This interview is part of our School Board Voter Guide. The interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length. KerryJo Felder 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: What I thought we could just start with is maybe just your background and how that's relevant to being a school board member.
KerryJo Felder: I grew up in Minneapolis Public Schools. I lived over North, South and Northeast. My father was an educator. He was a math teacher, and so I learned the value of education at a very young age. I was the first one to graduate from Summatech and then all the rest of my siblings followed suit.
I just believe that children are innocent. And it is the adults job to make sure that they get the best. I believe that our children aren't getting what they're supposed to be getting and I can see where we should be inserting ourselves as adults.
I've been following the school board since 2010 when they wanted to close North High School. I've organized. Then, opening up the middle school, Franklin. Helping to save North, opening up the middle school, helping Olson [middle school] become IB [International Baccalaureate]. Then also the fact that the whole CDD was only supposed to be at North High School. That was my idea of bringing it back after Jemele Staples brought it up.
Also understanding the teachers, where they are in the room. My father was an educator. How our policies are not working, they're not clicking together. I actually know the man who wrote a lot of those policies.
And new math. Parents can't even help their kids at home because nobody knows about new math. The new math is not in white, affluent areas. New math is not in private schools. New math is only in specific schools and it's a failure.
We have to be able to say no more of this. No more of that. We have to believe our teachers when they're saying something. We have to believe our par mentors when they're saying something. I've noticed that our people in the districts haven't been believing that for a long time. It’s shown through our students. It shows where we are. I'm just analyzing the whole situation. Understanding it, I think, makes me very qualified for the position.
MW: One of the things that I heard you bring up was about where the district is spending money. The question that I have asked the other candidates is the current budget was balanced because of the use of temporary COVID funds. But those funds are temporary and September 2024 is the last time that those funds can be used. When you think about the budget in the future, how would you change the way the district is spending money?
KF: Well, we can't put money towards the future, because our children need it right now. That would be one. Number two, I think we're not utilizing our teachers in decisions enough. We're paying whole departments to make decisions where we could utilize our teachers some more and save money that way.
I think that some of our curriculum choices are incorrect. We have to take a look at how we can work around those. Teaching our children the correct way with a different curriculum.
Also, we have to ask our neighbors, and our parents and grandparents and our retirees to help us for a couple of years. Just because we're not going to have the money. We think we're going to have children leaving all the time. We're gonna have to make some really hard decisions and that might force a couple more to leave. But I think that if we make some really good decisions and we offer great programming we can kind of stop the bleeding and it will begin to heal and then grow.
I think that Minneapolis is one of the best cities in the nation. We can actually get our hands around doing things the right way. I think that really looking at the budget and getting rid of the things that we need and don't need.
I think that the Superintendent [Graff] overspent on wrap around services, just broke it up into social emotional learning and shared systems with support. We don't need to break everything all the way down if we already know what it is. We spent lots of money on that.
We've spent lots of money on other things. The last program before Ed Graff, Ed Graff let me know that we had spent $120 million and we still hadn't come to anything that was permanent. $120 million is a lot of money.
MW: What was the 120 million spent on?
KF: The years of trying to get a program but not really following through on anything.
MW: Any specific program?
KF: What was it, 11, 8, 5, 3, 2, 1, about how we were going to phase out school resource officers and bring in more nurses, more counselors, more psychiatric services. But we never did that. We never did that at all, never followed through with that. That was the 2020 program. I remember those bubbles for years and I just started to call them bubbles because it really was nothing. It was just fluff.
I've been going to school board meetings since 2010. Although the way that it was handled prior to Ed Graff coming, the loudest, the squeaky wheel got the most money. North Minneapolis only had one person vying for it. Northeast has one person vying for it, and south Minneapolis would have four but it would meld into southwest. The way that the money was being spent was uneven. So, that's why the CDD. The ship finally nosedived. It's because of all the unevenness. They tried to catch it in the end. It was just too late.
MW: One of the things that you said was that there are curriculum choices that are wrong. You also brought up the new math is only being taught in some schools. I'm wondering, can you give an example of a curriculum that's in use that you think they should stop using or replace with something else?
KF: We can go back to structured math, or Singapore math. After using it in one school in Minneapolis Public Schools. They’re using it at Blake.
MW: This year, the district has rolled out a new elementary math curriculum. Every school got new books, new materials, new classroom materials. The teachers have had professional development. It's going from a model of having something different in every school to now there's this one curriculum that every elementary school is supposed to be using. I'm wondering, have you looked at that and how do you think that relates to this issue of having different schools have access to different materials.
KF: Yeah, I'm not a fan of that at all.
MW: You're not a fan of everyone having the same one?
KF: No, I'm not a fan of schools having different.
MW: Have you looked at what's new?
KF: I haven't looked at it. I just asked about eight people. That's what I always do. It's my favorite number. So I asked eight people in different areas of the school district and what they thought about it. That's kind of where I get my answers from. I am not a professional. So I asked the professionals.
