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Why the DFL blew up the St. Paul Board of Education

Mary Doran
Saint Paul Public Schools
Mary Doran

If St. Paul Public Schools officials and board members weren’t hearing community concerns about the state of the city’s schools before, they’re certainly hearing them now.

At a nine-hour DFL endorsing convention on Sunday, three St. Paul Board of Education incumbents — including chair Mary Doran — were unceremoniously dumped in favor of a slate of four candidates supported by a group called Caucus for Change, an organization made up of members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, parents and others members of the community. All three incumbents had received the DFL’s endorsement prior to the 2012 election, and all three said they would not run in November without the DFL stamp of approval.  

Though the endorsement fight may have surprised casual observers, the result was less a flash of anger than the culmination of simmering concerns — worries have been growing in the last two years from a wide swath of the city, said Joe Nathan, the director of the Center for School Change.  

“What you saw is a grass-roots revolution” that represented the concerns of “thousands” of people in St. Paul, he said, who either participated in caucuses leading up to the convention or “voted with their feet” by pulling their children from district schools in the last four years. 

‘The basics can’t be forgotten’

The endorsement foment revolved around some big issues in St. Paul’s public schools: safety, the achievement gap between white students and those of color; the mainstreaming of special- needs children and non-English speaking students.

The district, the board and political heavyweights such as St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman have said that the district is moving in the right direction to solve these problems. The process of change, they have argued, can be uncomfortable, even “messy,” but the district should stay the course. 

This kind of talk tends to drive some to distraction, of course, since implied in the “right direction” argument is the notion that anyone who opposes the board is opposed to those efforts, including the district’s efforts around equity and the achievement gap.

That’s not the case, say Nathan and others. Almost everyone attending the convention — including the new slate of board candidates and the teachers union — say they support the district’s equity goals. At the same time, said Nathan, “the basics can’t be forgotten. The most basic thing our schools must offer is the safety of the children. A significant number of families are saying their children do not feel safe in the schools. They don’t feel safe even going to the bathroom.” 

The seven-member board of education and Superintendent Valeria Silva, critics say, have not been listening to the fundamental concerns, a charge denied by Silva and the current board members.

A culture change in St. Paul schools

It was actually a handful of major policy shifts made two years ago that set the stage for what happened Sunday. In 2013, sixth-graders were moved into middle school with seventh- and eighth-graders, while special-needs students with “behavioral issues” were mainstreamed into everyday classrooms.

At the same time, discipline policies were substantially changed. School suspensions were replaced by five-minute “timeouts” for those acting up in classrooms. The disciplinary changes came out of meetings with an organization called Pacific Education Group, a San Francisco-based operation that has been consulting with the district dating back to 2010.

Joe Nathan
Center for School Change
Joe Nathan

PEG’s goal is to convene conversations about difficult issues surrounding race. It has collected more than $1 million for its work with the district, but Nathan points out that much of that work has only created more frustration in St. Paul. At one point, the organization set up meetings to discuss “white privilege” with teachers and parents. “OK, white privilege,” Nathan said. “Now that we’ve acknowledged there’s such a thing, what should we do about it? What’s the response? Help us here. But there was no response.”

In the wake of the dramatic changes in discipline and mainstreaming, Silva admitted that perhaps so much should not have been done so quickly. The admission, however, came long after large numbers of parents and teachers said that the changes had fundamentally changed the culture of St. Paul schools and, in many cases, made teaching and learning extremely difficult.

By that point, things had moved passed “messy.” Nowhere more so than at Ramsey Middle School, where the five-minute timeouts were not working in an environment of fighting, swearing and general disrespect. This past fall, nine teachers quit their jobs.

Parents with children in St. Paul schools went to board of ed meetings, but felt they weren’t being heard.

“You’d go and you felt like no one was listening,” said Zuki Ellis, who has one child currently in St. Paul schools and two older children who graduated from the district. “You’d ask, ‘What happened to support staff?’ and there’d be no answer.”

So Ellis decided to run for the board. “I’m not naive,” she said. “I’m not under the impression that I understand all the pieces that make the district run. But I can learn and I can understand what things look like from a child’s perspective and from a teacher’s perspective. I also know that talk is easy. I don’t want to go to one more meeting where nothing is accomplished.”

