Kimberly Caprini (left) and Kerry Jo Felder (right).
Full disclosure: Kerry Jo Felder is a NOC board member. NOC is not making endorsements in any 2016 school board race.
Instructions to candidates: This election season will include four seats on the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education. NOC’s Education Committee wants to provide nonpartisan voter education that will aid community members in making informed decisions while elevating the need for them to be engaged in school board elections. We have created a short candidate questionnaire that focuses on critical issues in MPS and gives space for candidates to propose solutions they would pursue if elected. We ask that you limit responses to under 150 words. Thank you and we are excited for your responses.
In your own words, identify some of the crucial anchors in MPS that are supporting the school to prison pipeline. What are top systemic solutions that you would propose that are needed to dismantle this pipeline in MPS that focuses on methods that promote safety beyond policing?
Caprini: The percentage of teachers of color to the vast percentage of students of color is extremely uneven and overwhelming. MPS has a program called Grow Your Own which identifies and reaches out to Paraprofessionals that work for the district and offers them an opportunity to take rigorous fast track courses to becoming a teacher. MPS recently graduated at least 14 people of color that are currently working in our schools. Curriculum is one other way to “dismantle” the pipeline. Ethnic Studies should be and will be a graduation requirement that I will fight for all our students. Teaching these classes is one of the most important for ways to “dismantle” the pipeline because I believe it will change the trajectory of all of our futures.
Felder: When the bulk of first-time arrests are happening to students within the schools, that tells us that there is definitely something wrong. Having more community members in our schools that know their community and have deep relationships with those families makes a difference. As we work to dismantle the pipeline, we have to review the IEP process, making certain that this process is not punitive. Our goal should be to mainstream our students, while providing the supports they need for success. With the little ones beginning this path, because there is a path, we cannot push them through, because pushing eventually attacks their self-esteem and causes large amounts of frustration that can come out in a negative way. If an SRO is used, I believe they should live in, and be a part of the community they serve.
64% of students graduated from MPS in 2014. Identify some crucial barriers to increasing the graduation rate in MPS. What are potential solutions that take into account short-term and long-term measures?
Caprini: More support in classrooms. Students being excited about being in class because teachers have been given back their classrooms to “teach” in a way that speaks to their students by teaching to the whole student. More project based learning so that students aren’t just sitting listening and becoming uninterested. Jobs for students that are helping to support their families and extra time to do homework for students that are expected to be a caregiver for younger siblings. Stop testing our kids to death and be more initial about the methods in which we use to track progress to eliminate test that simply pit school against school.
Felder: IEP’s that are punitive or are unsupported and pushing students through grade levels inappropriately play a role in our graduation rates. We must end practices that push our students down and out. I know our children are very talented. I see it every day. We have regressed as a district, in large part due to budgets that do not fully fund our schools. We must hold our elected representatives responsible and demand appropriate funding for our schools. We must address lack of trust from communities of color. We have not done all we could do to bring the community, and community members into our schools to draw out our children’s interests, and provide programs that teach life skills, and open doors for our children. Home Ec, shop, woodworking, poetry writing, photography, journalism, and sewing should be available district-wide. We embrace corporations, but not our own community, which gave birth to our kids, and that is a shame.
16% of teachers in Minneapolis are teachers of color, where students of color represent 67% of the student body. This can impact implicit bias, curriculum choice, discipline, and relationships whether consciously or subconsciously. What specific commitments and/or policies would you propose to diversify the teaching force in MPS as well as make our district a model in equitable practices?
Caprini: It’s the low percentage of teachers of color that has to be changed through authentically and intentionally seeking and recruiting teachers of color to work for MPS. We not only need more teachers of color but we also need to do a better job hiring district leaders in departments that directly affect our students of color and have no people of color in the departments. For instance Special Ed and Human Resources. These two changes could have a great impact and be the most effective game changer in seeing more results on so many levels.
Felder: We need to have a long-term and short-term approach to increase teachers of color. Long-term is to invest in grow our own and support or start a teaching program that focuses on training for educators of color. Supporting students from high school all the way through to their graduation and placement in a MPS school has worked in the past – we should resurrect this process. Looking for teachers of color inside and outside the state (HBCU’s and other programs) should be done as well. We must also look at how we retain and support educators of color. This has been an issue for a long time. MPS should have it on their list of priorities to not lose another educator of color and document exit interviews, if necessary, to determine the reason as to why that teacher left.
In an urban district, schools have the power to connect students and families with the access to services, opportunities, and resources to tackle systemic barriers and round out their educational experience. What models would you recommend the district implement to position our schools as critical community hubs?
Caprini: First I think we need to hold the partners we do have to a high standard on their deliverables of what they are offering. Far too many times I have talked about with students and families about the lack of follow through from some services or opportunities and resources that are only available to a few. We need to have a check and balance with our partners so that students and families don’t become overwhelmed because an MPS partner is understaffed or unorganized. Funding is and will always be the biggest factor in ensuring that we all have the services opportunities and resources to support our students. Part of the work I seek to do is speaking to the legislature about the amount of funds we receive and the amount of funds we pay out to other schools that take away from our students. I am NOT suggesting that MPLS families that choose a different experience for their child shouldn’t have the much needed funding to see to it that their child’s needs are being met. I am simply saying that MPS has open doors for ALL students and should, but we should always be funded properly to ensure the best possible outcome for the students that show up in the beginning of the year and for those that are sent to us half way through the school year either by a school that has transferred a student or a parent that decides they wants something different for their child.
We need a “safety fund net” for this kind of situation because it happens all the time just before and after winter break and always just before spring.
I believe in this relationship between schools and our parks. Many students that live on the same block may not go to the same schools. Our parks are the closest and could be the most effective hub in our neighborhoods. Many of our neighborhood organizations or community groups are also a pillar in the community and should also be an avenue that schools can reach out to. Our parks and community groups need to be included in organizing to reach the most amount of students and their families as possible. This work in my opinion is the whole communities work because we all live here together and need each to ensure that ALL students in North Minneapolis don’t have the time, distraction or chance to slip away from be the builders for the future of our Northside.
Felder: Minneapolis was built for Full-Service Community Schools, and it is time to implement them here. We are a big small city and we have thousands of caring people who would volunteer their time and/or money to see this work. Some already do and some can’t get in to help. This model is a way of securing our students’ future and tightening our bonds within our own communities. Every community is different and so the needs/wants are going to be different as well. We have to respect that and heed it to really make our diverse city/school system work.
Map of Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education District 2: