The four candidates for citywide seats on the Minneapolis school board offer starkly divergent ideas on issues of teacher tenure, and student achievement and testing. Voters on Tuesday will decide which two at-large candidates join the new school board to begin grappling with the issues facing Minneapolis schools. The school-board races have drawn an unprecedented amount of spending this election cycle, likely to top $500,000 for the year. A significant share of the money comes from outside groups tapping wealthy donors around the country committed to upending teacher-tenure rules and expanding charter schools. On the ballot: Incumbent Rebecca Gagnon, former Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels, American Indian advocate Ira Jourdain and Iris Altamirano, a former labor organizer. For candidate answers to more questions, go to the Star Tribune's Class Act blog: www.startribune.com/local/blogs/Class_Act.html
Q: What are your views on teacher tenure? Should seniority dictate hiring, retention and layoffs?
A: Gagnon: We're in our third year of teacher evaluations. Although we need to improve the process, evals help us understand what support and professional development educators need to provide quality-differentiated instruction in every classroom, and educators improve with experience. Teachers who cannot or will not improve their practice are leaving MPS.
Altamirano: Tenure provides educators with the protection needed to take risks with new materials or learning methods, question administration's decisions, or speak out without fear of reprisal. However, we must ensure that tenure does not conflict with every child's right to have effective teachers in every classroom and strong leadership at every school.
Samuels: Experienced teachers tend to be more effective and so tenure should be a consideration in evaluations. But effectiveness and tenure are not synonymous. We must agree on the student outcomes that we want, then hire and retain the teachers that produce those outcomes consistently.
Jourdain: I fully support teacher tenure. Tenure gives teachers the ability to advocate not only for their own students, but also students in the school, fellow staff, etc. without fear of retribution from administration. It should not be tweaked in any way as two of my other opponents have suggested in forums nor should ending (Last in First Out) be tweaked.
Q: Is Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson serving the students of Minneapolis well? Why or why not? Will you support to keep her on as superintendent or does the district need new leadership? Explain your answer.
A: Gagnon: She oversees the work. The results reflect her leadership. However, I don't go solely by MCA/MMR results to determine how our students are doing. I am hopeful about the November board meeting's academic report detailing how students grew academically according to districtwide benchmark assessments, as well as other progress measurements.
Altamirano: MPS currently has a solid leadership team capable of implementing new strategic plans. However, if we don't see substantial results by the time the board negotiates the superintendent's next contract, it may be time to find new leadership. For now, the district needs stability to reach its ambitious goals.
Samuels: The shift and Acceleration initiatives are bold, aspirational moves by the superintendent. But she needs support from an independent and courageous board and cooperation from an inspired team. She has not had that. If we elect a board that puts children first, I believe she can be successful.
Jourdain: No. Too many poor decisions. Giving bonuses to district staff making six-figures with a 54% grad rate is one example of many. Thinking about an Office of Black Male Achievement for 5 years, before implementing it while losing black male students during that time is another example. Complacency without accountability has the worst ending.