Minneapolis School Board candidates talk to the MSR

Minneapolis Public Schools District Headquarters
Minneapolis Public Schools District Headquarters (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Currently there are eight candidates running for four open seats on the Minneapolis Board of Education. The MSR reached out to all eight candidates posing the same four questions to each of them and allowing them to respond in a total of 600 words or less. Only five candidates responded to us by press time; their answers are summarized below, edited only for length.

All candidate responses and related stories were made possible by a grant from Animate the Race and were transcribed or written by MSR Staff Writer Charles Hallman.

Related content: See our special Mpls School Board election coverage: What makes a school board work — or not?

Minneapolis School Board candidates’ statements

Kimberly Caprini
Kimberly Caprini Photo courtesy of https://ballotpedia.org

Kimberly Caprini, District 2 candidate

What is your background in education and your connection to Minneapolis Public Schools?

A longtime North Minneapolis resident with two daughters currently attending Minneapolis schools, Kimberly Caprini has volunteered at her children’s schools since the early 2000s. She says she and her husband “wanted to be present in our children’s education, and their experiences in school should be different than what we had.”

As a result, Caprini began attending MPS board meetings and joined school site councils. “I wanted to learn how the process works. I wanted to learn how decisions are made and why it seems in North Minneapolis our needs aren’t being met.”

Why are you running for this position?

“I’m an educational activist,” states Caprini, a member on the district’s parent advisory committee for three years. “I’m very excited about education because I’ve seen so much. I know a lot of what drives me is the children [in Northside schools].”

She says that Northside schools deserve better representation: “Why are parents choosing to go to Robbinsdale, Brooklyn Center? Where is the equity of having a feeder pathway” from middle schools to the two Northside high schools, North and Henry? she asks.

“We’ve got two great high schools” on the North Side, Caprini says. “We need stronger feeder pathways.”

What unique skills can you bring to the Minneapolis School Board?

As a parent of a seventh grader and a 12th grader in Northside schools, as well as her years of volunteering in schools, “I have a perspective and experience to bring to the table,” says Caprini. “We need someone who is going to speak up for the needs of North Minneapolis schools. We need someone who will not just allow the louder voices of other areas [to] take the front seat any longer. There are buildings that need improvement. We have programs not fully implemented.

“A few of us parents started” the Northside School Collective, says Caprini. “I have years of experience” working in schools. “I certainly have been in the buildings and learned how each school is a little different. Site councils are mini-school boards within the school…

“In understanding the issues, I’m living the issues,” says Caprini. “My kids are experiencing the issues.”

She adds that it is important that the MPS board move away from its seemingly dysfunctional ways. “It doesn’t make sense to me if you’re not seeing the children first. Schools, neighborhoods, community — they’re all connected. Over the last 11 school years, I recognize the inequity our schools had to deal with. I do see change happening, but I see how slowly the system works.

“I get along with people…the experience that I’ve had in seeing how boards work. It’s not just showing up and voting yes or no,” stresses Caprini. “We need to go into other people’s spaces and translate policy, and support our schools better.”

What are you most focused on changing or improving about Minneapolis Public Schools?

“I feel too often middle school kids are ignored,” states Caprini, who adds that these students’ needs aren’t being fully met. “I think we test our kids way too much. I think tests are biased and we don’t give teachers enough time to teach and students [enough time] to learn the basics. I’d like to see Minnesota become cutting edge in the standardized tests rather than big corporations.”

Other priorities for Caprini include student transfer policies, making ethnic studies a graduation requirement rather than an elective, and improving diversity in special education staffing and human resources. “We are not diverse enough in some areas” at MPS.

Kerry Jo Felder, District 2 candidate

Kerry Jo Felder
Kerry Jo Felder Photo by Charles Hallman

What is your background in education and your connection to Minneapolis Public Schools?

After her involvement in the “Saving North High” campaign, Kerry Jo Felder, a North High graduate, says she discovered the lack of “genuine voices” from parents, community members and others on educational issues. “I looked for a way for true systemic change and stayed on the same path ever since,” notes the community and education organizer for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.

Why are you running for this position?

“I believe that our community wants true systemic change, and I know that is what I am fighting for,” states Felder. “That’s the view I take when dealing with issues: What does social justice looks like for our community?”

