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Working for the schools our students deserve: six parent-led priorities for St. Paul

We need to make the Board of Education more open and accessible for every resident of St. Paul.

As our kids head off for their first week back in the classroom, we all can agree that there are many wonderful things happening in the St. Paul Public Schools. We have teachers who care about our kids. We have administrators who want our children to succeed. And we have students who are excited about learning. The St. Paul Public Schools possess the potential to make sure that every child who enters a school receives a quality education and is prepared for whatever comes after graduation. However, despite this potential we continue to fail many students who go to our public schools.

We, along with the other authors listed below — all parents of students in St. Paul Public Schools — believe that we can and must do better for our kids. We cannot continue to replicate the failed policies of the past. To meet the needs of our students and eliminate the racial predictability of academic and disciplinary outcomes, we need to invite everyone — educators, parents, students, and community members — to be part of the solution. We need substantive change now.

Fortunately, this year there are excellent candidates running for school board who have pledged to challenge the status quo on the school board. We applaud their efforts. However, we are done waiting for other people to fix St. Paul Public Schools. After all, these schools belong to us and, more important, to our kids. To that end, we have drafted a list of six items we want the next school board to address. These items are meant to be a starting point, aimed at changing the tone of the Board of Education and making it more open and accessible for every resident of St. Paul:

  1. The incoming 2016 Board of Education should address issues of school safety, discipline, and equity with systemic solutions designed to bring ownership to all stakeholders, including students.
  2. The incoming 2016 Board of Education should work with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, parents, and students to institute discipline practices that restore productive learning and mutual respect for students and teachers alike instead of simply suspending or expelling students, feeding the school to prison pipeline.
  3. The incoming 2016 Board of Education should recognize that parents and educators – those who know the needs of their children best – must have a primary role in reshaping our schools.
  4. The incoming 2016 Board of Education should work to build meaningful, authentic parent engagement by taking the following steps:
         a. Committing to holding off-site Board of Education meetings.
         b. Attending PTO, Site Council and School Climate Improvement Team meetings.
         c. Holding office hours at schools.
  5. Board of Education members are accountable to the residents of St. Paul. In turn, the 2016 Board of Education should hold the superintendent accountable to the residents of St. Paul by:
         a. Setting clear, measurable goals that include periodic, uniform assessments whose results are made public.
         b. Creating a culture of respect by responding to requests accurately and in a timely manner.
         c. Following through on commitments to the citizens of St. Paul to increase the number of support staff, translators and interpreters.
  6. The incoming 2016 Board of Education should foster an atmosphere of transparency in the district by taking the following steps:
         a. Creating an oversight committee for the school board composed of parents and teachers.
         b. Giving parents a voice in school budgetary decisions.
         c. Supplying district information – including data – in a timely manner and in all applicable languages.
         d. Providing adequate translators for Board of Education meetings.

It is important to remember that the public schools in this city belong to us: the parents who send their children to school here, the students who attend our schools, the educators who work here, and the community that cheers our kids on at sporting events, cries at their graduations, and worries that our schools are failing so many.

However, the current school board has forgotten its responsibility to engage with us and to be accountable to the concerns and priorities of parents, students and teachers. Instead, the current school board has chosen to go it alone on its own terms with significant consequences for our kids, schools and city.

Our hope is that four new school board members can embrace these six parent-led priorities and provide the leadership we need so all our kids in St. Paul can succeed.

Other contributing authors are Cheryl Bailey, Scott Banas, Shannon Beck, Julie Bowen, Jill Curran, Elaine Gillespie Blevins, Leah Logan, Guadelupe & Alberto Rios, Angela Rouillard, Brad Sigal, Oredola Taylor, and Denean Tisell. 

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 09/11/2015 - 08:12 am.

    Respect is a two way street. A teacher cannot run a classroom unless the students allow her/him to. When you have unruly students who for what ever reason, do no want to learn, listen or be quiet to let others learn, there is not much you can do. As soon as the problem kids realize they will not be disciplined, the classroom falls apart. Good luck with the we’ll be tolerant towards kids who don’t want to learn or have no respect for the teacher.
    Put trade classes back in schools and spend time letting students understand that you can live a very nice life as electrician, welder, mechanic and many other trade professions. A liberal arts degree is not for everyone. Teach kids HOW to learn and forget about what they learn. Reading, writing and math/science need to be stressed. Teach kids how to debate and use their brains to challenge theories and norms. Right now schools are training centers for political correctness and collective thinking.

  2. Submitted by Mark Pfeifer on 09/11/2015 - 08:25 pm.

    There are other Stakeholders

    The authors of this piece express the view that the School Board needs to hear the voices of parents and teachers, they are important,and so are diverse student voices in a district that is almost 80% non-White. but what about the other major stakeholder in Saint Paul – the taxpayer. The School Board also needs to keep an eye out to protect taxpayers from huge budgetary pressures associated with ever rising employee salaries, benefits and pensions. It should be noted that Saint Paul School Teachers currently have the highest annual salary of any teachers in any municipality in Minnesota, I have yet to hear the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers or their affiliated groups bring up the issue of pressure on taxpayers despite their heavy involvement in attempting to influence the Saint Paul electorates’ votes in this Fall’s election.

    While it would be difficult for many community members to disagree with some of the opinions expressed here, informed readers should also be aware that the authors of this commentary are supporting the School Board candidates affiliated with the so-called “Caucus of Change”, a movement heavily funded by the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers with full-time paid political organizers who were active trying to steer the direction of this year’s School Board race well before the beginning of the current calendar. The so-called “Caucus for Change’s” main goals are to elect a school board that will reverse the policies of the current board which have been focused on racial equity and eliminating systemic racism surrounding such issues as disciplinary policies. The movement is largely reactionary, attempting to get the district to move back from progressive policies that have made many long-time system employees uncomfortable. No doubt the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers and its “Change” agents would also like to have a sympathetic board that will negotiate highly favorable salary and benefit packages as others have in the past.

  3. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 09/11/2015 - 09:34 pm.

    Way to be a maverick!

    Not many folks would take the bold stance that the problem with education is that teachers are just paid too darn much. It takes a real maverick to go after those greedy, overpaid teachers!

  4. Submitted by Jill Curran on 09/14/2015 - 02:33 pm.

    Our own voice

    To imply, actually blatantly state, that those of us who contributed to this article are being manipulated or used in any way by the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers is beyond insulting and just plain wrong. I’ve worked closely with several of the parents in this group and I attest to the fact this is a group of strong and independent people whose heads and hearts are in the right place.

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