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Supporters for opposing school board candidates campaign ahead of upcoming primary election

Although school board members are elected as individuals, the two groups essentially have been positioned in opposition to one another, and differ in opinions on most issues.

Rochester Public Schools
Tom Theismann, left, and Jan Throndson, with opposing views, talk to one another as people march in regards to the upcoming election on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022 outside the Edison Administration Building in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — With just a week before the primary election, supporters for competing school board candidates gathered at the Edison Building to reinforce their messages.

The supporters belonged to one of two camps: those supporting the incumbents, and those supporting the bloc of four conservative candidates. Although school board members are elected as nonpartisan individuals, the two groups essentially have positioned themselves in opposition to one another, and differ in opinions on most issues.

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One of the supporters for the conservative bloc, Jan Throndson, pulled a digital signboard on a trailer behind his vehicle and parked along the street. The sign rotated through a couple different messages, such as “Vote for your children, August 9 primary.”

“We need change in our school board,” Throndson said. “We need to take our school system back and start teaching reading, writing and arithmetic and get out of the wokeness.”

Throndson said another thing important to him is to have more parental voice and involvement in the school system.

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Another supporter for the conservative bloc, Dave Sprenger, voiced concern about what he sees as inconsistent messaging from the incumbents about the district’s finances and the way they dealt with the district’s deficit.

The four members of the bloc include Elena Niehoff, Kim Rishavy, Rae Parker, and John Whelan.

Others walked up and down the sidewalks, carrying signs that said “Vote Incumbents” or held signs that bore the candidates’ individual names.

“This is the last board meeting before the primary election, and so we wanted to show that there really are people who very seriously support the incumbents,” Marilyn Theismann said. “It’s a challenging time in education. We value their experience and knowledge and we think they should continue on the board… they are looking for the good of the entire district always.”

Another supporter, Betty Danielson, reiterated the incumbents' experience, saying they have the right information and have worked well with the superintendent.

Rochester Public Schools
Willi Noser, 8, sits in a vehicle as those in support of the incumbents march past on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, outside the Edison Administration Building in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

The incumbents include Cathy Nathan, Julie Workman and Jean Marvin.

The fourth incumbent, Melissa Amundsen, is not seeking re-election but has publicly supported candidate Justin Cook. Other candidates not associated with either group include Abdullahi Omar Yusuf, Patrick Farmer and A. Mohamed “Chief.”

Rochester Public Schools
Retired teachers in support of incumbents, Cathy Nathan, Jean Marvin, and Julie Workman march past those in support of Britt Noser for Mayor and candidates for Rochester School Board, Elena Niehoff, Rae Parker, and Kim Rishavy on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022 outside the Edison Administration Building in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

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The Candidates

As listed by the Minnesota Secretary of State:

Position 2:

  • Justin Cook
  • Rae Parker 
  • Abdullahi Omar Yusuf

Position 4:

  • John Whelan 
  • Julie Workman 

Position 5:

  • A. Mohamed “Chief”
  • Jean Marvin 
  • Kimberly Rishavy 

Position 6:

  • Patrick Farmer 
  • Cathy Nathan 
  • Elena Niehoff
Rochester Public Schools
Retired teachers march on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in support of incumbents in the upcoming election outside the Edison Administration Building in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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