As the entity in charge of establishing requirements for teacher preparation programs and licensure — and disciplining teachers who violate the teachers’ code of ethics — the Board of Teaching has held a lot of power. So when the board came under fire by a state court judge — twice within a matter of months — for illegally halting a state-mandated alternative teacher-licensing program for out-of-state teachers, state lawmakers took notice.
The apparent power struggle was made even more complicated by the fact that legislators were in the midst of considering an overhaul of the entire Minnesota teacher licensure system. According to a 2016 state audit, the “broken” system was in need of significant fixes, many of which were rooted in the blurred lines of responsibility and accountability between the Board of Teaching and the Minnesota Department of Education.
During the 2017 session, in line with the auditor’s recommendations, state lawmakers ended up dissolving the Board of Teaching and establishing a new governing entity called the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSP). This new 11-member board — composed of nine newcomers and two incumbents — will assume office Jan. 1. It will assume primary responsibility for the implementation and oversight of the newly adopted tiered licensure system, which will go into effect on July 1.
In preparation for the transition, members of the new board will begin the onboarding process next month, under the direction of Interim Executive Director Alex Liuzzi.
Erin Doan, the former executive director of the Board of Teaching, left her post this past summer for a position as head of school at Oak Hill Montessori in Shoreview.
“The limitations of the old structure are really, in my opinion, just the separation between policy and implementation,” Liuzzi said, contending the Board of Teaching’s work was made difficult by the fact that the educator licensing division of the state Department of Education was in charge of policy implementation. “The board itself — the structure, the board members — I don’t think there were any limitations. I think it functioned extremely well within the parameters that it was given.”
So what’s changed?
Regardless of how steeped in controversy the Board of Teaching had become, most agreed on the need to streamline all teacher licensure responsibilities under one entity. Liuzzi says he’s hoping there will be a lot less confusion under the new Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.
“We definitely see it as a new beginning, to have everything under one roof,” he said.
When the PELSB members start the orientation process next month, Liuzzi says they’ll be briefed on things like what teacher discipline looks like and what data practices entail, so they’re clear on open meeting laws. As outlined in state statute, this new group must also start the process for hiring an executive director before they officially take office.
They also have an opportunity to start looking at and discussing rulemaking drafts that the current board has been queuing up for the PELSB to revise and eventually adopt. The Board of Teaching recently caught some heat from Ed Allies, an education advocacy group, for hashing out the details of such drafts at its final retreat at a board member’s farm in Avoca — a rural community in southwestern Minnesota that is 183 miles from St. Paul.
In terms of board composition, the PELSB is a mix of teachers, school administrators, a cooperative unit, and a member of the public. The teacher seats, however, are now specified even further to ensure there is representation for charter schools, schools inside and outside the seven-county metro area, student support services, special education, and the teacher preparation sector.
Liuzzi says 121 people applied to serve on the PELSB. Only about five or six applicants fit the charter teacher criteria, he said. And about the same number met the teacher-prep criteria. Otherwise, the competition was spread pretty evenly among the various seats. Gov. Mark Dayton appointed all 12 members on Sept. 12. Two incumbents from the Board of Teaching will serve a one-year term, expiring in 2019. From there, three seats will open up each year. Here’s a look at each appointee’s experience in the education sector and why each of them applied to serve on the new board.
Anne Krafthefer, who currently serves on the Board of Teaching, is a fifth-grade teacher at Lester Park Elementary School in the Duluth Public Schools district, ISD 709. She’s been in her current role since 1999. But this marks her 41st year with a teaching license. Throughout her career, she’s taught at every level from kindergarten through college-level courses and general education development for students seeking a GED. She even taught in a one-room private school in Brimson, Minnesota.
Beyond her teaching role, Krafthefer says she’s very involved with teacher training through the American Federation of Teachers, the national teachers union. She had already served a four-year term on the Board of Teaching and was reappointed by Dayton. She sees value in being able to bring her institutional memory to the new board.
