Minneapolis voters will be voting for two at-large school board members on Aug. 9. The top four candidates from the primary will move onto the Nov. 8 general election. Voters in the Board of Education's Districts 1, 3, and 5 will also be electing one school board member for their respective district. On Aug. 9, District 5 voters will be choosing one District 5 school board candidate and the top two candidates will advance to the Nov. 8 general election. District 1 and 3 voters will not be voting for a district candidate in the primary because there is only one candidate in those districts. Voters will vote for them in the Nov. 8 general election.

A few weeks ago, we asked our readers what they wanted to know about the candidates for the office. We sent a few of their questions to each of the campaigns and listed their answers below in the order in which we received them (organized by district or at-large). Every candidate has been emailed, with reminders, about our questionnaire. When we receive submissions from Abdul Abdi, Collin Beachy (recovering from COVID-19), and Lisa Skjefte, we will update this guide.

The primary election takes place on Aug. 9. Here's some information on how to register to vote, check your registration status, or find your polling place. You can register to vote in-person at your polling place on Election Day.

At-large candidates

For the Aug. 9 primary, voters vote for two at-large candidate. The top four candidates will advance to the general election in November.

Harley Meyer

www.harley4sb.com

Key endorsements: Harley Meyer, friends, family and classmates. The only endorsements that matter in a non-partisan race.

Projections for enrollment in the city’s school public system continue to fall. What do you plan to do to help raise enrollment? How will you advocate and hold the district accountable for increasing enrollment?

Close the achievement gap in reading and math; students will come to MPS. I have the experience and knowledge to walk in today and turn reading, writing and math education around by 180 degrees for about 95% of the students, including ELL students. I can easily identify which curriculum works best, what support is needed and how certain subjects should be taught. I have taken 5th grade ELL students, who could not read English, and had them reading at the first grade level in one month. I have taken 5th grade ELL students from one step algebraic equations to radicals (11th grade math) in one semester with an 80 minute block schedule. Along the way they learned to graph equations of a line and parabolas. Radicals are like exponents except the exponent part is a fraction. When they finished learning with me their mathematical maturity was like a good student in the 8th or 9th grade. We all know that if ELL students can have this type of success, the rest of the students can excel as well. I can do this because I spent 10+ years conducting research in language acquisition and discovered/developed a way to teach high school algebra to elementary school students. In other words, I have personal hands on experience to close the achievement gap in math, reading and writing. Which means no one in the district can pull the wool over my eyes to bamboozle the board with a dog-n-pony curriculum presentation.

If you are elected in November, what specific changes would you make to address the ongoing gap between revenue and the cost of operating the district in its current form? In particular, how would you approach budgeting for the 2024-25 school year when the temporary COVID relief funds will have already been spent?

See the answer to the question above regarding enrollment and the answer to the question below regarding closed school buildings.

The search for a new superintendent may be a major opportunity for you as a board member to shape the future of Minneapolis Public Schools. What will be the primary qualities you’ll be looking for in candidates during the search?

Everyone thinks a new superintendent will change the direction of the school district, that is not correct. As long as entrenched bureaucrats are left in the administration they will undermine another superintendent. With that said, the superintendent qualities I will look for are:  a hardworking individual, a problem solver, honest, good people skills, knowledgeable about a broad range of school issues, accomplished, and a good steward of the public school system.

What will you do to rebuild the relationship between the district and educators?

Rebuilding the relationship between the district and the educators is an exercise in futility. I think it best to continue to clean house at the district to get rid of those deeply entrenched bureaucrats who have no interest in what the educators have to deal with on a daily basis. Allowing building staff to make more decisions at the school level as opposed to being dictated from district will be a big step in the right direction for everyone. Another important piece needed for the educators is to make sure they have curriculum that can help close the achievement gap.

How will you engage with families when making major decisions for their children’s schools?

Currently, MPS is really struggling with family engagement since it has shot itself in the foot so many times. It will take an effort to get families engaged with the district. Closing the achievement gap in math and reading are major decisions that parents will support. These are major decisions that are non-negotiable from perspective. By closing the achievement gap more parents will be more inclined to be involved in the district. It will also move the district away from the fiscal cliff and any talks about school closings. Any other major decisions that come before the board, I am open to listen to everyone's concerns. I expect no less from the other board members.

St. Paul closed school buildings when they were faced with a decline in enrollment. Is this an approach that you think will be necessary in Minneapolis?

