‘It is time for fresh eyes to come on board’

By Titilayo Bediako
Contributing Writer

An interview with Rebecca Gagnon (RG)

MSR: Why do you want to be a member of the Minneapolis Public School Board?

RG: I’m an extremely involved parent of three children. I’m part of three different district advisory groups. I don’t think that parent involvement in Minneapolis is appreciated.

In Minneapolis, the highest level a parent can achieve is going to a school board meeting and a DPAC [District Parent Advisory Council] meeting.

Parents do not have power. A structure of accountability must include parents.

I want to effect change. I’m a person from the outside looking in.

The inequities and the faults of the system in Minneapolis are blaring.

I will be an effective board member.

MSR: What is your position on the closing of North High School?

RG: I do not see any reason for North to close. I see it to be devastating for the community. I haven’t been involved in the plan; I haven’t seen the high school reform plan. I think we need to question the Minneapolis Preparatory Academy run by Noble Charter School to take the place of North.

Three steps should have occurred before a letter from the superintendent went out to families. There should have been a proposal, a discussion, and then a vote on the proposal.

MSR: Should Superintendent Johnson resign because her solution for North High is a charter school?

RG: There should be a public school solution. That is what their focus should be, not charter schools. I am confused about the focus on charter schools.

Less than 15 percent of charter schools are successful. By success, that means reaching the goals set. Oftentimes charter school goals aren’t that high.

The focus of the board should be on public schools. The district brought a bus full of people to Chicago to the Noble Charter School. Why aren’t they recommending public school solutions? The role of a board member is to set policy. Policy is anything from discipline to the dress code.

MSR: With 65 percent of the district being children of color, is it important to have teachers and principals that look like the children they serve?

RG: One important aspect of learning is seeing people you relate to in life.

If we have three percent teachers of color, we are doing a huge disservice.

It doesn’t mean White teachers can’t teach children of color; it just means that if I were an African American student, that I would be confused. If my child were in a school of 97 percent African American teachers, I think they would be confused and wonder if there were no qualified White teachers.

MSR: In the last three years, seven African American principals have been demoted. There has been no transparency. The Principals’ Academy is less than 25 percent people of color. How do we change this trend?

RG: Currently, the school board is working on an accountability system with the Principals’ Union. I never find things like that to be an accident or a fluke.

I want to know why principals have been moved. I haven’t seen that the Principals’ Academy is effective. It needs to be evaluated.

MSR: A covenant with the African American community, with the African American Mobilization for Education as the community agent, was signed by the MPS school board two years ago. Nothing has been implemented from the covenant, which is based on creating greater successes for African American children. It’s on the MPS website, but there is no movement, no progress. Have you read it, and will you work to assure that MPS fulfills its commitment to African American students?

RG: Yes, I have looked at it. The initiatives that the community has with the MPS bring up huge flags for me. I see little follow through by the district.

There must be action. We need to implement the covenant.

MSR: Promises were made to the African American community with the Northside Initiative. Again, the practice fell short for the African American community.

How does equity happen for African Americans with MPS?

RG: The Northside Initiative is an example of lack of follow through from the district. Where is the committee that was supposed to be developed to assure the promises were fulfilled? Why isn’t the community speaking out? The district isn’t being sincere with the community. Who’s holding the district accountable? I will.
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?

RG: The only justification I can think of is that the district was cutting money wherever it could. There was a push for the district to be part of community events to build the district brand and to get the community involved with MPS. Pulling out of Kwanzaa seems to be against the focus of the district.
MSR: Is the Minneapolis Public Schools trying to undermine the success of African American children?

RG: The district thinks that the African American community exists without a strong voice. The district thinks that there will not be any repercussions for their actions toward African Americans. They believe that African Americans won’t come out and that the district can do anything and African Americans won’t do anything about it.

The district’s actions are so obviously detrimental to the largest cultural group — African Americans. This is institutional racism.

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

RG: Minneapolis receives the lion’s share of Title I money for the state, about $20 million. SES is one of the larger departments. It is not serving children well. We need to figure out a system that more adequately has the dollars serve the needs of our students.

MSR: There are four people running for two at-large positions for the MPS school board. Why should the community vote for you?

RG: I can represent from a district-wide perspective more so than other candidates. I come from the perspective of an involved parent. I have an understanding of the entire district as an involved parent. I think it is time for fresh eyes to come on the board [and] to truly represent the needs of all children and families.