2017 Screening Committee Questions, City of Duluth DFL—Sally Trnka
In this questionnaire, we are asking the same questions of all candidates for a given office. When we
conduct the follow-up, in-person screening, questions can, of course, depend on a candidate’s initial
answers on this questionnaire.
SCHOOL BOARD (indicate office you are seeking): At-Large ___X_____ 2 nd _______ 3 rd________
1. Why are you seeking the DFL endorsement?
• I received the most incredible education through the Duluth Public Schools. Starting off my
budding academic pursuits at Kenwood Elementary School, then moving to Grant Elementary
School (now Myers Wilkins), and graduating from Duluth Central High School. I sat in a Spanish
class when I was in third grade and knew I wanted a degree in Spanish because I was so inspired
by my Spanish teacher, Senorita Tollerud. Later, in high school, I wanted to pursue a degree in
political science because my teacher, Mrs. Nachbar, instilled a deep curiosity and passion in local
and national politics. I later earned my undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Spanish.
The passion and dedication of our teachers and leaders in the school district set me on an
incredibly enriching and fulfilling journey. My success is inextricably linked to the work that the
Duluth School Board conducts. I want others to be able to see those pathways, and be
encouraged to follow them. Now, our team of parents is raising an incredible young person in
the District. His experiences at Myers Wilkins will undoubtedly shape the person he is
Through energetic debate, meetings with our communities, and talking to constituents
(especially the ones under the voting age!) I believe firmly that we can collectively and
collaboratively enhance and support a strong educational net for Duluth’s most precious
The work that the DFL has done to engage Duluth’s citizens in progressive change—even when
it’s been hard—is admirable and necessary to support growth and I would be deeply humbled
and honored to receive your endorsement.
2. Have you been endorsed, or screened for endorsement for any other political parties, groups, or
organizations? If so, who?
• Not yet. I plan to seek other, complimentary endorsements as additional screening
opportunities become available including the Duluth Federation of Teachers, AFSCME, and other
unions and community groups.
3. Will you commit to using union materials and services for your campaign when possible? (Will
you support union represented members of staff in the Duluth public schools and work with
them to enhance our public education?)
• Yes, I commit to using union materials and services for my campaign. I will undoubtedly work
with and support union-represented members of staff in the Duluth public schools, and across
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our community, to enhance education in the district and support the strong safety net for our
children and families. Establishing relationships, building functional and healthy coalitions, and
working with staff will be a top priority both during the campaign, as well as once elected. Our
family is very much a union-supporting family and we live those principles personally,
professionally, and politically.
Setting up meetings early in the race Teacher’s union, as well as with paraprofessionals and food
service workers of ISD 709 (AFSCME local 66) where I actively listen, hear their concerns and
issues and celebrate victories will be a top priority. It is incredibly important that we face, now,
Right-To-Work with the current administration and Supreme Court make up and I look forward
to hearing their thoughts, ideas, and struggles with this challenge.
4. What do you consider the top three priorities for the Duluth Schools right now? Please place in
order of priority and state your plan to work on them.
• The social determinants of education and education equity:
Social determinants of education include the structural determinants in which people are born
and live, and include socioeconomic status, if they have a support structure, and education.
Teachers, paraprofessionals, and other educators cannot control all that goes on outside of the
walls of their classrooms, while those determinants impact the way they are able to educate
students. We need to identify opportunities to work within the schools, as well as with
community coalitions and students/families, to streamline access to services (e.g. mental health
services) to ensure that students can learn their best while they are in our schools.
We also need to guide strategies that make education equal for all students regardless of race,
class, ability, neighborhood, gender identity or sexual orientation. I experienced first-hand what
it was like to go to a school that so strongly represented the exceptional diversity in our
community, and I’d like to work to ensure a similar experience for all Duluth students.
• Reducing the achievement and access gaps
Whether or not a student graduates in Duluth should not determine on where they live or go to
school. A variety of national groups are creating roadmaps for reducing the achievement gap to
include steps including: enhanced cultural competence, comprehensive support for students,
engaging community groups, adequate resources and strong district support. Working in
collaboration with schools, the Duluth School Board should be prioritizing the elimination of the
achievement and access gaps for all students. It is important, however, that the Board support
strategies and not become consumed in the operations of the implementation of said strategies.
There are incredibly talented and dedicated people who work in our schools and I think the
Board needs to set informed policies and make sure there are adequate resources to support
said policies, without “getting in the weeds” or making education equity a political issue. Our
students need this, our families need this, our educators need this, and our community needs
• Funding challenges:
I fear that we are sacrificing the future by holding onto the past. Duluth is a town that
sometimes honors its history and traditions, even if they no longer serve us. While we are a
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progressive community in many ways, we are holding on to nostalgia that doesn’t support
growth. I believe firmly that we need to take pragmatic looks at how to move forward as a
district given our current realities and future goals. To do that, we need to make sure that we
are a financially sustainable district which may mean hard but necessary choices with selling
buildings and properties that no longer benefit the students in the district. The people who
serve the great students of this district shouldn’t been seen as expendable when a building is
not. We need to reexamine our priorities, explore unique funding opportunities, and develop a
financial plan that will support excellent education for the children of Duluth. I anticipate that
funding challenges will continue to be a reality, but we have opportunities to mitigate those
challenges by thinking outside-the-box, engaging partners, and moving forward with a new
5. How do you see yourself working with other School Board Members? What evidence can you
give us of your ability to build coalitions to meet common goals?
• For the last decade of my career, I have worked nationally building, supporting and sustaining
healthcare collaboratives. I have worked with the Federal government and many state and local
governments and communities to support their healthcare collaborative models, and have
worked across the country helping people identify that together they are stronger.
