Minneapolis School Board member Chris Stewart won’t run for re-election

Minneapolis School Board member Chris Stewart, who’s relentlessly pushed for equity for minority and poor kids but got himself in headline-grabbing tussles with a principal and a Congressional candidate, said on Facebook he won’t run for re-election this year.

Writes Stewart:

I will leave office in 2011 knowing that we attend better to children in poverty; we are working a reform plan that seeks to create a portfolio of excellent schools; we have a greater degree of budgetary transparency; and we have a district that is closer to the size it needs to be in order to serve the students we have. We are far from out of the woods in terms of educational equity, however, I’m deeply satisfied that MPS is no longer unfocused, unplanned, or without a discernible mission. We are better than what we were when I took office in 2007.

Stewart was featured in MinnPost in May after a run-in with Burroughs Community School Principal Tim Cadotte over a school statement and poster the board member alleged was racist. Cadotte was suspended, reinstated, later had the suspension reduced and got back a week’s pay, according to supporter Kip Wennerlund. (Disclosure: I’m a Burroughs parent, but our reporter, Beth Hawkins, isn’t. Also of note: Stewart published his statement about the same time the Star Tribune published a Jon Tevlin column updating the Cadotte situation.)

Stewart got off to a rough start five days after winning in November 2006 when he admitted creating a “parody” site using a pseudonym to attack Congressional candidate Tammy Lee. Lee, who is white accused Stewart, who is Creole, of authoring a “racist hate website.”

In his statement, Stewart acknowledges his faults:

I admit my transition from private citizen to public official could have been smoother. I’m pleased with the work I’ve done, but I regret the fact that I’ve sold a few more newspapers than I needed to. Frankly, I could have been more edited. Passion for a noble cause need not be impolitic. I spend my days thinking of ways to build bridges, find common ground, and provide help to those that need it. I’m saddened by any other impression my approach has fostered. The great thing about private life is the luxury of failing in private. The great thing about public life is the mandate of growing publicly.

Stewart cited his growing family (two new kids since his election and long hours away from his wife) for his departure. He also noted that his conservative beliefs had been tempered, though not undone, by his service:

I came to the board as an evangelical social conservative that sought to introduce radical corporate reforms to a district that seemed at its liberal end. Today I have a richer appreciation for the art that is teaching; a deeper understanding of the nuances in public education that defy rigid ideology; and an enormous respect for the nearly religious dedication that MPS workers show every day. Though I still exist right of center when it comes to school reform, I exist there with an earned humility and the notable experience of being flat out wrong a number of times.

… We still need brave people to enable a balanced discussion that addresses the historic pain and marginalization that continues to injure people of color while at the same time not making enemies of the majority population. We need a way forward to address race and class in education, politics, and society, but the route will be a complex one with few examples of success.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by John Reinan on 02/02/2010 - 09:53 am.

    Based on Stewart’s parting words, it’s a shame he’s leaving the board.

    I have friends who are Burroughs parents, and they’ve been right in the middle of the Cadotte brouhaha. I’m not expressing an opinion on Stewart’s conduct there.

    Just saying that such candid and humble expressions are rare from any public official.

  2. Submitted by Paul Scott on 02/02/2010 - 09:56 am.

    Who knows what transpired between the board member and the principal, but Tevlin’s column today very believably depicts the Mpls public schools administration as the KGB/IRS/Orwellian/Kafkaesque, take your pick. An entire process that was kicked off, apparently, by the incoming schools chief.

    Why on earth did they need to cull through his emails and pick over his every last procedural boo boo? What a demoralizing, counterproductive, horrible way to treat people you need to do such a very tough job.

  3. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 02/02/2010 - 03:17 pm.

    Just wanted to leave a quick comment in support of Chris Stewart before the usual suspects come in and trash the place.

    Chris spoke his mind and the local hard right threw one of the biggest hissy fits I’ve seen since moving to Minnesota in 1988.

    Ya gotta love a guy who genuinely irritates the easily irritated. A great advocate for kids and learning. Minneapolis schools could use more board members like him.

    Long live Rahelio Soleil!

  4. Submitted by Steve Rose on 02/03/2010 - 08:30 am.

    Mark:

    I am with you in offering a word of support and thanks to Chris for his work on the school board. However, I would hardly characterize Cadotte and his water carriers as hard right.

    I thank Chris for advocating for kids and their families, and for fighting to give parents a voice in the school district.

  5. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 02/03/2010 - 09:40 am.

    I don’t even know who Cadotte is. I’m referencing the major wingnut meltdown in the Strib’s comments when Chris first got outed as a blogger. It was very loud, very sustained, and incredibly belligerent.

    In particular I remember some rightwing bloggers threatening to “town hall” the next school board meeting. They didn’t. They also didn’t use the words town hall as that suppression of grassroots democracy hadn’t happened yet.

    Put “chris stewart rahelio soleil” into google and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

  6. Submitted by Steve Rose on 02/03/2010 - 10:37 am.

    Mark:

    I am familiar with rahelio soleil; the Cadotte backers never fail to reference it. Google “Cadotte” and you will find a Jon Tevlin column in yesterday’s strib regarding Cadotte and Stewart. You will find a few kind words for Chris in the comments, and a whole lot of hatin’.

  7. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 02/03/2010 - 12:33 pm.

    John Reinan doesn’t say it in his comment, but he and I were the only two “media” who showed up at a press conference Stewart held after the Tammy Lee flap.

    I wrote a string of posts about it at the time:
    http://greatdivide.typepad.com/across_the_great_divide/2006/11/chris_stewart_y.html

    I thought then, and still believe, that Stewart was deeper and more nuanced than he was given credit for. Stewart’s passions and contradictions may not have made him a diplomat, but the undeserved vitriol he attracted put him up there with Keith Ellison as a target of ugly righteousness.

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