MW: What did you hear?
MW: And what do you think is not good about it?
KF: The one that’s Benchmark.
MW: Isn't Benchmark the literacy curriculum?
KF: Oh, the literacy. Pardon me, yes. I was really disappointed because I taught my son phonics. And they were teaching him balanced literacy. They told him to guess if they don't know the right word. If he has a page, and four words on it that he doesn't know, and he's guessing 4 words per page, is he really understanding the whole book? So I was very upset.
I'm not a fan of balanced literacy, or of new math either. Parents don't know what new math is. It doesn't help as much in the world because you're not going to be using it like that anyway.
MW: The new math curriculum is Bridges/ Number Corner. Have you talked to people about that? That's the thing that you've heard is not good?
KF: I heard that they're going to make it work. But that is all I heard.
MW: On Benchmark, we've heard that they’re going to audit the literacy curriculum. When the results of that come out, I think the new board would be in place. If you were elected, what would you want them to be looking for in a literacy curriculum?
KF: It's hard because I was there when we were looking at the different providers of curriculum and all of them that they bring forward are in English and Spanish. That's all that they bring forward. Everything else is supplemental, so it's very hard for any district to really do well. I was like teachers, come on you guys, it's time for you guys to start making your own curriculum again. And they have so much to do. They have so much to do that's not really profitable. That was a dream of mine. But really that's where we really need to go. Bring the teachers into teaching and learning. Bring our par mentors into teaching and learning, and bring our ESPs into teaching and learning. It's going to be better for us with any source of materials that we have.
I know that they've been talking about that already because structured reading with phonics is proven to be the best. It's best for children with reading disabilities, children who are trying to catch up in reading, children who are dyslexic, children who are deaf. Overall when we're talking about all children that is the best.
Go to a structured reading, structured literacy with phonics. That's where I want to see us going. But it looks like what we've already purchased. I'm not quite sure. I just think that there just needs to be some redistribution of priorities when we start looking at higher levels of the district because it hasn't been working.
MW: If they come back to the board in January, and you're a member of that board, and they say we should get rid of Benchmark because it's a balanced literacy curriculum. We should invest in something new, would you support that?
KF: I would, yeah. 100%. But do we have the money? I don't know, right? So that's the thing that I'm most concerned about.
I would like to see two superintendents. I would like to see one focused on the money and one focused on the schools. I think that would be very good for us. Like a working team. Because there's so much to fix. I think it's overwhelming for one person. I don't want to do that to anybody. Whoever we bring in, they have to be from Minneapolis. There is no time to adjust.
MW: So you would want an internal candidate or someone who has some sort of connection to the district in the past?
KF: They can have a connection or be internal, but they have to know Minneapolis. I would prefer that they would have gone through Minneapolis Public Schools themselves. Or, someone internal, just because of all the work.
MW: In the name of fairness, I want to ask the question the same way I asked other candidates about the Superintendent. The board chair released a proposal for the hiring process for the next Superintendent. Have you looked at that proposal? What do you think about it? Would you change it?
KF: I think that there's already a few people who are very much interested, and are thinking about throwing their hats in.
Then the proposal looks good. Would I change it? It depends on what they want. I think that everything is, to me, everything is negotiable. I don't want anyone to be unhappy over something that could have easily been fixed. So everything is negotiable.
I actually would like to see two. I think that we're going to have to really have somebody really fixated on money and programming. And have somebody fixated on schools and climate because our bullying is out of control. Our policies have to respect what we have to do, as well. There's a lot of work to be done.
MW: Right now in the district there are several avenues where parents in particular can give feedback and get involved. The formal things that exist are site councils, the parent advisory councils, public comments at board meetings, and the parent participatory evaluations process.
Plus, they can always send an e-mail or make a phone call to board members or district officials or principals. But many feel like these avenues of communication aren't sufficient. Or they feel like they provide input, but they don't get the response that they want when they engage with the district. How would you try to address that?
KF: One of my favorite policies is policy 1000. That's what the Josh [Pauly] part of our board was trying to change when we're having our big fights over the policies. Inspirational. That's what they would call 1000. And what policy 1000 said was that the relationship between the community and the district must remain a two-way street. That they are in it together. I love that. And so that's what I want. Policy 1000. And I just really want to highlight that. I want to put it on a poster board so parents know.
When I go to meetings, I see parents go up to the microphone and they're upset and they walk away and they sit down. And nobody goes to talk to them. I would get upset. Why do you have your whole cabinet crew here? Why do you have the district here and nobody talking to that parent? Every parent should have somebody talking to them and attend to them, because that's their job. They're not just here to watch.
