First Friday salutes educators improving outcomes for students of color

Michael Zeke Walker Photo courtesy of Michael Zeke Walker

Just before the school year begins, the August First Friday Event honored educators, two people who make children’s school days more enjoyable as they gain knowledge and reach educational standards. This month, Michael Zeke Walker and LaTanya Daniels were the honored “Faces of the Month.”

For the past two years, Michael Zeke Walker has been the director for the Office of Black Male Student Achievement in the Minneapolis Public Schools. “My main goal is to change outcomes for Black males in the school system,” Walker said. “What we know in our data is that when we look at our academic success indicators, we [African Americans] are not faring well.

“The office — the second of its kind in the nation — was created to change those indicators… We have created a class called B.L.A.C.K — building lives, acquiring cultural knowledge,” Walker continued. “We also provide professional development for educators to support the Black males in our schools. [They] are also taking that class to engage with our families and community members.”

Walker’s office engages with families by “making sure that we [are] open to what parents and families have to share about their child, and also being open to feedback on things that we can do better in our educational system to support them as parents.”

Walker explained why he became an educator: “Obviously, being a Black male myself, it is important that we provide opportunities for our Black males to be successful. Successful is defined by whatever they deem success is. My job is to push these young men to see things they would not usually think about.”

Before his current position, which he started in August 2014, Walker was assistant principal at Roosevelt High School in South Minneapolis and counselor and dean of students in the Minneapolis Public Schools District. He has worked with Achieve Minneapolis in the Career and College Center as a coordinator, and prior to that he worked at the YMCA for 10 years.

LaTanya Daniels
LaTanya Daniels MSR file photo

“It’s about building that confidence,” said Walker of his current work. “We teach history and the knowledge of self.” Walker’s team focuses on history before slavery. He wants students to think about how they are going to better themselves as well as their communities.

“It is not enough to just think about themselves,” Walker said. “There is no way I could do this without my team.”

LaTanya Daniels is the principal at Richfield High School. A former math teacher, she learned early that she wanted to leave a teaching impact on her students. “I wanted to go into leadership and become a principal.”

She has been a principal at Richfield High School for two years, which allows her to work with all students. “No matter their race, gender, sexuality, background demographically, ZIP Code…all children [should be] exposed to high expectations and high academic outcomes and achieve those outcomes at high levels.”

Originally from West Point, Mississippi, her family moved to Minnesota 25 years ago when she graduated high school. Her father is a community pastor here in the Twin Cities. After graduating from West Point High, she continued her undergraduate education at Concordia University, then transferred to the University of Minnesota, where she pursued her Bachelor of Science in sociology.

Daniels attended the University of St. Thomas, where she received her Masters of Education. She is currently working on her doctorate in educational leadership at the University of St. Thomas.

This year at her school she wants to improve the achievement gap for Latino students, who comprise 40 percent of the student population there, followed by 30 percent Black, 20 percent White, and the remaining population of Asian and Indian students.

“We have identified strategies to work with these students who, some of them, are English-language learners.” She also wants to improve math scores. “We are a global society, and we need our students to be globally competent.”


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