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Meet the 2022 Perham school board candidates

School board candidates for the Perham-Dent Public School District answered a questionnaire regarding their candidacy.

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Exterior front entrance to Perham High School.
Perham Focus File Photo
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PERHAM — Six candidates are vying for four open seats on the Perham School Board this year. The candidates will appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Candidates were asked to fill out a questionnaire for the Perham Focus.

One of the candidates, Kyle M. DeVoe, declined to participate in the candidate interview process this year. Another candidate, Nathan Rooney, did not respond to several interview requests. The following is a summary of the other candidates’ responses. Candidates DJ Altstadt, Justine Anderson, Michael Hamann and John Rutten appear in alphabetical order by last name.

DJ Altstadt

DJ Altstadt, a 32-year-old commercial and industrial estimator at Esser, and a 2009 Perham High School graduate, originally chose to run for a position on the school board because he wants to make a positive impact.

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DJ Altstadt and his family
Contributed / DJ Altstadt

“I want to make sure there is representation from people who see the impact of the school on children firsthand,” he said.

A graduate of the University of Minnesota-Duluth with a mechanical engineering degree, Aldstadt later returned to the area with his wife and high school sweetheart. Together, they now have two children — Arlo, 4, and Iris, 1 ½ — and a black lab named Koda. Through his work at Esser and previous experience as an aftermarket application engineer, he spent a lot of time on estimating and project management. Because of this, he’s gained experience with budgets, costing and creative solutions.

Altstadt is also the Perham Township treasurer.

“Perham schools are great as they are,” he said, seeing no changes he’d like to make with how the district functions. He’d like to grow more acclimated to the school board process before identifying any changes. “I would like to continue that and keep the schools successful and a place that students want to be.”

Though he thinks the schools have good systems in place, he — as someone who works in HVAC — thinks air quality is the most important facility improvement to focus on at the moment. He also believes that cellphones have a time and place in society, and the same should be applied to their usage in schools. These times should be communicated, he said.

He also believes that schools see students for most of the kids’ waking hours, and it’s important for the district to take a role in helping students who need it. After the election, he hopes to get acquainted with the district quickly and keep the schools strong.

Justine Anderson

Justine Anderson is seeking a second term on the Perham School Board after first being elected in 2018. She and her husband, Chad (owner of New Horizons Realty in Perham), have two sons enrolled at Perham Public Schools: Kadin, 16, and Gabe, 11.

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Justine Anderson and her family
Contributed / Justine Anderson

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She is currently employed as chief financial officer at Perham Health, where she has worked for over 10 years. She said her experiences have made her uniquely qualified to serve for another four years.

“Even as a high schooler, I knew I would be immersed in education,” says Anderson. “This initially presented as pursuing a high school math teaching degree in college, with the hopes of becoming a school superintendent. That developed into changing professions to accounting and finding myself auditing school districts as an auditor. From there it morphed into moving to Perham and serving on the school board.

“Each phase taught me different aspects of the education world. In addition, I serve on the Empowering Kids Perham board where my passion for raising awareness and advocating for autistic and behaviorally challenged children shines. As the mom of a non-neurotypical child, my hypersensitivity to ensuring all kids receive the quality education they deserve rises to new levels.”

Anderson said she decided to seek a second term because she has a personal interest in preserving the quality of the school system as a mom and community member.

“The reality is cellphones are an integral part of our world,” she said. “Because of this, we need to find a balance between reality and risk when it comes to cellphone usage in the schools. To balance this, schools need to ensure policies are concise with classroom expectations and accountability and assist with educating kids on responsible and mature cellphone behavior."

The school district’s role in maintaining students’ mental health is an important one, she added. She believes schools have a role in promoting student well-being through supporting meaningful connections. She said students need to be healthy to learn. She mentioned that she and the school social worker started exploring different programming and partnerships for student health.

While she feels Perham is “definitely progressive” with regard to promoting college and career readiness among students, she also believes there's always room for improvement.

“Given the current trends of the labor market, we need to think differently about education and how we better prepare our youth for the world outside the confines of Perham. How can we get our kids into the workforce faster, with a more specialized skill set? How can we assist businesses with workforce shortages? How can we encourage technical college pathways or specific career certifications? How can we offer even more post-secondary options for learners pursuing bachelor and beyond degrees? All of these questions are items I think all districts need to work on.”

