School board race

Share this:
October 25, 2010
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas

The parent volunteer. The youth worker. The nonprofit executive. The incumbent.

They are, respectively, Rebecca Gagnon, Richard Mammen, Chanda Smith Baker and T. Williams, the four at-large School Board candidates who emerged from a field of 10 in the August primary election. Only two will win seats on the School Board on Election Day.

They will be joined for the first time by School Board candidates elected by district.

In Northeast, Jenny Arneson, a social worker and parent who actively volunteers in schools, is challenging Mike Endrizzi, a former district teacher with six years’ of classroom experience, to represent Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board District 1. (Some Downtown residents will vote for a District 3 representative, but Hussein Samatar, who is running unopposed, will be the only name on the ballot.)

Those elected will help guide a district struggling to close the achievement gap, win back students and stabilize the budget. They also will sit on a School Board changed in two important ways.

First, the School Board is losing a number of experienced leaders. School Board Chair Tom Madden and board members Chris Stewart and Peggy Flanagan (appointed to fill a vacancy created when Pam Costain left to helm AchieveMpls) all will depart.

Second, the addition of three district representatives in this election and three more in 2012 is changing the structure of the School Board.

How will neighborhood loyalties factor if a future board again faces tough decisions like closing schools or moving programs? Time will tell.

To give voters a sense of how these candidates would approach their roles as School Board members, the Journal asked the four at-large candidates and two District 1 candidates one question and gave them 200 words to respond.

What personal or professional experiences will shape your priorities as a School Board member?

District 1 candidates

Jenny Arneson (DFL-endorsed)

I am running for Minneapolis School Board because I believe that better schools make a better community, and stronger schools can only start with the community.

I have dedicated substantial time and energy to our Minneapolis schools. I graduated from Minneapolis Public Schools (Edison High School, 1993). I went on to graduate from St. Olaf College and then earned my Master of Social Work from the University of Minnesota.

My professional experience includes working with over 500 students in the Minneapolis Public Schools from kindergarten through high school. My personal experience includes leading a very active PTA at the public elementary school my children attend in Northeast Minneapolis.

As a parent and community leader, I place a priority on parent engagement and have significant experience collaborating with teachers, parents and the community to produce results for our children.

I want to make a strong connection between our neighborhoods and the School Board, leading to decisions that are transparent and beneficial to all stakeholders. To fully address the problems our district faces — the achievement gap, falling enrollment and inadequate funding — we must view the community as an asset and foster action, engagement and leadership at the grassroots level.

Mike Endrizzi

I’ve been a licensed teacher since graduating college in 1989. My background in education and teaching allows me to understand the many issues facing our schools and how they work within traditional education’s bureaucracy.

As a union member and teacher for MPS for six years (2003–2009), and as a Northeast homeowner, I’ve been on the receiving end of many School Board decisions. I’ve taught regularly in MPS’s most struggling schools and know a lot about those classrooms engaging 100 percent to keep their students on track each day while sometimes lacking many functional resources. I’ve also worked with the school administrators who try and swim through the bureaucracies to keep these classrooms as well as their schools afloat, all the while trusting that our board has them in mind when making decisions.

In the classroom, I understand how modern media and technologies are being used and abused by most students. Advertisers are outspending our schools for our students’ attention — during class! Teaching in MPS schools, I experienced constant classroom disruptions due to texting and social networking.

It is this teacher’s perspective that I will add to the current School Board’s process. Thank you for your consideration.


At-large candidates

Rebecca Gagnon

A mother of three children in three Minneapolis Public Schools (Southwest, Lake Harriet and Whittier) and an active member of three district parent advisory councils, I know the concerns facing our diverse student population. As an at-large candidate, I work tirelessly to attend community events and speak personally with families and community members to learn firsthand their issues regarding MPS.

I bring invaluable insight to MPS from my experience living outside of Minnesota, providing a much needed, open-minded perspective. I see how biases based on ZIP code, income level, color of skin, etc., plague our students and affect their educational experience.

I believe our school system is capable of providing a high-quality, rigorous education for all children. However, we need a cultural shift in how we approach educating our students. We must believe: all children are able to succeed; every child’s success matters; and that all stakeholders should be held accountable when a child fails.

The School Board will be my fulltime job, so I am making a fulltime commitment to real, substantive and sustainable change within MPS. My extensive research and volunteer experience in the district has prepared me to represent you on the School Board.

Richard Mammen (DFL-endorsed)

For the past 40 years I have demonstrated successful leadership, bringing people and resources together to create positive developmental opportunities for children, youth and families in Minneapolis.

Serving our city — as a youth outreach worker and teacher in North Minneapolis; as a social entrepreneur creating innovative programs in juvenile justice and education; as a citywide public policy leader and manager bringing the public and private sectors to the table to establish common goals and shared accountability for results; as a parent and neighbor advocating for inclusion and respect for children and youth — I know we have to respect, listen and engage all stakeholders if we are to achieve success.

My highest priority is to restore respect for and confidence in a system that is overburdened, under-resourced and insular. Academic success is a community enterprise and we need an ecological perspective.

I will work to invite engagement of parents, students, teachers and the community in decision-making and problem-solving at the school, neighborhood, district and region level. I will advocate for accountable, collaborative partnerships that value early childhood experiences, effective social and health services, cultural diversity and competency while demanding accountable, transparent management from the district. Hope.

Chanda Smith Baker

Several experiences shape my priorities.

One priority is strengthening partnerships between schools, families and communities that are measured and reported. Creating cultures of excellence will require developing effective relationships.

My experience at Pillsbury United Communities and has allowed me to witness the difference our programs have made. The relationships between our centers, schools and families have provided “wrap-around” services that have stabilized families in crisis.

Teachers are dealing with more and more in the classroom, which is the outcome of the growing barriers families face. Building strategic partnerships can relieve teachers, support parents and ensure that all students have the necessary supports to be successful.

My second priority is improving and stabilizing the school district. The continuous changes in the district must be dealt with. It has been a challenge to figure out schools for our five children. Each change has a ripple effect and it has been very difficult.

We need strong schools in every neighborhood that address the current and future needs of our students. This will require the district to develop effective communication and feedback methods, to conduct an assessment of impact on major decisions and to evaluate how changes have improved academic outcomes for students.

T. Williams (incumbent)

Over 35 years ago, I volunteered to teach a Basic English class of 15 seniors at North High School because I believed then and I believe now that the key to good teaching is the relationship between the teacher and the student.

I took over the class without any prior classroom teaching experience, but I had extensive group and casework experience in working with youth to draw upon. These experiences helped me connect with the youth in class and helped them take ownership for their own learning. We were able to draw course content from the community. Multiple field trips provided appropriate course material for classroom discussions.

The students in the class were far from honor students, but they were on track to graduate and they wanted to graduate. I’m not sure they necessarily wanted to learn any more than they were by reading the newspaper in class or using it as a cover to sleep. The newspapers were taken away and they were engaged in learning.

My takeaway from that experience is that teaching is challenging. Teachers have to be prepared everyday they walk into the classroom or the students will take control. It’s about the relationship, stupid.