As a regular attendee at MPS board meetings since 2010, “I have noticed a lot of unfair pieces coming together for North Minneapolis, and it takes someone recognizing that with history of what’s been taken out, and what was promised, and what was never given,” continues Felder, an MPS parent. “I want to make sure that the district finishes what they started and what they promised for our kids.”

What unique skills can you bring to the Minneapolis School Board?

Felder says she can bring a “100 percent social justice view” to the board, stating that her experience of working with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change on education issues for a year helps in this regard. “I’ve been a tireless advocate since 2010, and I have been in a lot of places where our students have been, realizing those gaps that our students can fall into.

“I have relationships with a lot of people in labor and our legislature” at the State Capitol, where she learned that “a bill becoming a law” is not enough, she stresses. She also has spent time with researchers on “what works in our community.

“I believe I’m a true voice for North Minneapolis” whose life experiences have uniquely shaped her for being on the MPS board, reiterates Felder.

What are you most focused on changing or improving about Minneapolis Public Schools?

Felder says she wants to help create “wrap-around services” for students in schools, keeping them on track “for a better future, whether it’s college or a career. I’ve seen success where gaps were filled.”

She has been an advocate for more academically rigorous programs like the former Summatech, which formerly existed at North High, and the International Baccalaureate program. Such offerings have proven successful and should be maintained or reinitiated, says Felder.

“Attaining and retaining…a full line” of teachers of color and other educational staff of color in the district also is a top priority for Felder. More importantly, she notes, is “putting power where it should be — with the parents, the teachers and the community. Giving students their own voice for after-school programming and other choices.”

Josh Reimnitz
Josh Reimnitz Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Public Schools

Josh Reimnitz, District 4 candidate

What is your background in education and your connection to Minneapolis Public Schools?

Josh Reimnitz has been a Minneapolis School Board member since 2013. His first job out of college was as a fourth-grade teacher in Atlanta, a school where 95 percent of the students were on free or reduced lunch and nearly 100 percent were students of color.

“That’s where I was exposed to education and equity. It was different from my public school experience” growing up in North Dakota, notes the Teach for America alum, now the co-executive director of a local nonprofit organization called Students Today Leaders Forever, working with youth in service and leadership opportunities.

Why are you running for this position?

“I want to make sure that all kids are getting a great education in Minneapolis Public Schools. It’s all about students for me. Because that currently is not the case, I want to continue to serve for another four years. I am not tied to any entity,” stresses Reimnitz.

What unique skills can you bring to the Minneapolis School Board?

“I am probably honest and transparent to a fault. It makes it hard sometimes in negotiations, but I think it is good in government.

“The board governs — we are not superintendents,” continues Reimnitz. “We need people [on the board] that get that governance is really important. A unique skill is an understanding of governance.” Without such understanding, board dysfunction can occur, says Reimnitz.

“There are a lot of unique skills,” including being as transparent as possible, he continues. “I have experience in organizational leadership,” six years in his present executive director role and as a four-year board member, Reimnitz notes. “I understand what it is like to direct a superintendent. It takes collaboration, focus [and] dedication.”

What are you most focused on changing or improving about Minneapolis Public Schools?

Changing school outcomes for students to ensure that they are properly prepared for life after graduation is very important for him, says Reimnitz. “If we can do all the different things…but if we aren’t seeing the difference in student engagement, academics, discipline pieces and seeing the difference in those areas, I would say that the work doesn’t matter.

“It’s about changing how students are doing in school and how they are being prepared for life after high school,” he continues. “I have a lot of excitement and hope around our new superintendent, especially his focus on students. I want to continue to support him.”

Doug Mann, At-large candidate

What is your background in education and your connection to Minneapolis Public Schools?

Doug Mann
Doug Mann Photo courtesy of Twin Cities Daily Planet

Since 2009, Doug Mann has worked in education as an educational assistant in Edina and Richfield schools, then as an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor and assistant in Minneapolis. He says this convinced him to look seriously into a teaching career. Mann has a practical nursing degree and is a parent of a South High graduate.