I think that that's one part of it . Also, the superintendents of late have been very standoffish about letting parents into the schools. I just want to open the schools up. We need parents to come and help us. Help children read. Help children learn math. We need parents, we need the community. We need everyone to come into our schools and help us and so then our two-way street is becoming wide. Again, it will start moving because our parents will have another avenue of support.
Also hands on experience. I think that that needs to happen very much. That would also help out teachers. Even if somebody just comes in to watch the hallway. That means that an educational assistant doesn't have to watch the hallway. They can go back into the classroom to assist the teacher, and the teacher will go back to the center of the classroom. It doesn't have to be the only one with 30 students walking around trying to do everything. We have to move back in. We have to move people into important positions. Hallway monitors are important positions. Educational assistants are important positions. Teachers are important positions. Arts are important.
We have to be brave and we have to come together. I think Minneapolis holds a lot of talent. We have to ask our parents and our neighbors and our elders, our retirees. They come forward and help us out. I think that people will because we are Minneapolis. We are different.
MW: A follow up to the engagement piece. I've had conversations with board members who have said things like, I always try to keep in mind that for everyone who shows up, there are lots of people who can't. From an engagement perspective, how do you get those other voices? Sometimes the loudest voices are people who are used to exerting power within an institution. But they don't necessarily speak for everyone. So how do you engage people who are not those people?
KF: Right. And it's not only about people who are exerting power, as people who have a free mind to be able to be engaged. Something that I would like to do is just make all the weights even. So if one hundred white people show up and ten Native Americans show up, it's still the same.
Because I almost melted in my chair. I mean the reason why they did extra reaching out to people, [for the CDD], it was Ira [Jourdain], and myself and Bob [Walser]. And I think Siad [Ali]. It was just really hard. They had to do specific phone calls to specific areas to fill the quota to try to bring the numbers up on the CDD [survey]. But before the CDD, there were other programs that went by where this had happened, even though they did try, the weight was still on white parents. And that would rule over everything. Again, that's why our ship is upside down.
But, I think that a lot of white parents are seeing this because there are a lot of parents now in the position of, how can we help? We see this. What can we do? I think that's wonderful, I really do. I hope we can turn around the route that Minneapolis Public Schools is taking.
I think we have an awesome crew coming in and I wish we would have had this crew when I first started. But, we just have to realize that if it's looking one way on one side of the river and a different way on the other one, at some point in time it's going to come back and bite us and it really did. It really, really did. And then trying to force something. You can't force. They did it once and they had police officers, and that was fine, whatever. But we've actually had people get up and move. But there's nothing–What is there going to be over here? And our news they've defined things that happened. If somebody got shot eight blocks away from North [High School], they're shooting at North [High School]. They do it all the time and it's so disgusting.
We just have to make sure that all of our children are getting the same education or have access to the same education so that our ship and our sailing is smooth. I know that is where our group is trying to get us. I hope that those who have had smooth sailing realize that we need them to come into our schools to help or donate. We need people over North with their talents to come in and donate. We need our senior citizens to come in and donate their time. We have a lot of retired educators in Minnesota. I'm going to call them back and say hello, can you please come help? We need help. Can you please come be a hall monitor help? Do you care about reading? Awesome. Help.
I hope that we only have to do that for a year or maybe two before we can get back on track.
If we can win the House, maybe we can get to fully funding public schools. That would help a lot.
MW: You mentioned something about all children having access to the same things, and so that makes me think of another part of this CDD which some people liked, some people didn't like. The magnet programming was changed pretty dramatically from zone based and now it's all city wide. There are fewer magnet schools, but every child, in every part of the city has access to the same set of programs. What do you think about that?
KF: You know the CDD was only supposed to be at North. Other board members intervened. The superintendents intervened. They listened to somebody who I begged to not push their idea of what they're doing in Kentucky with the roundabout buses. But in Kentucky they built the programs in low income neighborhoods. They didn't try to spread it around again.
Because if Southwest has 13 apples, and Washburn has 11, and Roosevelt has nine, and FAIR has five, and Edison has four, and Henry has three and North has one. And you take something and you split it up, you're not helping anybody.
So when I was on the school board, I went and I took it around and I talked to people on the north side and they were fine to let go of the engineering program and give it to Henry because everybody over North knew that the teachers and the students that Henry had worked so hard for their engineering program.
The thing is, there was no intent of sharing or discussing real equity or even what equality was. We just wanted to force this idea. And force was it because even at the end, even white parents were like, whoa, wait, stop. I don't like these lines. We have one child going here and one child going there. Why can't both of our children go there? So we have to change the lines back. We have to talk to parents. Now do you want your child to go there or do you want to go back to their– what do you want? There's a lot of work to be done.
MW: So would you be interested in doing that if you are on the board, changing the boundaries again?
KF: That's what I'm talking about, yes, but it's gotta be student by student, family by family. Now it's not just changing lines. Now we have to go to each and every family and go what do you want? It's got to be done like that and nothing else.
MW: How do you do that in a place as big as Minneapolis?