The most immediate concern for the Fall term will be staffing and how that will affect our students. The district will not need to face school closing, if the waste can get cleaned up and we start to close the achievement gap. Examples of the millions wasted:  Millions spent on laptops yet let too many students be off task during computer lessons. Capital improvements, replacing things that don’t need to be replaced. Example, middle school front entrance was unnecessarily replaced. Purchases of office supplies, office furniture and manipulative is another area of waste. One elementary school’s basement has a storage area (half the size of a football field) filled with manipulatives, office furniture and office supplies. Cafeteria staff report 20% to 30% of the food is wasted. I’ve seen kindergartners come into the classroom, pick-up their breakfast and toss it into the trash. The district's reading curriculum is the worst, yet they insist on keeping it and paying for these additional support services instead of fixing the problem to close the achievement gap. The June 14 elementary math curriculum adoption presentation to the board was extremely deceptive. The field test was skipped, reducing the number of schools/teachers to provide feedback. They misrepresented statistics about how well students liked different aspects of the curriculum, provided misleading information about family engagement and gave lip service to the Latino teachers. One board was unable to see the curriculum. The adopted elementary math curriculum will not close the achievement gap.

What is your opinion on the Comprehensive District Design, in its original purposes and how it’s been implemented?

On day one Superintendent Graff was in over his head with his head in the clouds promoting his "look at every student as an individual" philosophy. He wanted to understand each of their stories. He was not prepared to face the challenges on day one and the purported purpose of the CDD was nothing but a ruse to hide Graff's desperation by this time. The CDD was just another one of his disasters. Ed Graff as superintendent is a textbook case for the perils of white privilege when he held false beliefs of his competency. Unfortunately, we are stuck with the CDD. I will do everything in my capacity to make the CDD work by ensuring we close the achievement gap in math and reading.

Sonya Emerick

www.SonyaForMPS.com

Key endorsements: Socialist Party USA, Wendell Britt Jr. (author of “Mastering the Game of Allyship”), Maren Christenson Hofer (Executive Director, Multicultural Autism Action Network), Ms. Sarah Washington (Community Organizer), MPS Educators, Parents and Community Stakeholders.

Projections for enrollment in the city’s school public system continue to fall. What do you plan to do to help raise enrollment? How will you advocate and hold the district accountable for increasing enrollment?

MPS systematically pushes a significant number of students out of our district. I know because I have experienced it with my child, and because I have spoken to countless caregivers and parents who have also faced this devastating situation. We need to identify and address the structural inequities that are causing student push out, particularly for BIPOC students, students receiving special education, and county systems-involved students. We must examine the financial, enrollment, and equity impacts of segregated, ALC, and out of district placements for students who desire enrollment but who we choose not to serve. Recruiting students and families to a district that does not provide equitable and culturally sustaining education is bad faith leadership. We need to address the systems that fail our students and correct them, and only then is it appropriate to ask those stakeholders who have been harmed to consider giving MPS an opportunity to repair and rebuild.

What specific changes would you make to address the ongoing gap between revenue and operating costs that the district faces, especially in the 2024-25 school year when the temporary COVID relief funds will have already been spent?

Community and intergovernmental partnerships are extremely important to the financial health of the district. I would ensure that MPS utilizes every opportunity available for partnership across sectors to bring programming and services to our MPS community. For example, Hennepin County Educational Support Services can provide individualized supports to youth from households with county systems-involvement. The Hennepin County library system has an array of successful and culturally sustaining literacy programs that could support differentiation and remediation efforts, particularly for older students. The new Family Response and Stabilization Service provides low-barrier, immediate access to supports pertaining to youth mental and behavioral health crisis stabilization delivered by culturally relevant community partners without pushing families into unwanted systems involvement. There are many opportunities like these examples available, and MPS must leverage all resources for the well-being of our students and our budget.

I also expect that a significant part of my role as School Board Director would be organizing statewide to lobby the legislature to fully fund public education, especially by closing the ELL and Special Education cross subsidies. I have testified to the legislature multiple times this year on behalf of this cause, and I would expand that work in partnership with my fellow School Board directors, the various MPS unions, and aligned bodies across Minnesota.

The search for a new superintendent may be a major opportunity for you as a board member to shape the future of Minneapolis Public Schools. What will be the primary qualities you’ll be looking for in candidates during the search?

My highest priority for a new Superintendent is finding someone with the will and leadership qualities needed to meaningfully and effectively implement the MPS Climate Framework at every site and across stakeholder groups in service of dismantling racism and related forms of oppression in the district.