Silva ‘committed’ to working with new slate

At the outset of the St. Paul DFL convention Sunday, there were 10 challengers running against the incumbents for the party’s endorsement. Given the large number of challengers, most political experts believed that the incumbent board members would have an advantage.

Keith Hardy
Saint Paul Public Schools
Keith Hardy

Yet none of those incumbents — Doran, Keith Hardy and Anne Carroll — received more than 25 percent of the vote (60 percent was needed for endorsement). Doran, who was endorsed by Coleman, received only 12 percent of the vote. 

In fact, the biggest tussle Sunday wasn’t over dumping the incumbents, but over deciding which of the 10 challengers should replace them. Ultimately, Ellis, Steve Marchese, Jon Schumacher and Mary Vanderwert prevailed. Of that group, only Ellis, who is African-American, represents the city’s minority community.

The lack of diversity on the slate was noticed, and a disappointment to many, including Roy Magnuson, a longtime Como High School teacher who leads the political arm of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.

“Identity politics is important,” Magnuson said. “But in this case, we have elected four competent people.” He added that he hopes that such candidates as Rafael Espinosa and Pa Chua Vang, who finished fifth and sixth in Sunday’s voting, will be back to seek endorsement in two years for the when the remaining current board members are up for re-election.

In a statement, Silva said she is committed to working with whoever is on the board.  “As Superintendent of the St. Paul Public Schools, I have worked closely with the existing board and community to prepare our students for graduation and beyond. My hope is that regardless of who is elected to serve on the board, they focus on the students and what is best for them. Our data tells us which students we serve well and which ones we do not.” 

“This work, for me, has always been about the students and I am committed to serving Saint Paul Public School students in a way that is equitable to all,” her statement continued. “We, the teachers and staff of SPPS, are committed to providing a premier education for all students.”

Magnuson was emphatic that many of the people participating in the caucus and endorsing process want desperately for city schools to work. “These are people who want to live in the city and who want to send their kids to public schools because they believe in public education,” he said. “But they won’t sacrifice their kids’ education to do that.”

Board should not have been surprised

Ironically, the coalition that led the upheaval was established in 2012 — by the district. At that time, the superintendent’s office, the board, teachers and parents all worked closely together to campaign in support of passing a school levy increase in the city. That coalition was hugely successful, the levy increase passing with more than 60 per cent of the vote in the city. Connections made between teachers and parents remained intact, even after contract negotiations led to a disconnect between teachers and school management. 

Anne Carroll
Saint Paul Public Schools
Anne Carroll

What seemed certain is that no board member or district official should be particularly surprised by what happened Sunday. At a board meeting last April, board member John Brodrick irritated his colleagues by saying there appeared to be two “narratives” about the state of the St. Paul school district. One of the narratives, that of the SPPS administration, was highly optimistic, he said. The other was coming from parents, teachers, people in coffee shops, and that narrative was much more grim.

“They can’t both be right,” Brodrick told his colleagues.

At the time, the other board members disagreed with his comments.  

Comments (36)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 04/22/2015 - 10:36 am.

    After yrs and yrs of failed policies, the St Paul board decided to listen to parents and folks in the community. What a novel idea, including folks who are impacted the most by the poor results of the school board. Brodrick summed it up best by saying you can’t have SPPS saying don’t look here everything is fine and the grim reality of what is truly happening to students in St Paul.

    Sadly the final outcome will be throw more money (doesn’t help) and add another panel to look closely at the problem. Typical for St Paul and Minneapolis school boards.

  2. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 04/22/2015 - 12:53 pm.

    School Board

    The craziest thing to me is that Carroll, Hardy and Doran voted to extend Silva’s contract right before a competitive school board race. The three of them sent a clear message that they were out of touch and needed to be removed.

    My son goes to Ramsey, so I know first hand how the change in disciplinary policy has led to chaos. Teachers were stripped of their authority to remove disruptive students and the result was that they lost control of their classrooms to those disruptive students. Suspensions went down, but at the expense of anyone learning anything in school. The other change was the replacement of our excellent principal, Nancy Flynn, who knew how to run a very challenging school, with someone who is in completely over her head.

    Valerie Silva and her apologists are completely out of touch with what is going on in the district. Hopefully the new board members will start to set things right.

