Voters in St. Paul will see eight school board candidates on the ballot. Six of them – James Farnsworth, Halla Henderson, Jennifer McPherson, Jim Vue, Uriah Ward and Ryan Williams – are running for four-year terms; three will win. Two candidates, Jeannie Foster and Clayton Howatt, are vying for a special election for a two-year term. One will win. You can find the rest of our interviews with the candidates for the school board here.
Jeannie Foster, 48, is president of the St. Paul School Board and a social worker for Ramsey County Social Services in the Child Welfare Division.
Describe yourself in 10 words or less.
âA committed and competent servant leader. Strong belief in education. Love the children.
In one sentence, why should the people of Saint Paul vote for you?
“I have the experience to do the job, and I will keep it child-centered and decision-centered.”
How would you help, or how have you helped, St. Paul’s public schools reverse the decline in enrollment and attract and retain students? Please provide your response in bullet points / action steps.
- “With Envision SPPS” – the district’s plan to close some schools and consolidate the programs and resources that would close and merge some schools – “we did a thorough analysis of our buildings, capabilities and uses, and the services offered. . This is being informed by parents who are fighting for different resources in particular buildings, she said.
- âWe are trying to resize things that have been around in this neighborhood for many, many years, even generations. These are difficult decisions for us to make, and I am part of that leadership. “
- âIt really all depends on looking at our budget, being aware and doing that job with this team and with our community.
- âWe seek to offer sustainable products. We want our kids to come and get a great education, stay, and then invite their family and friends because it’s such a great experience.
âI know that at the moment there are a lot of emotions surrounding what is going on in this neighborhood. But for us to have an increase in enrollment, that means we have to serve the students we have right now, to demonstrate that we are delivering what we have said. We give our children access, opportunities and options in any St. Paul school, and again, let us build it and provide it, and then they will come.
Name 2-3 things the district has done well in its response to the COVID-19 crisis, and 2-3 areas needing improvement.
The district quickly came out of a strike to expand distance learning, Foster said. âWhile I don’t think anyone did it right, I think St. Paul led the way because we were prepared with the technology. We were able to put the technology and the Wi-Fi into the hands of every student in this neighborhood very quickly. ”
She also cited the success of the nutrition services program. âWe fed a whole community. This is no small feat. Foster also praised the district’s new online school.
However, the district continues to struggle with the shortage of teachers and bus drivers, she said. And communication with the diverse and multilingual families in the district is an ongoing challenge. âIf you don’t tell your story very quickly, someone else will tell it,â Foster said. Delays in communication from the district lead to misinformation and fear, she added.
Communication is especially difficult in refugee communities that don’t use a lot of technology, Foster said. âWe need to work on how to get real-time access to families who don’t connect this way. ”
What policy or signing achievement did you play a role in during your tenure on the school board?
The role of the school board, said Foster, is to focus on the budget, hiring leaders and politics. Foster was part of the âsolid engagementâ that resulted in the hiring of Superintendent Joe Gothard.
Ethnic studies is one of the policies she helped lead on the council, following a campaign led by students. She also helped create a district equity committee and was one of its first members. Through this committee, the district for the first time included the goal of systemic equity in its strategic plan, Foster said.
Foster also helped shift the district’s budgeting process to become “priority-based,” she said. This has resulted in a process that is more open, transparent and accessible to the community. “This is public money and our public needs to know about it,” she said.
She is also proud of the time she spends in schools speaking with staff and interacting with students.
Give an example of a racial equity problem in St. Paul’s public schools and tell us what you would or would have done about it.
Foster cited the creation of the racial equity committee. This work involved bringing together staff, students, families and community members of different racial and ethnic groups, genders and linguistic backgrounds. This diverse group then worked to identify inequalities in the district and make recommendations to the board, she said. For example, they noticed that equity was not in the district strategic plan, which meant it would not be funded. Thanks to the work of this committee, the plan now includes equity.
The district has also worked hard to recruit and retain leaders of color, she said. A leadership institute provides support to staff who wish to advance to higher positions. The district is trying to ‘scaffold that’ in the classroom, so that classroom assistants who want to become teachers can do so. âA lot of our people of color are picked up by other districts,â she said. âThey feel like there is this white wall even when they get to these positions. And they are not supported.
The leadership institute is creating a mentoring model that will help staff gain better support, she said. Back in schools this year, she hears that this plan is working. “These are some of the things in the background that people don’t see happening.”
Who was the best teacher you have ever had and why?
âMiss Marsilli was both a science teacher and a fifth year teacher. My mother’s boyfriend was very violent. She drank and was a functional alcoholic. And so there is a lot going on at home with us with abuse. And so Miss Marsilli, I have to say, is probably the one who was able to figure out that something was wrong and she worked to connect with my mom. And she always made me feel like I could do it. I still remember to this day the support and not feeling invisible with her.
It makes me sad even to think about it because I think about what a lot of our kids are going through now. The children show up to school with a lot of luggage on them. The people who are in front of them, these teachers, these relationships are meaningful and important. Our teachers have to deal with a lot of things these days. It hasn’t been any easier.
âAnd Barbara Washington, who was the only black teacher I had ever seen. I think that’s why I remember her, she was someone who looked like me. She always spoke to me, gave me various odd leadership jobs to do in the building industry.
In two sentences, what is the other problem that the SPPS is facing that we have not talked about and what is your plan to deal with it?
âTransportation: There is a shortage of drivers, not only in our district, but nationally, which also includes Metro Transit employees. We must therefore continue to identify the elements that could prevent some of these obstacles and continue to work with partners. “