Categorized | FEATURED

Two vie for open District 5 school board seat

Posted on 24 September 2014 by robwas66

Voters will also pick two of the four candidates for at-large Minneapolis school board seats

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By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

You will be able to get out and vote for three new Minneapolis Public School (MPS) board members this fall. Two people, Nelson Inz and Jay Larson, are vying for the District 5 seat formerly held by Alberto Monserrate. Also, there are four people running for two at-large seats: Iris Altamirano, Rebecca Gagnon (incumbent), Ira Jourdain and Don Samuels.

Learn more about each candidate and their views below.

DISTRICT 5 CANDIDATE
NELSON INZ

Feat9-14SB_InzInz resides in Regina and has been a high school social studies teacher for the past six years at Great River Montessori Charter School in St Paul.

Past applicable experience: Volunteering at Washburn High School; substitute teacher in Minneapolis and other districts; Minnesota Secondary Social Studies license at Hamline; Great River Montessori Charter School in St Paul, school board chairman of the personnel committee; International Baccalaureate training in three different disciplines and adolescent Montessori certified; active in DFL Senate District 62 for the last 8 years, serving on the central committee and as a precinct chair, and volunteering on the campaigns of many DFL candidates; named change maker of the year in 2006 by The Minnesota Women’s Press for work in planning and implementing a successful strategy to raise the state minimum wage; created “Minnesota Service Industry Workers Against Tom Emmer for Governor” in 2010, a group which boasted over 3000 members, and helped turn the tide of the Governor’s race; master’s degree in Theater from Long Island University, and a bachelor’s from Johns Hopkins University; endorsed by the DFL, Congressman Keith Ellison, City Council Members Elizabeth Glidden, John Quincy, Andrew Johnson, Alondra Cano, State Senator Jeff Hayden, State Representatives Jim Davnie and Susan Allen, Park Board Commissioner Steffanie Musich, and others.
How are you connected to Minneapolis Schools?

In addition to my work as a coach, volunteer and sub in MPS, I have twin boys who are two and a half years old that will attend Hale/Field, where my two nieces, who currently attend Washburn, went to grade school. My sister and brother in law, Julia and Tom Arneson, have served on the site councils and PTA at Hale, Field, and currently Washburn. I have many friends, neighbors and colleagues who teach in, and have children that attend MPS.

Why are you running for a position on the school board?

I’m running because I believe in public schools. I believe in their ability to be an instrument of social change, and to make a difference for our families, children, and communities. The current school board has balanced the budget and passed an enrollment plan, but now we need to take the next step. We have to reduce the achievement gap and keep families in Minneapolis Public schools.

What do you think are the strengths of MPS? What are the areas for growth?

MPS has a wealth of diversity, both in terms of students, faculty, and programs available. Like all public schools, it is our duty to provide the best education humanly possible to each and every student that walks through the door of one of our schools, no matter who they are or where they come from. In addition to being a strength, this is, of course, a tremendous challenge.

What do you propose be done to close the achievement gap?

We must better deal with the level of diversity in our students. This means not only hiring a more diverse work force, but also making sure our current faculty has the cultural competencies to teach our student population. This includes sufficient bilingual educators for students to learn in their first language, for example. In addition we must have sufficient supports in place to make sure we not only attract, but retain, great faculty.

DISTRICT 5 CANDIDATE
JAY LARSON

Feat9_14SB_LarsonLarson has been a Keewaydin resident since 2001. He works in Funeral Service at Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapels.

Past applicable experience: I have been an active parent-leader for the better part of a decade, or since my 6th grade daughter started Kindergarten at Lake Nokomis Community School. One of my proudest accomplishments to date for our community was leading a group of parents, teachers and community leaders in the successful expansion and remodel of the Keewaydin campus of Lake Nokomis Community School.

How are you connected to Minneapolis Schools?

I am a parent of three children that attend Minneapolis Community Schools at Lake Nokomis Community School. My daughter Rose is in the 6th grade, second daughter, Lily, is in the 4th grade and my son Toby is in the 1st grade. I currently serve as Chair of the Site Council for Lake Nokomis Community School and represent all of Southeast Minneapolis schools on the District Parent Advisory Committee.

Why are you running for a position on the school board?

I believe it is important that experienced parents, with children currently attending Minneapolis Public Schools, to serve on the Board of Education. As a parent on the School Board, my children, their fellow students, their teachers, and my community, have to live with the policies that I vote/approve. In other words, “I have skin in the game.” In addition to being a parent, I have years of experience serving at the school district level and have been involved in Minneapolis Public Schools outside of my kids’ school.

