By Titilayo Bediako
An interview with Chanda Smith Baker (CSB)
MSR: Why do you want to be a member of the Minneapolis Public School Board?
CSB: It’s the only elected office I considered seriously running for. My uncle, Richard Green, a great former superintendent, really influenced me to service.
I see a real need for change in how we educate our children.
I have been engaged in issues concerning school policy, urban educational reform and systems, and I felt that now is the time for me to step up.
I am running for school board because I know I can make a difference for all children and families, especially those who are struggling the most.
MSR: What is your position on the closing of North High School?
CSB: I was sad to hear the recommendation. I’m a fourth-generation graduate of North and fourth-generation Northside resident. I understand how important North High is to the community; it would be unfortunate to see it close.
This is a decision that should be not be made without the community, and it should be part of a larger strategy. The future of North should be decided with the community and not before the district completes the high school plan.
MSR: Why shouldn’t Superintendent Johnson resign if her solution for North High is a charter school?
CSB: Charter schools cannot be the lone solution for closing the achievement gap. I have been a supporter of choice, but am not in favor of all Minneapolis schools becoming charters. It was an unfortunate move, and the community should have been included in the process.
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?
CSB: Yes, it is important at every level. Real intent and commitment for diversity must include contracts and all the various roles in the district.
One of the things I’m concerned about is how our children see themselves and self-identification. All students benefit from diversity and exposure to other cultures. It is equally important for the curriculum to be reflective as well, particularly in history and literature.
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?
CSB: An accountability system needs to be put in place, and the community needs to be part of a transparent process. There are some things that can’t be shared, but to pretend that it hasn’t happened doesn’t serve anyone and only creates resentment.
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 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?
CSB: Yes, yes, I’m pleased with the covenant. The covenant says that things must change and that the African American community wants to be a partner in the solution. There has been a breakdown of trust between the district and the community. The district must follow through on its agreements.
The students benefit from effective partnerships, and the district should demonstrate how it values the community by its actions. I think two years is more than enough for the process to begin. As a board member, I will work to ensure that agreements are honored on a timely basis.
MSR: A lot of promises were made to the African American community with the Northside Initiative. Again, the practice fell short for the African American community. How can we trust that the district will do what it says in relationship to African Americans?
CSB: What MPS has done in the past hasn’t worked for African American children.
As a school board member, I want to help make big changes. I want to focus on an accountability framework. If there is a strategic plan, the community and board should know what they are looking at, and it shouldn’t just be academic data.
I am committed to transparency and communications. Lack of transparency has created distrust, and that does not benefit our children and our families. The district didn’t fulfill its promises for the Northside Initiative. No more business as usual with me on the board.
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?
CSB: We need to evaluate the partnerships that exist. If they aren’t helping children and moving toward academic and social achievement, we should pull out of the contract. Cultural competence and helping our children feel good about being African American is part of that measurement.
I have attended the Kwanzaa celebrations several times. Our children showed so much pride performing at the Pantages, and they really gave their best. MPS has struggled to engage African American parents. If district partners are more successful at engaging parents, that needs to be evaluated.
MSR: Have Title I dollars served the needs of MPS students?
CSB: No, not as well as it should have. The purpose of Title I funds is to ensure that students have a fair and equitable opportunity to high quality educational options. It is meant to ensure that low-income students are receiving the academic resources needed to be successful academically and to reduce the gap.
The achievement gap has gotten wider. I believe we need to evaluate the allocation of resources to determine if it is equitable and used in the most effective way.
MSR: There are four people running for two at large positions for the MPS school board. Why should the community vote for you?
CSB: I’m the best candidate. The breath of experience I bring specific to education is unmatched. I have spent the last five years researching urban education and have visited over 35 top-performing schools throughout the country. I have an ability to objectively see the reality of a situation, and I am adaptable when change is necessary. I highly value data-driven decision-making, which promotes transparency and accountability.
Being a Northside parent is also a value and an important perspective. The changes in the district impact my family in real time, and I am not removed from the reality. My family has a legacy of service and commitment to our community and the Minneapolis Public Schools; I want to continue in that tradition.
When students come out of MPS, there should be guarantees. They should know that they are prepared to be successful in life. I will work tirelessly to make that happen. Minneapolis can depend on me.