St. Paul superintendent candidates Joe Gothard and Cheryl Logan both appear to have what it takes to be the public face of Minnesota’s second-largest school system.
Gothard, a local candidate from the south suburbs, is a member of the legislative committee of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD), which is back at the State Capitol this year pushing for per-pupil funding increases.
Logan, a senior leader with the School District of Philadelphia, has pressed its agenda and reported on its work in appearances before the City Council — twice in the past week, she said.
But St. Paul has plenty of issues to tend to at home, and the candidates were asked how they might approach them during a pair of interviews this week. The second, on Thursday, was the longest and broadest — 21 questions with follow-ups — and conducted by school board members.
A sample of responses by topic follows:
In the past two years, the gap between white and black students testing as proficient in math remained at 44 percentage points in St. Paul — 66 percent of white students being proficient compared with 22 percent of black students — and grew in reading to 47 percentage points in 2016.
Gothard, superintendent of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District, said his district has sought to steer students into AVID, a college-readiness program tailored to the “academic middle” — those students who are capable of challenging work but falling short of their potential. Nicollet Middle School in Burnsville is one of 140 schools in the country to be selected as a national model for the program, he said.
Logan promotes giving students access to advanced coursework as early as possible and ensuring that those opportunities continue to be available as they get older. The temptation, she said, is to say of high achievers, “Oh, they’re fine,” and to overlook them as they head into their middle school years. An educator’s job is to “unpack the opportunities,” she said.
Former Superintendent Valeria Silva was ousted by the board after concerns about student misbehavior intensified with reports of student-on-staff violence in 2015-16.
“Students cannot learn in chaos and teachers cannot teach in chaos,” Logan said Thursday. She said racial equity should not be used as an excuse for why some students misbehave. There should be districtwide behavioral expectations, she said, and data used to determine what’s working and to keep asking: What can we do next? It is important, too, she said, to agree on behavioral norms that guide not just how students treat one another, but how adults in schools treat students.
Gothard, too, suggests looking for patterns when children misbehave, plus any “triggers” that can be addressed. As a high school principal in Madison, Wis., he said, he championed an approach to discipline known as restorative practices, which emphasizes relationship-building over punishment, and now is being piloted in St. Paul. On Thursday, he said that as a principal, “when times were tough,” he also often turned to student leaders to help resolve safety concerns.
St. Paul faces a possible $27.3 million budget shortfall for the 2017-18 school year, a year after it had to resolve a $15.1 million budget gap.
Gothard said districts must examine their priorities and when things aren’t working, “possibly cease those efforts.” Asked Thursday for ideas on how to stem enrollment declines, he mentioned speaking with Realtors about how they perceive schools because of the influence they can have on families deciding where to send their children.
Logan has “more experience” with budget pressures than she would prefer to have, she said. To battle enrollment declines, she said, a district must have strong leaders at the school level because they know their communities best. She advocated spreading the good news about schools, be it through school fairs or in gatherings within faith communities.
“We have to tell our story,” she said. “We have to love our story.”
The board is expected to decide on the district’s next leader on April 11.