  3. Submitted by Mark Pfeifer on 04/22/2015 - 01:40 pm.

    School Board and the DFL

    Very one-sided article. Would have been good for Mr. Grow to include some voices who favored the racial equity policy.

    As a delegate to the both my ward and citywide conventions, I saw very few non-White persons as delegates. It seemed that upset teachers and the teacher’s union were organizing a range of aggrieved groups to throw out the incumbents because they don’t like the new policies. This they did very effectively.

    In conclusion, those endorsed do not represent the diversity found in the Saint Paul Schools. The DFL also needs to do a far better job of encouraging delegates from diverse backgrounds to participate, not just insiders from the school system. The DFL also should be careful about allowing interest groups such as the Teacher’s Union try to pick all of the members of the school board. Saint Paul needs an independent board to make tough policy and budget decisions.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 04/22/2015 - 02:08 pm.


      If the teachers are upset by the policies, then I am very glad that they organized to do something about it. The teachers are the ones on the ground who have to deal with the racial equity policy, and as evidenced by what happened at Ramsey, it is failing miserably. The real problem that teachers are considered an “interest group” and their input is ignored, while policy is made by groups funded by right-wing education “reformers” who have never seen the inside of the classroom. St. Paul needs a board (and a superintendent) that actually understands what is happening in the schools.

      • Submitted by Mark Pfeifer on 04/22/2015 - 02:19 pm.

        Teachers and other Stakeholders

        The views of teachers are an important voice and I believe every member of the school board would agree.

        However, in addition to teachers there are also other important groups whose needs should be represented when the school board makes decisions, these include schoolchildren, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, persons of color, recent immigrants or refugees, those who reside in poorer neighborhoods and students with disabilities.

        St. Paul taxpayers with or without children in the school system also need to be considered when policy and budget decisions are reached.

      • Submitted by Mark Pfeifer on 04/22/2015 - 02:22 pm.


        One other comment.

        I believe part of the problem why the racial equity initiatives have been so painful for many of the current teachers is that Saint Paul like many other school districts does not have a teaching workforce that reflects the diversity in its student population. I think that is a major issue the district needs to continue to work on.

        • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 04/22/2015 - 03:03 pm.


          The reason that racial equity initiatives are painful is because they are created by people who aren’t in the classroom every day and who don’t understand what is really going on. To say its because the teacher demographics don’t match the students (essentially calling the teachers racists) is the kind of thinking that got the school board so far off track to begin with. Your line of thinking is exactly why we needed teachers to get more involved.

          • Submitted by Mark Pfeifer on 04/22/2015 - 03:51 pm.


            What I am hearing you say is that having a district workforce and a school board that is reflective of the backgrounds of the 77% of the district student population that are persons of color isn’t important.

            • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 04/23/2015 - 08:22 am.

              Racial matching

              Is there any evidence that white teachers are hired preferentially over teachers that are not white? Seriously, I wonder about this. No one has ever shown the data on the percentage of teacher candidates that are non-white. This leads me to believe that the pool of teacher candidates is probably fairly representative of the teachers teaching, and the issue is supply and/or qualification, not racism. In other words, everyone wants to magically have a racially matching group of teachers regardless of who is actually qualified to teach. If that’s not the case, someone needs to show some compelling evidence that the reason that the teachers are generally so pale compared to the students they teach is because non-white teacher candidates that are equally qualified are being denied the job. No one has so far.

              As for the school board candidates that were endorsed, there were 12 newbies running. 3 were non-white. That’s 25%. 25% of those endorsed are non-white. Disappointing? Yes. But it doesn’t mean that there is a racial bias in the endorsing process. Why were there only 25% that were non-white when 77% of the district student population (and presumably their parents) are non-white? Are we going to blame the teachers for that? Really?

  4. Submitted by Mike Griffin on 04/22/2015 - 01:46 pm.

    Solutions are not simple

    People who spend significant time in the public schools (I have volunteered in my children’s St. Paul Public Schools for more than 25 years) quickly realize that there are no silver bullets to solve the complex problems faced by public education in the U.S. Simple solutions tend to be voiced with confidence only by those who have spent little or no time in the schools themselves. Educational problems are rooted in the persistent conditions of American culture and society and the struggle to improve public education is a long-term challenge that requires efforts on multiple fronts. So it is always going to be “messy.” Some plans and initiatives are not going to produce positive results and need continual re-evaluation and revision. The distribution and focusing of resources also needs continual re-evaluation and revision to address issues, problems, and new insights as they arise.

