By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Each year, the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) selects five to seven individual board members to the All State School Board.
This year, Kevin Dahlman, Dassel-Cokato School Board member for more than 23 years, received that honor, which the MSBA’s most prestigious award.
It is fitting that Dahlman, who will be ending his tenure as a school board member, should receive that honor this year as he chose not to run for re-election this last November.
Dahlman’s last school board meeting was Dec. 23.
“The All State School Board represents the highest example of board service. These are school board members who are committed to student achievement, determined to build support for their local schools, and unwavering in their pursuit of what’s best for students,” MSBA Executive Director Bob Meeks said.
Dahlman actually began serving DC schools three years before becoming a school board member, he said.
A customer of Dahlco Seeds, David Ortquist, who also happened to be a DC School Board Member, approached Dahlman in 1984 to be a part of the school district’s curriculum advisory council.
Dahlman agreed, then was elected to the school board in 1987.
When asked whether he ran for school board with certain goals, Dahlman said, “No, actually just the opposite. I saw it as an opportunity to serve my community, knowing that it typically takes two or three years before figuring out what is really going on with a board.”
Dahlman had always been interested in education, wanted to stay connected, and serve the public in some capacity, he said, which were all things his parents had instilled in him.
“I believe that everybody should give back to the community, and this was my way of giving back,” Dahlman said.
When Dahlman was first elected to the board, it was a time of significant growth for the district. One of the first issues he dealt with as a board member was the need for space, which is why the middle school was opened in the early 1990s, he said.
Maintaining the budget
At this point in time, the district budget is in very good standing financially, according to the audit report given at the last school board meeting.
Historically, the district has been managed well financially, Dahlman said.
“We have adequate reserves to weather the storms that are coming,” Dahlman said, referring to 2012 when federal stimulus money will run out and the impact of the $6.2 billion state deficit.
There were times when cuts have had to be made to the budget, which is never easy, Dahlman said.
In the early 2000s, renewing the levy was voted down twice, and a series of budget cuts had to be made. “It forced the district to see where money can be cut, and where it was really needed,” Dahlman said.
“The biggest reason the district is in good shape has to do with good leadership by the board and superintendent,” Dahlman said.
Open enrollment has also helped the district, with more students coming into the district than going out. “People want to bring their kids to DC because we have a high quality of education,” Dahlman said.
Maintaining a quality education for students
“Our district has done a very good job of educating the masses the middle people,” Dahlman said.
The district has good facilities that provide students with a good well-rounded education, Dahlman said, adding, “We have a good staff that is kid-caring and kid-conscious. This is expected of DC, and that’s what we deliver.”
Being a part of the Meeker and Wright Special Education Cooperative (MAWSECO) committee was a big part of Dahlman’s tenure on the school board, having been the DC representative on the committee as long as he had been on the school board.
“I get a special satisfaction seeing special education students receive the most out of their education,” Dahlman said, noting he did not know much about MAWSECO before being on the committee.
“Our special education serves a wide gamut of students with challenges. It is rewarding to see us, through various teaching methods, turn them into productive citizens,” Dahlman said.
He pointed out that 10 to 12 percent of the population receives some special education services, noting it can be expensive, but everybody deserves opportunities.
“It’s been fun and rewarding watching those kids succeed,” Dahlman said.
Dahlman noted many strengths of the DC School District, such as the curriculum, which is well-rounded and adequately prepares students for after graduation.
Another strength he noted was the technology the district has been able to provide the students, with a SMART board in every classroom.
“If we are going to teach the kids we need to teach them how they need to be taught, and today, that is with technology,” Dahlman said.
The technology the district provides its students is constantly being used and constantly changing, Dahlman said, adding, “Our technology does not collect dust.”
He credits the media instructors throughout the district for keeping up with technology and teaching others how to use it.
When asked what his thoughts were on Cokato and Dassel being named the top two places to raise your children, Dahlman replied, “I am tickled pink. I’m proud, but it is not a surprise we’ve always known it. Schools are a big component in quality of life, so it doesn’t surprise me it’s a good place to raise your kids. We’ve always known, now others are realizing it.”
Working with other board members
Dahlman is quick to point out that the board works together as a team, along with the superintendent and other support staff, and he feels uncomfortable being singled out.
“I have enjoyed working with the other school board members and learned a lot from them,” Dahlman said.
He noted that the strength of the school board has been that once it reaches a decision, it moves forward with the decision, without a lot of fighting or holding grudges.
“The strength of the district is a fairly cohesive board over time,” Dahlman said, “I leave here knowing the district is in good hands.”
Some of the board members offered their comments and remarks about Dahlman at his last school board meeting Dec. 23.
“Being new, you have been a great help. I have nothing but gratitude and good things to say about you. We haven’t always agreed, but have always been respectful,” said fellow school board member Mark Linder.
“Over all these years, I have never saw a drop in interest or dedication from you. You have been a good role model for kids. You represent the school very professionally, and you will be missed,” said fellow school board member Richard Tormanen.
“I know how proud Stanley (Dahlman’s father) would be, and I know Hazel (Dahlman’s mother) is proud. I appreciate how you give credit to the parents. I thank you for everything,” said fellow school board member Irene Bender.
“I’ve been on a lot of boards they can be brutal when not run efficiently. I appreciate your efficiency,” said fellow school board member Tracy McConkey.
“Your dedication I don’t think people realize the expectations has been incredible. Thank you,” said fellow school board member Kevin Bjork.
When asked why he did not run for school board this year, Dahlman replied, “My new job requires additional travel and responsibilities. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t shirking my school board responsibilities.”
Dahlman will still be helping coach the FFA, as he has done for the past 10 years.
Dahlman points out he will miss shaking the hands of 150 or more kids walking across the stage every spring to receive their diploma knowing he played a small part in their education.