Opinion editor’s note: Today and Thursday, the Star Tribune Editorial Board is offering candidate endorsements for St. Paul school board and City Council, respectively. The endorsements are based on responses to a questionnaire as well as additional reporting, including attending or viewing video of candidate forums. To read the written responses, click on the links with each name. The Editorial Board operates separately from the Star Tribune newsroom.


 

Declining enrollment, construction cost overruns and racial equity issues are among the challenges facing the St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS). In addition, the state’s second-largest district continues to struggle with narrowing learning disparities and improving achievement for many students of color.

With those and other issues to consider, St. Paul voters will elect four of seven school board members on Nov. 5. Board directors are elected citywide and serve four-year terms. Two of the four positions are open because current board members Jon Schumacher and Mary Vanderwert chose not to run for a second term.

Out of a field of nine, incumbents Zuki Ellis and Steve Marchese and newcomers Charlotte “Charlie” Castro and Jessica Kopp are best suited to lead the district.

Ellis, 45, is an SPPS graduate, a district parent and the current chair of the board. She has been a national trainer for the Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project and a special education activist. During her first term she helped to hire a new superintendent, shift school start times and pass a 2018 referendum. Her priorities for another term include improving inclusion policies and culturally relevant curricula.

Ellis shares some of the same priorities as Marchese, who should also be re-elected. The 52-year-old attorney works for the State Bar Association and is also an SPPS parent. He expects to hold the district accountable for following through with its strategic plan, stabilizing its long-term financial health and strengthening connections with the community.

Newcomer Castro, 39, is a systems analyst for a local company and an adjunct professor in the Minnesota State system. She describes herself as a “lifelong community educator’’ who believes that children should receive the services they need to be successful in school. Castro thinks educators need a collaborative, safe environment to do their best work and that the board must provide more oversight and align its budget in ways that have the greatest impact on student learning. Castro would bring a fresh perspective to the board.

The other newcomer we recommend is Kopp, an SPPS parent-activist and former teacher. Kopp does her homework. She regularly attends board meetings and understands board processes and the strategic plan. Kopp, 45, values effective communication and relationship-building. She wants classroom environments that are “innovative, inclusive, collaborative and affirming.”

Kopp says she’ll work to make sure district plans are well-communicated to families so that they can understand and support the work. And she want SPPS to be flexible enough to make changes as new information and opportunities arise.

A fifth candidate with potential is Chauntyll Allen, 45, a St. Paul native and SPPS graduate who has worked in several district schools as an educational assistant, coach and paraprofessional, as well as for Hennepin County child protection. After working with students who have suffered trauma for 25 years, Allen could help educators better understand and work with the most challenging — and challenged — students in the district.

Ellis, Marchese and Allen have DFL and teachers union endorsement, though the race is nonpartisan.

Also running for school board are: Tiffany Fearing, 33, an administrative assistant at a law firm; Jennifer McPherson, 37, who works in member services for public television, and Omar Syed, 45, a pharmacy technician and owner of a small business. A ninth person on the ballot is Ryan Williams, an education assistant who did not respond to the Editorial Board’s request for information.

Elijah Norris-Holliday is listed on the ballot, but he stopped campaigning in August after a judge revoked his stay of adjudication on felony convictions. That made him ineligible to run for office.