Naomi (naomikritzer) wrote,

Election 2013, Volume 7, Issue 0: St. Paul School Board -- EDITED: INCORRECT DATA USED IN POST

I swear to God that when I looked up my ballot over on on September 21st, the candidates were Jean O'Connell, John Brodrick,
Chue Vue, Luis Ortega, David Martinez, and Sarah Lechowich.

Today we got a Highland Villager with election coverage and they had the candidates for St. Paul school board as Jean O'Connell, John Brodrick,
Chue Vue, Greg Copeland, and Terrance Bushard. I thought, WTF? Who are some of these people? and looked it up again. I don't know if I was looking at outdated data or if I actually got my data somewhere else or what, but I'm going to have to re-do this post.

The Saint Paul races are disappointingly simple compared to Minneapolis. I get to vote for a mayor (and in the St. Paul version of IRV, I get five votes even though there are only four candidates) and I get to vote for some school board members. If there are any St. Paul City Council races, they apparently aren't in my ward.

There are three open school board seats and two incumbents running. (I'm not sure if St. Paul pays them better, or if it's less time-consuming in St. Paul, or less emotionally exhausting, or if St. Paulites are made of sterner stuff...) The candidates:

Jean O'Connell (Incumbent; DFL-endorsed)
John Brodrick (Incumbent; DFL-endorsed)
Chue Vue (DFL-endorsed)
Luis Ortega
David Martinez
Sarah Lechowich

We live in St. Paul, but my kids don't attend St. Paul schools; they attend a charter school, which has its own board and is generally unaffected by the decisions made by the St. Paul schools. I have quite a few friends with kids in the St. Paul public schools, though, including my writing colleagues Lyda and Doug. I have a friend who teaches at Highland Junior High. I know some people in Minneapolis who have their kids in St. Paul public schools, most often L'Etoile du Nord French Immersion school. (In Minnesota, you can enroll your kids in any school you're willing to drive them to that has space. You'll only get busing within your own city.)

In the last few years, I know that the St. Paul schools went through some painful changes, including restricting the schools that kids in the city could be bused to, and making the schools a bit more consistent in terms of grades covered. Weirdly, they completely defied the trend toward the K-8 and mostly (or entirely?) made the elementary schools K-5. Since I was living in Minneapolis when these changes happened, I didn't pay particularly close attention.

My overall impression is that the St. Paul schools are less of a mess than the Minneapolis schools. Average class sizes are smaller, according to the data here -- 24.3 kids to a room in K, 25.9 kids to a room in 5. (In Minneapolis, there are 27 kids to a room K-3, and 32 kids in grades 4 and 5. That's with one teacher. Oh, except in kindergarten; some schools, maybe all, give the kindergarten teachers an aide.)

Jean O'Connell
website here:

My next-door neighbor has a Jean O'Connell sign up; it was actually put up today. She's DFL-endorsed and endorsed by a long list of elected officials as well as AFSCME and the AFL-CIO (the teacher's union is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO); the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce (that's an odd one; I didn't know Chambers of Commerce endorsed for school board); and WomenWinning, which apparently tries to promote pro-choice women who are running for office.

On her website, she defends moving 6th graders in with 7th and 8th graders (this was controversial with a lot of parents; she says that two years is not long enough to build relationships among the kids).

Oh, here's an interesting thing. She has two children, one of whom graduated from Central High and one of whom attends Cretin-Derham Hall. Which is a private school.

She's a retired 3M employee (apparently she got a teaching degree in college, but wasn't able to find a job when she graduated and went to work in industry, instead.) She has a very, very boring Twitter account.

John Broderick
website here:

He definitely has a comprehensive perspective: he attended the St. Paul public schools as a student, worked in them as a teacher, had two kids graduate from the St. Paul public schools, and has been a coach. He's apparently been on the board for three terms already.

Sadly, he doesn't quite know how to use semicolons, but that doesn't seem to have held him back much.

He's endorsed by the DFL, the unions (including the teacher's union), and various elected officials.

Chue Vue
website here:

If you're red/green color blind, you may have seen Chue's signs and not known what they were because they have red letters on a teal background. They are almost impossible for me to read and I am not color blind.

Chue has a compelling biography: born in Laos, his Hmong family had to flee when he was ten. I was a little surprised to see that they didn't settle in St. Paul (St. Paul has a huge Hmong population) but wound up in Oklahoma and then LaCrosse, Wisconsin; Chue didn't come to Minnesota until college, when he went to St. Olaf. After working for a decade as a research chemist, he went to law school.

Interestingly, in his reasons for running he mentions concerns about his younger twin daughters needing special services -- this suggests that if special ed services are important to you, he'd be your guy. (If you're concerned about immigrant students who might be starting school late, or who need ESL services, since he didn't start school until he arrived in the U.S. in 5th grade, I'd expect he'd have a lot of personal empathy there, too.)

