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Ed events: 'Soup with the Supe,' policy improv, St. Thomas forum

Bernadeia Johnson
MinnPost photo by Beth Hawkins
From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, MPS Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson will be supping and kibitzing with district families.

Are you smarter than a fifth-grader? I’m not. At least not before I’ve had my coffee.

While we waited for his bus yesterday my son asked me how many months besides February had 28 days. “None,” I muttered, one eye on my phone and the other on my to-do list.

“Wrong!” he crowed. “They all do!”

I fault Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) for all of this precocious brilliance, and I mean to amble on over to Intermedia Arts on Thursday night — yes, Feb. 28, this post’s monkey-minded start — and tell Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson as much.

From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Johnson will be supping and kibitzing with district families at one of her favorite events, “Soup with the Supe.” She really will be serving soup, and she really does want to hear from families and other district residents.

I used to think Johnson asked after my kids as a courtesy, but as I’ve gotten to know her over the years I’ve realized the intelligence-gathering value the parent grapevine must serve for someone in her position. Indeed, I’ve been regaled with stories she’s picked up while dishing it out.

Yes, she spends her days in schools — but typically accompanied by principals and others who want her to see their best work. A school’s social ecology can look very different if she happens to drop in after hours not in a suit and heels but in her civvies.

MPS works hard to make these get-togethers as welcoming as possible. There’s free child care for kids 3 and older, Somali, Hmong and Spanish-language interpreters as well as typically a selection of soups cooked up — ba-dum-cha! — with different ethnic traditions and dietary needs in mind. 

This week’s dinner will feature chicken and rice and Cuban black bean soups and will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at 2822 Lyndale Ave. S. For more information, call 612-668-0230. If you can't attend this one, Johnson’s next Soup with the Supe is scheduled for March 28 at Minneapolis’ Sabathani Community Center, 310 E. 38th St. 

Education improv

If you like your education-related outings a little more macro — or a little more out-there, conceptually — this next one’s for you. On Tuesday, March 5, the Minnesota PTA, the education reform group MinnCAN and the Theater of Public Policy are holding a night of comedy and conversation.

Yes, education policy improv. As explained right here on this very site last summer: "We're not proposing legislation or any particular view," co-founder Brandon Boat says.  "Essentially we're trying to reach two groups of people: the people who have never heard of a particular issue before, and can now engage with it in a fun way, and the people who have been banging their heads against the wall for years about said issue, and suddenly can look at it in a new interesting way."

I know, I’ve been watching the public policy-comedy mash-up trend with a dubious eye, but after I said snarky things last week about the ripped-from-No-Child-Left-Behind storyline in “House of Cards” I got e-mail from any number of people who not only pronounced it riveting but pointed out all kinds of parallels in local skullduggery.

Plus, “Improve and Improv” — I just couldn’t make this up, could I? — promises a lineup that is both improbable and likely to be pretty darn funny. There will be audience participation, and the weighty topics of the day will be discussed and lampooned.

In certain crannies of the public imagination MinnCAN Executive Director Daniel Sellers and Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota’s very funny President Julie Blaha are putative foes. In reality they’re not, and each is willing to make themselves the butt of the other’s jokes if it will get people engaged in a conversation that truly moves things forward.

They’ll be joined by Parents United’s Mary Cecconi, as quick a wit as the education policy community boasts and a go-to brain for Your Humble Blogger, and PTA President Bonnie Cannon, who has enthusiastically championed MinnCAN’s efforts to get people to come out and talk about students, teachers and schools.

Free and open to the public, the improv event begins at 6:30 p.m. at the TIES Building, home to all kinds of education-focused groups and a technology coop of school districts, at 1667 Snelling Ave. N. in St. Paul.

Describe your career to students

On a note that’s more serious but just as fun, over the next couple of months MPS’ nonprofit private-sector partner, AchieveMPLS, is looking for volunteers to participate in career fairs in 10 of the city’s 11 high schools. It’s a simple mission: Show up, describe your vocation, avocation or profession and field questions about how you got there.

What’s that, you say, 11 high schools? Yes, and this is where we get to why this is so very important. All of the mainline district high schools except Southwest are represented, but so are small programs for kids who have special challenges or are working to catch up after nearly falling out of the system.

Many of the kids who will attend these fairs learned about college — and career readiness at the dinner table — as tots. Others have grown up in households where doing more than getting by seems daunting indeed. Your seemingly small victories may be received as big wisdom.

I warn you, your visit to any of the programs you’re not familiar with is likely to benefit you as much as the kids. I can’t tell you how often I’ve toured a school where disadvantaged kids are, say, figuring out the R-factor required to insulate a hypothetical “green” industrial facility and thought, “My god, if I could transport you, curiosity and intellect intact, over the landmines of the next few years Minnesota’s work force would be unstoppable.”

St. Thomas forum on re-imagining education

Which is a tidy segue to the last event that needs to be brought to your attention. On Wednesday, March 20, the University of St. Thomas Law School’s Community Justice Project will hold its sixth annual forum on re-imagining public education, “How Are the Children”?

Taking place in the law school’s Schultze Grand Atrium, 1000 LaSalle, Minneapolis, the event is billed as “a forum to discuss ways in which teachers, parents, lawyers, policymakers, community members and nonprofits can work collaboratively and proactively to strengthen educational outcomes for all Minnesota kids.”

At 2:45, MinnCAN’s Sellers — by then an improv phenom — will be joined on a panel by Chris Stewart, director of the African American Leadership Forum, and Luz Maria Frias, vice president of community impact at the Minneapolis Foundation.

Tickets are $25, but it should be money well spent. All three organizations are at work on promising initiatives.

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