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MINNETONKA — Hopkins School Board candidates discussed topics of diversity, school start times, open enrollment and more at a recent forum hosted by the League of Women Voters-Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Hopkins.

The forum, held Wednesday, Sept. 25, in the Minnetonka City Council chambers, was moderated by Debby McNeil, of the League of Women Voters.

Each candidate introduced themselves and were asked a series of questions from the audience and those submitted online.

One of the major topics discussed at the forum was diversity and how to better serve students of color within the Hopkins School District.

“I think it’s very important for teachers to speak to people of color and be part of programs where they will understand another person’s experience,” candidate Tanya Khan said during the forum. “We have a lot of diverse students in our district — putting them in a position where they could speak to teachers and tell their story would be another thing that would help teachers understand.”

The candidates all agreed that while Hopkins was doing well with serving its diverse students, it could be doing better.

“I think some of the most pressing issues in the Hopkins School District have to do with vigilant equity and breaking apart service silos and that is one of the wonderful ways that community education comes in,” candidate Shannon Andreson said. “They did a wonderful thing this summer where they blended their summer school options with their Camp Royal. So improving access for students who would normally be a summer school to get these enrichment opportunities that are provided through community ed is really a wonderful way to address these issues.”

Open enrollment was another hot topic at the forum and the issue of parents within the Hopkins School District choosing to enroll their students in the Edina or Minnetonka School District.

“One of the ways I’ve been engaging in the three years I’ve lived in the district is reaching out to my Edina neighbors to figure out why are they open enrolling in Edina,” candidate Benjamin Karls said during the forum. “What is the barrier that the green wall is providing and then the people open enrolling to Minnetonka? Why are they leaving when we offer a world-class educational experience with diverse learners?”

All of the candidates praised Hopkins Superintendent Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed and her Vision 2031 plan.

“I think one thing we’re seeing with declining enrollment is we’re changing the way we’re doing school and any time you change the way you do school, which is very much a part of vision 2031, people will take notice, and once people take notice, they start to listen and hear, and they are starting to hear better things about Hopkins,” candidate Kris Newcomer said during the forum.

One topic that saw some disagreement from candidates was that of changing start times for high school students in response to studies that show high school students learn better when they get more sleep and sleep in later.

“Yes, we need to change the start times, Edina did it 20 years ago, 10 years ago, something like that,” candidate Steve Adams said. “Wayzata did it, I think last year. St. Louis Park is going to do it starting next year. So there are improvement models. But for me, the research really tells a story. I’ve actually read that study by the Minnesota Sleep Institute, believe it or not, that tells how student achievement increases with a later start time for secondary students so I’m in favor of it.”

Other candidates were generally supportive of changing start times but brought up issues of how changing start times would affect the start times of other schools and parent job start times, community education, sports and more.

After the questions, the candidates were given one minute to give their closing remarks to the voters listening in the room and online.

Frances Stevenson is a reporter for the Lakeshore Weekly News, covering the communities around Lake Minnetonka.

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