Send a question that you want Keith to answer to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What makes you the best candidate for the School Board seat?
My eight years of experience as a school board member will lead me to be ready to listen, learn and make policy with the other board members on November 4. My information technology experience will help me advise the superindent about distance learning best practices.
Voter: I’m trying to do my research regarding the Saint Paul school board election as I’m a resident. Specially, could you expand your view on school choice/charter schools (I.e. expanding or limiting).
Thank you for reaching out to me for my viewpoint.
I firmly believe in choice for parents and families for their children’s schools. Education is so critical for our youth. I want families and ultimately children to find schools that best prepare students for success in life.
There are good education options in many charter schools, including the three that SPPS sponsors
I re-read this article: https://www.minnpost.com/education/2019/11/campaign-to-halt-charter-school-growth-is-stirring-up-a-heated-debate-in-st-paul/
I see value in the viewpoints expressed. School choice does engender the risk that students leave SPPS and take their state and federal per-pupil funding to a charter school. However, as the article addresses, SPPS needs to improve overall educational programming—especially increasing the numbers of children of color in advanced/accelerated classes—so that families choose to enroll in our district. That’s one of my key focuses as a potential new school board member.
I believe competition engenders making strong improvements. SPPS can look at its overall educational programming, from enrollment to individual learning plans for students to supports for students who struggle with content classes or learning overall. Those actions coupled with adding educational tracks—such as the current aerospace engineering, non-English language, environmental and IB/AP tracks—will help stem the tide of student attrition.
Finally, I need to research more about the economic impacts of charter and perhaps private schools moving into tax zones as Amy Brendmoen discusses in the article. For now, I don’t support moratoriums on new charter schools for that reason.
- Why are you running for SPPS school board, and what skills and experience would you bring to the position?
- I’m running for the school board because I have valuable experience and knowledge as an eight-year SPPS board member. This will help me be  ready on November 4 to help make the critical decisions and actions that will be needed from the school board over the next 13 months.
- I will bring my laser focus on doing what helps our students excel to each discussion, especially as we shape the 2021-22 district budget. I will bring my knowledge from talking with national education policy leaders to help SPPS become an even more stellar school district. I will also continue listening to families, community partners, educators and administrators, and quieter voices to ensure the school board is doing what’s best for students. The community appreciated my listening to them in my past service.
- I will use my 25 years as an Information Technology professional to help ensure equitable decisions are made to enhance students’ achievement through distance learning and technology.
- Finally, I’ll use my policymaking experience to work with fellow board members to strengthen policies that ensure all students, educators, and staff feel safe and accepted as learners and employees.
2. Total enrollment has declined in recent years. Students and families are opting out of MPS mostly to attend charter schools. What are your thoughts about that trend?
- According to the SPPS Data Center, total student enrollment in October 2019 was 37,010, down from 37,108 in October 2018 and up from 36,961 in October 2017. On September 22, the Pioneer Press reported an estimated 1,000-plus students decline in SPPS because of offering only distance learning as an option.
- The trend for MPS and SPPS matches the national trend for declining enrollment in traditional public schools. I am most concerns about eradicating the gaps in education quality and equity, preparedness of students for college and career success, mental health services, and safety. While the achievement and equity gaps persist in traditional public schools, this declining enrollment trend likely will continue. SPPS needs to continue eradicating the gaps.
3. What is your assessment of SPPS handling of distance learning due to COVID-19? What do you think of the district’s four stage phase-in plan to return students to their classrooms?
- SPPS, like many other Minnesota and U. S. school districts, had successes and challenges in implementing distance learning in such a short timeframe (four to six weeks0. The district was overall successful in communicating with families about what was needed for their children to begin distance learning. Their biggest challenge was assessing families’ readiness with Internet connection, parents/caregiver schedules to assist children during the first few days, along with educators and staff following up with students who had low or no attendance.
- The four stages to phase in a return to classrooms is based on state guidelines along with input from employee and stakeholder feedback . At this time, I know it’s a good model since stages begin with preparing students with special needs and schools with non-traditional education programing for successful service to students. This approach incudes the support centers working directly with students who need additional assistance in their learning day. I’m quite happy those additional services are available.
4. Learning disparities persist between lower income students of color and white students. What strategies should schools use to improve learning?
- I believe these are strategies to pursue in the 2020-21 academic year to reduce this - persistent gap:
- Reduce testing in grades K-3 and increase focus on enhancing the joy of learning.
- Assess reading comprehension in grades 4-6 and change instructional practices to get more/all students reading at their grade level and above.
- Broaden and deepen existing services in education support centers for one-on-one direct support,  peer tutoring, and other services.
- Increase partnerships with community and government groups to provide the wraparound services to support students and families’ basic needs.
- Provide more mental health services for students to help them be better learners.
- Continue recruiting educators and staff from multinational backgrounds and various professional experience.
- Engage parents and caregivers in students’ individual learning plans, including commitments to support the plans.
5. After George Floyd was killed, SPPS ended its contract with St. Paul police to have School Resource Officers in schools. What do you think of that decision?
- Questions about the SRO program has increased significantly over the last 10 years.  This was a good year to listen to the heightened concerns following George Floyd’s murder. There were good areas to redirect the $775,000 for the 2020-21 school year.
- Keep in mind this decision can be revisited for the 2021-22 fiscal year. We can monitor how the Security and Emergency Management department provides security in schools once students return to classrooms this school year. Watch how principals employ staff to provide the mentoring and other positive relationship-building skills that the SROs provided to students and how Chief Todd Axtell gets the SPPD officers trained in improved community relations skills. Then reassess the SRO decision in spring 2021.
6. SPPS board has approved an $800-million-plus budget, including debt service. What do you think of how those funds are being used? What budget priorities would you have as a school board member?
- I support the planned spending of the $580 million general fund for 2020-21. I’m especially pleased that there will be increased funding and focus on culturally relevant curriculum, positive behavior modeling, increasing advanced and accelerated learning options for high school students along with college and career readiness. These are some of my priorities as a board member.
- I’m also pleased that this budget will fund increased equity for laptops, educational programs, and Internet connectivity for students and families who need assistance. This can reduce the technology gaps and ultimately the achievement gap.
- My budget priorities will also include increasing program tracks such as aerospace engineering, environmental services, performing arts, and business education to offer students greater variety for their learning tracks.