None of us is an island onto ourselves, and by collaborating and partnering we can foster
creativity and develop stronger outcomes. The work isn’t always easy and there are bumps and
bruises along the way. I have learned how to not take dissent personally and that sometimes
we need to go to our separate corners. Having a strong business background also means that I
know how to work well across sectors, analyze data, and use qualitative and quantitative
approaches to challenges and opportunities. Presently, I am the Executive Director for a health
care network with five Federally Qualified Health Center members who collectively have 30 care
sites spanning more than 26,000 miles. Collaboration is key to their success, as it is to the
success of the Duluth School Board.
6. What are your thoughts about the reasons for the ongoing achievement gap between schools in the
• There are a lot of caring, dedicated, hardworking people in this community who all recognize the
significance of the achievement gap and are diligently working to overcome a variety of
challenges and barriers that contribute to its persistence. As long the future of our children is
preordained based on their zip code or the education level of their parents, we will need to
continue working with students and their families, along with community organizations and our
legislators to pursue community-driven solutions to systematic challenges. It is our
responsibility to ensure that all the children in our community have systems that support their
health, development and resiliency.
As a person who attended Duluth public schools, I would love to work to support that each child
has as supportive, culturally-appropriate, and inclusive education. I was blessed enough to have
that experience, and I would love to repay the school district for the incredible gifts I have been
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What will you do to address the significantly different outcomes for the children who are served in
our public schools?
• We must engage our communities and educators to develop community-driven solutions. We
need to consider The Whole Student. Teachers are stressed with overrun classrooms and not
enough resources. They are charged with supporting everything that a student brings into the
classroom with them, even if those teachers don’t have the means or the abilities to address
those challenges. We need to engage our communities across all social safety net services to
invest in the well-being of our future generations, including employing nontraditional strategies
to real and present issues.
7. How will you work to build relationships with and advocate for underrepresented and/or
marginalized communities in Duluth?
• Again, I have the Duluth Public Schools to thank for providing me with groundbreaking tools and
education around working with underrepresented populations and marginalized communities.
As a student at Duluth Central High School, I was lucky enough to be a member of a group that
fought for social justice. I took that knowledge and ran an organization in college that taught
college students on topics related to equity, social justice, and meaningful change. In my work
now, we support safetynet clinics that are providing care for the uninsured and underinsured,
many of whom have trauma that impacts their experiences with health care providers.
I don’t have all the answers and, in fact, I think it is critical that I do a lot of listening to what our
communities need, not what we proport that they need. I believe firmly that if Duluth aspires to
be a city of equal opportunity, we need to look at some hard truths. I also believe that Duluth
has incredibly dedicated, bright people who want to see this work done and together, we can
create a better future for our city.
8. What can the District do to address bullying within our schools?
• We need to ensure safe learning environments for all our students, period. This is a multifold
strategy that includes setting strict district-wide policies, properly and culturally-appropriately
training all District staff on how to address bullying, empowering parents and family members to
talk about bullying at home, and teaching students how to address bullying within the schools
and the community. Children need to feel safe for them to learn. In a time when it can feel like
bullying is glorified (or gets you elected to office), it’s more important than ever to teach respect
and the importance of safe-communities.
9. What is your position on charter schools?
I 100% support public schools. School choice is important, but the system for which charter schools are
funded and their mechanisms for making decisions creates a dual public-school system, unfairly giving a
leg up to some students and undermining the public good that is education. It can also be viewed as
taxation without representation – a non-publicly elected board making significant decisions for public
funding. I view education as a basic right and it is hugely important to protect and ensure this right for
all children and their families.
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10. Do you favor some sort of merit/performance-based pay for teachers? How would you evaluate
• There is no credible objective approach to the process; it is inherently subjective which makes it
a difficult policy to sign on to or to which much credence or time should be given. Our teachers
are already paid well below what they deserve and to make their employment more unstable
would not create for a healthy working environment for the teachers, nor a healthy learning
environment for our students. Any criteria that is based on students’ test-taking abilities I
categorically disagree with. There is so much more that goes into educating students that
impact their ability to learn (social determinants); we should encourage teachers to support
those students in their unique ways, not punish them.
11. The Duluth DFL expects that our endorsed candidates will be running as a team. Will you
commit to publicly supporting and campaigning cooperatively with the other DFL-endorsed
12. Will you abide by the endorsement of the convention and cease your campaign if someone else
• Yes. I think it’s important that the party support a unified front and that the candidates who are
endorsed partner together to work towards victory in the elections.
14. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about why we should recommend you for
• I love this city. I have traveled the country and the world and I always breathe a deep breath of
relief when I am back in this wonderful city. We have a dedicated, committed community of
people who, like me, feel very strongly about continue to work to make sure that everyone who
lives here has the same access to opportunities and advancement. Groups like the Myers
Wilkins Community School Collaborative give me continual hope that we are making great
strides in that direction. I would love to see more of that throughout the District.
Not only was I born and raised in this city, but we are now raising a member of the “next
generation” of Duluth graduates and I want him and his classmates to experience education free
of fear, with access to exceptional and supported educators, and who want to raise their
families (should they choose to have them) in this city.
I believe that the Duluth School Board can be a strong representation of what is good about
serving in public office. All politics are local politics and we can truly make a difference! What
greater gift could you give a Duluth graduate than the opportunity to make a difference in a
community I’ve lived in nearly my entire life?
I deeply appreciate the opportunity to screen for the DFL endorsement
To see my answers as well as the rest of the 2017 City of Duluth DFL Convention candidate questionnaires, visit: