After spending 23 years in the classroom, Mary Frances Clardy plans to bring change on the policy level with her campaign for the school board in Inver Grove Heights ISD 199. Clardy’s experiences in the classroom and her own educational journey has led her to believe that the students deserve a more engaged and personalized curriculum that can address areas of behavior, testing, and career readiness.
Clardy, who works in Saint Paul Public Schools, started her career as a first-grade teacher. After 10 years in the classroom, she transitioned into the role of an instructional coach in literacy for another nine years. Currently, she works in the area of gifted and talented services and enrichment where she interacts with students in Pre-K through fifth grade.
Clardy was motivated to teach when her daughter first enrolled in school. As a parent, she saw the importance of staying involved in her child’s education and ensuring she received quality learning.
When Clardy was a child, she was one of the few students of color in the Lakeville School District. Her family was the first black family to live in Burnsville when they moved to the city in 1955. Throughout her entire time in the school district, Clardy never had a teacher of color until she reached college. This experience led her to purposefully decide to work in the metro area for other students of color to find representation in their teachers.
Clardy has a number of topics she hopes to address if elected to the school board. First on that list is to focus on trauma-informed instruction.
When Clardy was still a teacher, she suffered a concussion after a student threw a chair at her head. This event led Clardy to question how administrative policies could best help students with emotional and behavioral needs in the district. “It just made me think that someone needed to be more on the policy side to deal with those types of administrative issues,” she said.
Clardy hopes to see more funding going to counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals along with training for teachers to address these topics in their classrooms. “That needs to be taught just like we teach reading, writing and math. It needs to start with Pre-K. That’s the biggest thing,” she said.
Standardized tests have long been a measuring tool for schools and their districts, but Clardy hopes to take a personalized approach to testing. She takes into account the benefit of these exams as a way to mark progress, but she would prefer an approach that sets goals for each student.
“[Testing] makes sure all of our children get what they’re supposed to be getting, but students and their improvement should be tracked individually,” Clardy said. Student development is a theme in Clardy’s approach on her campaign and takes into account their readiness for options outside of school.
Clardy also wants to look into opportunities for students to increase their college and career readiness. She plans to expand current programs and look at the possibility at introducing these options to students earlier than they are now.
“There should be some type of program where children are exposed to different careers early on, not in just one year but consecutive years,” Clardy said. Another part of her platform is to continue to grow the Pre-K program in the district. Her development of that program ties into her overall student development approach.
Clardy is clear on her role as a school board member when it comes to approaching these topics: “My role…is not to put these programs in place, but more so be an advisor.
She credits the current superintendent, Dave Bernhardson, with having a progressive approach in his leadership. According to Clardy, Bernhardson has been creating an inclusive approach for students of color to engage in the honor programs at their schools.
“He has been really progressive at looking at how honor programs are delivered in the sense that sometimes testing is skewed towards certain backgrounds and excludes students of color. So one thing that he’s doing is making sure that those opportunities are available for all students,” Clardy said.
If elected, Clardy could be one of the only school board members of color and understands the importance of her background as well as her experience in education. “I’m passionate about education. I think it’s important to have diverse perspectives, and when I say that I am not only talking about being the only person of color on the board, but I’m talking about everything about me.”
Clardy has held a number of leadership roles that she said have prepared her for the role of a school board director. Her campaign website lists a number of such positions, including membership on the ISD199 Superintendent Advisory Council.
She was appointed by former governor Mark Dayton to serve on the Minnesota Board of Teaching and currently serves on the Minnesota of School Administrators, which she was appointed to earlier this year by Governor Tim Walz. Both roles helped Clardy gain a perspective on policy and gaining the skills necessary to make institutional changes that would impact the classroom.
With her decades-long experience inside the classroom and working at different levels of leadership within ISD199 and state government, Clardy believes her approach can bring significant changes to the school board. She is bringing all of her experience as a mother, an educator, and an advocate to bear on her school board campaign.