    It is certainly not surprising that parents and teachers are impatient with a lack of responsiveness on the part of the school district when schools and their students were facing continuing problems and challenges. The main fault that I find with the current district leadership is their insistence on rigidly promoting current policies without showing an openness to continual re-evaluation and recalibration. Their response to the problems created by simultaneously integrating 6th Graders into Middle Schools and mainstreaming special education students with behavioral problems was slow, hesitant and initially ineffective. They need to own this and be open and eager to shift gears and address shortcomings.

    • Submitted by Joe Nathan on 05/30/2015 - 09:22 pm.

      Good points, Mike.

      SPPS ignored parent concerns, for example at Ramsey Junior High until supt finally visited and student swore at her (spring 2014) Then principal was removed and many new staff people were moved in – one wonders for how long. Meanwhile growing numbers of families are leaving SPPS, 2/3 of the more than 12,000 students who left in 2013-14 were students of color, 2/3 were students from low income families.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 04/22/2015 - 01:56 pm.

    The DFL didn’t “blow up” anything; the SPFoT pushed the button. Surely everyone reading this knows the truth, why can’t Grow be more honest?

    Now for my fearless prediction:

    5 years from now…
    The district will have maxed out it’s taxing authority every year, and because they no longer have to get taxpayer approval, will have increased their take at least twice.
    Teachers salaries will be 15-20% higher.
    Per pupil expenditures will have risen by at least 20%.
    There will be no appreciable movement in the achievement gap or test scores.
    Enrollment will be less than it is today.

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/22/2015 - 02:02 pm.

    More Money DOES Help

    but that “more money” takes a long time to accomplish what’s needed,…

    and likely is needed in many other places in poor communities in addition to the Public Schools.

    Our “conservative” friends, having been conditioned by Wall Street to expect results in a single quarter (the same approach by which Wall Street has destroyed a lot of American Business and promoted massive mismanagement in so MANY areas of business and government),…

    have completely lost the ability to do long-range planning or devise and apply long-range solutions.

    Our “conservative” friends, thinking pumping money into education should produce the same results that pumping air into the tires of their cars produces: immediate and visible, not seeing such immediate, visible results when money is applied to education assume there are NO results to such application (which pleases them since they absolutely did NOT want to contribute that money in the first place).

    That’s not the issue at hand, however. I suspect one of the primary concerns being expressed by parents whose kids don’t feel “safe” in schools is the move AWAY from suspending or expelling disruptive students (because those students have so often been students of color).

    This move away from kicking such kids out of school is legitimate, since doing so in the past has helped create a permanent underclass of unemployed and unemployable citizens and deepened urban poverty.

    These same disruptive students (generally a natural product of the difficult circumstances in which they live (and trapped in a cycle which only produces more of the same) are generally completely UNsuited for independent study-type instruction or home schooling.

    So, in order not to look biased against such students, we’ve moved toward just keeping even the most behaviorally-challenged in school no matter how much trouble they cause,…

    with the result that far too many classes and schools suffer from constant disruptions both in class and in the halls,…

    and the further result that even excellent teachers are having a hard time teaching their most interested and engaged students,…

    while bullying in the halls of the school, up to and including bullying of teachers by students, is far too common. Hence students do not feel safe and they’re right, they sometimes are not safe. Some teachers have had reason not to feel safe, as well.

    No alternate discipline system seems to have been devised which would keep unruly students gainfully involved in education and help them deal with the issues which currently make them poorly suited for traditional styles of teaching and learning. Such a system would likely be quite expensive to implement and resources have not been readily available to do so.

    Hopefully these new school board members can put pressure on the system (and the legislature) to fund a system which provides the resources these most challenged and challenging students need to successfully accomplish their education while moving them away from disrupting the education and environment experienced by students throughout the St. Paul District.

    This IS being done in other places. The Minnewaska Area School District in Central Minnesota moved away from booting troubled and/or difficult students out of school a few years back by creating a School-Based Mental Health Day Treatment Program in the old Starbuck Elementary school site.

    This facility is now used by many area school systems in addition to Minnewaska to further the education of students whose personal issues make it difficult for them to succeed in a regular school environment.

