Getting on the school board usually involves a spring spent buttering up DFL convention delegates night after night on the phone, a sweaty summer of door-knocking, with a respite of begging thousands of dollars to fund a campaign.
And then there’s Kim Ellison.
The 48-year-old North Sider was plucked last December from a crowd of applicants for the board seat relinquished by Lydia Lee. It helped to have the same last name as a local congressman and a history of schools activism.
Now she’s on the verge of claiming a full term in her own right, running unopposed to become the first school board member elected as a North Side representative under the district’s reapportionment scheme.
She was sworn in Jan. 10, and she’s been the board’s quietest member since. She delivered her longest speech when she voted with a majority of the board to approve a new teacher contract last spring. She acknowledged community pressure for a longer school day and year, but said that teachers and the administration were not ready for more than the modest changes brought about by the contract. She said in an interview that she’d prefer to focus on using time in class more efficiently. She’s a fan of the district’s push for more uniform teaching because she thinks it will help high-mobility students the most.
Ellison moved to Minneapolis in 1987 when her husband Keith Ellison, now a U.S. Congressman, began law school. The couple are now legally separated. Ellison lives in the Old Highland section of the Near North neighborhood. She has a daughter who's a junior at South High School. She’s not the only Detroit native and graduate of a Catholic girls high school who will be elected to the board unopposed this year; she shares that distinction with the southwest seat’s Tracine Asberry.
She began teaching at The City, Inc. alternative school, where she taught math. She later taught multiple subjects at Guadalupe Alternative Program in St. Paul. She said those topics taught her the importance of relationships in education and she saw that students have trouble learning when they're hungry.
Ellison previously served on the advisory board for an enrichment program at The Blake School that serves Minneapolis middle school students. After she became a school board member, that relationship helped her resolve the issue of who would pay bus transportation for those students.
Ellison cemented her North Side school credentials as a chair of Minneapolis NAACP’s Education Committee, and as a member of the advisory committee that helped plan a revamping of North High School after the district tried to close the 123-year-old school.
She’s also helped coach the swim team at North and Henry, building on a childhood spent on swim teams. Her first job here was as a lifeguard at North Community YMCA. Swimming has also helped to center her, she said, after the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis she got nearly 10 years ago.