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Facebook follies: 2012 backbiting finds its way into ’14 school-board race

MinnPost file photo by Corey Anderson
The Facebook link in question leads back to a December 2012 blog post by Nick Coleman decrying then-City Council member Don Samuels' decision to enter the city’s mayoral race.

In terms of hyper-local politics, it might be helpful to think of the Internet as a house made of very thin glass. You like, you share, you comment, forgetting how porous social media can be.

Facts? Feh — that’s so old media. Does anybody even read the stories at the other end of the links anymore? Or do they just click?

I raise this because during the last school-board election, candidates who were trying to play on the up and up got in trouble because of innuendo, mistruths and gossip their supporters circulated in service to their campaigns.

In recent days, a link has been circulating on the Facebook pages of several Minneapolis residents who are interested in the upcoming school-board election. On one page, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon’s campaign manager “liked” the link; on another, candidate Iris Altamirano “liked” a comment about her candidacy appended to the post.

The link in question leads back to a December 2012 blog post by Nick Coleman decrying then-City Council member Don Samuels’ decision to enter the city’s mayoral race.

“It is important that people have a chance to remember that Mr. Samuels (and his political ally, Mayor Rybak) launched a highly inflammatory — and inaccurate — attack on the public schools of Minneapolis in early 2007 (although neither man had made the schools an issue during their election campaigns),” Coleman posted.

The purpose of said attack, he continued, was to further the interests of private and charter school operators who sought to siphon off tax dollars for themselves. He was republishing three columns he had written as a Star Tribune columnist at the time, which he complained had since “gone down the memory hole” and had to be retrieved from the library.

As promised, reproduced there were three columns taking Samuels to task for saying that Minneapolis’ North High School should be burned down in an interview with David Brauer published in Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. In the same sentence, Samuels decried the school’s deplorable track record with African-American boys, noting that three-fourths were failing academically.

“Samuels says he read that 72 percent figure somewhere,” Coleman added. “I can’t find it. As far as I can tell, North is not the worst high school in the city. In fact, it has some good things going for it, including a dynamic principal who is making changes. In my mind, public schools need help from public officials. They don’t need a kick in the teeth.”

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Somebody get Coleman an intern. If he has the chops to resurrect his own material from the library database, he ought to be able to find even the most cursory data about Minnesota’s disgraceful racial and socioeconomic achievement gap.

Indeed all he’d need to find the story in question, so as to supply some context, would be Google:

“Though he’s earned headlines for calling on his own community to see its role in its problems, he will also slaughter white sacred cows if he thinks their failures hurt black kids,” Brauer wrote. “To Minneapolis liberals with a near-religious belief in public education, the man who as a single father raised his son by his first wife says, ‘My children will not darken the door of a Minneapolis Public School in this city at this time under these conditions. I’ve said burn North High School down! I can’t be paying as a taxpayer for the education of my neighbors and 72 percent of them are failing—meaning black boys. Something worse than vouchers could come along. If it works, if it sacrifices the entire school system, fine! Get rid of the damn thing! It hasn’t worked!’”

Two years after Coleman’s tirade, Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson used the same numbers when discussing the district’s plan — since reversed — to close North. The school had lost 75 percent of the 1,000 students it had in 2004.

And it had the lowest test scores of the district’s seven high schools: 26 percent of students were proficient in reading; 8 percent in math and 4 percent in science.

There isn’t a viable candidate on the current slate who is running on a platform that does not include the eradication of this disparity. And at least so far there aren’t any who appear willing to countenance the kind of backbiting that characterized the 2012 contest.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 07/23/2014 - 09:55 am.

    The art of Arson

    Lovely to see the estimable Beth Hawkins bring my name into her argument. Perhaps she might even talk to me some time. Absolutely brilliant how she characterized something I wrote about a man who suggested burning down a high school that was/is a community anchor. “Tirade,” she calls my words. I guess I will have to learn the gentle art of arson.

  2. Submitted by David Brauer on 07/23/2014 - 10:10 am.

    Context

    As the author of the original piece, I think readers will find additional context about the piece & its aftermath at this link: http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/node/3762 It is worth noting that Samuels later apologized for singling out North High.