KF: I don't know. I was hoping maybe a Google doc. And then we look at the transportation and look at the numbers. Then we have to have somebody work the numbers and work the numbers truly, because they're always messing with the enrollment department. Having the enrollment center on point as well. There's no divert kids over here, then divert kids over there, because that happens. And that has to stop as well. We've got to just be honest. There's a lot of work that needs to be done in that building [Davis Center]. A lot of cleanup. I think that's another reason I'm good for the job. I've been in the building. I've seen where they put the cobwebs, the dead, crunchy spiders.
MW: A few weeks ago, there was a presentation of the MCA scores. There were broad declines in proficiency across all student groups, and widening gaps between students of color and Indigenous students, and white students. As well as gaps between students who qualify for special education and English learner services and free and reduced price meals right, and students who don't qualify for those services. What's your first reaction when you saw that information?
KF: You want my honest first reaction?
KF: Me personally, I was like, we don't need MCAs anyway. We do too much over testing anyway. That's what I thought.
MW: My follow up, then. Some people argue that things like MCA data just reflect back the poverty and racism of our society, that until we fix those external problems, student academic outcomes will always have these gaps. When people say that, how do you respond to that?
KF: Well, I think that's true. I would like to say that teachers are busy. While they're filling out all of this paperwork, we could be doing something else. I think at some point the anxiety, the anxiousness, of wanting to pass, trickles down into the students. I think they feel it. And that tension is not good. I would rather that we focus on other things during that time. Maybe it's a positive word of encouragement. Maybe we're going to watch a positive movie. There is just more that we can do than teach to the test, for our students and for our teachers.
I think that we should be having conversations with our parents, not robocalls. If our parents can't help them, maybe that's a phone call that we take to Miss Marie, who was an educator and has retired, but she's not ready to just give up yet. So she wants to come in and help. Miss Marie can help with math.
There's a lot of ways where we can spend the money, we can spend the time, and we can bring up our children's scores without having to look at that test. We can spend that other time making phone calls, people who come in and help. That's what I would prefer.
MW: The current board and the former Superintendent passed a new strategic plan, and the first of the four goals centers around academics. I believe, school and district climate, effective staffing and student well-being I think are the four parts. The new interim Superintendent is working to implement that strategic plan. Come January, if you are on the board, would you continue on that course, or would you try to form a new strategic plan?
KF: I think that we would have to have a new strategic plan. We have to remember that this is the board, the same board that voted yes.
MW: Yes to what?
KF: To the CDD.
MW: Not the exact same board, right?
KF: Hello, this is Siad Ali. This is Caprini. This is Ellison. So we're missing Josh. It's still 5, so it's still-
MW: Both Cerrillo and El-Amin were not serving.
KF: No, right, I know, but it's still five. They still have the majority. So no. Do I trust it? I don't think they get it, no, sorry.
I will have to take a look at it really, really, really, really closely. And talk to people. Talk to Diop, I would have to talk to the Interim Superintendent. From other folks, I'm not just going to go off the cuff and trust it. Because Sharon is new. Adriana. It takes a little bit of time to get to understand and do that stuff. No, I don't trust, no. We had, every day, hundreds of phone calls and emails, apparently.
I don't know if people who won't listen to their constituents–I mean, we don't have a lot of time and I think that's why they're onboarding us quickly. Nobody's elected yet and they're already onboarding, which I think is great.
MW: So just to clarify, if you're elected in January, you would want to start the process over again to build a new strategic plan?
KF: No, I would review this, if there's any changes that would have to be made.
MW: Is there anything in what you've read so far that sticks out?
MW: Can you give an example?
KF: Where is the community? Where are parents?
We're not going to make it if we don't open up our schools. The last superintendents, not including Rochelle Cox, have been very good at closing our schools to the community, and I don't believe in that. I think we should be opening up our schools. We need to have more intergenerational interactions. If we're going to eat pancakes and play bingo on a Saturday morning to win stupid prizes, but everybody shows up, cool. That is awesome.
I think that there is value in our retirees and our elders. I think that there is value in cross-generational relationships. I think there is value in integrated relationships and pulling people together.
I think that there are a lot of churches who would be down to work with the schools. I know that when I was on the board I had asked Shiloh [Temple] to look over North and at some point, they did. Even when I was no longer on the board, I had asked my church to look over Franklin and at some point they did that.
But that's what we have to do. We have to ask our communities to come forward. We can't just ask the churches, we have to ask the mosques, too. And the temple. We have all kinds of people in school. We need all kinds of people to come forward, and we have to learn about each other. That's the beautiful thing about Minneapolis. A melting pot that we are. That's the thing we should be celebrating is our diversity, and we're not.
MW: This is my last question and hopefully it's an easy one. There are four candidates for two at-large seats. Why should voters pick you as one of their two votes?
