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Dan Tjornehoj reflects on 21 years on school board

School board member Dan Tjornehoj, center, was honored for 21 years of service to the Hudson Board of Education at the recent Wisconsin Association of School Boards convention. He is flanked by board member Jamie Johnson, left, and board president Tom Holland. (Submitted photo)

Some might say that 21 years of public service is enough but not Dan Tjornehoj. While he has decided not to seek an unprecedented eighth term on the Hudson School Board, his name will be on the April ballot -- only this time as a candidate for the Hudson City Council.

Tjornehoj was first elected to the Hudson Board of Education in 1993 and over the past 21 years has served as a president, secretary and treasurer and on several board committees during that time. He says his experience has been a positive one and he is proud of the education students in the Hudson School District receive. He says that education including the business side of things has continually improved over the past two decades and he expects that trend to continue.

Tjornehoj says his decision to run for a council seat isn’t directly connected to his school board experience or any specific issue but more about his experience working with the council and other government entities to the mutual benefit of the community.

“Our interests are tied together and it is what we do together that will continue to keep Hudson the great place it is to live,” said Tjornehoj.

Thirty years ago he and his wife, Dr. Kris Tjornehoj, a professor at UW-River Falls and a former Hudson High School band instructor, were looking for a community with good schools, a strong local economy, lots of things to do and someplace scenic. They chose Hudson.

“People moving here today are coming for the same reasons we did. Building and maintaining a community like that takes collaboration and cooperation. Things aren’t quite the way the used to be, and maybe not as productive, but I think we are moving in the right direction and hopefully can get back on track.”

Tjornehoj has seen a lot of changes in the Hudson School District. When he first came onto the board, the middle school house concept was relatively new. It meant a total reorganization of Hudson’s secondary schools, eliminating the old junior high school and making Hudson High School 9-12.

“I am totally sold on concept of having students make that transition from elementary school into the smaller learning groups at the middle school. We know it works and so does the rest of the state. Hudson Middle School, the largest in the state, has been recognized twice as a middle school of excellence as has Dan Koch for his leadership. The overcrowding there has put a strain on things but it is something we need to work hard to preserve.”

During his tenure, there have been major additions to Hudson High School and Hudson Middle School and major remodeling at most of the elementary schools as well as the construction of Hudson Prairie Elementary and the district’s first environmentally sustainable building, River Crest Elementary. He would like to see a new district secondary school as soon as possible.

Tjornehoj has served as treasurer and on the finance committee of board for years. He says the taxpayers should be proud of the district’s sound financial footing and the stewardship of the school board and administration, specifically the work of former financial director Arnie Fett and current director Tim Erickson.

Tjornehoj said the district’s finances have presented the biggest challenge over the years as state support has fluctuated, generally in a downward trend. But despite those challenges and even through the recent recession, he said the district has one of the lowest cost per student of any district in the state, has levied well below the allowable limit for the past five years, and kept a top bond rating for borrowing purposes.

He says the district’s fund balance, which fluctuates between 25-30 percent of the annual budget, has allowed the district to weather financial challenges, avoid short term borrowing and still use some of the money to offset the cost of new secondary space.

“I know not everyone agrees that we should have the fund balance we do but in a growing district and community like ours I believe it has helped us maintain a stable financial footing,” he said.

Tjornehoj says the growth of the district and the success of its students and staff have everything to do with HSD 2025, the district’s long term strategic plan.

“Its focus on strong fundamentals, global and technology literacy, sustainability, life skills and critical thinking all correlate to what is going on now across the district. High School Learning for the Future initiatives like the advisories and STEM and Health academies, the expansion of the advanced placement classes and the success of SMART goals at all levels are evidence that we are doing now what our students need to be successful and prepared for whatever the future holds,” he said.

He hopes that district’s future continues to include an emphasis on the arts as well as the sciences and other academics.

“We don’t want to lose sight of the importance of our visual and performing arts. They are equally important to a good education,” he said.

He has high praise for the teachers and staff of the district who have continued to work on the district’s aggressive initiatives despite the impact of state’s limits on collective bargaining.

“We have asked our staff to stretch themselves like we do our students to achieve higher learning goals and continually raise the bar and they have risen to that challenge.”

Tjornehoj acknowledges that the board has come under both direct and indirect attacks by some members of the community over the years “because they felt we weren’t going in the right direction with finances and other issues.” But he believes the makeup of the board is changing that perception.

“The dynamics have changed and things are different today. I think we have more diversity on the board which is a good thing. There are good discussions that include disagreements, a little nervousness sometimes but I think we have forged some good decisions as a result.”

Tjornehoj says he will miss having a hand in the future of the Hudson School District but he is confident that he is leaving the school board in good hands.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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