Interview with Beth Fletcher: Eden Prairie School Board Candidate 2020
“The tipping point was Covid”
“This year, what ended up being the tipping point was Covid,” says Beth Fletcher, one of the candidates this year for Eden Prairie’s school board. “We’re making decisions on the fly, everything is changing, and we need good people to help make those good decisions. So that’s why I decided to run this year.”
For Fletcher, the events of Covid brought to the spotlight where the biggest issues and room for improvement were.“There’s a discrepancy of inequality in our district, and Covid amplified that,” she says, specifically shown from kids learning from home.
“With everything changing so fast, Covid showed us that we need to do some improvement on how our district communicates,” she adds. Financial strains and students leaving the district are other concerns that she noticed rising. “Covid brought those things to the forefront more than they have been in the past.”
Seeing all the struggles the district may face in these times, she hopes to bring her ability as a past teacher, current mom, and good listener to use.
“I think a growth mindset right now is very important,” adds Fletcher. “Having that mindset–thinking, ‘we can make things better. We can do this. It’s not perfect yet, but we’re going to get there.’”
A long-time involvement in education
Involvement in education has always played a big role in Fletcher’s life. She taught as a math teacher at Chaska for almost nine years and ran the PTO at Prairie View for four years. Making a switch to become part of the school board member would only feel natural.
“I got really involved in schools, kids’ lives, and teaching. I love kids, and I love teaching. So when people said, ‘we need some good people to run for school board,’ I thought, ‘that’d be a good fit.’”
“It’s time. I care about our district, school, teachers, and kids. It seems like the right thing to do.”
She finds that her background as a teacher broadens her perspective of how the district functions.
“I know how much heart every teacher puts into what they do every day,” says Fletcher. “Having been in the classroom–that’s a huge influence because that’s where my heart is. I’m wanting the best for every kid.”
Aside from that, she also knows certain useful information that only a teacher could: She remembers the academic national and statewide standards. She knows how parents interact with schools from conferences. She understands how district offices work within the building.
On top of that, says Fletcher, she understands how to communicate with teachers. This is a skill she thinks is especially critical at this time.
Bringing kids back to school when they can
“I think Eden Prairie’s done a great job with providing options so that people feel safe and are still able to learn during Covid. I’m very happy that they have the online option going for any family that needs to use it.”
However, from her experience as a teacher (and a mom of three), she says, “I think kids learn best when they’re at school. So as much as we can get them in, as safely as we can get them in–I’m hopeful the district is currently studying how to get the elementary kids back in full time.”
She still stresses the importance of not rushing decisions and is grateful the district is taking its time to follow safety guidelines. “We have to follow the numbers. We have to follow the guidelines.”
She also would make an effort to listen to teachers as much as she could during this time. “Anything that I could do to make sure they feel respected, and trusted and appreciated would be my goal.”
Accommodating for diversity
Fletcher values the diversity Eden Prairie has to offer. “I grew up in central Minnesota where there was zero diversity. When I came to Eden Prairie and brought my girls to Little Eagles, I was so thankful. My girls are going to have better than I have, and that was something that was huge for me.”
With that in mind, she tries to connect with residents of all races and backgrounds and understand their struggles. “I’d struggle if I moved to a country where I didn’t know the language, didn’t know the education system–being accommodating as you can and reaching out to people is a necessity.”
Building connections to bridge the achievement gap
“The students can’t fix it themselves, that’s for sure. So it’s the district’s entire role of doing that,” says Fletcher about the achievement gap. “They’ve made some improvements over the years, from the numbers that I’ve seen. It’s narrowing. Is it perfect? No. Is there room for improvement? Yes.”
For a short-term solution to get kids to graduate, says Fletcher, “as a teacher, I would say they need to continue to identify the kids that need the help the most. Ask how do we find them? What assessments do we use?”
Her next step is to build relationships. “If those kids are truly struggling, relationships are huge. They need to feel connected. They need to feel like education is important.”
“We need to make sure where we’re building relationships with their families and using community resources. We need to find out if there are any areas of their educational life or family life that we can support to give them a better chance of graduating from high school.”
If the student receives education that hasn’t been working for them since kindergarten, says Fletcher, then the school needs to ask themselves and figure out why.
For the more ideal long-term solution, Fletcher says to make sure to invest resources for all children’s early childhood. Preschool, sharing the importance of education, and low class sizes are ways they should do or keep doing that, she says.
She likes how the district made the preschool equally accessible to low-income families and supports integrating into the elementary school, but she thinks they could do more advertising. “Make sure it gets out there how high-quality they are why they’re needed.”
Fletcher acknowledges that there’s no fast fix. “We have to make sure that we are being thoughtful, understand that this is going to take time, but we need to put the energy and effort into it.”
Transparency and communication is a necessity
For Fletcher, transparency is necessary and also not difficult. After all, says Fletcher, she’s always been one to say her mind. “I’m very upfront and honest. I’m very transparent on everything.”
Besides, she says, “there’s no reason to hide anything when you’re doing good things.”
“You have to have transparency when you’re elected,” she says. “You are representing every family, every taxpayer, every person in this community, and schools affect all of them.”
She says the board should be able to answer questions and justify decisions. “Even if it’s a small decision it may affect someone in a certain way. So we need to be confident to say, ‘here’s why we made that decision, and here’s why I think it’s the best decision for our district.’”
“Communications need to improve. We need to make sure we’re getting to everyone. We need to make sure it’s easy to access. Involve all the parties and reach out to everyone.”
Right now, as a candidate, Fletcher has organized meet and greets and visits across Eden Prairie. “I’ve been talking to families all over our community of all backgrounds and all types seeking information to find out, ‘what do you love about our district? What do you think could be improved about our district?’”
She wants to continue these meetings on the school board and make sure information reaches everyone. “If I need to go somewhere, do something to meet those needs, I’m happy to do it.”
She thinks the school board needs to be thoughtful about communicating with all families, especially non-English speaking families. “Are we translating enough? Is email the best format of communication?”
To answer that, she says what’s needed is “a lot of community outreach to figure out what the best method is to reach all of our families.”
Through all the ways they communicate, says Fletcher, celebrate successes but also share struggles. “Even though we have issues, it’s not going to bring us down. We need to celebrate those great things while we’re working on the things that need improvement.”
Get more information about the candidate:
Watch her answers on the school board candidate forum: https://eden-prairie.granicus.com/player/clip/1518?view_id=3&redirect=true
Read her written questionnaire with the Eden Prairie Local News: https://www.eplocalnews.org/2020/09/26/eden-prairie-school-board-election-2020-candidate-questionnaire-beth-fletcher/
Check out updates on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BethforEP/