KF: I eat, sleep and breathe this. When I lost to Sharon El-Amin, I was actually happy. The reason being, I was able to take a look on the outside once more, again, of what we really, really need. I knew some of the things we needed, but then I was able to do it again knowing what's inside the district and what's outside and what we need to be able to put together, and having those relationships with people in the district, having those relationships with teachers, par mentors, food service people, bus drivers, janitors. It takes a lot of people to make up a school, and you just can't rely on people in the district.
Each community is different, but I know that people care. And I know that people over Southwest care what happens over North, but are they given the opportunity? No, not really sometimes, but they did when, you know, North had a issue, they showed up, showed out.
We just have to make those opportunities available for the whole city, and we have to do it for a little while. From Minneapolis Public School, it just can't come out of the district anymore. It's gotta come from Minneapolis. That's why I hope people choose me because I want Minneapolis public schools to succeed more than anything. Children are innocent and they deserve an education that they can live on, throughout their adult lifetime from getting a K through 12 education.
MW: Is there anything that I didn't touch on that you feel like I missed? Is there anything you think I missed that you want to say?
KF: I think that I've had some really great, involved conversations with a lot of people of different ethnicities and ages. I just know that from having all of those that we can be successful. Minneapolis Public Schools is in a very precarious position.
I know that the people that I chose to be with, who chose to be with me– you know that we chose each other before the DFL, right? Do you know that we chose each other? I thought it was important that we went into the MFT and said, hey, you know it's KerryJo, but hey, I'm with Lori. And I was shocked. Yeah. And DFL – because who does that? Usually we get thrown together and then we quit. But no, we came together, because we have those values.
MW: How did you guys find each other?
KF: We met each other through our friend. And then we just kept doing it. We have a line that we talk on every day. From early in the morning to late at night. And so that's something that people don't know that we're always in conversation. We're not getting thrown together. We chose each other and we chose these partners to fix this problem and we all have some different strengths. Mine is, I look twenty years ahead, thirty years ahead, what does this look like? I love to do that. Budget forecasting. Love it.
You know Lori– mathematics as well. She's been a teacher. She understands what is needed in the classroom. Collin. He works at Transition Plus. When we're talking about special education and students who are going through that education piece right there, that's where he is every day. And the Black man talking to children in that place every day. So how do we pump them up? How do we keep them from going there? How do we finally cut Transition Plus, right, to keep everybody in the main public schools?
And then Fathia, she’s written two books on how to communicate with your children and get the best kind of communication from your children. She’s about to get a PhD. Abdul takes care of the computers for the government. We've never had a computer guy, and so this computer guy can tell us if our computer guy is real or not. We've never been able to do that before.
So we all have our own strength and that's why we need the five of us, we need the five of us.
Yeah, Abdul came a bit later, but the four of us had chosen each other. Mary McCallow, she was one of the ones that came on in district one when we had chosen each other. She backed down because Abdul has kids in the school system and he's also a Black man. He's Somali. So she backed down as a white woman to make space for him.
I think we all have various strengths. I wish that we would have been able to come together a while back and to be able to help steer Minneapolis Public Schools before we came to this point because it's a very serious point.
MW: You all have one same friend who introduced you?
KF: Yeah. We're also respecting each other. It's been quite the thing you know. If you look at our pictures– if I can't make it, they're over there holding my sign. It's been super awesome. We're repping each other wherever we go and I think that's wonderful. And I think that that's what's needed, instead of, I'm gonna get this for mine, I'm gonna get this for mine, I'm gonna get this for mine, for getting this from MPS. I think that's what's going to help hold MPS together.
MW: What do you think you'll get working together for MPS?
KF: A solid plan, I think that can work for everyone. Something that can probably show real equity. And not one program here, one program there. But real programs everywhere. We should have real programs everywhere and everybody feels like that.
MW: What's an example of a program you think is in one place that's not in others?
KF: The new math. Or Singapore math.
MW: I think they don't have that anymore.
KF: Well, it's too bad because that's the real thing. Unless we're all going to structured math.
Because if we're going to new math, we're gonna just have to change that when we come in because new math doesn't work.
MW: I'm not quite sure if the math curriculum that they just selected is structured or not.
KF: We need to make sure that we're giving kids real value across the district, and I think that's why a lot of parents left. They felt like they weren't getting value or they weren't valued. If you've talked to everybody [endorsed by MFT], I think you can feel the value that they have for students, for parents, for the community.
MW: You've talked about this, that some places in the district have something that others don't. There's always that tension, because sometimes there are groups that try to work right to gain extra resources. So how will you work together to prevent that from happening?
KF: I have some ideas I can't put out at this time. Not because I'm trying to be secretive.
There's always going to be a program somewhere that's not somewhere else. We would have to straight line it. We would have to say, we have this group coming in over here and there are three nonprofits and they're going to come in and help here. We have this church coming in here. You guys have your money. You guys can bring it in. We have this nonprofit coming in here. We would have to make it fair across the board. If the one who has money wants to put a bunch of money in, then we could say well, we don't have this over here, so do you have any people you can point us to throw in over here?
