This interview is part of our School Board Voter Guide. The interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length. Collin Beachy is running for an at-large seat on the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education. There are four candidates for two at-large seats. All Minneapolis voters can vote for two candidates for at-large school board representative.
Melissa Whitler: My first question, just to start, is if you want to share a little bit about your background and how it's relevant to being a school board candidate.
Collin Beachy: I’ve been a public education teacher for 21 years, and currently, the last eight years, here in Minneapolis. The last 11 years, they've all been in special education. I've also worked at two community colleges. I worked at Minneapolis Community College.
I grew up in Staples, Minnesota, and graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead. My dad's been a teacher for 35 years. My mom started her career in teaching. Both my grandmas, uncles and aunts. Four to five kids in their family or teachers. Nieces and nephews now starting into it. So I just feel that 21 years of experience in the public education system is pretty much what makes me kind of stand out.
MW: The next couple of questions I have are around the upcoming work for the board. One of those big things that's coming up for the board is hiring a new Superintendent. A few weeks ago, Chair Ellison released a proposal for a hiring process. I wonder if you have taken a look at that proposal. And if you have, what do you think about it? Are there things that you would like to see different or do you think it's a good process for this important job?
CB: I have seen a little bit of it. I can't say that I poured over it in detail. I talked with Director Ellison a few weeks back and I guess I'm comfortable with the process that they have set up. If I'm elected, in the first four years, hiring the Superintendent, this is the biggest decision that we're going to have to make in the entire term. I'll let this process that they have play out. And then, if elected, we will jump in there head first with our questions and concerns and the direction we want to go.
MW: Following up on that, if you are elected, then the way that the process is laid out right now, the new board is in charge of hiring the new Superintendent and will also be doing a lot of the search work related to that hiring process. Are there priorities that you have, or that you would have as a board member, for what to look for in that next Superintendent?
CB: I'm going to be wanting to look for someone who has worked in an urban school district before and has had some extensive time in an urban school district. I'd like to see someone who would have experience in turning the school district around, and changing direction a little bit. Someone that's been in a school district that's been in trouble, and if they've had any experience in changing some of those things.
I am endorsed by the teachers union and endorsed by every labor union here in the city. I want to make sure that I have someone who shares my values towards making sure that our teachers are taken care of and they can have a seat at the table.
And is not just going to be someone that's been– We're just kind of ignored with the process and just kind of being told what it is that we're going to do with no input. I want to make sure that it's someone who's going to be including the stakeholders on the ground.
Through no fault of their own, they've got some trust that they've gotta rebuild. I'm looking for someone that's going to want to be a part of this community and an active member of this community. They want to be the face of our school district. It needs to be someone who's going to be proud of Minneapolis and wants to be a part of our community. Someone who's going to be getting out there and doing a lot of talking with the staff. Doing a lot of talking with parents and a little bit better job of communicating with people.
MW: You talked about having stakeholders at the table. Are there specific things that that looks like to you? I'm wondering what that look like? How do you find that out about someone?
CB: What it looks like to me is that when there's a new policy or new initiative that they are going to be working on or proposing, that they're going to make sure that whoever is directly involved with that has been heard from before this policy goes in place.
I'm dealing with this right now the school is I'm working in. We have a situation that's going on. We have no say in what is happening, and we're given no resources to deal with this situation. That kind of thing can't continue.
I need to make sure that someone thinks this might sound good on paper, but I've gotta talk to the people who are actually going to have to carry this out, and make sure that they have that detail. This is going to work for them. Or let's make sure that we give them the tools that they need to be able to carry this out.
Having stakeholders at the table, it's what I mean. Even at school board meetings, I'd like to make sure that we're hearing from community members and hearing from teachers and hearing from support staff and not just administrators.
MW: So for example, in the new meeting format this year, they're bringing in principals, but you're saying that that should go beyond just having principals doing those presentations. It should be teachers, it should be ESPs?
CB: I mean, even with the principals, we are the ones– We had a big situation the other day, our principal in a meeting. There's nothing wrong with that. I'm not saying he’s just ignoring us. But, we're the ones on the ground. We were dealing with all these situations. Even the principal sometimes doesn't have their pulse on everything that's going in the way that the teacher does.
