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Annie Mumgaard doesn’t want to stop now, not after she's spent the last four years navigating the learning curve that comes with the title of Lincoln Board of Education member.

Ladder, really, not a curve, she said. More of a steep incline than a gentle slope.

Plus, the native Lincolnite who grew up on the north end of town, went to the East Coast for more than a decade and then moved back, said she thinks it’s important that she still has children attending Lincoln Public Schools. If she's reelected, she will be the only board member with children at LPS.

“I’ve learned so much,” she said. “I need to leverage both things — my four years of experience and having kids in school. ... It would be really unfair to the community not to run again.”

That’s part of what she’s learning about being a community leader, said Mumgaard, who is pitted against challenger Paul Claus in the May 7 general election. Their race in District 4 covers areas of north-central Lincoln.

Mumgaard, 56, hadn’t considered running for office before she did so four years ago, but it was a sense of service (and maybe adventure) that prompted her to spend a year after she’d graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps.

“I would say that I do come from a deep sense of service,” she said. “I did not have a dream of being an elected public official, but it’s partly why I chose to do it again. ... Now I figured it out.”

During her year with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, she worked at a shelter for pregnant teens in Wilmington, Delaware, then became communications director for the volunteer corps in Washington, D.C.

She spent more than a decade on the East Coast, working as a national producer for the American Red Cross, then earning her master’s degree in creative arts and learning from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

She met Curtis Olson during her time in Washington, and the two decided to move back to Nebraska and the north Lincoln neighborhood where Mumgaard grew up and attended Belmont Elementary School, Goodrich Middle School and Lincoln High School.

She and Olson married, had two children and she worked for UNL communications, then at NET, where she produced several films and documentaries. Now, she’s the virtual-learning coordinator for Morrill Hall.

She has a senior at Lincoln High and a seventh grader at Culler Middle School.

As a parent, she has to access services much differently than board members, she said, and it gives her an on-the-ground view of the policies and initiatives the board oversees.

When her daughter was preparing to take the ACT, Mumgaard knew LPS offered a class, but neither she nor her daughter could find it. She shared that with LPS officials, she said.

“The way in which I as a parent need to understand how the classroom works helps inform how the overall system is working,” she said.

As for that board member learning curve, she now knows the value of data and how to use it, she said. She’s also learned the value of the committees the board members work on, and that LPS has an excellent executive staff.

She’s realized how important it is to work well with fellow board members, she said, and what a big impact local government can have — and that when people show up they can influence policy.

“Before being on the board I don’t think I really understood the value of the school board,” she said. “The reason I’m running again is because we have some really important decisions to make for the children of the future and that takes a lot of understanding of the back story. And learning the back story is very time-consuming.”

Among those issues, Mumgaard said, are how to deal with the city’s growth and crowded schools and how to make education equitable for all students.

“LPS has a lot of things figured out,” she said. Their buildings are in good condition, their teachers are highly qualified, their curriculum is good.

“That’s why I enjoy being on the board,” she said. “Because then you can work on the ... the big picture of equity.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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