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2018 Stillwater School Board – Matthew Cooper

2018 Stillwater School Board – Matthew Cooper

The St. Croix Valley Gifted family-friendly candidate event is Sunday, 9/30 at Teddy Bear Park. Please check the event page for scheduling info, plus links to other candidates’ responses and voter registration support.

1) School Board goals adopted 8 Feb 2018 begin with these statements:

The Stillwater Area Public Schools’ Board of Education ensures outstanding learning opportunities for the social, emotional and academic growth of every student in our school district through authentic partnerships and meaningful communication with our community, parents and students. Every decision is made with a commitment to equity for all students and for future generations impacted by our actions.

What do these statements mean to you as a candidate for school board? What do these statements look like when board members put them into action?

MC: These statements mean that as a School Board candidate and Member, there is a solemn responsibility to do all you can singly and in partnership to assure that we get it as close to right for each and every student – because they only get to live through it once and it sets the tone for their lives to follow. It means that we must keep our focus on the path that continually strives to improve and grow and innovate. It is not innovation for its own sake, rather as a means to help us release the unique talents and creativity in all. It means that we must communicate, and compromise, and not allow ourselves to be complacent or bogged down.

Putting these platitudes into action can test ingenuity and strategy and tactics. The priorities that guide decisions must be those that impact the greater good in one sense and also satisfy the needs of the significant subpopulations of our students including Special Needs and the Gifted and Talented. We are not a school district of just primary education either. We must curate all grade levels such that paths exist for uniquely tailored exploration. A significant part of this is the fiscal constraint imposed. Decisions must be based on the results of an insatiable pursuit of data. Data is not turned into wisdom until subjected to internal and external analyses and insight.


2) Community-building and outreach to the communities this school district serves are an ongoing priority among local voters. In the recent two years since the last board election cycle, Stillwater Area Public Schools leadership has undertaken several initiatives (focus groups, advisory teams, communication efforts, new events, etc.) aimed at community engagement, matters of transparency, student mental health supports, understanding community priorities, developing partnerships with area business leaders, etc. In what ways do you believe these efforts have been effective? In what respects does the school district have room to grow and/or adjust course?

MC: Despite the remarkable efforts, there remain significant geographic and otherwise isolated populations that are disenfranchised, unfamiliar with the important issues, and non-participatory in the relevant discourse. Some of these groups are readily identifiable and also, potentially, more difficult to reach. Other means of engagement must be pursued.

Much rhetoric has been devoted to the assessed presence or not of transparency. What is necessary is a complete sharing of data and rationale behind decisions. The reality is that all decisions rarely satisfy all factions involved. This shared communication is the potential foundation for the development of trust that allows growth and progress to continue nonetheless.


3) Since 2013 (Minnesota Statutes, section 120B.11), school districts must develop a World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) Plan and Annual Report for each school year. For Minnesota to remain competitive, we must have students who are college and career ready, and who are poised to lead the state’s workforce. Per MDE, Minnesota’s overall population is aging and seventy percent (70%) of jobs will require more than a high school diploma by 2018. School boards have responsibility to establish the advisory committee of community members that develops their district’s WBWF plan and related goals.

In your opinion, what skills are important for students to build across their K-12 education as preparation for the 21st Century society and workplace?

MC: The skills required of students in preparation for future society and the varied workplace include:

  1. Robust and sound written, verbal, and technology-assisted communication. This includes correct grammar, vocabulary, and idiomatic speech. The choice and amount of reading, parental environment, and peer interactions significantly impact this. Therefore, this portion of the initiative will necessarily include efforts to grow the individual and his or her environment.
  2. Mathematical facility in both arithmetic and algebraic forms will be critical. This represents a significant stretch goal for a significant portion of the student body.
  3. Second language fluency is already, and will increasingly be, vital. This prompts a reassessment of the manner and methods we employ to teach world languages with the real goal of operational fluency over an efficient duration of study. There are models to achieve this in other disciplines.
  4. Appreciation of diversity in thought, perspective, and choice is necessary. This may be achieved by dialogue that emphasizes what we have in common.
  5. Appreciation of beauty and art in the world, natural and man-made. We owe it to our culture to inculcate this in our youth to add that measure of boundless joy and aspiration