It is both ineffective and cruel to expect that the kinds of significant academic gains students of color and Indigenous students deserve can be accomplished by children who are actively trying to survive oppression in their places of learning.

The Climate Framework was developed in partnership with impacted communities via the Parent Participatory Evaluation process, but—in part because of Covid interruptions—still requires implementation with integrity, including measurable metrics, clarity about data and progress tracking, and transparency pertaining to effectiveness. It’s time for leadership to commit to bringing our school communities together to co-create meaningful metrics for implementation so that every student, including and especially students of color and Indigenous students, have access to safe, affirming, and relevant educational spaces where they have the opportunity to learn from well-supported, highly skilled educators who racially and culturally mirror them.

Disabled students, students receiving special education services, and their families need the values explicitly named in the Framework to apply across the evaluation, IEP, placement, and instruction processes in order to experience inclusion that explicitly celebrates and values disability as a form of human diversity that adds value to our communities and carries a powerful history, narrative, and legacy that all students deserve to learn about.

What will you do to rebuild the relationship between the district and educators?

Educators need to be treated like skilled professionals, and they need to see leadership fighting HARD for state funding to increase their wages and address working conditions. MPS administration needs to establish a track record proving that they will listen to and believe educators’ reports of their experiences, needs, and difficulties and that they will step up to provide for them—through creating out-of-the-box solutions, putting pressure on the legislature to fully fund our mandated services and invest in our state’s future, and negotiating in good faith at the bargaining table.

Our educators are the stewards of our children’s academic experiences and successes, and often the first responders when our students are struggling. We rely on them to be high quality and efficacious instructors and to deliver social and emotional education that is effective, strengths-based, and anti-racist. We need to equip them to succeed not just with professional development opportunities, but with livable wages, manageable class sizes and caseloads, built out support services, and reliable prep and due process time.

How will you engage with families when making major decisions for their childrens’ schools?

Lack of successful family engagement requires a number of solutions working in concert. The mechanism required to inform parents about changes to transportation on a daily basis will not be the same mechanism required to gather perspectives and concerns from key stakeholder groups as part of a policy evaluation process, and a different mechanism is required to communicate the impact of a changing curricular framework on academic performance data. These tasks are connected, though, if for no other reason then lack of effective communication or transparency in one area has the capacity to damage trust and relationships in all areas.

Recent district-wide climate work has provided the opportunity to explore the Parent Participatory Evaluation framework as a viable, effective practice to gather community ideas, perspectives, and feedback. I am very interested to expanding the use of this framework to more stakeholders and more stakeholder groups in service of identifying what is working for families and what is not as far as communication and engagement modes and procedures. A top-down solution from district leadership is not going to durably address engagement. We should expand what is working—the PPE framework—to support grassroots engagement infrastructure so that we can develop strategies that will work long term to ensure all families are getting the information and opportunities for involvement they need and deserve.  

St. Paul closed school buildings when they were faced with a decline in enrollment. Is this an approach that you think will be necessary in Minneapolis?

I don’t want to have to say what I think is probably true, that we will need to close some school buildings. I have a visceral reaction to it. If there is a way to avoid closing buildings, I will pursue it tirelessly. And, I believe adults must make hard choices to protect our kids from bad outcomes. I would rather close buildings than keep feeding the school to prison pipeline brilliant Black students we were not brave enough to protect.  

What is important to me about the potential for building closures is that leadership finds a way to navigate whatever is coming in ways that are least disruptive for the students historically most impacted by disparities, that we don’t increase the number of racially isolated schools, and that we strive to be responsive rather than reactive. We have tough years ahead, and we need leadership that is very clear about that and ready to take it on.

What is your opinion on the Comprehensive District Design, in its original purposes and how it’s been implemented?

I have to be honest. I don't know how I would've voted pertaining to the CDD, especially in hindsight. When I try to ask myself if the CDD is “good” or “bad,” I’m reminded that it’s a false binary in a situation this complex.

Implementing the CDD during a global pandemic seemed to be a nightmare AND Black, Indigenous, and students of color can’t wait for increased safety and academic equity. The time to act on behalf of our students is always now.

The CDD brought programing to schools across the city that had previously been concentrated in a smaller area, enabling a greater diversity of MPS students to participate in arts, STEAM, global studies, and other specialized programming for the first time  AND across the district, students of all races, from all neighborhoods and socioeconomic backgrounds experienced destabilization and disruption.

MPS has already voted in favor of and implemented the CDD. This is where we are. What I am most concerned with now is how we move forward to mitigate disruption, celebrate and expand our gains, and ensure that what we have gone through together is in service to a system that is proud to prioritize equitable access to a high quality education with all of the purposeful richness of experience and wonder we dream of for every single one of our kids.