MW: The current board and the former Superintendent passed a strategic plan last year. The current Interim Superintendent is working with the administration to implement that plan. If you're elected, would you support continuing to implement that plan, or are there things that you would like to change about the strategic plan?
CB: I'm good with most of what's in the strategic plan. On our very first staff meeting that we had– We have an instructional leadership team. We already have our set goals, our school improvement plan goals. So we took our school improvement plan goals and compared them with what the strategic goals are. We made sure that our school improvement plans are also fitting into what the strategic plan is. Overall, we just kind of add a few things. We had most of the areas covered already, but we're just going to add a few more things in there to make sure that we're following that plan.
From what I've seen of it, I'm relatively– It's fine, it's OK. There is one thing, though. I would add in there– and I don't know exactly how to to work it– This is again the problem. We've got one that's talking about students. We've got one talking about teachers. One is talking about the school and climate. We've got one that's talking about academics. We don't have a strategic plan for administration, and they need to be included in this because they are the ones– Again this top down one-size-fits-all model is just not working for our school district. And it seems like that's continuing when you look at a strategic plan and it says nothing about the expectations and demands for our administration.
MW: You mentioned that you saw the strategic plan show up for you as part of the ILT. I'm just wondering, there is a lot of conversation at the board level about how there hadn't been a strategic plan, or maybe there was, but it wasn't really being worked on. So how did that feel to you as an educator to see that show up?
CB: I thought it was a good idea. We do this in my school. I think that is what– every school district should have a strategic plan moving forward. So it was good to see that they have a strategic plan, long-term plan for us to be following.
I don't necessarily know if I really felt any kind of way about it. Simply because, like I said, I think that our school improvement plan that we had here– I was under the assumption that each school had their own strategic plan as well.
An overall district strategic plan, I think it's a good idea. I do like how though, each school is allowed to do like we did, and fit their school improvement plan into the strategic plan.That way we do have the overall umbrella that we're working under that each of us can make sure that we're tweaking it to fit around school, so.
MW: The other big piece of work that the school board does every year is balance the budget. The current budget is balanced using temporary COVID relief funds and those run out or they have to be spent by September of 2024. And so do you have thoughts about how the district should address a future budget shortfall?
CB: It's gotta be a lobbying effort. We’ve got to start hitting up the state. It's crucial. During the strike last year, the former Superintendent came on a news TV conference or something saw, but he had mentioned it that is one thing that we all agree on is that we need more funding from the state. I think some refocus and re-doubling down on some of those efforts. We're still sitting on that nine $9.2 billion surplus that we can really put the pressure on to get some of those funds.
The thing is about these lobbying efforts that we do. I've been out here and I've been endorsed by and I've been meeting a lot of different state representatives and state senators. I don't know how much time we need to spend lobbying with them because they are in agreement with fully funding our schools. The DFL party has offered us an awful lot of money to help fix our schools. The Republican Party is where some of the problem is in out state Minnesota. I think where our effort needs to go– I know the school board has the statewide school Board association. and they have regional meetings that they have. But when we go to some of those regional meetings, we've got to start reaching out to people who are outside of our region and ask them what kind of messaging do you need? What kind of help do you need? Do you want parents to be calling your legislators? Because this is not a Minneapolis problem. This is a statewide problem and it's frustrating when they're hearing the Minority Leader on NPR and they're asking him about school funding. And he's talking about all the poor Black kids in Minneapolis.
He's got the messaging out there that telling the state of Minnesota to fully fund schools means the poor Black kids in Minneapolis. And everybody up there and out state needs to know how much their schools are hurting as well.
I can tell you how much that per district, how much they have to pull out per student from their general funds because the state and federal legislatures are not fully funding special education classes to begin with. So that kind of pressure needs to happen. And I think we need to refocus our efforts to make sure that the legislature is doing what they're supposed to be doing. They're supposed to be paying up to 40% of our special education costs and they're not even coming close to that.
MW: Parents have a lot of avenues for feedback with the district. Things like site councils, parent advisory councils, public comments at board meetings. There are parent participatory evaluators. You can always e-mail or call, but many parents I talk to feel like they utilize these avenues to communicate and engage with the district, but either they're not sufficient or they don't get a response, or they don't get the response that they want. And so I'm wondering if as a board member, you feel like there are other ways to address this feeling that parents have around being engaged, being heard, being listened to.
CB: I don't specifically have a way. Because, quite frankly, this is a question that I've been asking as well because. I've been asking parents directly what does communication look like to you? I can send out emails if we want to, but I know, myself, I pull up my computer and I've got 50 emails. That may not be the best way to– my mind is thinking a bunch of different things. Emails may not be the best way to communicate.
It's got to be some more face to face things. Like you said, the site councils, the parent advisory meetings, the PTO, whatever it might be.
I used to be a coach, too. I know that sometimes when you have to make a decision and people are upset about it, they don't get what they want. But, as long as you were open and transparent with them about what's going on, so at least that they have a full picture as to why we made this decision, I think people can understand that, even if they're not happy and will be respectful of the fact that we have told them that we've taken their concerns and here's why we can't address this at that time.
The communication thing, I don't know the best answer for that because it looks different to everybody else. We're running a citywide campaign. I just need to make sure that I'm doing the best I can and trying to get out to do a lot of face to face things. I mean, partly that's what I'm doing right now, campaigning. I've been to three or four different PTA meetings and their site council meetings. Just to kind of get a feel from what the schools are doing and what's happening there. I think that people are appreciative that I'm showing up there.
There's going to be a lot of decisions that we have to make. Not everybody is going to be happy with the decisions we have to make, but there's gotta be a respectful way to engage with our families. And I think that that really is what they're feeling is just that they have been disrespected. You have a board that's been not responsive. I’m hearing a lot that people are never returning emails. I'm a teacher, I can't do that. If I'm not communicating my parents, I'm out of a job.
I guess whatever works for people. I know it's a horrible answer for you, but bottom line, like I said, there's a lot of different avenues that we can have and I just need to find out what works best for each group. I talked with Longfellow volunteer association. Now they have a newsletter, they have a website.
MW: You mentioned you're running a citywide campaign. So that in some ways probably translates over to the experience of being a board member in the sense that there are a lot of people to communicate with. One thing that I've also heard is that the volume of communication that gets sent into the district is very large. Particularly when there's some sort of policy change happening, or something is going on that provokes a lot of reaction from people. Do you have thoughts about how as a board member or collectively as a board to manage that? Like you said, people aren't responding to emails. My understanding is currently there's one person, maybe there's two people, who supports the board. But there's not a staffing structure in place to answer community emails. It's on the board members themselves.
CB: That is an idea. If there's someone that can be tasked to do some of the responses and making sure that they're reaching out to people. I know my time is going to be crunched here, but I'm really a face to face kind of person. So I'd really like to be talking to people more directly.
One idea that I had heard– I actually heard it from a teacher, and then I heard it from some parents that were out there, is to even be doing something– especially if a big policy decision coming up, to hold some type of town hall meeting. Not strictly the business meetings, where you have to follow the agenda. Hey, here's what's going on, what do you guys think? That's just what my gut is telling me.
We need to be visible. Something I've been thinking about running as a citywide campaign is, whoever the other two at-large candidates are, our job is to be that coalition builder. I may not be able to deal with something down here in District 5, but I'm gonna give Lori a call and she can maybe help me out with that. She can make sure that she's communicating directly with this person. We need to be helping each other. The friendships and the relationships that I've already formed here before I'm on the board, I think will serve us well if we are all on the board. I think that we can be utilizing each other to make sure that we get some of that communication.
Especially, like you had said, when it's a new policy decision.I think that communication needs to start right from the beginning, right when you know there's gonna be a new policy. Let's start getting some input right from the start, rather than make your own plan and just throw it out on everybody, because that doesn't feel like you're included. It just feels like you're being told what to do. I think that's part of it, too. When parents are saying that they're not being responded to, it's also that they feel like I'm not having any inputs.
There's another idea that I've had. Podcasts. I really enjoy doing podcasts. We were just talking about– We did one with a guy who's a former teacher. That could be a way to kind of communicate with people as well. There's all different kinds of social media options that are out there. Bob Walser is advising my campaign, former board member, he talked about how he kept a blog he just typed up and it was a little bit more personal, a little less business, but just explaining what's going on, how he's feeling about it, where he wants to go with it. I'm willing to try anything. Communication is a problem. And there's lots of ways that we can do this. And so I think we gotta get creative.
