School Board Q&A with Tracine Asberry and Ira Jourdain

Asberry Jourdain Final

 Incumbent board of education director Tracine Asberry (left) and Ira Jourdain (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.

1. 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?

Asberry: Crucial anchors include: implicit bias; acceptance of racial inequities; a focus on punishing students vs. holding them accountable in a way that allows them to learn and grow; lack of staff training/support on adolescent development, trauma-informed care, and strategies for positive relationships and redirection; poor, inequitable academic outcomes; external providers without sufficient training, standards, and oversight.

Systemic solutions I’m proposing/have proposed include: aligning professional development to desired outcomes and to address anchors; setting targets for maximum referrals by classroom and school; immediately addressing high/disproportionate referral rates; ban on suspensions except in cases of endangerment; more stringent contracts with SROs, and more student support.

As a former MPS middle school teacher in North Minneapolis, I know that creating a classroom and school environment where all students are respected, engaged, and learning is the MOST effective strategy for safe schools, thriving youth, and an end to the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Jourdain:

* Isolation of our Minneapolis Public Schools and the community at large and the families they serve. The less tight knit our communities are with their schools the less accountability there is for administrators and school staff who are making site based decisions.

* We must engage our school staff in authentic conversations about race, implicit bias, and the research that demonstrates that this can not be swept under the rug.

* Systematic divestment from urban communities, underfunding, privatization, and over policing all set the state. Authentic family engagement must include increasing the decision making power of parents in our schools & supporting a school climate that welcomes families & community. Dismantling institutional racism requires examining systems, but also requires individuals throughout the system from the classroom to the boardroom must engage in self examination and be given safe spaces & opportunities to have conversations about their biases.

2. 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?

Asberry: Crucial barriers include those identified in Question 1 + A) lack of culturally inclusive/relevant curriculum, student tracking, need for teacher training/support, unequal distribution of electives and enrichment opportunities); B) lack of student engagement and confidence that graduating from MPS will lead to better life opportunities, and C) adult unwillingness to act differently.

Solutions include those in Question 1 + the belief gap and removing the barriers. As director, I’ve required transparency about student progress and prioritization of areas of greatest need; established an Equity and Diversity Impact Assessment to ensure decisions and investments benefit all students equally; and stood with the community against the district’s adoption of a racist curriculum.

My goal is for students to have as many options as possible which includes graduating and being college and career ready. We need to ensure all students meet academic benchmarks each year: it’s unfair for them to only find out when applying for college that they aren’t on track or need remedial courses. 

Jourdain: We must team with other governmental and non-governmental agencies to address outside factors like homelessness and high mobility, economic insecurity, food insecurity, domestic violence, lack of healthcare, social pressures, and substance abuse. This full service community schools model supplements what the district can control: providing great classroom instruction and relevant curriculum in a climate that sees, hears, and honors all students. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act that has resources available for innovative local solutions.

As a Native American parent I have lived the effects of having culturally offensive and racist curriculum sent home. This experience wears on trust and the relationship between a family and our schools. It sends a clear and detrimental message to our students. Parents, teachers & students must be engaged in figuring out how to raise graduation rates are students, including curriculum adoption.

3. 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?

Asberry: I entered teaching through an alternative pathway, the Collaborative Urban Educator (CUE) Program which recruited professionals of Color to increase the number (READ and quality) of teachers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul Public Schools. (I later earned a Masters and Doctorate in education.) I support diverse paths to teaching. Many undergraduate students of color don’t otherwise consider a teaching career.

I support policies to retain and develop teachers of color – not just recruit them. I’m committed to keeping effective teachers of color in our classrooms when cuts are needed. I’m a champion of collective bargaining – a longtime MFT member who grew up in a union household – but I’ll always put children’s needs first.

I advance racially equitable practices on the board (see #1 and #2 above) and frequently partner with MPS students to demand racial equity in our schools. I also teach a university course on Culturally Responsive Teaching, run a nonprofit that trains educators on racially equitable practices, and organize marches and lead efforts to fight for racial equity in Minneapolis. 

Jourdain: We must find a way to help bridge the gap of the "Grow Your Own" program as Education Support Professionals move from two year degrees to a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license. I support the expansion of the "Grow Your Own" to provide diverse teachers in hard to fill licensure areas, like special ed, EL, and mathematics. We must also recruit support professions like social work, nursing, and psychology

Teaching in our lowest performing schools that are often racially isolated can result in burnout, including mental health. We must support new teachers with meaningful mentorship and recognize the challenge of learning a profession. This will also require a partnership with the teachers’ union and professional community partners to build a strong program of experienced teachers and partners from communities of color who can mentor and provide support for new teachers. Turnover is costly and often has an inequitable impact on our lowest performing, highest poverty schools.

4. 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?

Asberry: MPS must acknowledge and partner with others to address challenges our students face outside the classroom, while focusing on ensuring our children thrive inside our schools. We’re the one public institution dedicated to educating our children – we must do it with excellence.

Our district reflects our city’s inequities. As director, I’ve promoted equitable distribution of student opportunities and policies to ensure the district invest equally and equitably in all students’ success. I’ve strengthened the board’s legislative agenda to address health, housing, safety and trauma-informed care. I support community partnerships. I trust each school to identify the best way to serve their community.

My ancestors taught me ‘education is emancipation.’ MPS must succeed in preparing our children for a life of opportunity. My own students are my inspiration. They faced significant poverty and trauma while holding on to their incredible dreams. I offered high expectations with high support and they thrived academically – and used their education to do amazing things!

Jourdain: Full Service Community Schools should be the norm because our schools should be community hubs. We do not have the resources or the capacity as an urban school district to address the whole child without community partners. These additional services and amenities should be determined through a democratic process that empowers parents and communities to take ownership over their school. Parents as Partners, Community as Collaborators, and External Partnerships must not be slogans but intentionally integrated in to our systems and structures to develop and sustain true neighborhood schools.

Washburn High School piloted a model several years ago that brought parents into schools to take classes, develop goals and work towards their completion, and volunteer in school. Participants were paid a stipend. In addition to providing additional family income and meeting the needs of the schools for parent volunteers, it also showed the children of participants their parents demonstrating the same skill set necessary for graduation and success in school.

District 6 school board

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