    There would be additional challenges to creating such a system in an urban environment, but clearly the current policy of just keeping kids who are constantly troubled and in trouble in school is not serving them well nor is it serving the other students, the teachers, nor the City of St. Paul well.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/22/2015 - 03:07 pm.

      results in a single quarter?

      I’d settle for results in a single generation. There are kids leaving the public schools this Spring (I hesitate to use the term “graduate”) who have been attending dysfunctional schools since Kindergarten.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 04/22/2015 - 03:08 pm.

      “more money” takes a long time to accomplish what’s needed,…

      Grad rates and test scores have been flat for more than 20 years in SPPS. Some of the students the district has failed have grand kids by now. How long, and how much will it be to “accomplish what’s needed”, do you figure?

      • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/22/2015 - 04:01 pm.

        That Depends Entirely on What You Believe To Be Possible

        Let’s all look at our own extended families for the past many generations. How many of our ancestors and siblings have turned out to be functional, self-supporting, well-educated individuals who contributed useful things to society.

        I doubt we can expect any higher proportion from the public schools.

        But when it serves your purposes to make perfect (which is unattainable) the requirement, it’s easy to ignore good, or even excellent results.

        • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 04/22/2015 - 06:25 pm.

          Greg, forget about the red herring; no one said “perfect”. I said grad rates and test scores have been *flat* for more than 20 years in SPPS…the needle hasn’t moved despite the fact that per pupil spending has gone up x4 in that period.

          How long, and how much to get to 80% grad rate?

          • Submitted by Mike Griffin on 04/23/2015 - 12:05 pm.

            Again, this is a society-wide problem, not just a school problem

            A major complication in trying to tie test scores and graduation rates to particular teaching strategies or amounts of money spent per pupil is that flat test scores and lagging graduation rates are a society-wide cultural problem, not problems that can be successfully remedied in schools alone. Over the last two generations the emphasis on fundamental reading, writing, scientific inquiry, and even healthy physical activity in the average American home has severely waned, while time spent being entertained by screens and the portion of our attention preoccupied by celebrity, trivia and sports culture has grown by leaps and bounds. A recent study indicated that a majority of American homes now have no books in them (zero). Even the most elite colleges and universities see increasing numbers of entering students in need of remedial reading and writing instruction and it has now become an issue in higher education whether too many students are graduating from college after four years without ever having read a single book from cover-to-cover. As a national culture we simply don’t value basic education as inherently important. We simply hope that the schools will somehow make it possible for our children to get jobs someday.

            In this environment, it may well be that “flat” test scores (rather than precipitously falling ones) are a major achievement. How do we know that the increased attention and money spent on education in recent decades has not been tremendously successful in preventing a complete cratering of test scores and graduation rates? Schools seem to increasingly represent a rear-guard action against the philistine tendencies of our culture.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 04/22/2015 - 02:02 pm.

    And one more prediction:

    Carroll will forswear her pledge, and will run as an independent….because she’s even smarter than the rank and file, scary smart leftists that booted her.

  8. Submitted by Mark Pfeifer on 04/22/2015 - 03:02 pm.


    I have a feeling that there are many in Saint Paul who would like to see an independent voice run for the school board in the Fall.

  9. Submitted by Steve Marchese on 04/22/2015 - 03:03 pm.

    What Happened at the Convention

    As one of the candidates endorsed at the DFL convention on Sunday, I believe it’s important to set the record straight on a few things mentioned in the comments:

    1) No candidate at the convention had the endorsement of the SPFT because the union had decided not to endorse candidates at this time. Those of us who were challenging the incumbents were included in efforts by Caucus for Change because each of us shared many of the same concerns about lack of responsiveness, poor implementation of district initiatives (including, but not limited to discipline, mainstreaming and iPad roll outs) and a general lack of accountability by the current board majority. I’m proud to have had support from a broad group of delegates who have direct connection to and experience with the school district, including many parents and caregivers, teachers and community members.

