Like most Minnesota districts during the past 18 months, St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) has experienced the colossal challenges brought on by COVID-19.
School leaders had to turn on a dime from regular classroom operations to remote learning while continuing meal service to needy families as well as providing in-school options for children of first responders. The district also had a three-day teacher strike just as it was making the transition to remote learning in 2020, and it continues to deal with declining enrollment and controversy over proposed school closings.
To manage those challenges, SPPS needs knowledgeable and pragmatic leaders on its school board.
Four seats on the seven-member board will be filled in the Nov. 2 election. We recommend two incumbents — Jeanelle "Jeannie" Foster in the special election for a two-year term, and Jim Vue, James Farnsworth and Halla Henderson for four-year terms.
Foster, 48, is an SPPS graduate, social worker and former educator with experience working with families and youth in nonprofit and government positions. She is the current chair of the board and is seeking a second term. She has been a steady, thoughtful presence on the board. Her priorities for the future include improving communication, diversifying SPPS workforce, prioritizing resources, listening to the community and "keeping students first."
Foster would smartly like to direct some of the federal American Rescue Plan dollars the district will receive toward initiatives that focus on social-emotional learning, engaging parents/caregivers and connecting students to supportive relationships in school and in their neighborhoods.
When former board chair Marny Xiong died of COVID-19, Vue, 41, was appointed on an interim basis to fill the vacancy. Then he ran successfully to complete her term in 2020. The Hmong parent of four SPPS students, cultural educator and military veteran does his homework and is well prepared on district issues.
Vue has pushed for requiring COVID vaccinations, holding board meetings with translations in several languages, stronger career-technical education and more use of sustainable energy. He would also be the only Asian American board member for a district in which about one-third of the students are Asian.
Farnsworth, 23, a SPPS grad and son of two public school teachers, is making his second bid for the board. He is the director of the Highland Business Association and serves on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.
He's been active in school district issues, including serving on district committees and advocating for culturally relevant curriculum to developing ways to increase enrollment and retention. His experience working with a broad range of government, community and business groups would be an asset to the board.
Henderson, 27, who grew up in north Minneapolis and later attended school in Mankato, noted her experience as a first-generation Eritrean and Arab student in Minnesota. She would bring an important perspective to a district with a substantial population of immigrant families.
Henderson has managed campaigns and currently is the policy director for a youth organization that helps students advocate for themselves and their peers. Among her priorities are hiring and retaining more staff of color for the district, improving mental health support for students and advocating for more equitable school funding.
Clayton Howatt, 46, a SPPS graduate and father of two district students, is running against Foster in the special election for the two-year term. He is the co-owner of a small residential remodeling business and has worked on parent and district committees. Uriah Ward, 30, is running for a four-year seat. He's a college financial aid counselor, former teacher, DFL leader and union organizer. Both Howatt and Ward are well informed about school district issues.
The other candidates for the four-year seats, Jennifer McPherson and Ryan Williams, did not participate in the Editorial Board screening process.
Opinion editor's note: The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates separately from the newsroom, and no news editors or reporters were involved in the endorsement process. To read all of our endorsements, go to startribune.com/package-opinion-endorsements/.