‘I’m a cut above the rest’

By Titilayo Bediako
Contributing Writer

An interview with T. Williams (TW)

MSR: When you first ran for school board, what was your platform?

TW: I was interested in improving the relationship between the district and the community, promoting a community engagement strategy to learn more about what the respective assets were and how to use them to help promote learning, and trying to find ways to improve the performance of our lowest performing students.

MSR: What did you accomplish the last four years?

TW: We passed a strategic plan that defines where the district is headed and strategies that are used to get us there, made decisions to right-size the district, downsized the district, closed facilities. Some closings were unpopular, and I helped put in place an accountability system to measure school principals.

MSR: Should North High School close?

TW: I’m requesting that Superintendent Johnson postpone her recommendation to phase out North High School to allow time for significant community and stakeholder engagement. We’re at a point now where everyone is looking for someone to blame. The community and North High loyalists are blaming the school board and the administration.

Truth be told, we all can take some responsibility for where we are. We have been trying to rebirth a North High School that no longer exists.

That may not be the school we need today. We need a school that can meet the needs of today’s youth and that can engage the current community in helping to design and build that school.

MSR: Should Superintendent Johnson resign for recommending a charter school to replace North High School?

TW: Why should she resign? I can’t answer that question. I don’t think that we should ask for her to resign.

MSR: Do you feel that it is important to have teachers and principals who look like the children they serve?

TW: It’s important for teachers to learn as much as they can about the children they serve. It will be a long time, if ever, [before] we get parity; but we can get teachers that aren’t afraid of students. Teachers must learn where the students’ values are and allow themselves to learn from them.

MSR: It is said that 25 percent of the newly formed Principals’ Academy is people of color. Why have so many Black principals been demoted during the last four years?

TW: The Principals’ Academy has more than 25 percent principals of color. I don’t have the data in front of me. I don’t know how many principals of color are part of the Principals’ Academy nor about the issues of Black principals.

MSR: You talk about accountability; do you feel that the board honored all the things it promised the community with the Northside Initiative?

TW: I haven’t looked at what changes have been made with the curriculum.

Additional languages have been added to some of the schools.

MSR: You were a strong supporter for Bernadeia Johnson as superintendent of MPS. Superintendent Johnson went through the competitive process for superintendent in St. Paul, but she was not chosen for the job. What made you believe that the process shouldn’t be open to Minnesota candidates?

TW: If I was going to think about an open process, it would have to take me past Minnesota. I would be looking for a candidate that would work with the kinds of population we have in MPS. What we were looking for in a superintendent we had with Bernadeia.

MSR: After 13 years, the Minneapolis Public Schools stopped financial support to the partnership with the community for the largest Kwanzaa celebration in the state. Why?

TW: I think Kwanzaa is an important ritual for the community and those who are engaged in it. I don’t have the specific information on when and why. This is not an action that came to the board. It was an administrative action.

MSR: Community organizations, parents, and other supporters of the Black community worked for almost two years to create a covenant that would create greater successes for African American children. It’s been two years since the school board passed the covenant; why hasn’t the board honored and implemented the covenant?

TW: When things were cut off with the covenant, there were serious disagreements about who would be doing what. We have to agree with what is on the website, and what the covenant proposed is consistent with that.

I need to go back and look at it. I don’t remember the particulars of the covenant. I don’t know when a report is coming to the board. We haven’t figured out the best way to make this right. I am a lone board member. I still support the concept.

MSR: Is the Minneapolis Public Schools trying to undermine the success of African American children?

TW: That’s a loaded question. There are a lot of challenges.

The district acting alone does not have the power to undermine the African American children. In order for the African American children to be a success, the community must be involved. Schools have had a role in that, but they haven’t been the lone players.

MSR: Some have criticized you and say that you fall asleep at school board meetings. Is that true? If so, do you feel like you are up for another four years?

TW: It’s bull*** — it’s just not true. What would make one think that I wasn’t up to it? There is nothing in my behavior that I am not up to the task. Some people believe that if you are not looking at the audience and looking at the computer or looking down, that you must be asleep.

I would ask people to provide evidence that I am asleep. I don’t have something to say on every issue that comes up, because I know that there are at least two board members that have something to say on every single issue.

MSR: Have Title I dollars served the needs of MPS students?

TW: The dollar is supposed to stay with the student. It hasn’t been managed as well as it should have. I’ve seen some of the information but haven’t studied it or specific knowledge on it. It has been brought to the attention of the superintendent, and she’s going to make a report to the board. I’m not sure when the report will be presented.

MSR: Four people running for MPS School Board at-large positions. You are one of the four. There are only two seats. Why should people vote for you?
TW: People should vote for me because I’m the best qualified. When you look at the qualifications of all the candidates, mine are a cut above all of the rest of them. I have four years on the board and 16 years at Rainbow Research, where I evaluated community issues.

I taught social work at Augsburg [and] ran Phyllis Wheatley Community Center for seven years. I was there when it was built at Bethune Community School, the first school-community center partnership. I have three children that have gone through the Minneapolis Public Schools. My whole career has been one of service.