  3. Submitted by mark wallek on 07/23/2014 - 10:10 am.

    Don is missed

    One thing that was true of Mr. Samuels was that he was visible. You knew he was doing something to help out the neighborhood. That is not so with Blong, who looks to be invisible, or perhaps caught up in cronyism. Either way, Don is missed. When he ran for mayor, had he won, that would have been great. Now we have liberal guilt in the chair and Styrofoam and a northeast lightrail as supposed “meaningful” endeavors. Not what the Northside needs to thrive.

  4. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 07/23/2014 - 10:19 am.

    Quick, Someone Get Beth Hawkins a cell phone!

    The reason I wrote, in 2007, that I was unable to confirm the accuracy of Don Samuels’ claim about the failure-to-graduate rate at North High was because Mr Samuels was unable to cite a source for his information when I asked him in the course of writing, on deadline, a news column reacting to his incendiary remarks calling for the torching of North High. Notice: I CALLED Samuels.
    Beth Hawkins might have taken a tip from an old journalist and called someone in the course of writing this bon bon, which trivializes (“follies!”) a very serious issue.

  5. Submitted by Patty Wycoff on 07/24/2014 - 10:33 am.

    LOL

    Here is Beth again and her unbiased reporting. Hmmm….I wonder if Beth will be voting for Don?

    • Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 07/24/2014 - 03:54 pm.

      Patty Wycoff

      Just a note to point out that Ms. Wycoff is one of the 2012 candidates whose supporters–without her encouragement or consent–wreaked a little of the social media havoc referred to in the first paragraphs of this post.  

  6. Submitted by Eduardo Romo on 07/24/2014 - 12:38 pm.

    Statistics Get Bent & Feeders Are Closed

    Sadly, the status of North High Community School is repeatedly opened for debate. Specific to statistics, there are always expansions and limitations to help shape them in one argument’s favor. The reason for the disparity can probably be linked to determining WHEN a student earns a diploma. If a student enters 9th grade in the fall of 2003, attends every year but has not earned enough credits to graduate in the spring of 2007, that student can be included in the DID NOT GRADUATE column. But what if the student was 3 credits shy and made up those credits over the summer and next fall? What if the family moved to another state in January of 2007 and the kid earned enough credits to graduate from a district in Missouri? Who takes the time and interest to go “back” and adjust the graduation stats?
    Furthermore, what if another student has special education needs, with an Individual Education Plan that includes the student’s enrollment and further education in the popular Transition+ program, earning a diploma two years later? Is that student never added after 2007, even though the IEP was written with the student’s interests & needs in mind rather than silly stats for debate points? This is an ongoing debate, with MANY special education advocates demanding a change to these stats – SpecEd students who progress through T+ are listed as “failures” in grad data when, in fact, they are doing MORE in order to be better prepared for post-secondary life.
    Families then hear these conflicting numbers and are genuinely concerned about their children’s educational opportunities. It is well-known that smaller schools offer fewer programming choices than larger schools. But a core of Northside community families have organized themselves in order to keep North High Community School open.
    Lastly, North has certainly had its troubles, but one of the BIGGEST obstacles is/was the district’s decision to close the feeder middle schools. When Lincoln was closed, and other middle schools in the community repackaged time again (along with North High itself), many families abandoned traditional MPS altogether. Look at Open Enrollment data and you’ll see many North High community families choosing to attend suburban schools or any one of the increasing number of charter schools in the Northside community. Simple queries into the Hopkins basketball programs (at all levels) shows the ongoing struggle between “Us” (Hopkins residents) and “Them” (Mpls residents).
    So, the district (and city) establish their own program, similar to the “Harlem Children’s Zone” of NYC called the Northside Achievement Zone. And the person put in charge of the program is none other than Sandra Samuels, wife of Don Samuels. Even more charter schools are established in the area, often staffed by Teach For America recruits. As known to so many who who read MinnPost education writings and have to read the obligatory disclaimer, TFA is run by Matt Kramer, son of MinnPost founder Joel Kramer. Then look up what the other Kramer son, Eli, does.
    There isn’t enough tinfoil in the world to weaken the conspiracy signals emanating from all of this.
    And MinnPost should be barred from reporting on and expressing viewpoints regarding K-12 education with its obvious conflicts of interest – seriously, has there been one story critical of TFA or charters posted via Learning Curve? MinnPost should be a site for reporting and commenting on news, not editorial proselytizing of Kramer family interests.

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