What do you think are the strengths of MPS? What are the areas for growth?

It is an exciting time for Minneapolis Public Schools in Southeast Minneapolis. The good news is that enrollment is up…way up. The bad news is, is that we need more facilities to handle the increase in enrollment. Communities are reinvesting in their community schools, and like me, recognize that community schools are the backbones of great communities. I want to advocate for that on the Board of Education.

What do you propose be done to close the achievement gap?

One of my goals as a School Board Director, and suggestions in helping to close the achievement gap, is to see that community schools thrive in areas all over Minneapolis. I strongly believe that if we can get parents and communities to trust and believe in their community schools again, there will be a return of students to those schools. We are seeing this reality in South Minneapolis and it needs to become a reality in North Minneapolis. Families, teachers, schools and communities want to trust in the Minneapolis Board of Education.

AT-LARGE CANDIDATE
IRIS ALTAMIRANO

Feat9_14SB_AltamiranoAltamirano resides in the Logan Park neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis. She is a full-time mom.

Past applicable experience: SEIU Local 26 Political Director; Immigrant and Community Organizer; Wellstone Fellow; Trilingual in English, Spanish, and Italian; city of Minneapolis Commissioner of Civil Rights; and BS in City and Regional Planning, Cornell University.

How are you connected to Minneapolis Schools?

My son Carlos (3) and daughter Sophia (1) will soon be students in Minneapolis Public Schools.  As a mother and a community organizer, I know we need to improve our public schools for all Minneapolis kids.  I am also deeply connected to the immigrant community and I know that the success of students from these communities depends on having access to strong, public schools.

Why are you running for a position on the school board?

I am a janitor’s daughter who attended Cornell University.  I know the transformative power of education because I have lived it.  I believe that adversity doesn’t equate to victimization, rather resilience.  My personal experience, combined with my professional organizing background, makes me uniquely qualified to address the disparities within our public schools.  I am running for the School Board to close the opportunity gap and to ensure that all Minneapolis kids have opportunities to succeed.

What do you think are the strengths of MPS? What are the areas for growth?

Minneapolis Public Schools boasts an incredibly diverse population. Students of color comprise 68 percent of our student body and English Language Learners comprise 25 percent of our student body.  Teachers, staff, and leadership within our schools are passionately committed to the progressive values of our community. Our diversity and commitment to progressive values often times is not reflected in policy outcomes, in part, due to poor implementation and not including all stakeholders in our conversations.

What do you propose be done to close the achievement gap?

We must acknowledge that the polarized debate of union versus reformer is silencing the families we speak of when we refer to the “achievement gap.” For me, these “gaps” are not abstract concepts—these are our kids. We must act collaboratively, thoughtfully and expediently.  I propose that we invest in early childhood education and fully fund the High Five Program.  We must also expand global and multilingual opportunities for all kids.

AT-LARGE CANDIDATE
REBECCA GAGNON

Feat9_14SB_GagnonGagnon resides in Fulton. She is currently on the School Board and is a full-time mom.

Past applicable experience: incumbent at-large MPS school board member, Board Treasurer, Finance Committee Chair, Member of Teaching & Learning, Policy, Audit, and Community Engagement Committees; Assoc. of Metropolitan School Districts Executive Board Member; National Assessment Governing Board Member; and City Planning Commissioner.

How are you connected to Minneapolis Schools?
Current At-Large school board member, Mother of 3 (5th grader at Whittier, junior at SWHS, sophomore at Loyola University).

Why are you running for a position on the school board?

Equity is at the center of my work on the board to achieve academic outcomes not determined by race, socioeconomics, zip code, etc. I am running for re-election to continue my policy and financial work that supports equitable academic outcomes for all students. I also want to hold the district accountable for quality implementation of work I’ve strongly advocated for, like our behavior standards policy, equity policy, balanced budget, and shifting more resources to schools.
What do you think are the strengths of MPS? What are the areas for growth?

We have seen gradual increases in achievement for most students but accelerating growth is critical. MPS plans to refocus our resources and decision-making around schools as the units of change. We must engage and include all stakeholders in the success of our schools, building partnerships and sharing resources to meet the diverse needs (both academic and social/emotional) of our student population. Strong schools need support and flexibility to address the unique needs of our diverse neighborhoods.

What do you propose be done to close the achievement gap?

Relationships are at the heart of my work and at the core of achieving college/career ready academic outcomes for all students. From the classroom to the boardroom, building trust from our broad stakeholder group requires authentic engagement, informed decision-making, and quality implementation. Our educators must build relationships with students to individualize instruction and meet their diverse learning needs. Overcrowding makes this difficult and our district is growing. Capital planning and fiscal stability are crucial to addressing this issue.

AT-LARGE CANDIDATE
IRA JOURDAIN

Feat9_14SB_JourdainJourdain resides in East Phillips. He is employed by Human Services – Father Project worker at Division of Indian Work.

Past applicable experience: Parent of students in MPS since 2003. Served on the Title VII Parent Committee that developed the first Memo of Agreement for Native American Students in the district. Has been an active volunteer since children first entered MPS.

How are you connected to Minneapolis Schools?

Current parent of 4 MPS students, 2 high school and 2 elementary.

Why are you running for a position on the school board?

I am concerned that our district is moving towards a more test-data driven system and is not focused on the well-being of the “whole” child, and not taking into account the needs of our children outside the classroom that affect them inside the classroom. As a parent of elementary students, I would like to see our children be children at that age, but also given the tools to learn effectively. As a parent of high school students, to be sure that they are given the tools to be college and career ready.

What do you think are the strengths of MPS? What are the areas for growth?

The cultural diversity of our students, their families, and staff, is strong. District’s budget is balanced and we can move forward and be more transparent as to how we spend our dollars effectively and efficiently. The attendance campaign is a critical component that has had success and can continue to be built on. Of course our graduation rate for all students needs to be improved. Our Special Ed services need better support, as well as our teachers in the classroom and educational support, freedom and flexibility.

What do you propose be done to close the achievement gap?

Improve our wrap-around-civic engagement services for our students and their families across the district. As we have moved towards becoming a more test-data driven district, we need to realize that many students and families face issues outside of the classroom that directly affect what happens inside the classroom and directly impacts attendance, behavior, grades, test scores, etc. I work in human services with families across the district and I have seen firsthand, that with help outside the classroom, our families can succeed.

AT-LARGE CANDIDATE
DON SAMUELS

Feat9_14SB_SamuelsSamuels resides in Jordan, and is retired.

Past applicable experience: I am the proud parent of four and have acted as tutor,
mentor, and volunteer educator to public school students for decades.  From 1991-1993, I was a Board Member of The Saturday Academy, a tutoring and education academy for African American 9th grade boys in St. Paul Public Schools.  From 1992-94, I was Chair of the Curriculum Committee to the St. Paul School Board.  From 2003-2014, I served as a Minneapolis City Council Member, and as part of my work passed several resolutions celebrating high achieving Minneapolis schools.  In 2007, I co-founded the Hope Collaborative, an initiative that brought the leaders of top 10 performing inner city and low income schools from across the country to Minneapolis to present their winning strategies.  As candidate for Mayor, I made education the centerpiece of my campaign.

How are you connected to Minneapolis Schools?

My daughter attends Anthony Middle School.  I have tutored and mentored many MPS students, and have worked for years with MPS and its families to improve our educational outcomes, and have developed good relationships with the Superintendent and many others in the district. As a community activist and long-time resident of North Minneapolis, I have witnessed the struggles of students and parents in finding high-quality educational options and have witnessed the impact academic failure has on individuals and communities. This is why I made education a centerpiece of my work on the City Council and my campaign for mayor.

Why are you running for a position on the school board?

While some great things are happening in MPS, much can be improved. Only half of our students graduate in four years. Most students aren’t being prepared for today’s jobs, let alone tomorrow’s. We have one of the nation’s worst achievement gaps. These are moral issues and they are also a threat to our economic future. There hasn’t been a sense of urgency on the board about them. I will bring that sense of urgency.

What do you think are the strengths of MPS? What are the areas for growth?

Our strength is in our people–we have a rich diversity of backgrounds, many outstanding educators, and many dedicated students and families. As Minnesotans, we care about education! However, we’ve tolerated our achievement gap for too long. As adults, we ALL need to work together with urgency–on the School Board, at the District, in schools, and at home–and hold ourselves and each other accountable for achieving equity and excellence in educating our children.

What do you propose be done to close the achievement gap?

Teachers are the most important in-school factor in student achievement—we must invest in and adequately support them. Parents must be informed and empowered to take ownership of student success. Schools must have flexibility to institute measures that best suit their communities’ needs. Funding must be allocated transparently and equitably. The School Board and MPS must clearly communicate goals, use real-time data to track progress and improve performance, and be held accountable for outcomes.