Thanks to all supporters of racial equity and an unwavering focus on children, and especially my campaign co-chairs, passionate activists for justice and for kids: Representative Carlos Mariani, Senator Foung Hawj,
Representative Dave Pinto, and Dr. Delores Henderson
Below is the speech I made at the 4/19/15 DFL City Convention as we began the endorsement process:
I began my journey to the School Board the way many of today’s candidates did – I was recruited, too, by fellow site council members at my children’s school in Frogtown – Jackson Elementary. We were so frustrated that the children in our school, most in poverty and / or English language learners, and primarily children of color, weren’t getting the extra support they needed to succeed academically.
And here are a few things you need to know about that time:
Standards hadn’t yet arrived in SPPS; the curriculum varied dramatically from school to school
- School funding was not significantly differentiated by student need
- Racial and ethnic diversity was similar to today, but class sizes were larger and staff were less well supported
- Magnet schools were all over town to meet state racial integration requirements, but nobody talked publicly which students were and weren’t achieving
Watching marvelous teachers, kids, and families at Jackson, I saw the tremendous inequities. We worked together to find ways to give every student the support they needed – and we had some fantastic successes as kids of color found their way to college and beyond. We also lost a bunch of kids, mostly but not exclusively African Americans. These were my children’s friends and playmates. Their parents volunteered in school, helped with homework, and believed that education was their children’s ticket to success. But the cards were stacked against them and we didn’t know how to help.
I ran that first time committed to equity and excellence. I talked about the gaps when others weren’t heard. I talked about the inequities in staffing, curriculum, materials, facilities, and supports between schools in different neighborhoods. I promised to shed light on what wasn’t being seen, wasn’t being done – and who…adults and children…needed more help.
Now fast-forward and I’m on the board. Over the years…
- We introduced academic standards to SPPS, and we fought the long battles about equity and serving all students well in every
- The law changed to require reporting achievement by race, home language, poverty – and we fought the denial, the accusations, blaming the kids, and feeling paralyzed by shame.
- And funding changes let us hire more educators to support and follow the neediest kids and we publicly accounted for that.
Now think back just 3-4 years:
- I listened, and we began teaching to standards in every school, student expectations increased, money started following the kids, we still had many magnet schools, and we reported out everything to everybody.
- And guess what? White kids were still achieving at nation-leading levels but because achievement improved across all demographics, our achievement gaps by race are the highest in the nation. Too many kids of color fell apart in secondary, and were not doing better at magnet schools than at neighborhood schools. And our data showed conclusively that achievement was not only correlated with poverty, it was predictable by race. So white kids in poverty achieved at much higher rates that middle-class kids of color in SPPS.
- And we started talking about this in hundreds of public spaces, families shouted about inequities, and we were all devastated about what was happening to too many of our kids. So you tell me. As a board member I’m going to sit back and say, yeah, we’re cool, everything’s fine this way? Not a chance.
I stepped up once again. Together, we dug into the research, analyzed the data, created dozens of committees and task forces with staff and families and partners and over 18 months came up with the first strategic plan to drive our district forward in support of our #1 priority: our children.
And then we went to work implementing it together.
This is NOT a zero sum game. One student’s gains do not require another to lose. Learning, like love and truth, has no bounds. I was recruited to run again this year by people who are among the thousands of educators, students, families, leaders, and partners in St Paul who aren’t afraid to push beyond best intentions and comfortable, incremental change. People who, like me, believe that every student – black, white, and brown – has the right to a great education in St Paul.
And they deserve it today.
No matter who serves on the school board, that genie is NOT going back into the bottle.
I promise to continue listening learning, working with our students, families, staff, and community to ensure St Paul Public Schools serves every child. I ask you to join me in that work with your endorsement today, and even more importantly, to work every day in support of our children and their futures.