Incumbent board of education director Josh Reimnitz (left) and Bob Walser (right).
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?
Reimnitz: Education is the best opportunity we have to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. The largest issues I have with our current systems are:
Lack of access to high quality pre-k: Racial gaps in education start at 18 months. Disproportionately, students of color are behind their peers on the first day of kindergarten. I support additional investments in early childhood education.
Inequity across the district: While resources are equally distributed, they are not equitably distributed. We need board members willing to shift resources to students who need it most.
Hiring practices and incentives: Right now the most experienced teachers have no incentives to work at schools with high-need students. We need to attract our best teachers to work with struggling students.
- Relevant curriculum: The curriculum we use is Euro-centric and not culturally accessible for most MPS students. I support establishing expectations on curriculum and allowing schools to adopt culturally relevant curricula.
Walser: First of all, I believe that I need to learn from the students and communities involved and that solutions will only come when we respectfully work together. Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far from listening, reading and observing. Cops in schools contribute to an atmosphere/expectation of violence. Discipline policy that isn’t responsive to community concerns creates problems. Lower academic expectations for students of color contributes to poor performance in school. Low academic achievement leads to limited employment options resulting in crime. The most powerful force for any student, particularly those suffering from racism, violence or other injustice is a relationship with a caring adult (Jeff Duncan-Andrade) therefore teachers and front-line staff are our most important resource.
There is no magic wand. School is an important part of the birth to prison pipeline for people of color, but not the whole of it. It will take a village.
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?
Reimnitz: Although the MPS graduation rate is 64%, there are wide racial gaps in our district. 57% of hispanic, 52% of black, and 36% of American Indian students graduate, compared to 82% of White students. To reduce these gaps we need an emphasis on racial equity throughout the district.
We need to intervene at the first sign of risk. MPS data predict only 60% of current 9th graders will graduate in 2020. Because we have this reliable measure we can intervene immediately to help students recover credits in core classes, connect them with proper resources to address attendance, and increase communication amongst staff.
As elected leaders, it’s incumbent upon us to make the hard decisions. As long as the board is unwilling to sacrifice resources and programs to benefit struggling students, we will continue to have stagnant results in not only graduation rates, but in proficiency and growth as well.
Walser: The present industrial model of education is frequently both inhumane and ineffective. It fails many students and particularly students of color because it denies individuality and ignores cultural difference by centering, typically, on a white, male, euro-centric worldview. Though students display enormous differences in learning styles, schools act as if all students are identical and grounded in the same euro-centric culture. For example, Southwest High School offers AP American, European and Asian history but African history is just a half-year elective. Curriculum must be culturally relevant and students must have strong relationships with teachers and staff to grow and learn individually. The importance of meaningful (to the student!) work in education was a theme in the 1980s that seems to have fallen by the wayside since NCLB and the emphasis on standardized testing. This is, in my view, a disservice to all students.
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?
Reimnitz: Diversifying our workforce is crucial to removing the systemic bias students of color face on a daily basis. A successful, relevant program I’ve supported is the Grow Your Own initiative. The program helps associate educators, mostly people of color, become teachers in our classrooms. I believe we should increase funding for it.
Additionally, our partners in higher education need to recruit more students of color into their education programs. We can do this through strategic partnerships with organizations like Breakthrough Twin Cities and Learning Works, which are designed to encourage students of color to become amazing teachers.
However, more teachers of color does not guarantee an accepting environment for students. We need to instill a positive mindset in all district staff so that our students are seen as assets. When we doubt our students, we lower expectations and support, discourage them, and push them out of the school system.
Walser: This is a national problem and some of the factors – such as the supply of teachers of color graduating from college – are beyond local control. There is near-universal agreement that the current predominance of white teachers in a majority non-white system is wrong. Suggestions: “Grow your own” is a proven success. I don’t know why it was slated to be cut in this year’s integration budget. I’d advocate expanding it. Further, the research that I’ve seen suggests that an important strategy is retaining teachers of color because the demands placed on them exceed those placed on other teachers, so they burn out and leave. I would advocate providing additional support for these teachers. In addition, there may be specific training needs for teachers of color who deal with high-needs populations.
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?
Reimnitz: We should be more proactive in our approach to partnerships. This involves empowering site councils and neighborhoods to actively seek resources that reflect their community's needs. I will leverage my broader knowledge and involvement in the nonprofit sector to champion strategic approaches to inviting, connecting with, and vetting community partners district-wide. This can include partnerships between schools and specialists in eye-care, dental care, and mental health care.
However, I recognize that a student’s education is significantly affected by his/her/their parents and home life. That is why I will also push for schools to design and implement support for parents through support like education courses, tax filing support, and strong out-of-school programs.
As a returning board member I will seek opportunities to support local initiatives for our schools that reflect local need.
Walser: I fully support what is often called the “Full Service Community Schools” model which provides so-called wraparound services to meet the needs of students beyond the strictly academic. My personal experience of school as a community hub leads me to value this aspect particularly highly. Community building is a key value in my music and dance work.
Map of Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education District 4: