Why are you running for the Minneapolis Board of Education now?
When MPS leaders and the school board ignored their own policies designed to protect BIPOC and special education students and passed the poorly planned Comprehensive District Design (CDD) to restructure the District, many MPS parents and educators asked me to run. They were impressed with my leadership in organizing parents and communities against the CDD in the midst of COVID-19. As the proud father of a South High 9 th grader who attended Seward Montessori for 9 years prior, I reviewed the CDD and found it lacked many basic educational supports, is loaded with expensive building renovation needs, and has a budget with barely any safeguards for BIPOC and special education students. As a Latino, first generation college student, I have dedicated my life to eliminating racial disparities in education and law enforcement. I am not a career politician and have professional experience with educational budgets, policies, and institutions. I have successfully reduced the opportunity gap between students of color and white students as a college dean. I have never forgotten my struggles for an education or how hard my parents fought and worked for my education from Harding High School on St. Paul’s Eastside to Macalester College and my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in political science. My parents did this with an 8 th grade and 11 th grade education. First and foremost, students, families, and MPS educators need a board member who will advocate for them, not district leadership. I am invested in making MPS an urban district that families flock to, rather than leave.
If elected to the board, how would you be accessible to your community (e.g., having bimonthly or quarterly meetings with the community, visiting schools, responding to emails within 24 hours, etc.)?
I believe in a community engaged approach that is transparent and inclusive of all major stakeholders and will ensure this occurs regularly. I have pledged to visit a different MPS school each week to hear from all members of the school community on what is and is not working to successfully educate and support students. I am also the only candidate who is pledging to hold regular monthly meetings with the teachers union and other unions in MPS. I will make myself available to seek input from those directly impacted by MPS’ decisions. I will provide opportunities for regular open meetings across MPS, as well as meetings with specific community members in a variety of settings (including online).
The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately impacting communities of color, and societal injustices are perhaps more visible than ever before. This includes widening educational inequities that range from academic outcomes and engaging in distance learning to responses to discipline and culture. Do you think the district’s current strategic approach adequately addresses the educational inequities—inequities that the pandemic is exacerbating?
Educators have long worked within structural inequalities that prohibit many students from achieving their potential. We cannot deny that one of these issues has to do with racial and economic segregation as well as continued inadequate funding for public schools. However, MPS can definitely play a meaningful role in lessening educational inequities. For starters, the CDD needs to be shelved to address and focus on the very real, immediate needs of our students and educators in this time of crisis. MPS must focus on working meaningfully with teachers, staff, and families to meet the social, emotional, and educational needs of our students and families when so many of their lives have been impacted by quarantine, loss of employment, the murder of George Floyd and the uprising in Minneapolis that followed. Many of our students began this school year having experienced even more trauma while MPS wasted months pushing through a massive restructuring plan that will disproportionately force more BIPOC, lower income, and special education students to move to different schools, when what they need now more than ever is a stable school community. The top down approach that MPS takes to plan and implement policies and decisions needs to end for the sake of our students. MPS doesn’t need to hire expensive outside consultants to understand how to address the inequities that the pandemic is exacerbating (and that existed long before). They need to listen to students, families, and educators – the experts in MPS – and then create plans that include these stakeholders to support them in the short and long term. I am deeply concerned about the ability of lower income and working families in our district to support and sustain their children’s needs in a distance learning model. To date, these supports do not appear to be adequate or happening enough.
In a recent national survey conducted by Learning Heroes, only 39% of teachers report their students come prepared for grade-level work at the beginning of the year. What’s more, most parents believe their children perform at or above grade-level, because they typically rely on only one measure of achievement—report card grades.
However, many large school districts and U.S. cities are using multi-measure school performance frameworks to define, measure, and manage school quality, communicate information on school quality to families, and guide decision-making. These frameworks provide information on school performance across a variety of academic and non-academic measures to support transparent, equitable decisions, and identification of school improvement strategies.
Do you think Minneapolis should adopt a multi-measure school performance framework that aggregates data into a single rating—including academic proficiency and growth data, but also broader measures of a school’s performance (e.g., student attendance and retention data, social-emotional data, discipline data, and information on teacher and school leader diversity and retention of those educators)? Why or why not?
I am in favor of adopting a multi-measure school performance framework. I am not in favor of any single rating, especially for urban, public schools. The educational needs and academic performance of students vary widely based on a number of factors. It also concerns me that a single performance measure becomes too much of the focus for choosing a school and encourages people not to look at what areas their neighborhood school excels in. For example, a school could have a great reputation working with students with learning disabilities, but because it has low MCA test scores, future parents will not know where or how to look at the school’s overall quality in more depth. The reality is that schools located in higher income neighborhoods, or with a majority of higher income families, almost always score higher on single performance measures like the MCAs. This puts schools with lower MCA scores at a disadvantage. I have never met a teacher who chose their profession so that they could have their students (or themselves) evaluated by how well their school performs on the MCA or how well they teach students to take the test. Ask any teacher about their students and they will rarely discuss standardized test scores.
In recent years, the Minneapolis district has made new investments to meet students’ social-emotional needs. What goals or measures do you think the board should use to ensure this work is producing positive outcomes for students? How would you hold the district accountable for meeting social-emotional goals?
No single measure or score should ever be used to assess the social-emotional needs of our children. A single score will always miss too much. We must ask: how will the results of a social-emotional assessment be used by MPS? The No Child Left Behind act is just one example of how the results of a policy became a measurement for punishing school performance by withholding funding or even closing schools instead of supporting best practices to support students to improve student engagement and their education. Too often standardized tests and measurements are used against the schools needing them the most. Social-Emotional Learning is not a new concept, it has existed for decades and does not measure if education is having an impact on students. Any single measurement or score needs qualitative data for context. Assessments always seem to take a one size fits all approach and tend to hurt special education, english language learners, BIPOC, and lower income students the most. We need to ask how assessment results can be used to actually help schools and support students – especially those that tend to score lower.
Following the Minneapolis Board of Education’s approval of the Comprehensive District Design in May 2020, what results do you believe will be important to track to ensure the CDD implementation is grounded in equity?
I would demand a complete and transparent equity audit be completed by a nationally recognized organization, as required by board policy. I have devoted my professional career to educational issues and successfully addressing equity issues to close opportunity gaps. I believe in working to lessen the achievement gaps in MPS, but I am certain that the CDD is not the way to do it. The CDD is a faulty, rushed plan that ignores common best practices for ensuring equity amongst students in all of its schools. It includes a misleading budget that is actually designed to underfund equity. For example, implementing ethnic studies in all secondary schools is a best practice (as determined by several research studies) to increase equity and improve the retention and academic success of every student, including BIPOC students, who take these classes. The limited amount of dedicated funding for ethnic studies is barely enough to cover 2-3 schools in the entire district. The official CDD budget keeps changing with no explanation even when board members asked direct questions. For example, the CDD budget changed 5 times in three weeks with no explanation for what changed in any of the versions. Another example is a board member asked a direct question early this summer about how MPS predicted student enrollment would decrease by 300 students, yet the CDD budget was showing an increase in student revenue of almost $1 million when student revenue should have decreased. The board member was never given an answer. Superintendent Graff’s administration and the MPS board, led by Kim Ellison, ignored their own policies and never completed an equity audit of how the CDD would impact BIPOC students and special education students.
Across our community, many schools of all types (geography, grades, programs, sectors) enroll especially large numbers of students from a low-income background. Across these schools we see dramatically different results (with similar student populations), including, for example, the number of students reading and doing math on grade level and, for high schools, graduation rates and college persistence. In large U.S. cities that are effectively closing opportunity gaps and have great, high-functioning schools, districts use a myriad of tools to address low-performing schools that aren’t working for kids and families.
What do you think are appropriate solutions for addressing chronically low-performing schools? From the solutions below, please identify three you would advocate for and see the Minneapolis Board of Education able to affect:
— Equitable allocation of resources—financial and/or access to highly effective teaching
— Significant school redesign, including new model and new staffing at all levels
— School leadership change
— Additional programming
— Enrollment flexibility for students zoned to that school
— School closure
— Other [insert solutions]:
Please explain your selections. What quantifiable outcomes do you believe the board should use to determine if disparities are shrinking?
My 4 campaign priorities
As the state of Minnesota permits open enrollment and the formation of charter schools—publicly funded schools that are governed by a nonprofit board of directors and a state-approved authorizer, but not by a local school board—large numbers of families of color in Minneapolis have enrolled their children in neighboring district schools and/or public charter schools.
What are your thoughts on the above dynamic? How do you think about the role that charter schools play in the K-12 ecosystem?
To be clear, I am a strong advocate of public schools, meaning that I support Minneapolis Public Schools within the district. With that said, I understand why families leave MPS when their children have had horrendous experiences and/or did not get their needs addressed. The parents I’ve talked to whose children attend a charter school have told me that their first choice was a MPS school. For many of them, it was painful and oftentimes inconvenient for them to have to leave MPS, but they needed to find a school that met their children’s needs better. My priority is to make sure students and families not only first choose MPS schools, but stay in MPS schools because their needs are getting addressed and they are being listened to. When a student leaves the district to go to a charter or suburban school, the money for their education follows them to that school. Charter schools in particular are a major reason why district public schools lose funding. This year, we have already begun to lose students to charter schools because of the CDD. I am monitoring this closely.
One of the four critical responsibilities of a school board is to hire and evaluate the superintendent. What 3-5 quantifiable outcomes do you think are the most important to include as part of the board’s evaluation of the superintendent’s performance?
I would focus a superintendent evaluation on:
MPS needs are many and complex, but these 5 criteria can be measured and overlap with the priorities I see that need to be addressed. These 5 priorities lay the foundation for bringing accountability and transparency back to MPS, while dealing with MPS’ major challenges.
What public or private organizations have endorsed you and/or contributed to your campaign?
Families and teachers in MPS persuaded me to run several weeks after the board approved the CDD in the midst of COVID-19 and the uprisings that followed the murder of George Floyd. I launched my campaign while families sheltered in place, three months after the deadline for the DFL and other major endorsements. I have learned that many organizations and individuals will only endorse DFL endorsed candidates. As a political scientist, I am seeing firsthand how this is playing out. However, running as a non-establishment candidate is very much in line with my background as a young activist and I am proud to represent and focus on the voices of all families, especially those who are being ignored by MPS.
We invite you to expand on answers to any of the questions in the survey:
Nothing to add.
Office Sought: Minneapolis School Board – At Large