MW: Recently, the district shared the results of the standardized assessments, the MCAs, from last spring. That data showed that there were declines in proficiency across student groups and widening gaps between BIPOC and white students, as well as between students who qualify for special education, English learner services and free and reduced price meals. My first question on this topic is what was your first reaction to either seeing or hearing that data?
CB: It's alarming when you think about those numbers. But once again, being a teacher, this is just one little piece of a child's education. These standardized test drive me nuts. I talked with three students at Patrick Henry High School who just flat out said, yeah, we took it, but I don't care. It's not gonna follow me. It doesn't have anything to do with my life. Part of that is in there too.
We do a lot of project based learning. We do a lot of holistic learning over here at Transition Plus. And so you know we're able to see and we're able to show parents like– Even my very first year teaching, I taught 4th grade and we had to give these standardized tests. Parents are coming in to me and it would be 2 conversations. Here's your kid’s test. And here's the numbers and blah blah blah, whatever. But let me show you the volume of other things that they have been doing that shows me that they know more than what they did on this test.
And just the other part about what you had said about how these scores have declined across the board, they also just showed just a couple weeks ago, the ACT test test scores are the lowest they've been in 31 years. Listen, this is the part of this is the result of the pandemic. This is across the board, throughout the country, you're seeing lower test scores. You're seeing some of these wider gaps simply because we basically lost a year and a half. But then we come back and are pretending like we didn't just lose a year and a half.
We have some catching up to do. Everybody is aware of that. I don't like that there's such a big gap like that. That gap continues to be there. I think that there are ways people work on trying to reduce that, but I'm not as overly concerned, I think, as many people would do just because it's just based on these test scores.
MW: One of the narratives I have read about these gaps, the achievement gap or however you want to label it, is that these disparities just reflect the poverty and racism that many of our students experience in society at-large. That it's really about addressing those external factors and until that happens that academic outcomes won't improve. I'm just wondering, for you as an educator who's there in the classroom, but also as a person of color, how do you respond to that narrative?
CB: I know that the two biggest factors that affect student education is their economic situation at home and their relationship with their teachers. Now we can do something about #2. Number one is a societal issue. Some of the relationships that I'm forming with City Council members who are also kind of pro education, some of them have got some different ways of trying to address and tackle some of these issues. Some of the poverty that we have is high on a couple of people's list that that I've been speaking with. I think that there's some partnerships that we can create with the city to try and figure out. Of these different schools, how we can try to help reduce this poverty.
This is a larger societal issue In the meantime, what we need to do– It goes back to making sure that we're getting funding for our schools. We want to make sure that we have quality teachers that our students are able to get a quality education. And in order to do that, we've got to have competitive salaries and they've got to have more money from the state. That's just another thing where, again, as a school board member, that would be something where we would need to be doing some work partnering with the city and partnering with our state and local officials.
MW: If you're elected, are there specific things that you would advocate for the district to do to address academic outcomes for students?
CB: There are a few things. It's been interesting the last few years here but in terms of addressing specifically the academic part of it, I'm a big advocate for some of the culturally responsive teaching models that are out there and available. Things that Doctor Gholdy Muhammad have pointed out. There are things that Doctor Bettina Love is putting out there. It's really more about – a lot of times when you are hearing people talking about culturally responsive teaching, you hear people say well students need to see themselves in the academic work that they're doing. It's more than that. They need to have the material that's being presented to them actually relates to what it is they're doing, that they actually have a connection to it, not just seeing a person of color on the page of the story that they're reading. The information that they're getting is something that they can relate to, that's going to get them a little more ownership of their of their own education. With these models like this– particularly the one that Doctor Gholdy Muhammad is doing– directly addresses the reading and writing and then putting in something culturally responsive. We're hearing from African American writers, African American stories. And then the same thing can happen with Hispanics and Somali
Putting some of those types of lessons into our current curriculum, it's something that statistics have been showing from other districts that I've looked at– I don't remember which one, San Antonio or Cleveland. One of those, several years ago, started implementing some of these culturally responsive teaching methods that Doctor Muhammad is doing. They brought their achievement gap from 14% down to 1% in less than 10 years. How exactly did they do that? I don't know, but that's a phone conversation I would like to have with someone. I'm very interested in how they did that. That's just one step that I believe that can happen in terms of helping. That gap in the academics that we have here is sort of what are we providing and what does this have to do with our students’ lives? What are they going to do with this information? How can they use this information to take action? Those are questions that as teachers and educators, we need to make sure that we're asking ourselves about the lessons that we are presenting. Basically, why are we giving this lesson to them? Not just because it's a state standard. How can we do this?
