Interview with CJ Strehl: Eden Prairie School Board Candidate 2020
It starts with the kids
“It starts with my kids, and wanting them to have a fantastic academic opportunity,” says CJ Strehl on why he’s running for school board.
“My kids’ education is really important, and the education of everybody in the community is really important,” says Strehl. “When you have kids in the district, you recognize the value that’s coming from the district for the taxes you pay.”
Bringing a strong background in finance
Strehl predicts budget cuts will be a problem for the next years, and he believes his knowledge from prior financial careers will come in handy. He’s the only candidate with this specified experience, he adds.
When it comes to making budget decisions, he plans to bring the necessary questions that he thinks other board members might be too uncertain to ask. “In order to provide oversight to the administration, you’ve gotta know the ins-and-outs of the finances,” he explains.
He wants to put in the time and creativity to find the best budgetary options. His goal is to make those struggles unnoticeable. “It’s really hard to say how you [students] will be affected, other than to say if we do a great job, you won’t.”
“That’s what the next school board will have to look at, and I’m willing to peel it all back and see what we have to do.”
Getting out and listening
“For me, one of the most important things is to get out and listen,” Strehl says. “I have opinions. I have ideas. I know what I believe, but when you decide to run, especially for a non-partisan office, you’re running to represent everyone in the community.”
“I’m running to represent kids in school, their parents, people who don’t have kids in school anymore: everybody. And so it starts with listening.” It can be difficult to find the time for it, he says, but it’s worth it. He hopes to continue reaching out, and on top of that, use the feedback if he’s part of the school board.
He chats about concerns regularly with residents at the usual events he attends, like his kids’ soccer games and Cub Scouts events.
As for talking with the minority communities of the city, he struggles a little more to find regular interaction with them, but he’s using what connections he has to reach out and listen.
“I try to find friends I do have that are in those communities, and I ask them, ‘Would you be willing to get together a group of folks to meet with me?’”
“I think that I’m working on it. I feel like I’m making progress,” he says.
“All the data and stuff–to me that’s easy. The hard part is getting together the different voices and trying to figure out how all those voices need to inform your decisions and how that might change what you initially thought.”
Being aware of technology and mental health
In the age of online learning, Strehl feels like mental health needs a new focus in discussions. “Right now, I’m really worried about kids, because when we spend more time in front of a screen, and with less time together, we begin to lose our connectedness and our relationships.”
“I want to do everything I can to highlight that we have this risk of being disconnected, and I think that we need to start talking about it as a school board. Even though we have all this amazing technology and we’re dealing with Covid and we’re delivering education, are we doing it in a way that makes our kids feel connected to each other and the community? Or are we doing it in a way that allows them to isolate themselves? And what are the consequences and risks of that?”
In addition to distance learning, Strehl sees a need to look more deeply into the overall possible effects of generally increasing technology use. He hopes to be a voice for those concerns on the school board.
Recruiting diverse teachers, then making them part of the community
Strehl has a background and passion for recruiting. So when it comes to recruiting teachers of color, he sees the importance and a plan.
He points out that compared to other districts around us, the teacher make-up is diverse, although he does think it’s not enough to reflect the diversity of the students. “The question is not, ‘should we?’, I think the question is ‘how?’” he says.
From his research, Strehl is aware of the barriers that make it difficult to recruit teachers in Minnesota. His first step would be to look in different areas, whether that be the existing ethnic groups in Minnesota or communities from across the country.
After convincing the teachers to come here, he thinks there should be a focus on retaining them. Part of that, Strehl believes, means making them part of the community. “You’ve got to find out what they do so that you can connect them to other folks in the community. So that they feel like this is home,” says Strehl.
“Any time that we lose a teacher, we’ve got to understand exactly why they left,” he adds. “Is it because they found a better opportunity? Was it because they didn’t feel connected?“
Transparency in the achievement gap
“The boards’ job is to make sure that every single kid graduates,” says Strehl. “ If we have an achievement gap we’re not doing our job. We might be doing it for some people, but we’re not doing it for everyone.”
He thinks the district can and should improve. “I can tell you flat out, we did not get our expectation done in 2019. We did not meet our own agenda,” explains Strehl.
A crucial (and missing) part of the solution, says Strehl, is transparency. To him, that means making it clear to everyone that there’s a problem, and doing that by sharing the ENDS Report.
The ENDS Report is a collection of stats and data published by the school board every year with measurements of students’ post high school readiness. In other words, the ENDS Report has essential information about the goals and reality of the achievement gap, and according to Strehl, “the average person is not going to go and look at them.”
“If you saw a little thing that said ‘click here for ENDS Report’ would you know that that’s where the key performance indicators are?” he asks before answering himself.“No!”
He wants to fix the lack of accessibility to this data, whether that be by sharing the information in mail handout updates or making a dashboard showing key measurements that represent the districts’ goals. “Make it simple so that we can easily communicate it to our parents, to the community. Let them know where we’re at,” explains Strehl. “The point is to not hide in the ENDS report.”
Strehl emphasizes the importance of transparency about the achievement gap for a few reasons. For one thing, it promotes accountability and truthfulness to the families affected by inequities.
For another, he hopes this knowledge will inspire the rest of the community to care as well. “there’s a lot of people who probably have no idea about how we’re actually performing,” says Strehl.
He believes people who know will want to help, whether that be by volunteering or supporting decisions to close the gap.
“If you want to achieve your goals, you have to have everybody pulling in the same direction. And if not everybody knows that we’re not headed in the right direction, there are a lot of people sitting on the train, going down the train track thinking everything’s fine while a bunch of people just got left on the station. I think the people in Eden Prairie want everybody on the train, want everybody in the right direction. And they want to say hold up, let’s wait, let’s get everybody on board, let’s succeed.”
Get more information about the candidate:
Watch his answers on the school board candidate forum: https://eden-prairie.granicus.com/player/clip/1518?view_id=3&redirect=true
Read his written questionnaire with the Eden Prairie Local News: https://www.eplocalnews.org/2020/09/26/eden-prairie-school-board-election-2020-candidate-questionnaire-c-j-strehl/#prettyPhoto
Visit his website here to learn more about his background and where he stands on a variety of issues: https://www.cjstrehl4ep.com/
Check out updates on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CJ4SchoolBoard/