He's endorsed by the DFL, some unions (though not, I think, the teacher's union), and various elected officials. He sounds awesome and he should get a different designer when he runs for re-election in four years because red on teal, seriously? You want people to be able to read your signs.

Luis Ortega
website here:

I approve of the fact that Luis Ortega has information on his site in English, Spanish, and Hmong; I disapprove of the format he uses (Scribd, embedded) because it takes an irritatingly long time to load. He tried to get DFL endorsement but lost to Chue Vue's apparently fantastic organization on the convention floor and the power of incumbency.

He was a principal for a number of years in Minneapolis -- Folwell Middle School from 1995-2000, Wellstone International High from 2000-2004, Emerson from 2004-2006. This makes me uneasy. Most of the good principals in Minneapolis stay in one place for a while, and the hopping around makes me wonder if he was being passed around like an unfireable bad penny. (It's very, very hard to fire Minneapolis teachers; I have no idea what's even involved in firing principals.) His endorsements are just a list of names; I can't tell whether he's endorsed by people he used to work with, or not. There aren't any elected officials, or organizations.

Commentary from the DFL Endorsing Convention said that he focused too much on his resume and not enough on his ideas when making his pitch to the crowd.

David Martinez
website here:

Like Chue, David arrived in the U.S. as a child speaking no English (he moved to St. Paul from Puerto Rico in third grade); he has personal experience with St. Paul's ELL programs. His children are very young -- his older kid just started K -- and in addition to talking about his commitment to educational issues generally, he emphasizes that he's young ("I bring a unique combination of personal passion, 10 years as an SPPS activist, and the energy and fresh ideas of the next generation.") The board seems to be kind of dominated by retirees; I have to admit that being from my approximate generation is a selling point. (Every now and then you'll get a recent high school graduate running for school board; I tend to think that is too young.)

He's endorsed by a couple of elected officials as well as a bunch of random people.

David linked to this page, which is a blog post from someone who was at the DFL convention and had comments on the various candidates. I like what she has to say about Jean O'Connell and David Martinez; she raises some of the concerns I have about John Broderick, which is that he might be a bit too much in the pocket of the teacher's union. (From the page: "In his literature is the statement, 'Our teachers are not the problem, they are the solution'. So while I agree, I was also wondering if this was a dog whistle that no matter how low you are ranked as a teacher, you can count on John Broderick to help you keep your job. Most of us, who are concerned with education, are struggling with how to balance accountability with security in supporting teachers.")

Let me digress about that for a minute. I am not anti-union; I think that teachers have the right to organize. But, I think it's important to remember that the job of a teacher's union is to represent teachers. The interests of teachers and students frequently align, but they are not necessarily the same. (I mean, it's totally the job of the teacher's union to tell you that they are! Because it's totally in the interests of the teachers to have the parents of their students believing this, and the job of the teacher's union is to support the interests of the teachers!)

I absolutely want the union on one side of the table during contract negotiations. I'm not so sure that I want them on both sides, and that's why a teacher's union endorsement is not necessarily a plus for me, since the job of the School Board is to negotiate those contracts. (On the other hand, I don't want someone who's totally adversarial toward the union, either.)

Sarah Lechowich
website here:

Sarah's website defaults to a blog she last updated in July with a post about the Zimmerman verdict and white privilege. Sarah -- this would be a really good place for an essay about why you ought to be on the school board.

Her main platform is pretty short: "I believe as a community we must further develop strong early childhood education programming. We must intensify our efforts to identify and reduce barriers of poverty and institutional racism within our schools. We must use technology to advance education opportunities for our children, not leave low-income families behind. We must provide welcoming learning environments for all our Saint Paul children.

As a school board member, I will fight to close the achievement gap in our schools. The goal of every decision: to ensure the best educational programs possible while using our tax dollars wisely. I will seek input from parents and other community members and will carefully consider all options prior to any major decision."

The blogger that David Martinez linked to said that she didn't give very substantial answers to her questions -- like, she wants to "fight to close the achievement gap" but was really vague about how she would close the achievement gap. I mean, this is something that has been considered a problem for over a decade, at this point, and despite lots of people fighting to close the achievement gap there's still a gap that hasn't been closed. So, "What are you going to try that's new and different?" seems like an excellent question to ask. She does also note that she wants to develop early childhood programming, which could be her answer there.

She's endorsed by a couple of elected officials, WomenWinning, and NOW.

The good news is that they're all qualified. I'm leaning toward voting for Jean O'Connell, Chue Vue (despite the horrible signs), and David Martinez, although since I actually get to vote in this race I may keep my eyes open for a candidate forum and reconsider.

Because the State Legislature regulates how school board races are held, this one is not done with instant runoff. I get to vote for three candidates because there are three open seats, but I don't have to (/get to) rank them and it's done with a plain count.

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