    2) The large number of candidates and high participation rates of delegates on Sunday speak to the overall level of concern in the community about the SPPS. There are certainly downsides to the caucus process, but I was consistently impressed with the number of first-time attendees, parents and community members from various groups not usually in attendance at DFL events. This was emphatically NOT a gathering of just party insiders and activists,

    3) Not one single challenger ever spoke against the notion that the district should be addressing racial disparities in achievement and racial equity in the system. Indeed, racial equity was a central part of my address to the convention, as well as the remarks of many of the other candidates. Where I and the other challengers diverged from the incumbents was in the way the district has chosen to implement its policies in furtherance of these goals. Unlike what was heard from some of the incumbents and their supporters, I believe you can criticize what the district is doing without disagreeing on the fundamental importance of making the SPPS a more just, effective and equitable school system.

    It’s a long way between now and November and I, for one, am looking forward to the opportunity to continue meeting with voters who care about the state of their school district.and the work we all have to do to make it better.

  10. Submitted by Francie Anthony on 04/22/2015 - 04:36 pm.

    A retired teacher’s observations as a current sub

    I retired from SPPS in 2010 and have been subbing in the high schools the last five years. Two years ago I noticed a sudden, dramatic change in classroom environments after the surprise decision by the superintendent to mainstream special ed and ELL level III students into regular classrooms.

    As I read through the previous comments, I was dismayed to see partisan politics injected into the conversation, for I don’t think that’s really relevant. A major part of the current problems stems from the unilateral initiatives by the district two years ago, without any warning (to my knowledge), to mainstream these kids, often into large classes, and the new district policy to keep disruptive kids in the classroom. I know that the latter was designed to help reduce suspensions, which looks good on paper, and theoretically begins to close the achievement gap. Instead, I have observed too many classes in which the entire learning environment has been compromised by the disruptions and the disrespect. The ELL kids, while often looking lost with the content material, have learned one thing: the poor behaviors. While this is not true in every class, it happens far too often. In some schools where I subbed, the disruptive student I sent to the office was immediately returned to me, including the boy who threatened my life. Fortunately, some schools do still allow teachers to remove kids that intefere with everyone’s learning and safety.

    As an educator, I am mystified at the decision to move sixth graders to middle schools. This is the toughest age group for classroom management; for that reason I seldom sub in those schools. Why introduce even younger kids into the mix?

    Finally, I think the iPad rollout as it was done this year was a poor use of the district’s money. While I see some classes in which iPad use is integrated into the lesson, and kids do use them for writing and submitting assignments, by far the most common use I see of IPads is for playing games, while listening to music on their cell phones. When I sub in college prep classes, kids usually put them away when asked, but in regular mainstreamed classes where poor behaviors happen more frequently, iPads and cell phones are a huge battle. Everwhere. The district finally deleted the app store in March, but it was way too late. And kids have already found ways around it. My last sub job is still fresh in my mind– in two mainstreamed classes, I spent the entire period getting after kids to put away electronic devices and begin working. In one class a loud, foulmouthed group of kids seemed to delight in taunting me. I kept thinking of the teacher, who is a friend of mine, and has to deal with this on a daily basis.

    It is intolerable and untenable. Teachers have had no say in these initiatives, and have very little recourse in dealing with these multiple constant disruptions that create obstacles to learning every day. It’s no wonder parents and teachers want a school board that will represent the needs of the community and not the whims of the superintendent.

  11. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 04/22/2015 - 08:59 pm.

    St. Paul Schools

    We need to get back to basics:

    1. Discipline and respect are prerequisites for any meaningful learning. Kids that don’t cooperate should not be in the classroom. Parents of problem kids should be held accountable. If they can’t get control of their kids, they should be forced to attend parenting classes. If they don’t show up, they should be disqualified from any form of public assistance.

    2. We need to get rid of the philosophy that every kid should go to college. We need to put shop classes back into all of the junior and senior high schools, so kids who are not college material have something else to keep them interested and to give them skills so they can get a job after they graduate.

    3. We should get rid of all electronics gadgets, including calculators. For AP math classes, reintroduce slide rules. iPADs and calculators are distractions and/or crutches that interfere with actual learning.

    4. We need to have the clear goal that upon graduating, all kids will have the basic skills they need to be gainfully employed. That includes showing up on time, dressing appropriately, showing respect, and basic life skills like balancing your checkbook, understanding an apartment lease, being able to fill out a basic income tax form, etc…..

    As far as $s go, we should compare the school district’s budget for 1970 vs today. We need to go back to allocating resources they way we did when the schools still worked.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/23/2015 - 07:57 am.