Jaton White

https://www.jaton4mplsatlarge.com/

Key endorsements: Bernadeia Johnson - Former Minneapolis Superintendent, Jacquylynn Brockman - Former Minneapolis Teacher, Sr. DFL

Projections for enrollment in the city’s school public system continue to fall. What do you plan to do to help raise enrollment? How will you advocate and hold the district accountable for increasing enrollment?

We must first stabilize, and restore the returning stake holders. Then take the time to review how we got here, to make the necessary changes to be attractive to students, families, and staff. I will work with the other board members to hold the district accountable for creating equitable processes, & to establish safe spaces for quality learning.

What specific changes would you make to address the ongoing gap between revenue and operating costs that the district faces, especially in the 2024-25 school year when the temporary COVID relief funds will have already been spent?

We need to be attacking literacy, & wellness if we are going to get serious about the ever growing disparities in our community. No matter the cost we need to collaborate with organizations who provide evidence based educational supports, and make the adjustments to ensure student, and staff well-being. Not addressing this now will bankrupt the system in the long run, and suffocate our community.

The search for a new superintendent may be a major opportunity for you as a board member to shape the future of Minneapolis Public Schools. What will be the primary qualities you’ll be looking for in candidates during the search?

Someone with a history of showing care, and values community. Posses extensive historical knowledge of school systems, policies, and trauma. Most important, having a track record of doing what’s best for students, families, and educators.

What will you do to rebuild the relationship between the district and educators?

We will have to bring in outside support to take a deep dive into how, and why we at this point in our schools. It is a must that we acknowledge and begin repair for the historical racial, & emotional harms committed.

How will you engage with families when making major decisions for their children's schools?

I often talk to families about their decisions around what’s best for their children's education. Their truth leads at it should those conversations, and I am a thought partner in these conversations. Offering information on Minneapolis area schools that align with a families goals.

St. Paul closed school buildings when they were faced with a decline in enrollment. Is this an approach that you think will be necessary in Minneapolis?

School closings are traumatizing, & disruptive to all families. I am not a fan, but I am understanding that due to budget restraints it may one of many alternatives to sustain the district as a whole.

What is your opinion on the Comprehensive District Design, in its original purposes and how it’s been implemented?

It is my opinion that we (the district) missed a few marks in trying to implement the CDD. We didn’t fully listen to our greatest stake holders, adjustments were made that have had great impacts on families, students, and the district. We have lost too many teachers, support staff, students, and too much money. We have to be honest about where we are at and curious about how to get on track under the current design.

KerryJo Felder

www.KerryJo4SchoolBoard.com

Key endorsements: Kerry Jo is endorsed by parents, community members and the MN DFL Party, MFT 59, Teamsters 120, Stonewall DFL, SEIU State Council, the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, Representative Fue Lee, Congresswoman Omar, her mother, and her siblings.

Projections for enrollment in the city’s school public system continue to fall. What do you plan to do to help raise enrollment? How will you advocate and hold the district accountable for increasing enrollment?

As a bonus mom of 2 and hearing my students/parents/caregivers, I know I need to make the schools safer, address poor curriculum, mental health, counselors, lack of ethnic studies, opening the schools to the community, and so much more. Robocalls and letters aren't making it and we are going to have to get out there and personally address our families. We can knock/call and update them as to some programming they may like and just let them know what has changed and that we do miss them. I will hold the district accountable by making sure that we create a yearly check-off list of "we want you back" district activities that is part of the superintendents performance review.

What specific changes would you make to address the ongoing gap between revenue and operating costs that the district faces, especially in the 2024-25 school year when the temporary COVID relief funds will have already been spent?

I will definitely be showing my face to the legislature when the time comes to advocate for fully funding public schools. In the meanwhile, being innovative with the fund that we do have to make sure that we are bringing/maintaining programs that families want. Also, searching for community and community partners during that time to work with us and our kids. I am very good at making connections and that is one strength I will bring to the table.

The search for a new superintendent may be a major opportunity for you as a board member to shape the future of Minneapolis Public Schools. What will be the primary qualities you’ll be looking for in candidates during the search?

They will have to be from Minneapolis. We are a large small town. They it takes superintendents from out of town 3-5 years to acclimate. I feel as if the last one never did. We wasted valuable time that our children do not have.