“We have certain criteria as a board,” she said, noting they refer to rules to guide their decision making, but they also draw upon each others’ areas of expertise when discussing things like disciplinary measures and reviewing requests to place a non-licensed teacher in a classroom that would otherwise go vacant due to the various teacher shortages. “Without having that continuity, the standards we’d been using for those things would be lost.”
She says she doesn’t view the PELSB as a fresh start. Rather, she maintains that the old board “has been a very cohesive board.” While she thinks it’s unfortunate things ended the way they did, she says, “That doesn’t mean that I don’t welcome new people.”
Amy Hewett-Olatunde, an English Language Learner teacher at LEAP High School, a school in the St. Paul Public Schools district serving an immigrant student population, has been appointed the interim chair of the PELSB. She’s been at LEAP since 1999 and this is her 19th year as an EL teacher for the district. Before that, she taught adult English learners and workforce English for the district’s adult basic education program. She has more than 20 years of experience teaching in formal and informal settings in Norway, Canada and the United States.
Given her additional roles as a current supervisor for prospective ELL teachers in the graduate ESL program at Hamline University, where she acquired both a master’s degree and a doctorate, she fulfills the teacher-prep requirement for one of the new board’s teacher seats. She’s also been working for the University of St. Thomas Graduate School of Education’s ESL Licensure Program since 2007.
From 2016-17, she served as the president of MinneTESOL, the state’s chapter of an international professional association for teachers of English as a Second Language. The year before, she was named the Minnesota Teacher of the Year. She continues to speak nationally about English learner needs and advocacy.
Her motivation for applying to serve on the PELSB is fourfold. She says a lot of her work in and out of the classroom is based on advocacy and policy, so she feels qualified and credible. She believes having a teacher voice on the board is crucial because teachers are well attuned to students’ academic and social-emotional needs. She’s interested in helping teacher education programs design and implement strategies and best practices that will better prepare future teachers for the classroom. And she says she’ll bring a unique perspective on the needs of English learner students to the board’s conversations.
“I know there is a lot of work ahead of me, but I am willing to do what is necessary to ensure that all stakeholders in our children’s education is taken into consideration,” she said. “I will do my absolute best to uphold Minnesota’s high standard of education.”
Maggie Borman, a third-grade math teacher at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Northrop, a Minneapolis-based charter school, is entering her sixth year of teaching. She took one year away from the classroom to pursue a master’s degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Outside of the classroom, she’s held a number of different roles in the local education sector. She served on the state Department of Education’s Teacher Evaluation Working Group, which designed the statewide default teacher development and evaluation model. She was a New Leaders Council fellow in 2016; and she has worked with the Minnesota chapter of Educators for Excellence, an education advocacy nonprofit, on policy issues like Q Comp and discipline disparities. Also, she’s currently serving on the board of Teach for America-Twin Cities.
Asked why she applied to serve on the new board, she said, “I wanted to represent the voices of charter students, families and teachers. I also want to help Minnesota find ways to bring in more talented and diverse teachers from other states. I want to help the board create policies to allow every student, especially students from low-income backgrounds and students of color, to have access to a great teacher.”
Anne Lindgren is a speech language pathologist in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, where the bulk of her time is spent serving middle-school students with needs in the area of speech/language and communication. She’s been in her current position since 2010. But her ties to the district go back to 1988, the year she received her master’s degree. She also holds an administrative license qualifying her to work as an elementary principal and superintendent. She took a midcareer hiatus to develop, open and operate a public charter school. She went on to serve a stint as a charter school liaison at the University of St. Thomas “early in the charter school movement,” she said, “helping to build the capacity of the the university as an authorizer.”
In addition to her work with students, she serves as a union negotiator for her district’s teachers union, and has been serving on the state teachers union’s Special Education Committee for several years. She has also held leadership roles and stays active with the American Speech Language and Hearing Association, along with the group’s Minnesota chapter. Given her role with this group, she says she’s been paying particular attention to how the debate over educator licensure impacts students who — given the shortage of speech language pathologists, especially in greater Minnesota — are often taught by teachers who aren’t fully licensed.
