October 25, 2018
Near the bottom of next Tuesday’s election ballot, after the federal, state and county offices, Northeast voters will find seven entries for Minneapolis school board members. One entry, for District 1, has current board member Jenny Arneson running unopposed. Two spaces are for write-in candidates; four candidates are running for two at-large board seats.
Candidates Kimberly Caprini, Sharon El-Amin, Rebecca Gagnon, and Josh Pauly responded to a questionnaire about their qualifications, priorities, and positions on issues facing Minneapolis Public Schools. Responses were edited for length. Read the entire transcript at www.mynortheaster.com.
Please tell something about yourself:
Caprini: I’ve worked in the restaurant industry in a variety of positions over 25 years, from the front of the house, back of the house, as manager and bartender. It’s this work that I attribute my ability to organize, team-build, management style and collaborative skills. I have also volunteered thousands of hours in our schools on a host of committees and councils.
El-Amin: I am an African-American Muslim woman. I’ve been serving communities for over 25 years. Mother of three and am currently the president of Minneapolis North Polar Parent organization, and a member of North High School site council. I am the social coordinator for Masjid An-Nur which works to bring family and communities together monthly.
Gagnon: I am the incumbent at-large school board candidate, finishing my second term on the MPS Board of Education. My areas of focus are fiscal stability, transparency and sustainability of our system of public schools, allocating resources equitably to address barriers to student achievement. I lead by building and strengthening partnerships with community, parents, teachers, staff, students and other elected officials.
Pauly: I am the only candidate who has ever been a teacher, worked in our schools, has a Masters of Education and has completed the Minnesota Education Policy Fellowship Program.
Please describe the relevant professional experience you would bring to the MPS Board:
Caprini: Loring Community Council, Camden Business Association, Family & Community Council and Equity Task Force (Loring School}, Northeast Middle School Family Involvement Group for Interviewing Committee for principal Northeast Middle School and Patrick Henry High School, co-founder of Northside Schools Collective, Site Council/Shared Leadership Team for PTO/PTA at Jenny Lind Elementary, Olson and Northeast Middle School, District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), Area A Co-Chair, High School Action Team MPS, Teaching and Learning Parent Advisory Committee, Cleveland Neighborhood Board Director, Safe Schools MPS event 2016 Parent Panelist, Coalition for Increasing Teachers of Color in MN event parent panelist, interviewing committee for principal at Harrison Education Center, Worlds Best Works Best Workforce 2020 Advisory Committee.
El-Amin: I’ve owned and operated El-Amin’s Fish House in North Minneapolis for 15 years. I served on NEON’s Board of Directors for three years. I bring a wealth of business knowledge and have worked with community and families in many ways.
Gagnon: During my eight years on the school board, I have held numerous leadership roles, including treasurer, chair of policy, and board chair. I was nominated in 2012 by Secretary Duncan and re-nominated by Secretary King in 2016 to the National Assessment Governing Board, overseeing the Nation’s Report Card. I was chair and on the Executive Committee of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, an advocacy group for public education.
Pauly: I am the founder and executive director of PeopleSourced Policy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic engagement organization whose mission is to increase equitable community engagement in the local political process. Previously I taught social studies and AVID for three years within Minneapolis Public Schools. I am also the executive director of Books on Wings, a board member on the Standish-Ericsson Neighborhood Association and Ry’s Hope Foundation, in addition to being on the Citizens League Policy Committee.
What is your number one priority for the 2018-2019 school year?
Caprini: Over the past year, district leaders and school board members have been discussing the MPS Comprehensive Plan. While there have been several board meetings to discuss the plan, there has yet to be community engagement to fill in some of the gaps.
El-Amin: Providing cultural training for all MPS staff, being present within the community and creating a space for teachers, families and all students to feel safe and included.
Gagnon: Fiscal stability and future sustainability of Minneapolis Public Schools requires that we not only work within a balanced budget without accessing reserves, which we achieved FY14, FY15, and FY19, it also requires that we increase revenue. The two referendum ballot questions are critical. However, we must retain and attract more students in order to generate the resources necessary for all schools to be fully funded.
Pauly: My #1 priority is equity. Funding schools equitably and ensuring that students, regardless of where they live, are offered high-quality schools. That means that some schools will need more resources than others. In our school history, MPS hasn’t always invested similarly in every neighborhood, and that hurt schools in places like Northeast. Everyone is passionate about their schools, and we need leaders who will not make priorities based on who is advocating the loudest, but based on our shared value of equity
What are some other priorities?
Caprini: Class sizes in many of our schools are over the limit. Larger class sizes have affected support for students that need extra support, which leads to loss of instruction time for all students. Enrichment curriculum activities such as band, art, chess, athletics, debate and music have been eliminated in some of our schools; and in some cases, not all students have access. We must be better fiscal stewards. In the past we overwhelmed the fund balance to support struggling district budgets. This has led to the current shortfall.