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Anderson adds, “I love education. I love fostering an inclusive place for all types of learners and all types of extracurricular activities. I feel I have a strong voice that can help influence change when needed, and would be happy to do this for another term! I would appreciate your vote this November.”

Michael Hamann

Dr. Michael (Mike) Hamann, a Perham resident of 48 years and a dentist, currently serves on the school board, and he hopes to do so again because he’s interested in children's and young people’s welfare as someone who was raised on assistance.

“I have been on our school board before, took some time off, am privileged to be back on ‘board’ and am seeking another term as an incumbent,” Hamann explained. “I have had the privilege of working with several different principals and superintendents and have a broad base of experiences with different leadership styles. I have been fortunate to be a team member with several boards and can use my experience to enhance the quality of education for our school district’s young people.”

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Michael Hamann
Contributed / Hamann Dentristry

Hamann was involved with coaching Perham High School girls basketball for many years. His wife, Tricia, was a Perham-Dent school teacher for 25 years, and his three daughters — Shayne, Natasha and Brooke — all attended school in the district. Two of Hamann’s grandchildren are also students in the district.

A veteran of the Vietnam War and a member of the American Legion, he also understands the dynamics of running a business through 48 years of experience. Having served in several leadership positions on dental boards and chapters throughout the years, he’s currently the treasurer of the West Central Dental Society and also a member of the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce and Calvary Lutheran Church.

"I care about our students and like to see programs and services that help our students succeed in school and in their career choices,” Hamann said. He wants Perham schools to be safe, and he believes that the mental health of students is paramount. According to him, support needs to be available to students.

"It must be made clear to our kids, through speakers, workshops and classroom meetings, that they should feel safe and not be chastised by approaching a staff member for advice or help,” he said. “We must have appropriate numbers of staff and specialists to address the needs of our diverse school population. I have served on the Rural Education Committee and collaborate with colleagues on rural education issues. It is extremely important that the smaller school districts like Perham have access to services, programs and grants that abound in Minnesota’s metro areas.”

Regarding cellphone usage, Hamann believes elementary and middle school students need supervision and rules and should leave their phones in their lockers or only use them under supervision or at designated times. When it comes to high school students, he said individual teachers should determine guidelines.

Hamann would also like to see individual learning plans for each student to ensure their success. He believes every student should be monitored and have the curriculum adjusted to see if they’re progressing, meeting graduation standards and attaining their individual goals.

“I want to keep our schools safe as much as possible and constantly review our policies to ensure the well-being of our staff and students,” he said. "Students need to feel safe and secure in their school’s setting, and friendship circles need to be constantly encouraged. There should be zero tolerance for bullying.”

John Rutten

John Rutten, 65, originally decided to run for a position on the school board because he feels he has life experience that would provide a valuable perspective for Perham schools. As the community is growing more diverse, he believes everyone needs to approach their neighbors with curiosity and compassion.

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John Rutten
Contributed / John Rutten

“I spent most of my working career in schools. I believe I know them very well,” Rutten said. “I have had the privilege of working with wonderful students, families and staff members my whole life. I believe I have a unique perspective and my own biases on how things should work to help us all help young people to develop into their most integrated selves.”

Rutten was an educator for his whole career and worked in El Salvador, Bolivia, Pakistan, Heart of the Lakes Elementary and Perham High School. He also worked in Saudi Arabia and at the Moorhead Detention Center. He lives in the area with his wife, Cheryl, who’s a special education teacher at Prairie Wind Middle School.

Through his years as an educator, he finds cellphone usage to be an interesting conundrum.

“On the one hand, a mobile phone is a powerful tool. On the other it is a powerful distraction that saps hours of what might otherwise be constructive time from the user,” he said. He mentioned that Professor Jonathan Haidt from New York University studied this phenomenon and found that phones can affect teens negatively in regard to suicide, eating disorders and other behaviors.

While he doesn’t believe he’d like phones to be completely banned from campus, he thinks that a community task force should study the practice and search for reasonable solutions.

“Having been away from the school system for some time, I have little to criticize,” Rutten said. “I do believe that a deep dive into the food service program is warranted due to the fact that how we fuel our bodies has a huge impact on behavior, academics and attendance.”

As a former counselor, Rutten is also an advocate for best-practice mental health. He believes people in need of help shouldn’t have to make it on their own.

“Every person deserves to be seen, heard and receive the dignity of humanness from everyone else,” he said. “The district should invest as best they can into staff development to give the staff the tools they need to make sure our students are given the mental health support that they deserve.”

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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