Overall, it is important to point out that the levels of performance elucidated in the WBWF should be adopted by a school district such as ours as the minimum standard. We already do, and should continue to implement programs to allow students to significantly exceed these minimums. As such, both internal and external expertise should be applied regularly to work backwards from future dates to define the needs of graduates. The effectiveness of our educational preparation is increasingly measured by application to complex and real-world challenges. This ultimately tests the grasp of subject matter content. Such challenges must be integrated into our curriculum.


4) Conversations about equity and K-12 education are happening across the country. Minnesota’s federally approved ESSA Plan includes a list of 10 Equity Commitments. Access to services (counseling, student advocates, ELL and GT services, reading and math supports, etc.) and classroom supports receive attention through an equity lens. St. Croix Valley communities and district schools are seeing rapid growth in cultural, socio-economic and linguistic diversity.

What importance does equity have in the day-to-day classroom experiences of educators and students across the Stillwater school district (primary and secondary)? What should voting residents of this school district understand about the role equity plays in the well-being of our communities and in helping students develop the skills you identified in question three?

MC: Minnesota’s declared Equity Commitments guide and foster the integration of these concepts in all aspects of education and learning. They require that we wisely choose by relevance and meaning the data that guide us. Accountability for preparation and performance of the authorized and de facto leadership is reasonably mandated. Such leadership comes from elected officers, the Community, and relevant stakeholders. We must continuously develop the teachers we have and recruit for fresh talent and perspective. We must help them acquire the skills they need to deliver what we ask and expect. For example, if an individual teacher or school develops standout methods or programs, these should be shared across the District.

As noted above, our performance targets should be beyond minimums and at times audacious. Modern performance standards such as applied problem solving must be included in the curriculum to both afford students familiarity with such evaluation, and to guide leadership’s programs.

Allocation of constrained resources must be prioritized based on need, balance, and fair distribution. Diversity may require nuances of content delivery. It is clear that not only subject matter content must evolve. We must also invest in and explore innovative and customizable modes of delivery that address different rates of learning based on physiologic and social factors. The goal of this is to foster development of unique talents.

These are not easy challenges necessarily addressed by off the shelf solutions. This is particularly true as we include the broader milieu of learning. Issues of school culture, climate, and demographics all contribute to the complexity of satisfactory solutions.


5) Advocacy on behalf of Stillwater School District is among school board duties. Board members are charged with using ongoing, two-way communications to build trust and support among community, board, superintendent, staff, and students. They also are responsible for addressing issues that affect education on local, state, and national levels. The district’s 2018 Legislative Platform includes two named advocacy priorities concerning boosts in State funding toward the special education cross-subsidy and pensions that impact the General Fund. How have past experiences prepared you to fulfill these assorted advocacy duties as a school board member?

MC: I have had extensive training in, and experience with, informal and formal conflict resolution. This has included the establishment of shared platforms among diverse groups whose initial stated requirements appeared miles apart. These skills will be critical as compromise will be required within our own budgetary priorities. In addition, the current structure pits the teachers’ pension against the programmatic offerings to students. This is indeed untenable and we must reach beyond our local expertise perhaps to find alternative and potentially innovative solutions.

In addition, I have also successfully lobbied at local, state, and Federal levels for issues related to unreimbursed and unfairly provided health services. In my corporate life, I work daily with issues involving federal regulatory agencies, third-party payors, and various groups at local, regional, and federal levels. I am also a Special Consultant to a Washington, D.C. based federal agency.


6) During the 2017-2018 academic year, this MCGT chapter conducted a Community Feedback Initiative to gather local input about access and availability of GT supports at St. Croix Valley area schools. Local sentiment can be summarized in this statement from page one of the resulting report:

Broadly speaking, local access to GT services in K-12 is unpredictable and inconsistent; identification offers no promise of supports, services, or programs.

