On Nov. 8, Minneapolis voters will elect four directors on the nine-member Minneapolis school board. One of those spots is an at-large, citywide seat that is open because incumbent Carla Bates is not seeking a third term. The other three seats are in Districts 2, 4 and 6 with boundaries that correspond with city Park Board districts.
The four candidates endorsed below are best positioned to guide the 36,000-student district through the necessary changes to improve student outcomes. Like many urban school districts, Minneapolis continues to struggle with wide learning disparities between white students and students of color. Board members also must be prepared to work well with the new superintendent, Ed Graff. With those and other challenges, it’s crucial that the board and administration unite around student-centered change.
Minneapolis school board
At Large (Citywide)
Kim Ellison, 52, is vice chair of the board and seeking to move from her District 2 seat to an at-large position. She was appointed to the board in 2012 to fill a vacancy, then was elected without opposition in 2012.
She raised her four children in north Minneapolis and spent 12 years working in alternative schools — a background that helps her better understand kids who struggle in school. As an active parent, she served on the Parents United for Public Schools Board, an advisory board at Blake school and on the North High Redesign Committee. She wants, and should receive, another four years in office to continue work to close the achievement gap and support struggling students.
Her opponent is perennial candidate Doug Mann, who has run unsuccessfully for school board a number of times. Mann did not attend a scheduled interview with the Star Tribune Editorial Board.
Two passionate candidates who’ve been involved with parent and community organizations are vying for this open seat. Kimberly Caprini, 52, is the best choice because of her broader knowledge about education governance and other issues. She is a volunteer and has served on a variety of school site councils, both as a parent and member of the Northside Schools Collective. She says her site council experience and attendance at board meetings helps her understand the governance role. She wants the board to avoid micromanagement and focus on policy and oversight of the superintendent.
Her opponent, Kerry Jo Felder, 43, is an education organizer for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. She is a passionate parent and community activist who believes that “full service community schools’’ are key to supporting students with a variety of needs.
Incumbent Josh Reimnitz merits a second stint on the board. The 30-year-old co-director of Students Today, Leaders Forever has worked on a new policy structure that would allow the board to focus more on governance and lay the foundation for an improved relationship with the administration. That’s especially important as the board works with its new superintendent. A native of North Dakota and former teacher in Atlanta, Reimnitz is the youngest member of the board and one of the few who hasn’t either worked for the district or had children who were students. That has helped him bring a fresh, independent perspective to district issues.
His opponent is Robert Young Walser, 62, a self-employed music educator who has been an artist-in-residence in schools across the country. He is married to an MPS teacher and is the parent of Minneapolis schools graduates. He believes that he and the rest of the slate of DFL candidates can improve operations of a school board that is not perceived to work well together.
Incumbent Tracine Asberry, 47, should be returned to office. She’s an independent thinker who wants to continue board service with the new superintendent and potential to “turn things around.’’ She has focused on transparency, academic rigor and racial equity and is the sole voice on some issues. She has three children, including a graduate and two who attend MPS schools, and is executive director of St. Paul Youth Services. She’s also a former Minneapolis teacher.
Challenging her is Ira Jourdain, 40, a car service driver with a background in human services. The father of four MPS current and former students, Jourdain ran for school board in 2014 and has served on various site councils and PTAs. He was a member of the committee that produced a 2006 memorandum of agreement between MPS and the American Indian community.
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Candidates Ellison, Jourdain, Walser and Felder have DFL endorsement. With one exception, their opponents identify as Democrats; there was no GOP endorsement in these races. Mann said he was endorsed by the Green Party.
If you have a Minneapolis ZIP code, you can learn more about the candidates at startribune.com/myvote.
St. Paul school board
Special election for one At-Large seat
After former Superintendent Valeria Silva’s contract was bought out earlier this year, the district hired an interim schools chief and is expected to select a new one in the next few months. That is arguably the most important job of a school board — finding the right person and administrative team to implement board policies.
On Nov. 8, St. Paul voters will elect one new school board member to be part of that selection process. That new director will fill out the term of Jean O’Connell, who resigned in June. Among the five candidates, Jeanelle “Jeannie” Foster stands out.
The 43-year-old educator is currently family services manager at Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington counties. Through positions she has held with YMCA, Ober Boys and Girls Club, and the Wilder Foundation, she has helped families successfully navigate public systems, and she would apply her deep knowledge of social services to her board work.
With a calm, thoughtful demeanor, Foster has demonstrated that she can bring various stakeholders together to benefit kids and families. She believes in the power of a good education because of her own personal history. She was raised by a lower-income, single mom in St. Paul who overcame obstacles to help her daughter earn a graduate degree in education. Foster, who calls herself a beneficiary of her St. Paul school experience and a “reflection of the children and families the district serves, our community and the teachers … and staff who do the work,’’ has DFL and teachers union endorsement.
Also running for the St. Paul school board seat are: Anthony Klehr, 30, a teacher in Stillwater; Eduardo Barrera, 54, policy specialist with CLUES; Cindy Kerr, 51, a software company manager and Greg Copeland, 62, a former city manager in Maplewood.
If you have a St. Paul ZIP code, you can learn more about the candidates at startribune.com/myvote.