I'm the equity lead here at our school. One of the examples of the culturally responsive lessons that I was talking to is the Pythagorean theorem. It's pretty simple, a ^2 + b ^2 = c ^2. But there's a way to use that, that people can apply to their daily life. Get a map of your neighborhood. For the Pythagorean theorem. What things are in that area? Let's get to know your neighborhood a little bit. How many grocery stores are in this area versus how many convenience stores are in this area compared to another part of the city? Why is it this way in this part of the city? If you have questions about that, let's bring in our city councilors. You could start talking about that with them. Now the Pythagorean theorem is more than just a ^2 + b ^2 = c ^2.
MW: Anything else you want to say about that? Sorry if I interrupted you.
CB: I do have a couple of things, but I don't know if they necessarily are directly related to academic achievements. There are some things I would like to see the administration doing.
MW: Do you want to talk about that?
CB: Our principal has been talking to other principals about talking with the district about putting a moratorium for two years on any new initiatives. Right now, the CDD has still not fully been implemented yet. There's going to be more changes next year. Teachers are moving. Principals are moving. Families are moving. Let's slow down. Let everybody catch our breath here a little bit. Make sure that you're clearly communicating to us where we're at with the CDD. Make sure we’re where we're supposed to be at. If not, put on the brakes, let's get caught up and don't just start running on to phase two when we haven't taken care of phase one yet. We still have figured out the bussing issues here. Now that, that, that, that.
Every year there's a new initiative and we don't have adequate time to even implement it, much less get the results of it. And then, boom, we're switching again. And so, slow down. Let us catch our breath. You will put too much burden on our teachers, and our staff right now. Instead of a new initiative, take a look at the ones you have, and start figuring out where you have to tweak this, and how you can start getting better support to our teachers and support staff.
The other thing I'm going to look into how we are placing our level for special education students.
MW: Talk to me about that.
CB: This does not affect a large majority of the students and families here in this district. But the biggest part of what I'm concerned about is we have students that have some very severe therapeutic needs. And we're not– we're in-taking these students, but we're not providing resources for them. One of the two has to stop. We even need to re-evaluate how we're in-taking some of the– which students we are able to intake or we're going to have to start making some changes and provide the services that we need. It's just. I don't want to say too much more on the record.
MW: Do you think that they're being inappropriately placed? Should they be in a different setting but they're putting them somewhere that they don't belong?
CB: Specific to my school right now, there are students– we are a transition school. We don't provide therapeutic services. We don't have the room for it. We don't have the sensory spaces for it. So that is part of it. But there is more.
MW: And your students are 18 to 21?
CB: 18 to 21, correct. It has to do a lot with the services that we have, and how they're providing it to our students, and if it's the best way to be doing things. I just need to have a lot more conversations with people because we have a few details about how things were when things changed, but I don't know why things have changed. I'm not getting any answers to that just yet.
MW: You said moratorium on new initiatives, was there anything else?
CB: That goes back to providing some stability for our staff here, too. And to our families. It's been a crazy last three years. Let's just bring some stability back to everybody.
MW: When you say new initiatives, does the strategic plan count as a new initiative?
CB: No, I wouldn't say that would be a new initiative because that's an overall overarching set of goals. Each school can determine on their own. I'm talking about– Real small example here for you that does not affect a lot of people except special education teachers. Our students who are severe enough, have some of them have a plan of care. And so that means like students that need to be toileted, that need to be fed, that have seizures and so you have to walk with them. Those kinds of information are on that plan of care. Now, for some reason, they want to take the food section out of it and put it somewhere else. Doesn't sound like a big deal to a lot of people. But this is now 30 minutes per students of extra work that I have to do, and I'm given no time and no resources to do that.
It's just little things like that. It's just a lot of these little things that keep adding up and adding up and adding up. And it's almost like the left hand over there doesn't know what the right hand is doing, but they're both dumping on us at the same time.