While volunteering in schools over the years, “I encountered something that I didn’t like,” such as disproportionally grouping students. “I quickly found out that most Black students were put in watered-down curriculum tracks,” he says.

Why are you running for this position?

After being involved in the local NAACP educational initiatives, “I became aware of huge disparities” in city schools, including hiring more less-experienced teachers and not retaining more experienced ones, notes Mann. “It was shocking that you had on average schools where the largest number of students was Black, and half or two-thirds of their teachers were on probation status.” Additionally, most probationary teachers being laid off and replaced by more probation teachers also disturbed him, says Mann.

“Those discriminatory effects of school policies made me want to see changes in school policy. That led me to run for the school board,” says Mann. “I am opposed to the reform agenda the school board has been implementing, which comes from federal and state legislation. I would like to reform the schools in a much different way, so that quality public education is available on an equal basis. The school board is moving in the other direction. I don’t see any fundamental change being advocated by the other school board candidates in this race.”

What unique skills can you bring to the Minneapolis School Board?

“I think I am pretty good at reading laws and understanding laws that would apply to the governance of the school board,” especially teacher tenure policies and civil rights laws, states Mann. “I am able to independently evaluate a lot of issues that other candidates or board members would rely heavily on the staff to do.”

The school board “is becoming more secretive and less transparent in regards to financial matters,” says Mann, who also says he doesn’t like the board agreeing to “sweetheart contracts.” “I think there has been a lot of mismanaged money and [money] not well spent,” he says.

What are you most focused on changing or improving about Minneapolis Public Schools?

There are at least three top priority items, explains Mann. One, he wants more teaching stability in the district: “I want teacher turnover rates to come down to low levels in the district schools. That means shrinking the pool of the teachers we hire.” Secondly, low-performing schools “is a really high priority,” continues Mann. “I’m opposed to ability grouping” because this practice unfairly affects Blacks and other students of color, he says.

Third, he also wants “to see disciplinary policies reviewed to eliminate disparities,” says Mann, who adds that a better way to identify students with behavioral and emotional issues is needed. The candidate also expresses concerns that seemingly a large percentage of Black students in the district are being labeled as emotional and behavioral disorders “and being segregated in EBD [emotional behavioral disorders] rooms,” he notes. “A lot of kids [who] are put in the EBD rooms get worse and end up in detention centers within the school system.” Such students “should be getting appropriate services and classroom support from educational associates so that they can function in the classroom and not be disrupting the classroom.”

Bob Walser
Bob Walser Photo courtesy of Bob Walser

Bob Walser, District 4 candidate

What is your background in education and your connection to Minneapolis Public Schools?

Bob Walser is married to a Minneapolis teacher, and they have a son attending MPS. For over three decades in Minneapolis, around the country and internationally as well at various educational levels, he has been a music educator.

“I’m a student of education,” says Walser, a musician who teaches music teachers at the University of St. Thomas. He also is a board member of two local community organizations.

Why are you running for this position?

“I believe in the importance of student-centered education. Education should be responsive for the individual student,” states Walser. “I believe in the significance of democratic local control” of schools, he adds. “I am running because I want local voices” to be heard “rather than billionaires’. I think local voices should steer our schools,” says Walser, who adds that the board should set the example of accountability, equity and autonomy.

“We have different needs in different parts of the city, and in different schools.” He says he respects that this is important. “One size fits all doesn’t work. We need to be paying close attention to individuals and communities.”

What unique skills can you bring to the Minneapolis School Board?

“My most important skill is my work on relationships. I think relationships are keys to the whole process, so listening is a key skill that I bring — listening to teachers, students, parents and the community and trying to build relationships so people have the distinct understanding” of the process that is taking place.

What are you most focused on changing or improving about Minneapolis Public Schools?

“I would be most focused on making Minneapolis Public Schools more responsive to the needs of individual students,” says Walser. “That has proven to be the most important way” to ensure educational equity, he stresses.

The inequities “are enormous in our city,” he points out. Since this can have an adverse effect on the student, Walser notes that everyone involved in education, including board members, must take this into account.

“The way to address this is to look at the whole child, not just academics but to address other needs and realities in students’ lives, including systemic racism, economic injustice, housing issues, transportation issues. We need to be responding to the whole student. That is my focus.”