They will have to have a lot of integrity and not fold easily. They will have to be transparent will everyone and feel and show by action that the schools belong to the community. I would like for them to work out a plan with the board with equal weight for all areas and have an understanding of what curriculum is best for students and why.

What will you do to rebuild the relationship between the district and educators?

Everything that I can. I have never liked the way the district has treated educators. The disrespect shown to their trade is harmful. They need time to prep and to fill the many papers the state requires of them for students. I believe in not fixing what isn't broken. We should be putting educators back in teaching and learning and in curriculum choice/design. They work with our children on a daily basis and have very valid input on how children learn in every aspect. One size does not fit all in this case and they have the experience to make sure it gets done right.

How will you engage with families when making major decisions for their children's schools?

Families, absolutely, have to be a part of the decision making process for their schools and we have to hold these meetings in person, as much as possible. Covid makes that hard sometimes, but we are going to go through hard times. Covid isn't gone and Forbes seems to think we are in a recession and I can believe it. Families need to receive as much information as possible, so that they do not have to worry about this portion of their lives. The only one that is really going to hurt is if we have to close schools and that is going to be face to face as well.

St. Paul closed school buildings when they were faced with a decline in enrollment. Is this an approach that you think will be necessary in Minneapolis?

Maybe. We have lost a lot of children to charter schools, schools out of the district and some families have even moved away. Ouch!

But that doesn't mean that they have to remain closed, we have to win our families back and we have to be competitive with our surrounding competitors. Me, I do not want to sell a single building for good, I can think of many community projects for some now vacant, a roller rink, a youth center, a Northside Sabanthani type place... But permanently closing what is now open is heartbreaking. I would rather work my butt off to create innovative programming and knock on doors to get the children back into the schools that the new team builds.

What is your opinion on the Comprehensive District Design, in its original purposes and how it’s been implemented?

Wow. Where do I start?

Originally, it was brought forward by a visionary young man from the Northside and the superintendent rejected him. Then I brought it forward again for only North High, with the engineering program going to Henry High. Even planned the building that would be built alongside North, as I did not agree to knock it down and start all over. Again, equity could not be shown from the district as a whole. They divided it and made boundary lines that to this day make no sense. I voted, "no." As far as to how it's been implemented, it was rushed and parents and community were not heard. I wish we could ask the parents that moved away. It was very sad to see that equity was only a buzz word.

Collin Beachy

Collin Beachy has not yet responded to our questionnaire.

Lisa Skjefte

Lisa Skjefte has not yet responded to our questionnaire.

District 1 race

Abdul Abdi

Abdul Abdi has not yet responded to our questionnaire.

District 3 race

Fathia Feerayarre

https://ffeerayarre.com/

Key endorsements: Congressperson Ilhan Omar, MN State Reps, Aisha Gomez, Hodan Hassan and Mohamu Noor. MFT59 and MRLF and Minneapolis City DFL.

Projections for enrollment in the city’s school public system continue to fall. What do you plan to do to help raise enrollment? How will you advocate and hold the district accountable for increasing enrollment?

I will make sure I meet the families that are currently enrolled and the families that left our schools to make sure that I listen and learn from them and also make sure that they will be heard and have a voice in our MPS schools.

If you are elected in November, what specific changes would you make to address the ongoing gap between revenue and the cost of operating the district in its current form? In particular, how would you approach budgeting for the 2024-25 school year when the temporary COVID relief funds will have already been spent?

Not answered

The search for a new superintendent may be a major opportunity for you as a board member to shape the future of Minneapolis Public Schools. What will be the primary qualities you’ll be looking for in candidates during the search?

Not answered

What will you do to rebuild the relationship between the district and educators?

I will sit down with both school staff, parents, and teachers and find out what we can do make our schools better and bring back the trust that was broken. Parents are important stakeholders and they should be welcomed, respected and their voices should be heard.  

How will you engage with families when making major decisions for their children's schools?

I will make sure parents have a trusting relationship with the school board by inviting them to communicate with me when they need to by email, in person, whatever that is possible. I will also make sure our communication line stays open so that they can communicate their concerns with me whenever they need to. As an MPS parent I know the importance of having leadership and teachers that listen and care about you as parent. In other words, families and parents will also be part of the decision making because they know what is best for their children.

St. Paul closed school buildings when they were faced with a decline in enrollment. Is this an approach that you think will be necessary in Minneapolis?

When we build that relationship and trust that was broken and bring back our families, we won't have problems with enrollment. Our enrollment will not decline because our MPS schools will work for everyone and everyone will be able to thrive and succeed. The curriculum will be designed for all, our educators will be trained to work with the diversity and we will have more educators of color.