El-Amin: Community engagement, transparency, transportation and safety for all.
Gagnon: 1. Quality, integrated schools with school-based wraparound services and increased student supports. 2. Career tech pathway programs, associate degrees and certificates that align with the job shortages we are facing in the metro. 3. Reducing administration and creating efficiencies so that we can redirect maximum funding to schools. This requires a transparent budgeting process. 4. Educating the public about and dismantling privatizing of public education and other reform efforts. 5. Advocating for our union employees to provide better wages, benefits, and working conditions that provide a climate of professionalism that is safe and supportive. 6. Allocating resources to increase our culturally relevant and historically accurate curriculum, diversifying our workforce, and providing educators the professional development and supports they need to work with our beautifully diverse student population as well as the time and resources to develop authentic relationships with students and colleagues. 7. Stability in leadership. The past eight years, I’ve served with 17 different board members, 2 superintendents and an interim superintendent. The future stability and sustainability of MPS requires that we also have stable leadership to fully implement plans with integrity.
Pauly: My #2 priority is good governance: The key to a stable district and stable leadership. A quality board leads by setting priorities consistent with our values and then evaluating progress. A quality board challenges and dialogues with leadership – but does not insult and undermine. Good policy is a stabilizing force. We do not currently see that on our school board.
The Board has a policy where our fund reserve needs to be at 8-13 percent. We are currently at roughly 2 percent. The board is not following its own policy. Another example is the Equity Diversity Impact Assessment in ensuring that district decisions have accountability to education equity. The intention/goal of this policy was to ensure that major decisions do not disproportionately impact one student group over another.
Do you feel that the current budget, with its $33 million cut, will provide sufficient funding for those priorities?
Caprini: No. But parent and community support will have to be utilized through volunteer work and community opportunities for support.
El-Amin: Yes, with more community engagement and revisiting the budget, there should be room to make these things priority for all MPS and families.
Gagnon: No, but our referendum ballot questions and the work we are doing with our comprehensive district-wide assessment, prioritizing growth and retention, will create greater fiscal stability.
Pauly: Tough question without knowing what we will have for revenue. I will say that Voting YES for Kids (the two-question referendum) will provide sustainable and predictable funding for our district. The resources from the referendum will maximize the district’s ability to levy and free up funds to hire nurses, art/music teachers, counselors, and librarians. While I will support a balanced budget, we should recognize that about 75 percent of our funding comes from the state, and schools are not fully funded. We have not had an inflationary increase since 2008, which means we are using 2008 dollars to pay for 2018 costs.
As an at-large candidate, your constituency is the entire city. What kinds of questions or concerns have you heard from residents?
Caprini: “Will you have office hours?” I will have office hours in four locations twice a month and I am dedicated to a newsletter or social media page for communications with MPS families in all corners of our district. I have heard quite a bit is about transportation and questions regarding the District Comprehensive School-wide Assessment. Biggest concerns are school models and integration.
El-Amin: The community is ready for change. The school board race unfortunately does not get a lot of recognition and goes uncontested too often. We will need to challenge and make all our students feel safe and included. Teachers need more money for all that they do. The community wants change and wants to see MPS back strong again.
Gagnon: 1. Not enough community input for the comprehensive planning process 2. Safety 3. More funding for public education 4. Transportation issues 5. Appreciate the capital investment to expand, reopen, and improve schools, with kitchens and air-conditioning. Continue investing in infrastructure to provide safe, welcoming, supportive learning environments for students. 7. Class sizes.
Pauly: School board is a low-information race, and most folks are honestly unaware of it. For those that are more engaged, they generally love their specific teachers/classrooms/schools, but they are concerned about district leadership. They see the headlines about dysfunctional board meetings and budget shortfalls and are concerned with the sustainability of our district.
Are the English Language Learner (ELL) programs effective?
Caprini: We’ve lost many families to schools that provide language immersion opportunities which support some of the challenges many ELL students face when learning English We can do a much better job strengthening these programs by providing the extra time and resources teachers and students need to be successful and by ensuring that we respect home cultures and use volunteer support from the student community, providing quality curriculum and maintaining high expectations for growth.
El-Amin: It is very important for MPS to offer ESL in all schools. We need to offer it not only to students but also families that want to learn. With a growing community of diversity, we must continue to offer ESL.
