"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
— Frederick Douglass.
Imagine what happens when teachers who have felt unsupported in their work for years, parents tired of being ignored when they raise concerns about their children's education and community members left on the sidelines of major decisions affecting their school system make common cause to bring change to the leadership of their schools.
Imagine what happens when these groups connect with 10 mostly unknown candidates (including four people of color and four parents of current students) to challenge three current school board members, including one who has served for nearly 16 years and another for nearly eight years.
Imagine these groups bringing out over 2,000 people, many first-time attendees, to multiple party caucuses and seven separate ward conventions, breaking historic St. Paul DFL attendance records.
Imagine what happens when nearly 530 people (over 96 percent of the eligible delegates) meet for over eight hours and do what has not been done in decades at a DFL convention in St. Paul — endorse four political newcomers and not a single incumbent.
This is the story that the Star Tribune could have told about this year's St. Paul school board race, instead of the one-dimensional one it published Oct. 5 ("Union's chosen four could control St. Paul board").
I am one of the four individuals to emerge from this process with the DFL endorsement — along with Zuki Ellis, Jon Schumacher and Mary Vanderwert. In addition to keeping our regular jobs, all four of us have spent many weekends and evenings knocking on doors, attending forums, responding to surveys, visiting schools, and meeting people who care passionately about the future of our school system and city. We do this work for a variety of reasons, even though we come from different backgrounds — we all are now or have been parents of kids in the St. Paul public school system; all of us respect the critical roles that all members of our school community play in the education of our children and all of us are deeply committed to making our school system the best in the nation.
All of St. Paul should take pride in the daily efforts of our teachers, students and staff. But as all four of us visit with members of our school communities, we hear recurring themes around poor communication, lack of support and safety in our schools. We have heard and experienced some of the implementation problems with major system initiatives, from the iPad rollout to disciplinary policy changes. We have witnessed a culture of division and mistrust in parts of our school system. I decided to run because I believe our public representatives on the school board should acknowledge these concerns and develop strategies to correct them.
Jon, Mary, Zuki and I have set forth five principles for moving our district forward: transparency, clarity, respect, accountability and achievement. We believe everyone in St. Paul — parents, caregivers, educators and community members — has a role to play in making our school system more equitable for our children and supporting their achievement. Our children do not have time to wait for the adults in our community to settle their differences, dividing teachers from parents, parents from parents and communities from communities.
That is what has been so powerful about the work each of us is now doing as candidates. We have seen what can happen when ordinary people, motivated by a desire to make their schools better, get organized for change. If elected, all four of us would have the responsibility to take that work forward by setting clear goals for our district, actively seeking different perspectives in our decisionmaking and focusing on making the St. Paul Public Schools more responsive and equitable for the students it serves every day.
Steven Marchese is a candidate for the St. Paul school board.