“The mechanism of granting limited licenses was used — which, from our professional perspective, left the children who were identified with disabilities in our area of expertise vulnerable to having unqualified practitioners as their service provider,” she said. “The opportunity to represent related service fields on the licensing board will make it possible to conduct greater oversight.”
Brian Rappe is starting his second year as a sixth-grade special education teacher at Nicollet Middle School, which is part of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191. He has 22 years of experience working as an educator in the same building, which converted from a junior high to a middle school two years ago. He started as an education assistant in an emotional behavior disability program and held a number of other positions.
“I see a great opportunity in helping develop the rules surrounding the new licensing system and I want to make sure Minnesota’s teacher’s licensees continue to remain strong,” he said. “I hope to bring an insight and understanding of the unique needs of special educators from around the state.”
Penelope Dupris is currently the interim assistant principal at St. Louis Park High School. She did not reply to MinnPost’s interview request. According to a notice of appointments issued by Dayton’s office, she is fulfilling the sixth teacher seat on the PELSB.
Katie Groh de Avina, executive associate at the Academia Cesar Chavez, a charter school located in St. Paul, also could not be reached for an interview. She was appointed to represent human resource personnel on the board.
Jim Miklausich is the principal at East Junior High School in the Shakopee Public Schools district. This marks his fifth year in the position, and this is his 21st year in the education sector — 12 years as an elementary school teacher and nine years as a principal.
He says he hasn’t held any other positions with teachers unions or other education-related groups. But he believes his leadership experience in both rural and urban schools struggling to find qualified educators will be of value to the new board.
“My experiences allow me to see the challenges we are facing from all sides,” he said. “The teacher shortage in key licensure areas is real and we need to be thoughtful looking for solutions while maintaining the traditional high standards that Minnesota has in its teaching ranks.”
Heidi Hahn is the director of special education for the Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative, located in Brainerd. This marks her fifth year in this role, and her 24th year in the education sector. Prior, she worked as an assistant director of special education, a teacher and a mental health practitioner. She’s also an adjunct professor in St. Cloud State University’s Educational Leadership and Higher Education graduate program.
She says she applied to serve on the new board because she has concerns about the significant teacher shortage, barriers to licensing for out-state applicants, and the testing system.
Abdi Sabrie is currently serving on the school board for Mankato Area Public Schools, ISD 77. Elected in 2015, he is the school board’s first Somali-American representative. He also began serving as a TRIO academic adviser at South Central College this past January.
Beyond these two roles, his ties to the local education sector are expansive. He’s a co-founder and former director of the African Family and Education Center, a nonprofit serving African immigrants in the Mankato area. Among other roles, he also co-founded and serves on the board of the Mankato Islamic Center.
He’s the recipient of a 2012 national Jefferson Award for public service. He’s lived in the U.S. since 1982 and moved to the Mankato area in 2009, where three of his children are currently attending college and the other four are enrolled in the public school district.
“I applied to the board as public member to represent my cultural, racial, and social experiences on the board, which are often unrepresented on important circles,” he said. “I hope to help bring equity to the board in licensing and standards for educators of all social backgrounds who reflect the students that are served in our education system.”
Loy Woelber, the other incumbent who is currently serving as chair of the Board of Teaching, has been working for Westbrook Walnut Grove Schools since 2001. He’s spent 27 years in the education sector and 20 as a superintendent. Currently he’s serving as his district’s superintendent and 7-12 principal and doubles as a bus driver, when needed. Over the years, he’s stepped into different leadership roles, mentoring younger administrators and expanding his reach to neighboring districts, in an effort to help his district save money on administration costs.
His wife, Sheryl, is a teacher in Fulda. They have four daughters and one son, who’s autistic. They live on a farm in Murray County and also have a small cow and calf operation.
“Generally folks think of ‘getting out of the cities’ as Hutchinson, Duluth or Mankato,” he said. “ I have been 45 miles from the South Dakota border for 23 years and feel comfortable in rural Minnesota issues.”