District 281’s Linda Johnson named to All-State School Board

Linda Johnson looked a little confused when her husband and daughter showed up three hours into a board meeting.

The reason why became very clear shortly thereafter. The District 281 School Board treasurer found out about being named to the All-State School Board during the Dec. 17 board meeting. The honor, described as “the highest in the state that can be bestowed on a public school board member,” is given to six board directors from the 350 districts in the state that have six to seven directors.

Johnson has served on the board for 11 years and also served on the Intermediate District 287 School Board for nine years. She also serves as a board chair at PRISM.

Board Director Patsy Green nominated Johnson for the award “because of her true dedication to serving our students, families and communities.  She is selfless and works tirelessly to ensure all are served (equitably) and that students in Robbinsdale Area Schools have the best educational opportunities possible.”

“I just want to tell everybody how thrilled I was when Patsy asked me to write a letter to (recommend) Linda,” said former Golden Valley mayor and current PRISM Vice Chair-Treasurer Linda Loomis. “I see how hard she works, and if she brings any of that dedication here, you guys are blessed to have her, as I know we are at PRISM.”

“You can’t serve on a school board for 10 years without colleagues you respect and admire, who work hard, who are leaders,” said Board Director Helen Bassett. “Linda, you have been all of that. We so appreciate you, and you are so deserving. It’s an honor to serve with you.”

“I know how much work it is to put together this binder,” Johnson said, holding the inch-thick plastic binder containing the papers used to nominate her. “I want to thank everybody that was a part of that. It takes a team to make things happen, at District 287, District 281 and PRISM. It’s the team that makes it worth together and get results. Thank you. I just enjoy being part of the teams. What an honor. I’m speechless. Almost.”

Johnson will receive her award Jan. 17 at the Minnesota School Board Association Leadership Conference in Minneapolis.

In other actions during its Dec. 17 meeting, the District 281 School Board also:

• Honored departing Board Chair Barb van Heel, who is leaving the board after 11 years of service. She did not seek reelection this fall. Van Heel was presented with a certificate and an engraved clock during a short ceremony.

“She began serving on the school board in 2001 … this is her last school board meeting,” Superintendent Aldo Sicoli said. “Barb has served in a variety of board positions. We thank Barb for her service to the Robbinsdale schools. We wish her the best, and we will miss her greatly.”

Comments from other board members were included on van Heel’s certificate, including one that rhymed (“There once was a woman named Barb/She worked for our students very hard”).

“I am going to immensely miss Barb,” Sicoli continued. “She is not afraid to make the difficult decisions that come in this role. Barb has a keen sense of what is the important work of a school board and what is work the administration should do. She respects that boundary. We have, I think, what has to be the hardest-working school board in the state. She has been doing this for many years, and that takes big commitment and sacrifice.”

Van Heel addressed those present after Sicoli had finished speaking. She thanked her family, board members, and past and present superintendents.

“I could stand here and talk about all of the decisions we made … but I would rather talk about the future,” she said. “I can say with absolute confidence that the future of Robbinsdale Area Schools is in the hands of a truly outstanding leadership team. This team I believe is second to none in the state and I can retire from this job knowing that we are headed towards great things.”

Van Heel’s last action was the adjourn the meeting later in the evening.

• Briefly discussed the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“It gives us all time to reflect on our important work that we do with these beautiful young people, and of course we have to look at what we have in place for our security procedures,” Sicoli said. “We have a good plan, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve on it. It gets updated regularly, and we will be examining it again.”

Sicoli said that the shootings had also encouraged the district to expedite some of its future improvement plans, like installing intercom systems in the schools that don’t currently have them. Sicoli said this was planned for winter break but would be done even sooner than that.

“It’s more than trying to put security measures in place,’ he said. “We all have to work together to meet the emotional needs of our students. We know that all of our staff needs to be aware of the effect that senseless events like this can have on our precious young people.”

• Observed a presentation from students and staff from the School of Engineering and the Arts. Part of the presentation included a video documenting an October science experiment to design containers to protect pumpkins enough for them to survive being dropped from buildings. One of the pumpkins was named “Billy Corgan,” after the singer from the rock band Smashing Pumpkins. None of the pumpkins survived the experiment intact.

• Unanimously approved a new energy use and conservation policy. The updated policy (first adopted in November 1996) includes operational standards like turning off lights in most unoccupied areas, turning lights off and on an hour before a school opens or closes and using natural sunlight where it is sufficient.

The administrative procedures also include a list of suggested temperatures for various rooms and the suggestion that all electronics be shut off at the end of the day.