What is your opinion on the Comprehensive District Design, in its original purposes and how it’s been implemented?

Not answered

District 5 race

Laurelle Myhra

Laurellemyhra4schoolboard.com

Key endorsements: None listed

Projections for enrollment in the city’s school public system continue to fall. What do you plan to do to help raise enrollment? How will you advocate and hold the district accountable for increasing enrollment?

To draw families back to the district we have to implement strategies to improve student outcomes, especially for those with the greatest disparities, and market the schools' unique strengths, including but not limited to, the diversity of students and experience. This will include a plan to strengthening the financial picture of the district.

If you are elected in November, what specific changes would you make to address the ongoing gap between revenue and the cost of operating the district in its current form? In particular, how would you approach budgeting for the 2024-25 school year when the temporary COVID relief funds will have already been spent?

I would examine how funds are being used currently and look for opportunities to bring in more resources from the state and federal government, as well as private sources to bring in more funding.

The search for a new superintendent may be a major opportunity for you as a board member to shape the future of Minneapolis Public Schools. What will be the primary qualities you’ll be looking for in candidates during the search?

Strong understanding and experience implementing systemic change to advance equity. Strong business acumen but also student/family focused with a deep concern for student wellness and academic success.

What will you do to rebuild the relationship between the district and educators?

I would like to be intentional about rebuilding relationships, including setting aside time to meet and learn from each other and establish a strong working relationship.

How will you engage with families when making major decisions for their children's schools?

Families are busy and require a multi-method approach to connect. I would seek feedback through formal and informal avenues including but not limited to in-person and virtual forums, calls to families, and survey/polling families.

St. Paul closed school buildings when they were faced with a decline in enrollment. Is this an approach that you think will be necessary in Minneapolis?

I would consider all options on the table. A lot of harm has come to families from making these decisions in the past so it would not be taken lightly. Every effort would be made to protect the communities that have been most harmed historically and that are facing the greatest disparities.

What is your opinion on the Comprehensive District Design, in its original purposes and how it’s been implemented?

In my role as Vice-Chair of the American Indian Parent Advisory Council and in talking with other parents at my children's school, I have heard mostly negative impacts of the decisions. Parents I have spoke with do not feel that adequate effort was made to get input from families (e.g., forced school changes, lack of busing). I would like to move discussions to how to remediate the impact of the decisions that have caused harm.

Leslie Haugland-Smith

LHSschoolboard.com

Key endorsements: Non-partisan candidate

Projections for enrollment in the city’s school public system continue to fall. What do you plan to do to help raise enrollment? How will you advocate and hold the district accountable for increasing enrollment?

Educators, parents, and students know that music, arts, sports, advanced placement courses, small class sizes, and extra-curricular activities make our schools more attractive and drive increased enrollment. To achieve these goals, we need to use the budget reserves, federal relief money, possibly reducing the size of the School Board, especially at-large positions, and even ask the directors to take a 5% cut in pay.

If you are elected in November, what specific changes would you make to address the ongoing gap between revenue and the cost of operating the district in its current form? In particular, how would you approach budgeting for the 2024-25 school year when the temporary COVID relief funds will have already been spent?

The public school system is required to provide service for all special education and English-language learners; however, for years federal and state governments have failed to allocate enough money to comply. This shortage causes the Minneapolis school district to redirect money from the general budget to those in need, but away from everything else, including educators’ salaries and classroom subjects. This issue was once the province of the inner-city schools, but smaller districts are now facing the same shortfalls as communities across the state become more diverse.

The search for a new superintendent may be a major opportunity for you as a board member to shape the future of Minneapolis Public Schools. What will be the primary qualities you’ll be looking for in candidates during the search?

Appoint a superintendent who will unite the school districts across the state and demand that the legislature fulfill their duty to fully fund special-education and English-language learner services in the public schools.

What will you do to rebuild the relationship between the district and educators?

Teachers are closest to the pain points and will help drive innovation. The district should listen to the teachers! School exposes our youngsters to civic virtue and democratic cooperation and gives them the tools, including history, civics, math, and vocabulary, to help understand and solve large, social problems. Upon graduation, they should be exploring job training or service to our country, or they should be planning vocational, community, or 4-year college. They should be graduating with a sense of responsibility and purpose. Let’s send the message to all families that the board and teachers are united in their value of student success

How will you engage with families when making major decisions for their children's schools?

