Two area residents were named to the 23 member Family Engagement Cabinet of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.
The cabinet of family members will offer advice about ways to strengthen relationships between families and the educators who teach their children, according to the Wednesday announcement from State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler. The members represent nine communities with Class A schools and 12 Class B communities.
“The North Dakotans who asked to be part of this Cabinet have a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences,” Baesler said in the announcement. “It is evident from reading their applications that there is a need for more and better communication between our North Dakota educators and families. The more I learn about the backgrounds of our Cabinet members, the more excited I become about what this group can do to improve education in our schools.”
Sarah Gackle, a cabinet member from Kulm, said she applied to better understand the potential for a parent’s role in the education system. The cabinet is a way to build clear and effective communication between schools and families to strengthen those relationships, she said.
“When my oldest child started school seven years ago, I immediately felt left out of the largest part of her daily experience, and that felt uncomfortable to me,” Gackle said.
Gackle found ways to be involved with the Kulm Public School District through coaching, fundraising and event planning for the school, she said. She would like to see a more accessible role for parents who want to help schools and students succeed.
Gackle said she is also bringing a voice for the unique interests of rural schools and parents. Raising children in rural North Dakota often means parents know every person who their child comes into contact with during the school day, she said.
“Most schools are too large to even have the opportunity for this type of strong family-school relationship, and North Dakota should be capitalizing on it whenever possible,” Gackle said.
Another member, Kris Piehl, of Marion, is an administrative assistant with the Litchville-Marion High School. She has three children: a daughter with a master’s degree, a son with a two-year vocational degree and a son who is in high school.
“I feel like I have a very good grasp of what the schools are looking to improve in education for our students,” Piehl said. “I hope that I can be a good listener but also be a voice to bring new ideas to Bismarck.”
Piehl said she thought to apply after considering her involvement in education as a music booster, a member of a PTO, school advisory board, Dollars for Scholars Board, community cemetery board and church WELCA committee. Her passion is helping students who are not engaging with educational opportunities and doing the most to prepare themselves for life after school.
“I welcome anybody to open up to me,” Piehl siad. “I will listen and try to bring their concerns to Bismarck.”
The remaining 21 members include Kimberly Berdahl, Towner; DeAnn Bjornson, Fargo; Jennifer Braun, Dickinson; Jody Eckert, Bismarck; Kristi Engelstad, West Fargo; Jacqueline Frost-Hodny, Lankin; Bree Anne Hinojos, Devils Lake; Sheila Hoffman, Williston; Amanda Johnson, Bowman; Suzanne Kilichowski, Minto; Mike McHugh, Mandan; T.J. Rooney, Bismarck; Melissa Sagness, Bowbells; Jayce Schumacher, Grafton; Chantel Southam, Sherwood; Courtney Davis Souvannasacd, Grand Forks; Joy Sparks, Tioga; John Stevens, Dickinson; Maxine Thunder Hawk, Cannon Ball; Greg Vandal, Fargo; and Angie Waletzko, Lisbon.
The group will meet with Baesler every three months starting May 23. Members serve 18-month terms with a possible reappointment to a second term.