We're just gonna keep it tight across the board and I think going back and forth between the community and seeing what we have and what we don't have and what do people know, I think that'll be very beneficial.
MW: Of the nonprofits? Are you thinking from a funding source? Or are you thinking PTAs, some schools have PTAs and some don't?
KF: I'm thinking about all of it.
MW: Would you go so far as to making policies so that PTAs couldn't buy something for one school that other schools don't have?
KF: No, I would say, hey, help us fund this for the other schools.
MW: Like if you want to put a program at Folwell, you have to put it everywhere?
KF: Have something else in its place. We have a million artist movement at Cityview, a full service community school. We have two schools over North, and we have one over South. And I think I did help bring the one over South. And trying to get money for it at the Capitol. When I was on the school board, I brought two of them. Then I went and asked a million artist movement, can you guys come over here and help us with the art and they're like, yeah.
MW: So you're not saying that million artist movement should be at every school, but if that's what's going to be at Cityview then Lucy Laney should get something else and Loring should get something else?
KF: Maybe, maybe. But we're not gonna have schools with nothing anymore, no.
MW: So what if you can't find a program for each school?
\KF: We live in the world of nonprofits. Minneapolis is made-up of so many nonprofits. It's crazy.
And not only nonprofits. There's so many community programs.
MW: So you're really talking about nonprofit partnerships with schools?
KF: Correct partnerships with schools, churches. It could be elderly high rises with schools.
[At this point in the interview, the call dropped. KerryJo Felder called back. After a brief back and forth about where we had left off, the interview continued.]
KF: I'm very excited to run again. I'm very excited to run citywide. I've had really great conversations over North and over in Southwest. They sound just a little different, but they all come back to the same thing.
The hardcore Minneapolitans, this has been really bad. And even for those who've taken their kids out of Minneapolis Public Schools, they really want to bring them back. So they're still working to help in the schools even though their kids are going somewhere else. It's just going to take some time. It's unfortunate that we only have a short amount of time in order to prove that we can do it.
And that's why I love my crew, they all know it. It's been very exciting in that way, instead of hearing everybody and still voting a different way, it just killed me. It killed me that they ripped apart the C-tech idea because it came from Rochester. All these people were saying, you know, don't do it, don't do it, don't do it. It still happened.
Everyone is so different and they're so down to Earth and they're so original and I'm pretty sure that they probably said the same thing.
I’m very much looking forward– I just want to play on the inside one more time. I think it's very important that I'm there. And I do like to rewrite policy. I do. I have copies of the policies I've had since day one going in. It was my present from the [MFT] president at the time, Michelle Weiss. I was like, oh my God, I love this. Thank you so much. I had them even before they even changed over.
And I do know the man who actually wrote a lot of those policies. Mitch Trokcman. He's a mentor of mine. I can pull a rabbit out of a hat sometimes. In fact, he was mad that they don't give me any credit for the CDD. They don't give me any credit for the field. It's OK. I don't need it, but I do need, though, for all these kids to get the best education they can get out of MPS. I don't need any flowers yet. I'll get those later. That's what I'm striving for.
But are you excited talking to me?
MW: I mean, I'm a school board nerd. I love talking about school.
KF: Because I want people to get excited. Did you get excited?
MW: Here's what I'll say KerryJo, is that when I hear you talk about your experience in MPS, I hear someone who sounds like they had an awesome public school experience.
[Felder shares several personal anecdotes, and then a story about Van Gogh. She then talks about the arts in MPS.]
KF: But I do want the kids to have the arts, though. So that they know these things.
What would it look like if we had closed the schools and moved our teachers into the arts? But you know what? They didn't want to do that because their pride is too much, and that's what it is.
None of the people that I'm working with, their pride is that big. And that's what's wrong with the school board that we have now. And that's why I don't trust the plan that they have. Because they should have closed schools last year. So that they didn't have to pull arts this year and that's just how I feel about it. And you can't change my mind.
I think it is combined. It’s not that you actually have to close schools, you can combine schools. And if you combine schools, maybe you can combine some programs to give kids more than what they have right now, you know, what an idea.
MW: I feel like what I hear about this, though, is that neighborhoods, people do not like when their building closes. It's very traumatic and difficult. And I think historically a lot of those closures have happened in North.
KF: Yes, they have, and we're not going to do that this time. This time it's gonna actually go in a circle. And that's the scary thing for people. And it just is what it is. We all have to be equitable. We're going to learn what it means to be equitable and that's what we're gonna say. This is equitable.
MW: How do you think you get buy-in on that?
KF: We get buy-in on that by moving the lines, and having one on ones with those parents, and listening to what they want to do with their children on where they want to send them to school.
