School board forum draws small numbers of attendees

(l-r) Navii Grimes and Anthony Jennings
(l-r) Navii Grimes and Anthony Jennings Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Eight candidates are running for four seats on the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education, an “overshadowed” race, says Animate the Race, a local group that is sponsoring four community events prior to the November 8 election. In this election year, the presidential contest gets most of the attention.

Only approximately a dozen community members attended the October 13 “meet and greet” at Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) offices on West Broadway in North Minneapolis, the third meeting in the series. Candidates were invited, but because of scheduling conflicts none attended.

The eight candidates are: for District 6, Ira Jourdain and Tracine Asberry; for District 4, Josh Reimnitz and Bob Walser; for District 2, Kimberly Caprini and Kerry Jo Felder; and for one at-large seat, Kim Ellison and Doug Mann. All are vying for four open seats. Asberry, Reimnitz and Ellison are current board members seeking new terms.

Whoever is elected in the November 8 election “will make things better” at Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), predicted Navii Grimes, a North High junior. She and Patrick Henry junior Semaj Moore were the only students among the dozen persons who attended the.

“I hope for change and look forward to change in our community,” added Moore. “I’m looking for a change in schools…and policy, too.”

Anthony Jennings, who moderated the 90-minute roundtable event, opened up the session during which several topics and issues were discussed based on questions he had asked prospective candidates. Jennings began the discussion by admitting that despite being a North High graduate and a city resident, “I’m learning so much about the school board.”

That included learning after meeting with one of the school board candidates that the Minneapolis School Board’s policy manual hasn’t changed since the late 1960s. “I think the policy [manual] should change,” stressed Jennings, who added his concern that certain board members sometimes vote based on certain interests specific to their own district.

Reynolds Anthony-Harris said, “I was shocked” upon learning how the board is currently composed, referring to the fact that residents can only vote for the school board candidates in their own district, except for the at-large candidates. Candidate running for two at-large seats, of which there is one open this election cycle, are on all Minneapolis ballots.

“The structure is not supportive of every child [being] equal,” Anthony-Harris pointed out. “There is a structural concern.”

Curriculum issues, such as whether it is “White-centric,” also were discussed. Both Grimes and Moore noted that changes are needed in this regard. Moore said that he didn’t enroll in a Black history class at Henry because it was being taught by a White teacher.

Since ninth grade, Moore has been enrolled in the district’s Black Male Achievement Program class held at Henry. He said at first he wasn’t sure he wanted to be in it, but now said he “loves the program…after they broke it down to us. Right now it’s about 10” class members, he explained. “It was larger [in my] freshman year.”

MPS should have a curriculum that meets all student needs and encouraged them “to develop a passion and a desire to learn,” said Donise White, an attendee and Minneapolis resident. She later told the MSR, “I don’t know a lot about the process. Being here helped me a lot. It’s important to get involved at the local level, because this is where change actually happens.”

White’s husband, Houston White, said he would like to see more community input in shaping district schools. “My wife and I don’t have kids, but I think it is important to be engaged. I think if our community is better informed on what’s happening — the policies and the structure of the school board and how the money is allocated — they would be outraged,” he said in response to how money is allocated to programs within the district. They would be much more involved.”

The low number of teachers of color in Minneapolis schools should be discussed by the candidates, noted Daniel Sellers of Animate the Race, who added that more money “has to get out to the schools.”

“We have learned a lot from the community” from the three sponsored events, including mental health issues, said Anthony-Harris to the MSR afterwards. He will moderate the November 3 school board forum at the Children’s Theatre Company.

“I think that we are going to have an informed debate” at the November 3 forum, surmised Bill Graves of John & Denise Graves Foundation, sponsors of the school board forums. “I just appreciate how much everyone is excited about taking time…to build understanding and awareness.”

Sellers said all eight candidates are expected to attend the November 3 forum.

Jennings told the MSR afterwards that he was pleased that the two high schoolers, though not eligible to vote, were there and offered input on the school board elections. “I’m hopeful that people understand the need to come out to the elections, and the school board is [important].”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

This story was sponsored by Animate the Race.