      1970 is about right

      Because that’s the last year when the government schools worked. That’s also the year when the National Education Association changed from being a professional pedagogical association designed to share best practices for the benefit of the students, to a labor union designed for the benefit of the teachers.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 04/23/2015 - 08:41 am.

      Slide rules? Really?

      Somehow my classmates and I managed to be functional learning with calculators and even *gasp* computers. Granted, those computers were pretty dumb back then, but I have a 20 year high school reunion coming up and I believe that pretty much the entirety of my small class is productive. Hmm. Small class. That might actually be part of the issue. Perhaps we should focus on smaller class sizes (costs money) than whether or not those gadgets suck the brains out of children. And if you think kids are going to be employable without computer skills, you probably haven’t looked for a job since 1970. The reality is, computer literacy is the #1 skill those kids will need for every job available to them, so budgets should accommodate the acquisition of computers and computer training. While I thought it was moronic to hand out iPads (why iPads? Because someone thought it was neato, not because Apple is the smart choice for personal computing. And to allow anything more than what is required for school use on them? Holy stupid, Batman! How could they not see that coming?)

      Honestly, with the exception of the slide rule ridiculousness, I agree with a good bit of the rest.

    • Submitted by Mike Griffin on 04/23/2015 - 11:35 am.

      “Back to Basics” arguments show disconnect with the real world

      The “Back to Basics” arguments are a good example of responses from people who have no first-hand experience with the realities of 21st Century American schools and education. Such comments remind me of the responses of Monday morning quarterbacks who have never been on a football field. They propose what “ought to be” entirely in the abstract without a clear understanding of the way things really are, of the realistic starting point from which we need to formulate practical goals and devise feasible and effective strategies. Those voicing such purely ideological complaints need to come down out of the clouds and learn more about what is happening on the ground.

    • Submitted by Crystal Brakke on 04/23/2015 - 03:11 pm.

      #2: theory v. practice

      In an ideal world, I can get behind the philosophy that college isn’t for everyone. But in THIS world, I feel like that philosophy often morphs into practices that reinforce that college is for white students of the middle class and up, and that college is not for students of color or those from low-income backgrounds. That those are the the students who need access to shop, to vocational training, etc.

      There are always exceptions to this stereotype–of course, there always are. But until we address some of the deep and underlying systemic issues regarding who we expect to go to college–and I see that creating opportunities for “kids who are not college material” is not just what we talk about for kids in urban areas–I’ll be on the other side of this one.

  12. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 04/22/2015 - 10:41 pm.

    How the teachers union blew up the school board

    The title of the article is wrong. It should be “How the teachers union blew up the school board.”

    Whatever the issues, the endorsement process was over before even the ward conventions began. The union put a ton of effort into recruiting favorable delegates and candidates in the weeks prior. By the time the ward conventions convened, the delegates were so stacked in the union’s favor, the endorsement process was effectively sealed. The only uncertainty was which union candidates would be endorsed.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-union. I think they do a fine job. That said, the entire school board race can be summarized with one sentence from a March 14th Tribune article:

    “…the (teachers) union’s deployment of two full-time organizers to rally anti-incumbent forces.”

    Two full-time organizers? Full time? There was never a chance for their opponents in a race where campaign budgets barely scrape the couple-thousand dollar range. For sure it was not a grass roots campaign but a highly coordinated effort by the unions from the beginning. At the city convention, the union even started telling delegates how to vote. I think the endorsed candidates are definitely qualified but definitely not representative.

    In the end, it was an interesting and insightful lesson in politics and in what happens behind the scenes. I enjoy smart politics and am glad to have had a ringside seat.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 04/23/2015 - 09:58 am.


      The money the teachers union put into this was a fraction of the money that is being poured into school board races by right-wing education “reform” groups. It has been much much more evident in Minneapolis where candidates like Don Samuels and Josh Reimnitz bought their seats in primary elections, although the same could still happen in St.Paul this year.

      The narrative that the teachers union took over a low-money school board contest is false. This was a pushback to a huge effort the other way.

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 04/23/2015 - 02:55 pm.

        Wrong Wrong

        The right wing influence has nothing to do with my above comment or the endorsement process.

