has its rewards.

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“There’s no doubt that the best, most enjoyable part of school board is standing on stage during commencement and handing out diplomas, seeing the look on the students’ faces and seeing the look on the parents’ faces,” he said, noting he was even able to hand diplomas to each of his daughters.

Shaffer listed two issues as the most challenging during his tenure with the board.

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“The space issue was an issue we had when I walked in the door. That certainly took a while to resolve, and in fact there’s still some things we could do to make things a little bit better at (Worthington) High School, but we were able to take care of some of those issues,” Shaffer said, noting that the school and the community are both growing.

As such, he said passing the bond referendum to build the new Intermediate School was one of the biggest accomplishments of the school board during his tenure, though it was a long process with plenty of turmoil and many different people with different ideas about what should be done.

“Through it all, we were able to come up with a reasonable solution that taxpayers were willing to accept, and it solved a lot of our issues,” Shaffer said.

The other major challenge was the advent of COVID-19. As the virus spread, the school board received information from many sources, as well as mandates from the state of Minnesota, its Department of Health and the governor’s office.

“We had weekly updates on how things were going. It seemed like things changed weekly, or even daily,” Shaffer recalled.

Because it was a new virus, the best course of action wasn’t always clear, and the school had to follow the directives from the state — some of which were unpopular locally.

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For example, the class of 2020 did not get to participate in a traditional commencement ceremony. Instead, there was a community parade, and school board members stood at the front of the parade and handed students their diplomas.

Though missing a conventional graduation ceremony was upsetting, the community embraced the parade and it has become a well-loved tradition in its own right.

“Out of difficult situations like COVID, sometimes good ideas come along, because they’re still doing that parade even now,” Shaffer said. “But COVID, from many angles, was very, very challenging.”

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Though community members did attend school board meetings to voice their opinions, ask questions and state concerns, District 518 never saw the confrontational battles some school boards did, Shaffer said.

“I think that shows what kind of community we have, that even though people disagree, they can still understand the situation and deal with it in a rational manner,” he said. “I think very highly of this community, not just for that, but it showed how strong we are as a community.”

He praised the District 518 staff for stepping up and making it work the best they could during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All school board meetings are public, and many discussions occur at them that the general public doesn’t know about, Shaffer said, adding that news organizations often cover highlights without going into great detail, and some information must be kept confidential due to student privacy laws. Because of those factors and others, the public isn't always aware how much discussion has gone on before a decision is made.

In the end, though, he said, everyone he’s worked with on the board as well as all the staff are focused on the same thing: what’s best for the students.

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“I want everybody to know that everybody in this system really cares about the kids. That’s why they do it,” Shaffer said. “Their life is taking care of, and educating our kids. They have chosen that life and they deserve a lot of credit for doing what they do. People may not agree with all the things they do, and that’s fine, but they truly care about the kids and that’s why they dedicated their lives to the kids.”

He praised many fellow school board members, past and present, for their efforts, including Lori Dudley, Joel Lorenz and Steve Schnieder, all of whom have been on the board since he started, as well as Lowell Nystrom, Mark Shepherd, Bob Jirele and Linden Olson. Shaffer said he learned a great deal from them.

His advice for his successor is to ask lots of questions and study the material presented so they have a thorough understanding of what they’re voting for. He also advised board members to trust themselves.

“There’s going to be things that come up during your term that nobody could have foreseen, like COVID, and you’re in that position because people trust how you make decisions, the way you look at things, the way you process information,” he said. “So it’s very important to trust your instincts, trust your feelings, be yourself and realize that there’s a lot of items that the most vocal people out there aren’t speaking for the majority, and you’ve got to sift through that. Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not.”

Shaffer said the board will keep moving forward, and that he’s going to miss them. He thanked voters for allowing him to represent them, and said he hoped he’d done so in the way they wanted him to.

“We represent the school to the community, yet we represent the community to the school — so we’re on both sides of that,” he said. “And it’s a difficult place to be sometimes, but communicating both directions is crucial.”

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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