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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Want to add your voice?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.)