Six vying for St. Paul School Board

Charlie Castro

Charlotte “Charlie” Castro

Castro, who has taught in the communication department at Century College and North Hennepin Community College, says her educational background and work as a systems analyst prepare her to serve on the board.

“As a systems analyst, it is my job to view all aspects of a project and come up with a solution that allows for the best result while being able to streamline ineffective processes for the greater good,” she said by email in response to a Park Bugle questionnaire sent to all six candidates.

“As the only educator running for school board, I am currently living the virtual classroom experience brought on by the pandemic,” Castro says. “I know the stress of working through remote learning, technology and getting students from where they currently are to where they need to be. That perspective will make me the most effective board member.”

Castro, who says being a Latinx woman of color gives her a unique perspective, counts resources for teachers and students (including access to the arts, dance, advanced classes and internship/apprenticeship programs) as one of the biggest challenges.

She also wants to conduct listening sessions with the community to implement ideas from “voices that have largely gone unnoticed.”

“I want to work with community leaders, parents, teachers and students to create the schools that work for all the students that attend those schools,” she says.

James Farnsworth

James Farnsworth

Farnsworth, a 2016 graduate of Highland Park High School and a resident of the Summit-University neighborhood, is executive director of the Highland Business Association and chairman of the Southwest Business Coalition.

Farnsworth, a senior at the University of Minnesota studying human resource development in the College of Education and Human Development, says his background in governance and passion for public education will serve him well, if elected.

“I believe that now more than ever, students and parents need informed and engaged advocates at the table for the numerous significant decisions that will be made in the coming months that have the potential to reshape education as we know it,” Farnsworth said.

Farnsworth, citing a June 28 report projecting a loss of 1,228 students in the district, says declining enrollment and racism and inequity are among the biggest challenges.

“Since then,” he said, “uncertainty surrounding enrollment has only increased due to an extended period of distance learning and other disruptions to educational delivery due to COVID-19.”

As for leveling the playing field, “we must all be willing to have open, honest and uncomfortable conversations about the intersections of race, bias and privilege,” Farnsworth said. “Disrupting and dismantling racism and deeply ingrained systemic inequities must be at the forefront of ongoing conversations.”

He also wants to build on community partnerships. “When schools are lifted up and supported by their surrounding community, it’s a win-win for all.”

Keith Hardy

Keith Hardy

Hardy, a project manager at Wells Fargo who lives in the Payne-­Phalen neighborhood, says he previously served on the board for eight years until losing the seat in the 2015 election. He also cites, as other qualifications to return to the board, serving in community groups focused on education equity and student achievement, and 25 years in training and information technology.

He says he’s running again to help shape policy that:

• Ensures students and families have access to consistent internet service or an alternative.

• Plans how to reach students who don’t have stable housing.

• Help educators and support staff prepare to deliver distance/online instruction/

• Work with the Student Engagement and Advancement Board and communities to keep students engaged as learners while helping “particularly their mental health needs that have been impacted by the pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.”

The board’s greatest challenges, Hardy says, include ensuring distance learning meets special education standards of service.

Jamila Mame

Jamila Mame

Mame, who moved to Minnesota as a teenager from Ethiopia, joined TakeAction MN in June 2019 as its woman of color organizer.

Her experiences as an English Language Learners student and her work with families of ELL students prompted her to run for the board.

“We have one of the most diverse school districts, and yet there are students who are struggling to feel supported and thrive in their school environment,” she said. “How can our families be engaged in their child’s education when they struggle to understand the meaning of school policies and decisions?”

Mame advocates for greater investment in translators and a commitment to understanding the cultures and customs of diverse groups.

“I see an investment in . . . educators who speak second and third languages,” Mame said, adding that she can speak to the fears and struggles of new immigrant communities.

Mame sees fully funding schools and addressing distance learning challenges and inequalities as key issues.

“Learning during this pandemic has revealed the educational inequities that exist for students who are Black, Indigenous and people of color and has further exacerbated these inequities,” she said.

Mame, a resident of St. Paul’s East Side who created the African Youth Development Center and mentors 49 public school students, credits her work as a community organizer in helping her understand the role of public schools in the health of a community.

Omar Syed

Omar Syed

Syed, 45, who immigrated to the United States in 1997 as a refugee from Somalia and moved to St. Paul two years later with no previous formal education, graduated from Arlington High School and earned a public health certificate from Century College.

The Summit-University resident ran unsuccessfully for an at-large school board seat last year. He is a small-business owner and a member of St. Paul’s Planning Commission and several Somali-­East African civic organizations.

Syed says the help he received from St. Paul Public Schools in getting an education spurred his interest in serving and giving back.

One of his goals is to focus all funding toward student success.

“I hope to close the achievement gap by increasing investment toward students’ well-being and access to diverse teachers and ensure a high quality curriculum is provided that gives students an equal opportunity to succeed,” he said.

Syed says suspension rates, safety and security and the lack of minority teachers are big issues.

“Repetitive suspension among minorities reinforces academic and racial disparities,” he said, adding that schools must invest in support services, re-evaluate offenses deemed suspendable and hire more social workers, school counselors and mental health professionals.”

Jim Vue

Jim Vue

Vue, the short-term appointed board member now, is a Hmong father of five  who has seen St. Paul public schools firsthand. He says that how well the district operates directly impacts students’ educational success and that his experience as a school parent would continue to serve him well on the board.

“I have many years of experience with engagement in district-wide parent advisory councils,” Vue said, also noting his Army Reserve service in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “As a Hmong father, I am bringing a wide swath of practical application of district practices and operations to the school board to ensure all students succeed.”

Vue says the biggest challenges facing the district are identifying white supremacy as a dominant ideology, and then addressing it.

“Race operates as the logic of white supremacy,” he said. “It pervasively orders and arranges what we experience through systemic operations to the point where we perceive this kind of world as reality.”

Vue, who is a writer and cultural educator at the St. Paul nonprofit In Progress, also wants to strengthen communications from district headquarters to the classroom to students’ homes, especially those where English is a second language.

“English as the primary language tends to be the unquestioned form of communication,” he said. “But many families in the district speak Hmong, Spanish, Somali, Karen or something other than English. I think it is critical that students and their families be able to advocate in their language. ”

Cigale Ahlquist is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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