        The teachers union had (still has?) two full time organizers working on the endorsements. The cost of those workers would be about 2k/week. By the time the ward conventions convened, the cost of the union organizers most likely already eclipsed the total combined incumbent budgets. Then, from the ward conventions to the city convention was another six weeks or so. Pretty simple math. The endorsements were definitely union driven.

        The reason I wrote my original comment is that union influence has been overlooked in most every article I have read but remains the central driving factor.

  13. Submitted by Mark Pfeifer on 04/23/2015 - 12:42 pm.

    More Candidates Needed

    I am strong DFLer, and participated in both my Ward convention and the City convention this year as a delegate. I have to agree with the Pioneer Press editorial this morning however asking for more candidates to get in the Saint Paul School Board race by the summer deadline.

    The Saint Paul teacher’s union selected their 4 candidates on Sunday. The rest of us in Saint Paul need a candidate or two who will advocate for the interests of everyone else in the general election.

  14. Submitted by Sam Keats on 06/23/2015 - 10:34 am.

    district refuses supports for special needs kids of color

    Shouting racial equity means nothing when SPPS routinely refuses assessment and supports for their kid’s special needs. Yes, it looks like equity on paper–and they can trumpet a lowered special Ed rate for kids of color. On the ground, it translates into lost years of schooling for struggling kids, and in many cases, permanent damage to these same kids. But it makes Valeria Silva’s resume look good when she flees to a larger, more lucrative school district.

    Remember also, St. Paul, minorities aren’t all African-American. Hmong, Karen and Somali immigrant children, are also going to school in a dominant culture. They tend to be shocked and fearful at our out-of-control schools. Our district is bleeding these students. Extended families, previously passionate supporters of SPPS, are pulling twenty, thirty children at a time. Those minorities’ needs were completely ignored in the changes the district made.

    Not to mention African-American parents of well-behaved kids, whose children come to bear a stigma by association. Many African-american parents at Ramsey were afraid to send their children to school each day. In fact, when we visited Ramsey in May, during the school day, while we waited, a teenaged girl came running, laughing into the office, and hid (with drama) playing hide and seek for several minutes until two teenaged boys came in. During class hours.

    She ran to one of them, flung her arms around him–flirting is not the word–and they left, boisterous, loud, out of class. No staff member in that office spoke to them. And don’t tell me that’s a normal Middle school. Crosswinds, the East Metro Integration District School has quiet hallways, respectful students, and the office staff would a) have known those students by name, b) have called them on what they were doing and where they were supposed to be, and c) would have followed up with a behavioralist to figure out what’s going on and set up supports so these kids could hold it together during the school day.

    Our four candidates are going to keep listening to the folk in the trenches–parents, teachers, aides. Those of us who got them nominated are passionate enough about true, rather than paper racial equity, to make sure of that. We care about our kids–all our kids. God-willing, we’ll also get them to implement tested programs for the children of what’s called Complex Trauma, which is a far more effective way to deal with discipline problems than–don’t make me laugh–five minute timeouts for teenagers.

  15. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 06/26/2016 - 05:43 pm.

    Looking back a year later

    It’s fascinating to look back on this column a year after the convention. As a parent of 3 children who attended St. Paul Public Schools K-12, as a former SPPS teacher and administrator, a former SPPS PTA president, I think

    * the previous school board was extremely irresponsible in giving Silva a 3 year contract. It would have been far better to give her a 12-18 month contract and allow the new school board to determine whether it was appropriate to extend this

    * the new board was elected by tens of thousands of people – most of whom were not SPPS teachers. The DFL convention (which I attended) included hundreds of people. There were many, many parents and community members. There was wide spread frustration with Silva and the board – which seemed to mostly ignore community concerns.

    * Whatever Silva’s goals, her strategies and implementation drove increasing numbers of St Paul residents out of the district.

    * Her administration consistently refused to release information about what people leaving the district were saying. They refused to answer questions about what they from parents that led, for what for example led to a decision in Jan 2016 to hold a school choice fair only for parents of prek-1st grade students.

    * A broad coalition of people came together to defeat the old board and push for changes. In response, Silva lectured the new board. Some journalists who watched this were amazed she kept her job as long as she did.

    * Quietly the administration announced 2 weeks ago that they were changing their projection of how many enrollment would decline in fall 2016-17. All spring they had been projecting a loss of about 100 students. They recently changed this projected enrollment decline to 542. This has multi-million dollar implications.

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