The feedback we collected shows agreement around core concerns: student access to and continuity of GT services and supports (academic and socio-emotional learning) across K-12; whether promises about the type(s) of GT services to be delivered are kept or broken; and whether instruction strategies and decisions (procedures, personalized learning, acceleration, etc.) utilize evidence-based practices and reflect deep understanding of common GT attributes vs. being rooted in stereotype.

Where do GT learners fit within district priorities and accountability (under Minnesota’s ESSA plan) to demonstrate year-to-year growth and to provide personalized learning for all students in elementary and secondary classrooms?

MC: This is an important call out to the District’s responsibilities. That is, year over year growth is to be demonstrable for each student, referenced to his or her own talent and appraised capability. The District has to balance its offerings in consideration of existing constraints. There may be solutions that involve partners in other school districts, industry, or grant support to assist. This is one of the areas in which design innovation applied to service delivery may play a significant role.

Emphasized in this question is the balance that must be achieved in the offerings across both elementary and secondary classrooms. This is critical on several levels. First, it is critical as an offering for the students. Secondarily, it is critical to the District overall in its attempt to provide a sufficient depth and breadth of programs that keep those within designated boundaries in our schools and attracts those from outside to join in the excellence of our offerings by exercise of choice.


7) School Board Members must balance the work of being both listener and ambassador. What would you tell prospective families and/or voting community members who don’t have students currently enrolled about Stillwater Area Public Schools?

MC: I would tell all that children are literally our future. As such, they must be protected, nurtured, and prepared to lead and maintain the health of our civilization.

Our responsibility is to prioritize students and education such that they have comparable and preferably greater opportunities than those that have come before. We must support innovation in learning and growth to achieve this. However, there is the reality of a related financial burden imposed on members of the Community. As such, it is both the mandate and obligation of the Board to prioritize and choose wisely as stewards of what the Community entrusts to us. A ready ear and sincerely offered and delivered explanation of the bases and rationales for initiatives and decisions are critical.

My 14-year-old daughter is a student by choice in this District; I have both a stake and perspective. Regardless of whether your children are too young for school, have already graduated, or you do not plan to have kids, our collective youth remain pivotal in all to come.


8) Why should voters consider you in particular as they choose among candidates for Stillwater Area Public Schools’ open board seats?

 MC: Through the practice of adult and pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, I have a deep professional and personal understanding and empathy for the human journey, from joy to loss. Academically, I remember well the challenges, effective heuristics, gaps in offerings, and necessary balances at all levels of preparation. I have relatively recently pursued additional graduate study in addition to mentoring combined graduate programs at the University of Minnesota.

As an extension of my experiences as surgeon, business strategist, and flight instructor/air show pilot, I have applied concepts of critical team performance and communication, safety, quality, and efficiency to prospective system design in many contexts. I have led innovative program development in many contexts. This experience was further fortified by an MBA with an emphasis on design innovation applied to process, service, products, and corporate strategy.

My focus will always be on Students and Education first. I am analytical and practical and consistently able to apply a cross-pollinated approach to solving significant challenges. I bring a fresh perspective without preconceived agendas.

My family and I have lived in various locales across the country and in London. Our experiences have included public and private school and online learning. Our daughter, Nila, is a 9th grader at Stillwater High School, active as a competitive figure skater, member of the Varsity Figure Skating Team, Concert, Jazz, and Pep Bands, and a blossoming young woman.

I wish to serve the Community on the School Board to share relevant and transferable expertise from perspectives not necessarily represented on the Board. My daughter’s matriculation in the District affords me a personal window, as well, regarding the modern challenges, distractions, and potential impediments facing students, faculty, parents, and administrators, and the value of passion and continued intellectual stimulation in life’s pursuits.

I have often been described by the unique combination of visionary and pragmatist, delivering quality with integrity.