The Minneapolis school board will have five new faces next year: Two at-large seats are up for grabs, as are three seats representing portions of the district.
The Aug. 9 primary will help narrow the crowded field for the at-large seats and the District 5 seat representing the southeast part of the district. Six candidates are vying for the two seats to represent the whole city and four are running in the District 5 race. The other seats, for District 1 and District 3, are uncontested. Early voting began June 24.
Rebuilding trust, working with the community and listening to students are priorities for nearly all the six candidates running for the two citywide seats, currently held by Kimberly Caprini and Cindy Booker.
None of the board members with expiring terms are seeking re-election after a turbulent year marked by a three-week teachers strike, budget cuts and leadership turnover. The new board will lead the search for a permanent superintendent, who will take over when Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox's one-year term is up next summer.
One of those board candidates, KerryJo Felder, represented north Minneapolis on the board from 2017 to January 2021. She's running on a Minneapolis Federation of Teachers-endorsed slate that includes Collin Beachy, a special education teacher who is also running for the at-large seat.
Other candidates for the citywide positions include Sonya Emerick, Harley Meyer, Lisa Skjefte and Jaton White.
Emerick, a parent of two autistic children and a member of the district's Special Education Advisory Council, wants to introduce more ways to solicit student ideas and feedback into district decisions.
"My vision is that education belongs to the students," Emerick said. "We don't have a system right now where students feel like they belong in education, much less that their education belongs to them."
Beachy also envisions a model that involves more input from students and community members.
"The top-down model has broken trust within our districts," Beachy said.
Felder agreed, saying the current school board "has given a lot of power to the superintendent."
"I would like to give our power back to the parents, back to the school board and back to the community," Felder said.
Skjefte, the vice president of community engagement for the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center, said that if elected, she will work to connect the district with community groups and resources already in place.
"Our community partners have solutions, but it's about getting the system to hear that and utilize it," she said.
Many of the candidates also expressed concerns over the district's declining enrollment, which has fallen faster than predictions, and said board members must listen to parents about why they are leaving Minneapolis Public Schools. The district now has about 28,000 students — down from about 32,000 in fall of 2020.
Meyer, a parent and substitute teacher in the district, said board members must also push for effective math and literacy curricula. His experiences teaching abroad have taught him what works and what doesn't when implementing a new curriculum, he said.
"Once you actually start closing the achievement gap, you give parents a reason to stay and parents reasons to come to MPS," Meyer said.
Felder and Beachy also said that board members must be more active in pushing for education funding at the state level.
Beachy said, if elected, he and the other candidates on the teachers union-endorsed slate look forward to working together with all other board members.
"This is not about going in a group versus the other four [board members]," he said. "It's about establishing a strong working relationship whether you agree with the person or not."
White did not return a request for comment.
Abdul Abdi is running unopposed for the District 1 seat, currently held by Jenny Arneson. The District 3 race is also uncontested, with teachers union-endorsed Fathia Feerayarre as the only candidate to take over the role held by Siad Ali.
The candidates for the District 5 race are Elena Condos, Leslie Haugland-Smith, Laurelle Myhra and Lori Norvell, who is also endorsed by the teachers union. That seat is currently held by Nelson Inz.