So just slow down. That's all I'm saying. Slow down.
MW: I'm just really curious, do you know if that was something the district did or do you know if that was something from the state or the feds?
CB: Yeah, I could be wrong, and I will certainly be OK or admit to that if I am, but I believe from what I heard that this is the district doing this.
MW: The other question that I have is, I have an elementary child, so I know he has the new math curriculum this year. There's talk of a new reading curriculum potentially. Are those the types of things you would also put on pause or is that not what you're talking about.
CB: No, I'm talking about more like little policies, things like that.
Let me ask you this. You said there's a new math curriculum. As a parent, did you have any input in that? Were you told ahead of time that there was gonna be a new math curriculum? Were you informed of the process of what they were doing?
MW: Well, I'm a nerd, so I follow this stuff very closely. So I did know about this.I also know we were communicated to by our principal about it last year, both by e-mail and I think our Site Council talked about it. Our school also was a pilot site last year. They piloted 3 different math curricula at elementary schools last year. They picked one and now everyone has this one. I do know my son’s teachers, in three years, they're on their third math curriculum. So, I recognize that's a lot to ask of them.
CB: That is. What I was going to say earlier, too, is that this has to be– If we're talking about a whole new curriculum, I don't want to just come in and say. No, stop. The questions I just asked you are questions that I would want to know from how this thing is being fully vetted. Whatever, the whole situation is.
Now hearing what you just told me. It is also the problem though that you cannot keep doing this to our teachers and our students, keep switching things up like this when you haven't even had a chance to even remotely evaluate the effectiveness of what's been going on here.
It's just like jumping at everything shiny waving in our face.
MW: Here's what I will say about the old math curriculum. My son is in 3rd grade. So what he had in kindergarten and 1st grade, hadn't been updated since 2007. As a parent, I'm excited that he has something that's more modern now. I think it's more consistent with an updated way of teaching mathematics. I think that piece of it is good. The old curriculum was not, I don't think, as robust as what I see coming home. Now, I'll say that I'm not an expert. I'm just a parent, but in my opinion, it seems more robust.
CB: This is also a mentality I want parents to get out of. ‘I'm just a parent.’ You're not just the parents. You are a vital part of our schools. So this is, again, why I'm running. It just feels like this district is all about the administration. One of my campaign speeches that I give, when you give the elevator pitch that you have to do– they're treating our staff and students and families as inventory on the spreadsheet rather than investments. I don't look at people as numbers and I know that obviously the budget is going to be a big, huge deal. And I'm not being dismissive of that, but my priority is really to take care of the people. And that's just not lip service for me.
MW: That's the tension, right, because they needed to update the math curriculum. But if they hadn't piloted them, if they hadn't tested any, then I might question not testing any and just picking one. They had a whole committee. I think over half of the committee members, maybe like 3/4 of the committee members, were teachers. So it was people who are experts on these things. I think that was good. Also it is coming in year three of the pandemic. And so everything is stressful. So there's the downside, right? I have very mixed feelings about it. It's good. It's also very hard. I have a very nuanced view of this. Don't ask me questions, I'll talk to you all day about schools.
CB: I've had that problem, too. I've been doing some of these events. My partner, he stands in the back, and then he just holds up his hands and points at the watch. Everybody chatting, talking away. I'm a teacher. I can talk to people forever too.
MW: That was my last question. So now I'm going to ask you my next to last question. My last question was what didn't I ask you? But here's what I still want to ask you. Your elevator pitch. Why should voters pick you? They have 4 candidates for at-large. They get to pick two. So why should you be one of their two votes?
CB: I just think because I’ve been a public school educator for 21 years, thousands of parents have already put their students trust me. I can feel comfortable asking other people to put their trust in me as well. I know this system. I know the players in this system. That is going to help me from the ground up and I have positive relationships with people already. I'm working with four other people on this board. All have similar values. And it's just that my priorities are the people and the biggest thing I keep going back to is I am a special education teacher. And no one has to tell me about how things are going in the school district because I'm living it every day.
MW: Do you have anything else you want to say?
CB: You know, I don't really know if I do. I'm sure that after I get off the phone I'll be like, oh shoot. So then I'll give you a call if something pops up into my head.