A debate has emerged over the first black schoolteacher in the Minneapolis School District.

On Thursday, the Star Tribune published an obituary about Bertha M. Smith. The story quoted Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson: “As the first African-American hired as a teacher in Minneapolis public schools, she broke down barriers and enabled our students, regardless of their race, to see themselves reflected in their teachers and school staff.”

Joy Bartlett, who lives in Nevada, called to say that honor should go to her mother, Mary Jackson Ellis, who died in 1975.

We checked old newspaper clippings and found a 2-inch article from Sept. 19, 1947, announcing Ellis’ appointment as a kindergarten teacher at Hawthorne Elementary. It said Ellis was “the first Negro teacher to be employed in the city school system on a full-time basis in 35 years.”

After double-checking, a school district spokesman said, “To the best of our knowledge, Bertha Smith is still the first black hired by the district.”

Randy Furst


District to review book that uses word ‘retarded’

The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan District is reviewing a book that uses the word “retarded.”

The book in question, “Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You” by Barthe DeClements, will be reviewed by a committee of parents, teachers and a principal. At a public meeting May 14, they will vote whether to keep it on school shelves and reading lists.

The book, published in 1985, centers on Helen, a preteen with learning and behavior issues.

Jenna Boutain, a district employee with a daughter at Shannon Park Elementary, asked for the book’s removal because it “uses language that is no longer acceptable.”

Such reviews are uncommon, said Tony Taschner, district spokesman. “I’ve been here since 1996, and there have been five books that have gone through the reconsideration process,” he said.

Erin Adler


Minneapolis, suburban schools name leaders

Minneapolis: Rhonda Dean, a one-time math teacher at Benjamin Banneker school in Minneapolis, was named the new principal at Washburn High School. She’s been principal at Andover High School for six years.

The appointment is intended to give the school stable leadership after turmoil that led to the reassignment of then-Principal Carol Markham-Cousins.

Inver Grove Heights: David Bernhardson is the unanimous choice for superintendent of Inver Grove Heights Community Schools. Bernhardson will be voted in May 5. He will begin July 1, replacing Deirdre Wells.

He was principal at Inver Grove Elementary from 1998 to 1999, before that school closed. He resigned as assistant superintendent for South Washington County schools in March.

Wayzata: Irondale High School Principal Scott Gengler has been hired by Wayzata Public Schools to help oversee the construction of a high school addition. He will succeed Wayzata High School Principal Mike Trewick, who plans to retire.

“Mr. Gengler’s hiring was a unique opportunity to secure an experienced high school principal with an excellent record of instructional leadership and impressive construction management experience,” said Wayzata Superintendent Chace Anderson.

Kim McGuire