ISD 197 candidates focus on facility needs and college readiness



All three incumbents on the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan ISD 197 school board are running for reelection. John Chandler, Stephanie Levine and Maureen Ramirez are running for the three seats up for election next month.

The Review asked the candidates via email why there are running, what skills and experiences they will bring to the office, what they believe to be the top challenges the district faces, and what issues or projects they would prioritize if elected.

Election Day is Nov. 7.


Chandler, 48, lives in Mendota Heights with his wife Pamela. He is finishing out his first four-year term on the board. Chandler is the development director for Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning. He has a bachelor’s degree in history from Louisiana State University. 

Chandler said he has been active in ISD 197 matters since January 2012 when he began service on the ISD No. 197 Educational Foundation board, participating in the strategic planning task force and middle school transition efforts, and volunteering in support of school and extra-curricular efforts.

“I am a stronger candidate than when I ran four years ago successfully, and definitely more than when I ran six years ago, unsuccessfully,” Chandler said.

He said he is the only current board member who has the perspective of having children as students at Henry Sibley High School, at one of the middle schools and one of the elementary schools.

Chandler has served as liaison to Mendota Elementary and Friendly Hills Middle School, and is currently the liaison for Pilot Knob STEM Magnet School.

He is running for re-election because he “gains inspirations to serve in this capacity by continuing the legacy by my family of teachers.”

“Many predecessors seemed to only run for one school board term and it’s possible we can accomplish more by serving longer if elected again,” Chandler said.

Challenges facing the district include long-range facility planning, developing the next strategic framework and helping the new superintendent.  

“Our facilities need attention. We need to help constituents understand the importance of supporting, and passing, a potential 2018 facilities bond referendum,” he said.

Chandler said one of the current goals with the strategic framework that is gaining more attention is getting students ready for a career or college. He said the collaborative efforts with the South St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights school districts is helping, but, “We need more community partners to help our students. Leveraging current and identifying new relationships will be critical.”


Levine, 52, lives in Mendota Heights with her husband Jimmy. She is finishing out her first four-year term on the board. She is a community volunteer and has a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Minnesota. 

Levine currently serves as the vice-chair of the board and has served as its treasurer. She said she brings her analytic skills as a pension actuary to the board, and is the parent of three students who have attended ECFE through Henry Sibley High School.

“It has been an honor and a pleasure serving our community. I am seeking a second term because I have learned so much and have gained valuable experience that I hope to utilize as we work together to best serve our students,” Levine said.

She said while the past four years have been transformative for the district, there is still work that needs to be done. Levine added that she has “no doubt we will make strides because we live in a wonderful community with fantastic families, amazing staff, committed leaders and awesome students.”

Levine said one of the biggest challenges facing the district is increasing achievement for all students at all levels, as well as closing the achievement/opportunity gap. Other challenges include updating aging facilities and financial security.  

“Our challenges are best overcome when we engage teachers and staff, parents, community and our kids. We make great things happen when we all work together,” she said.

If re-elected, Levine said she would prioritize increasing achievement for all students at all levels, which would be achieved by continuing to focus on the district’s strategic priorities. 


Ramirez, 40, lives in West St. Paul with her husband Jim Harkness. She has been on the board since she was appointed in January to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Matt Klein, who was elected to the Minnesota Legislature in November 2016. Ramirez is a community faculty member at Metropolitan State University, and she has an MBA from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. 

If elected, Ramirez said she would bring her skillset of collaborative and strategic thinking, experience in college admissions and career readiness, as well as being a regent emeritus of the University of Minnesota and a parent of students in the district. 

“I’m running for the school board because I want to go to work for our students, to ensure their schools and their community are strong,” Ramirez said.

She said she wants all students to feel welcome and be excited to learn. Ramirez said she wants staff and faculty to engage with students and families in supportive and innovative ways, and to bring teaching and learning into the 21st century.

One challenge facing the district is student achievement. Ramirez said improvements in state standardized test scores have slowed or stopped in the last year across the entire state.

“While the MCAs are not the only measure of student achievement, they provide a snapshot, and help us know where to focus attention,” Ramirez said.

Another challenge is equity, which is a core value and key challenge in the district, as well as the opportunity gap. Ramirez said with equity as a core value, the opportunity gap can be closed. 

The classrooms and buildings across the district need upgrades and redesigns to meet today’s needs, she said.

“Our schools were built for an outdated model of instruction that doesn’t fit the collaborative and personalized methods that our teachers are using today,” Ramirez said, adding there needs to be more flexible learning spaces. There also needs to be upgraded facilities to support co-curricular sports and activities, which play a crucial role in students’ connectedness to their peers and schools. 

If elected, Ramirez said she will prioritize working collaboratively with colleagues and the administration to increase student achievement and reduce the opportunity gap. 

Ramirez said she will support the administration in “providing professional development and instructional coaching for teachers to learn and adapt the best research-tested methods for increasing student achievement.” She said upgrading facilities will help improve student learning. 


Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or


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