MW: But if you’re a parent in a building and that building is going to close like how do you–
KF: It can only close temporarily. We can do this for a year. If you do it right, it would be for a year and then we get some kids back and then we have to open it up again. Let's do this right from the get go. Let's not have to fight the whole way. Let's work together. And do this correctly. I mean we’re going to have to work together.
MW: So you think potentially closing buildings and then–
KF: No, that's not very cool. Let’s say combining them.
MW: Combining, fine, we'll use that word. But children are in fewer buildings than they are today. And then enrollment goes back up and you think reopening?
KF: Mmmhmm. We do it all the time. And offering them better programming and secure programming.
MW: So if that's what is happening, part of what people responded to with CDD was the move, the disruption. That's a word I hear a lot. I hear educators talk about that. I hear parents talk about that. There's a lot of disruption. Combined buildings. Uncombined buildings, that's also disruption.
KF: Yeah, yeah.
MW: But you think for this reason it's OK?
KF: Combined buildings? I mean do you know where we are as far as Minneapolis Public Schools?
MW: In terms of enrollment or finances? Yes, yes, I do.
KF: The budget. All of that. I refuse to go into receivership. I refuse to go into receivership.
MW: There are five of you running together on the same slate, right? That's a voting majority.
So, you come in in January, the budget happens in–
KF: You know what? Ira’s been waiting for us.
MW: Ira has been waiting for you?
KF: Ira Jourdain is going to throw us a party when we get there. He’s throwing us a party. And then, Sharon and Adriana, we’re going to let them see what it feels like to be free. Truly, that's what it's going to look like and you just can't wait. So it's not like we're alone. Ira’s looking for us. When it was voting and when it was fighting, it was always me, Ira [Jourdain], Bob [Walser]. Sometimes we had Siad [Ali]. And prior to that we had Rebecca Gagnon. And because she did say the names out loud, they came after her big time.
MW: Say what names out loud?
KF: Like charter school names and she would talk about Minnesota Comeback. And Lee Fan [Al Fan] and everybody in that group there. They came after her big time. And now I'm walking with all of these people who don't give a shit. Are you kidding me? I love it.
I mean, we don't need to give you time. We don't need to have Minnesota nice with you because you did all of this harm to Minneapolis Public School. We don't need to give you any time. We are over here fixing something. We don't need to give you time.
MW: So you think that if the five of you are elected and you come in in January– you pretty much jump into the budget cycle right away. The budget tie out starts mid February. What do you think that's going to look like this year?
KF: Well, I think that it's going to be hard. I think it's going to be hard because if we jump in all that fast, I think that we're going to have to make some quick decisions on what we want the district to look like, and in what's available to parents in terms of combining programs.
MW: In terms of combining programs?
KF: In terms of combining programs. In terms of changing what the enrollment office offers.
MW: Choice cards are due at the beginning of February? Do you think that the enrollment options for parents would change before the February choice deadline?
KF: Oh, I'm sure, yeah. We'll have videos out and everything, yeah. That has to be our marketing. And then we have to have new ideas. We have to close FAIR for sure. We're letting go of that. And close 800 on Broadway, and move that, and somehow have somebody else take that over. 800 is for the children that we failed. We're trying to help them find jobs now. We put money into that.
We have a lot of buildings. Do we need them? We're going to need people to try to get electric buses for– our grant department, what does that look like? What are they doing? What department’s ever going to let go of before that time? There's a lot.
MW: Like there are whole departments at Davis Center you think could be eliminated?
MW: Any examples?
KF: Teaching and learning.
MW: You'd get rid of the entire teaching and learning department?
KF: I would get rid of the people in it.
KF: Yeah. I’d maybe save one. When you put all of the people in there, you could add all those years up and I could pull out a teacher that can match him. And we could have the teachers do that. That can be their summer job and they can get like little stipends throughout the year to fix kinks or do whatever. And we could have one person dole that out.
MW: Like writing curriculum?
KF: Correct. We should have teachers in there. We should have par mentors in there and we should have ESPs in there.
MW: In addition to their classroom responsibilities or in lieu of?
KF: No. This is their summer job, and maybe a few weekends during the– or breaks during the year. But maybe a few weekends during the year. And there's another person and they're just making sure that it goes smoothly in that department. We don't need a whole hired department for it when we have par mentors, teachers, and ESP's. Because that's how you know whether curriculum is working or not.
MW: How do you know curriculum is working?
KF: Because the teachers will tell you if the children like it. Or are learning. And then the par mentors are watching to see if the children are liking it and if the teachers can teach it and the ESP's can teach it as well. Like there's a whole structured piece to how children learn and how people are supported in the classroom.
So you have to look at everything. And the first thing that Ed [Graff] did when he came in was cut our par mentors short. So we lost a lot of good teachers that year because they didn't get a par mentor because we didn't have enough to go around. So we lost a lot of Black teachers. We lost my sister. She makes twice as much as she did. She teaches in Saint Louis Park. We’ve missed out on so many fantastic teachers. So many Northsiders.
