Aaron Benner, a St. Paul public school teacher whose criticism of the district’s student discipline policies has attracted local and national attention, has resigned his teaching job and now is running for the school board.
A year ago, Benner, 46, was one of five teachers to publicly challenge Superintendent Valeria Silva and school board members about perceived missteps, giving rise to the Caucus for Change movement to replace board incumbents.
Four seats are up for election in November, and Caucus for Change already has four candidates in the running. But Benner said that he no longer wants to be “just a spark” for new leadership in the district, where he has spent much of his 20-year teaching career.
“I really want to work with current member John Brodrick to see how this all plays out,” he said Thursday. “The next three months will be very interesting.”
He resigned as a district teacher a couple of days ago, he said, and has taken a new job as African-American liaison/behavior coach at Community of Peace Academy, a St. Paul charter school. Benner most recently taught fourth grade at John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary.
For several years, Benner, who is black, has argued that Silva’s push to reduce suspensions of black students too often fails to hold them accountable for classroom disruptions.
In recent months, he ramped up his criticism of the district in the Star Tribune as well as on radio and TV, including Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”
Benner also has accused Silva and Andrew Collins, an assistant superintendent, of targeting him in a series of personnel investigations in 2014-15. On Thursday, he credited them with “igniting this flame” to run for the school board, saying that the idea would not have otherwise crossed his mind.
“I truly believe I have a unique perspective … on how certain policies translate inside a classroom,” he said.