Gagnon: Our students testing out of ELL services in MPS outperform their peers. We have promoted an asset-based approach to educating our bilingual/multilingual students. We’ve increased our resources, increased the number of ELL professionals in schools, and have worked to better integrate ELL and Special Ed services when needed. Our work with new immigrants with interrupted education is working. We had over 800 students receive a bilingual seal from the State which has varying levels attaining college credit. We also have worked hard to provide sanctuary school environments that are not only welcoming and supportive but provide access to necessary resources for students and families. We must work on attendance, which has declined since the anti-immigration Trump rhetoric and policies
Pauly: It’s important for our district to develop a plan for ELL learners so we can properly support the program and offer consistency to our families. There are different practices for ELL students; each approach offers different benefits, but dividing our attention can lead to poor support for all programs. A few schools, including Pillsbury, approach teaching in student’s native language, not unlike an immersion program. Yet, ELL families report that they don’t understand this option is there. The low enrollment threatens the future of the programming, adding uncertainty for families on how we can serve their children.
Recent results indicate that ELL students are lower than their English speaking peers in the district and state in reading and math, and their graduation rate is lower (though you recognize that many of our late-arriving ELL students are able to complete their degree with MPS by just taking a little additional time).
Do you have (or have you had) children in the Minneapolis public school system?
Caprini: My husband and I have two daughters. Our oldest graduated from MPS 2017 and is a second-year U of M student. Our youngest is in the 9th grade at Henry High School. Both our children have attended MPS since kindergarten.
El-Amin: I have three children, two of whom have graduated and one is currently in 12th grade. Gagnon: Yes, two graduates and a freshman in high school. My kids went to both community and magnet schools. My youngest has gone all the way through MPS K-12, Whittier IB, Anwatin, a year at Justice Page MS, and now Southwest High School.
Gagnon: Yes, two graduates and a freshman in high school. My kids went to both community and magnet schools. My youngest has gone all the way through MPS K-12, Whittier IB, Anwatin, a year at Justice Page MS, and now Southwest High School.
Pauly: No, I do not have children yet. My wife and I have started the adoption process, and will eventually send our children to MPS. I think it is important to have other perspectives on the Board besides just being an active parent. Our board is currently made up of one homogenous age group who all campaigned on largely being active and engaged parents.
What issues do you feel are not being addressed (or addressed insufficiently) by the current Minneapolis School Board?
Caprini: Allowing schools SOME flexibility WITHIN guidelines and not maintaining a sense of urgency while allowing time for change.
El-Amin: The diversity that we have in our community. There are no interpreters at board or school meetings to ensure everyone is able to engage and understand. Parent advocacy: we need to offer parent organization classes, create a welcome handbook for parents for who, where and what to expect while attending Minneapolis public schools. Transparency: we must over-communicate to keep our families and communities engaged.
Gagnon: Safety for our employees in the schools and a restorative practices behavior strategy that relies heavily upon student support services and wrap around supports to ensure the holistic needs of a student are being met. Intervention and prevention requires greater partnerships with the County and other government bodies, nonprofits and private providers. They are skilled, trained professionals more adept at working with mental health, chemical dependency, trauma, homelessness, and other issues our students and families experience outside the classroom and school building.
Pauly: Equity and good governance.
Do you have a choice of board committees?
Caprini: All board directors are required to be a member of the finance committee. The committees I am most interested in are the ELL Caucus, 2020 Advisory, Policy and Community Involvement committees.
El-Amin: The Finance Committee, and the Community Engagement Policy Committee are where I would like to apply my skills and make a difference.
Gagnon: We have reduced our committees to Policy, Finance (and Audit), Superintendent Evaluation and a Community Engagement Committee that is without staff support. I serve on all but Finance; however, I attend Finance meetings.
Pauly: The Board decides who is on what committees. If there is not enough space on a particular committee or two people want one leadership position, the board votes on it. I would be most interested in the policy committee, as well as the Evaluation committee to ensure that the board uses their evaluation to focus on priorities and goals that the board and superintendent have set.
Anything you’d like to add:
Caprini: I started this work because I wanted to make sure that the education my children were going to receive was challenging for them, and they would feel a sense of community in their classroom. I wanted to ensure that their teachers understood that I was a partner in this work because I believe schools can’t do everything.
El-Amin: MPS Board needs urgency: urgency to ensure all students receive the best education. Urgency to address and provide solutions to the failing decline of our students. Urgency to create safe spaces for teacher, parents and students. Urgency to set a clear vision for the district. Urgency to include and keep the community informed. Urgency to collaborate well with others. Urgency to pay attention to finances and regularly monitor the fiscal health of the district. Urgency on student achievement and implementing policies that will ensure success for all students. Urgency to take advantage of opportunities to communicate the needs of public schools to other levels of government and advocate for strong public schools.
Gagnon: I am proud to have the endorsements of other elected officials, including Senator Jeff Hayden, Mayor Jacob Frey, Council Member Abdi Warsame, Park Board Commissioners Kale Severson and AK Hassan, and School Board Directors Ira Jourdain and Kerry Jo Felder.
Pauly: I was raised by a single-parent and am a first-generation college graduate. I know how transformative education can be. We need to provide that same opportunity for all of our kids in Minneapolis.