I thought I had to learn from Kim Ellison and the others. This group is like, you know what, they're harmful. So I'm down with four flat tires to go forward with this group, and whatever we think of as a collective, and not as a board, but as a collective.
I think that there's a lot of things that need to be done for our Native American families and for Somali families, for white families, for all of our kids. We can do better. We just have to bring it to the table, and talk honestly and move honestly
So I'm excited. I really want to win. I keep telling my husband, only four years, that's it.
MW: Do you think you wouldn't run again if you were elected?
KF: Depends on where we are. If I could do it and there's someone in a color– but that's the thing, though. We have to bring people in and tell them what's going on. I just took a young lady that I did ask to come sit down and have pancakes with me. And I'm just going to give her the whole education piece of Minneapolis from my view, as a Black woman who's been watching for a while. If she wants to pick it up, then good. She has younger children than I do. At some point we have to start passing that on. Because otherwise, if parents aren't running, then what we're going to get are people coming in from out of town who don't know about Minneapolis, people who don't have children, who don't know about the schools. That's a bad thing but when you don't know the nature of the beast– I think that that's very important. And Minneapolis, we're different.
MW: You mentioned parents. I think every– I don't know if Colin has children in the district– but I think that everyone else does. Isn't everyone else a parent or caregiver?
KF: Yeah, but Collin is special because he actually works in special ed. He's got his own mark, which is pretty cool.
You have to ask people, what is receivership? Do you think Minneapolis [Public] Schools is close?
MW: What do people say?
KF: I had that conversation with my group. We can talk about special education all we want to. When we talk about special education, we have to be very precise, because special education is very broad. We've got dyslexic, we have blind, we have behavioral, we have sensory, we have dyslexic. We have autism. We have so much. We have spectrums. So much. So when we were talking about that, we have to go the whole way of talking about what that looks like. And make sure that we're ready to apply a fix to all of it.
When we're looking at going into receivership, we have to know that that's not going to help those children. That's a scary feeling. We had this conversation over– with my crew– We had this at Hosmer library. It was a pretty good conversation. It was a while back. They were like, OK, that's where we are. And Colin was like, yay!
MW: Yay for receivership?
KF: He was being facetious.
You have to understand where we are and how much work we have to do. It's not just one thing, it's everything. It's gotta be everything and you gotta be ready to push for everything because if we don't push everything, we won't make it.
KF: Can I ask you a question? Would you vote for me?
MW: I mean, I'm not going to talk about my voting. I feel like that's not appropriate. I will just say this, I think we have a lot of good candidates. I'm in District 6, so Ira [Jourdain] is my school board representative. He's not up for election, so I'm not voting for district seats. But I feel like the at-large candidates, it's a strong field, so I'll say that.
KF: Do you love Ira?
MW: Do I love Ira? I don't think I've ever interacted with Ira.
KF: Oh, well, he's gonna come alive now. When I lost, he called me up and cussed me out and hung up on me.
KF: Because he's alone.
MW: Oh, because you were leaving?
KF: Bob didn't run again. I probably would have done the same. I love Ira. I want to work with him again. I would really love to see him do the work that he wants to do, that he's been wanting to do with the Native American communities that aren't even in his–
I mean, my gosh, it would be one Somali man, one Somali woman, a Black man, a Black woman, a Native American man. And a Black woman. And a Black woman. And a Latino woman. And then the student Rep. And then in two years, I mean it's gonna either have to be a Latino man, like Michael Dueñes. I love Michael Dueñes. A Latino man? Or a Native woman. Or a white man.
Balance is everything. But Kim isn't running again, so it would be nice though, you know– I'm planning to be there in two years. We're not going to go through receivership and planning to get one more different aspect on the board. And just make sure that we can blend.
Because, you want to know what happened? I talked two of my principles into wanting to open up a Freedom School, and it was more their smaller size.
MW: Wait, which two principles?
KF: Eric Moore was like ‘yeah, you can have a Freedom School.’ I was like, cool. It was going to be the first ever Black and Hmong Freedom School, with Mr. Peyton and Miss Gao over at Hmong Academy. And they were so hyped because Peyton was already trained in it. And Gao read about it, but she was like, ‘Oh, I can do this. Oh, this is awesome. We can add on to what we already have here. We can cross reference. We can teach–’ Because the Hmongs sometimes feel like African Americans because they say that in the Pacific Islander ranks, that they're at the bottom. And so, to have a Freedom School, they were very excited and– Ed broke them up. I was so mad.
People want these things. And people can see it and people can plan for it. And people can get hyped for it. We just have to have somebody who believes that they can do it and we haven't had that. So I'm very excited. I really want to win. I want to give, really give people a chance and I believe in my city.