A year after setting in motion a series of dramatic changes at the top of the city’s public schools, St. Paul DFLers on Saturday endorsed an East Side neighborhood leader with a decades-long commitment to early childhood education as their candidate for a vacant school board seat.
If elected Nov. 8, Jeannie Foster would serve the final 13 months of a term vacated by former board Chairwoman Jean O’Connell — and would, in turn, carve out a new chapter in what her supporters describe as a remarkable beat-the-odds life story.
Foster was endorsed by acclamation Saturday after nearly capturing a first-ballot victory over former board members Keith Hardy and Claudia Swanson, and two other political newcomers: Tony Fragnito, a PTO president at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, and Monica Haas, a leader of a No Cuts to Kids group that pushed hard this spring to restore funding to district classrooms.
Like Hardy, Foster is black, and if elected, she would be among three people of color on the seven-person board.
Roy Magnuson, a Como Park Senior High teacher and veteran campaigner for local and state candidates, said Foster drew support Saturday from a rare coalition of DFL activists from the East Side and the city’s wealthier Fourth Ward.
A year ago, Mary Vanderwert was among four newcomers elected to the school board as part of a Caucus for Change movement. This year, Vanderwert helped persuade Foster to enter the race. Said Vanderwert, “She just plain runs and never stops.”
Foster said the party nod was a “dream come true” in a life filled with challenges.
At 16, Foster was a single mom who grew up with “family abuse and alcoholism,” she has said. She graduated from Highland Park Senior High in St. Paul, and after a rough start in college, eventually secured her higher-education degrees. She has built a 25-year career as an educator and administrator in the areas of early childhood education and family services. Now, at age 43, she is a manager with the nonprofit Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties. She also serves as vice president of the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council.
On the issues, Foster said she is not a fan of policing in the schools, and like her fellow candidates — all of whom pledged to abandon their campaigns — she sees hard work ahead rebuilding trust within the district and finding a new superintendent.
In the course of it all, she said, student voices will be heard.