Families have proven that they are engaged in making school decisions for their youngsters; that is why so many have chosen charter schools and private schools. I will ask site councils for parent feedback, send questionnaires, and engage charter school parents to find out what the public school system can do to regain their trust and bring them back.

St. Paul closed school buildings when they were faced with a decline in enrollment. Is this an approach that you think will be necessary in Minneapolis?

Yes. Enrollment in Minneapolis Public Schools has declined significantly since 2011 but there are now more school buildings than in 2011. The district spent years reconfiguring the footprint of the buildings in the district, but it lost the big picture of right-sizing the number of buildings to match enrollment.

What is your opinion on the Comprehensive District Design, in its original purposes and how it’s been implemented?

Once again, we tried to solve our housing and racial disparity issues by reorganizing our school system. The CDD had a 3-pronged approach to so-called improve the school system: New boundaries for local schools, centralized magnet schools, and elimination of open enrollment across the district. The CDD actually decreased the diversity in many schools and was met with growing push-back from both educators and families, but the district refused to listen and enacted the changes regardless. This led to further decline in enrollment and the loss of many teachers.

Lori Norvell

https://www.norvell4schoolboard.com/

Key endorsements: DFL, MFT 59, Stonewall DFL, SEIU, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, MN DFL Senior Caucus, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, MN Senator Scott Dibble, State Rep. Aisha Gomez, State Rep. Emma Greenman, City Council Member Jason Chavez, City Council Member Andrew Johnson

Projections for enrollment in the city’s school public system continue to fall. What do you plan to do to help raise enrollment? How will you advocate and hold the district accountable for increasing enrollment?

We are losing families for a variety of reasons and we need to find out why families are choosing to leave MPS so we can address the issues. We need to talk about continuous improvement and sustainable accountability within our systems so we can address gaps and issues that arise while also providing space for feedback from the community. I will work with other board members to ensure all schools are inclusive and safe learning environments for all students. I will advocate for culturally relevant curriculum for all students as well as meaningful culturally relevant professional learning opportunities for all staff members. Through this work we can create more stability with our programs, curriculum and staffing.

If you are elected in November, what specific changes would you make to address the ongoing gap between revenue and the cost of operating the district in its current form? In particular, how would you approach budgeting for the 2024-25 school year when the temporary COVID relief funds will have already been spent?

I am already working to build relationships with City and State elected officials. Fully funding public schools is going to take more than just the work of the school board. We have to work with our elected officials to fully fund  our programs. The budget is complicated and school board members should be working towards fully understanding the budget so they can seek creative solutions with how our funds are dispersed. We should also be looking at budgets of similar school districts to look for strong fiscal models we can learn from. I pledge to work towards a greater understanding of the budget so that I can clearly communicate budgetary decisions with my community.

The search for a new superintendent may be a major opportunity for you as a board member to shape the future of Minneapolis Public Schools. What will be the primary qualities you’ll be looking for in candidates during the search?

The voices of our community members have been ignored for too long. We need a superintendent who will engage with the community, listen to their experiences, and ask for their input. We have had an authoritarian model of leadership, and that is not true leadership. We need a leader that will still make difficult decisions, but will seek input from the community in weighing these decisions. I want a leader who values student, educator and family voices. I want a leader who is open-minded and willing to learn from others.

What will you do to rebuild the relationship between the district and educators?

We have a lot of work to do in rebuilding these relationships and trust, and this is not easy or fast work. We have to put time and energy into this. I will demonstrate transparency through clear communication with district leadership and community members. I will work to bring a culture of collaboration with board members, district leadership, union leadership, educators, students, and families. I will also provide increased access to your board member because I want to meet you, hear about your experiences with MPS and hear your needs.

How will you engage with families when making major decisions for their children’s schools?

I will engage with families, educators and community members through a variety of ways: social media, newsletters, meet ups or coffee chats. When I was teaching, I didn’t just teach one way all the time. We all engage and learn differently and this communication is no different.

I will especially be mindful of major decisions and how important community input and feedback is with this. Many community members have felt this was missing or lacking in recent major decisions MPS has made. By pledging to provide clear and consistent communication with our community, I am working to rebuild those damaged relationships.

St. Paul closed school buildings when they were faced with a decline in enrollment. Is this an approach that you think will be necessary in Minneapolis?

No one wants to talk about this, including me. But, this is a conversation that we will need to have at some point. And if we do need to have this conversation, we also need to make a plan to be very intentional about any changes made and how those changes happen. We need to meet with community members and hear their concerns. We need to be intentional about how new communities are formed. The two hardest things to do are to say “hello” and “goodbye”. If you’ve ever had to move, you know what I mean. It’s the same with school communities. Families love their school communities. We need to help communities say “goodbye” if needed and say “hello” to their new community, creating a new community so no one feels like an outsider.  

