Student behavior and suspensions, start-time changes, mainstreaming, technology use and racial equity are among the issues facing the St. Paul School District. And this week, the superintendent responded to safety concerns after a loaded gun was found in a backpack and fights occurred at two high schools.
Like other urban districts, the overarching challenge is narrowing learning disparities and improving achievement for many students of color. And in recent months, a strong current of staff and community unhappiness with district decisions has prompted calls for new leadership.
Against that backdrop, St. Paul voters will select four of seven school board members on Nov. 3. Members of the Star Tribune Editorial Board interviewed the eight candidates who filed to run. Our endorsements are based on those face-to-face sessions, discussions with others and reporting that included attending candidate forums.
Marchese, Schumacher and Vanderwert are part of the DFL- and teachers-union-endorsed slate of four candidates who would all be new to elected office. Their candidacies sprang from the “Caucus for Change” movement started by a group of teachers, parents and community members who have been critical of district decisions under the current board and Superintendent Valeria Silva.
The group helped deny DFL Party endorsement to the incumbents. That means at least three and possibly four new members will join the board in January.
Even with the hunger for change, newly elected board members must be prepared to make difficult and sometimes unpopular choices. As policymakers, they should resist micromanaging and work with their administration on the best ways to consider community input and implement policies that are best for students. We think our endorsees are best positioned to strike that balance.
Hardy, 52, an IT project manager and the only incumbent in the race, is seeking a third term without DFL and union endorsement. He brings an independent voice to the board and wants to build on work that has begun on promoting racial equity and having all students reading at grade level. As a veteran board member, he would help provide a good balance of seasoned and novice board leadership.
Marchese, an attorney who directs a pro-bono program for the state bar association, has served on school site councils and nonprofit boards. Earlier in his career, the 48-year-old represented families with special-needs kids and school-desegregation plaintiffs in Michigan. As a board member, he says he would represent the public interest, improve district leadership transparency and hold the administration more accountable.
Schumacher, 63, is the executive director of a neighborhood foundation that has helped to fund innovative education programs. With a strong background in board governance and collaboration, he sees “lack of trust’’ as a major problem and vows to help reconnect the community with the board. He believes the board and community should have “honest’’ conversations about what does and does not work for students, then direct resources accordingly.
With 25 years in early-childhood education under her belt, Vanderwert, 64, would bring valuable expertise to the board at a time when early-learning opportunities are being emphasized and expanded. She is currently a children’s health consultant and is a former state Head Start collaboration director and nonprofit child care director. Many ideas from the current administration were sound, she says, but the implementation was poor because staff and community members felt left out of the decisions. She would use her collaborative skills to improve the culture in schools and improve school, family and community relationships.
All of the DFL-endorsed candidates either currently have children in St. Paul schools or are parents of graduates.
Also running as part of the DFL slate is Zuki Ellis, 41, a former PTO chair who worked for the teachers union’s parent-teacher home visit program. Others seeking a school board post include Greg Copeland, 61, a former suburban city manager and Republican activist who has run for office several times, and Linda Freeman, 63, and Scott Raskiewicz, 52, both former substitute teachers. Rashad Turner, 30, organizer of Black Lives Matter St. Paul, did not file to run by the August deadline but is waging a write-in campaign with Green Party support.
Ellis, Copeland, Freeman, Raskiewicz and Turner are passionate about working for St. Paul students. However, our four endorsees have the experience and skills needed to build on the district’s strengths while working with the school community to help guide the administration. Voters should elect Hardy, Marchese, Schumacher and Vanderwert on Nov. 3.