What is your opinion on the Comprehensive District Design, in its original purposes and how it’s been implemented?

One intention of the CDD was to increase equitable practices by moving magnet schools to be more centrally located in Minneapolis. But when we think about our actions, we often focus on the intent instead of the impact. While the intention may have been for more equitable practices, the impact for many was disruption, less diverse schools in some cases, siblings who have different pathway schools, or some students passing schools to attend their new assigned school. These are just a few of the impacts I have heard from families in my time as a teacher through the CDD and while door knocking or attending events. The decision to implement the CDD during the pandemic was a poor decision. Students, families and staff had already endured so much upheaval stress from the pandemic, changes with distance learning, hybrid and in person learning. This implementation should have waited. It unnecessarily hurt a lot of students, families and educators.

Elena Condos

www.elenacondos.com

Key Endorsements: Students at University of Minnesota; Star Tribune

Projections for enrollment in the city’s school public system continue to fall. What do you plan to do to help raise enrollment? How will you advocate for and hold the district accountable for increasing enrollment?

Enrollment metrics divide into two areas:  controllable enrollment issues and uncontrollable enrollment issues. The uncontrollable enrollment issues are declining population numbers of school age children who live in the Minneapolis Districts.  The controllable enrollment issues are children lost to private schools.  There are two primary reasons for that loss; 1)  school quality of education and 2) perception of school safety.  My advocacy would be aligned to improving MPS rankings for education quality and ensuring safety of the student population such that each student feels safe in and around the classroom.

What specific changes would you make to address the ongoing gap between revenue and operating costs that the district faces, especially in the 2024-25 school year when the temporary COVID relief funds will have already been spent?

Upon being given the opportunity to partner with Board Members and stakeholders representative of all important audiences including teachers to review the budget in detail, my working hypothesis is that there may be a significant number of unfavorable initiatives and contracts that could be canceled and removed from the expense column in the MPS balance sheet.  Once the budget is well-understood and validated, I would seek the reallocation of funds in specific areas to prioritize fund availability for learning goals/educational experience and school safety.

The search for a new superintendent will be a major opportunity for you as a board member to shape the future of Minneapolis Public Schools. What will be the primary qualities you’ll be looking for in candidates during the search?

I am particularly drawn to candidates who have proven success in their prior roles eliminating learning gaps between diverse student groups.  I am also drawn to candidates who are able to innovate solutions for learning that are customized to a particular group of circumstances. My ideal education leader would also be engaged and involved in the communities of Minneapolis.  Crucially this leader is one who actively listens to the community asks and ideas for improving education and proactively engages the many diverse communities to embrace progress.

What will you do to rebuild the relationship between the district and educators?

Trust is crucial and a goal to which I’m passionately committed and experienced in building..  Creating a partnership with educators is key to rebuilding trust.  MPS needs to align with educators to deliver high quality education.  Giving educators a voice in the decision making process is a start.  Allowing the educators to innovate solutions at the classroom level and rewarding that innovation is also useful to build trust as well as identifying the best methods that work in MPS classrooms.

How will you engage with families when making major decisions for their children's schools?

I will use the CDD as an example of how not to engage.  This is a significant change and requires early and continued input and engagement from district, teachers, students, parents and community partners.  As we went through the change, we found it poorly communicated and  with less than ideal input from the student/parent community.  The first mention of CDD in my email threads was when it was put to a vote. I would flip the process to bring the local parents organization into the discussion and do our best to over communicate the changes as well as the alternatives available for families who do not wish to change.

St. Paul closed school buildings when they were faced with a decline in enrollment. Is this an approach that you think will be necessary in Minneapolis?

It’s a drastic move that should only be considered after other accommodations or innovations fail.  I see it only as  an option if the enrollment in a particular school zone is so diminished that it makes economic/educational or sustainable sense to divide those students up among the other zones of the district.

What is your opinion on the Comprehensive District Design, both its original purposes and how it’s been implemented?

I was not convinced the CDD was well designed or well implemented.   It eliminated K-8 programs that worked and disrupted/displaced a number of families.  Change is ultimately needed at MPS, however it needs to be done using a strategic change management approach that engages all stakeholders upfront and regularly throughout with advisory groups of our important stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, community partners and other experts and changes made in smaller stages that do not disrupt entire districts of students.