St. Paul School Board

We have six candidates, three slots, and we don’t get to rank them. Just pick three.

On the ballot:

Greg Copeland
Luke Belleville
Marny Xiong
Jeannie Foster
John Brodrick
Andrea Touhey

Greg Copeland

Greg Copeland is a Republican and a perennial candidate. Every time I’ve analyzed him I’ve come to the same conclusion: he’s a twit, don’t vote for him. Here’s my post from the 2016 school board race (a special election). Here’s the one from 2015. And from 2013. I thought he’d run for stuff other than school board at some point, but maybe not.

Anyway: don’t vote for the guy.

Luke Belleville

Luke’s website is a site explaining how you can hire him as a lawyer. There’s nothing on it other than a picture of architecture, the claim that they get the job done, a quote, and a “contact me” form. Not only would I not vote for him for school board, I would also not hire him as a lawyer.

Marny Xiong
Jeannie Foster
John Brodrick

Marny Xiong, Jeannie Foster, and John Broderick are the DFL-endorsed candidates. Jeannie Foster is an incumbent, but only barely: she ran for her seat last year, in a special election for one seat, vacated when someone resigned in protest after the rest of the board fired Silva. I was really impressed with her last year mostly because of her biography (she was a teen mom who went on to get a Master’s degree) and she has not done anything to annoy me in the less-than-12-months she’s been in office, so I’ll probably vote for her again.

John Brodrick was not up for election in 2015, when the sentiment was 100% “throw the bums out, every one of them, OUT.” Now here we are in 2017 and his website has lots of quotes from people about how critical experience is:

“During my time on the board, John Brodrick has been an invaluable source of leadership and knowledge. I know he will never stop fighting for our kids, and I am looking forward to working with him over the coming years.” Zuki Ellis, Vice Chair, St. Paul School Board

(Zuki Ellis was one of the candidates elected in 2015, the throw-the-bums-out year.)

“John has spent a lifetime with the St. Paul schools – as a student, teacher, and school board member. His knowledge and experience are critically important as the new superintendent and SPPS chart a course for the future of our schools.” Ian Keith, Former SPFT President

(The St. Paul Federation of Teachers was the primary force behind the Caucus for Change, the throw-the-bums-out organization.)

I gave him a brief blurb in 2013, the last time he ran — he wasn’t my original first pick, when I was working with an out-of-date list of candidates, but it turned out that the guy who I liked better had dropped out. This guy has been on the school board for freaking ever. He is currently running for his fifth term, I think, so he’s been on the board for 16 years already. There’s something to be said for institutional memory, but I feel like it’s also worth revisiting that list of stuff the school board had done during that 2015 race that had everyone fired up, and remember that he was on that board.

Marny Xiong would be a new member. She’s the daughter of refugees who settled in St. Paul and has worked as a school operations administrator, which is one of those jobs where you see a school from a very different angle than a teacher or parent does, giving her a potentially very useful perspective. (They have some teachers or former-teachers on there already, I think, and they definitely have parents.)

(I’m focusing more on experience and less on positions because if there’s one race where no one’s positions on the issues tells you much, it’s school board. Everyone is in favor of small class sizes, safe and nurturing environments, inspiring teachers, rigorous classes, closing the achievement gap, etc., and no one tells you much about how they’ll do it.)

Marny’s website is currently very hard to read due to some bad formatting. I’m not sure how much it matters? (From one of the bits that’s cut off: “Ensure equitable outcomes for all our students. Saint Paul Public School (SPPS) district must ensure successful outcomes of all students equitably through budget and policy decisions.” See what I mean?) I e-mailed her campaign manager (that being the contact e-mail on the site) and we’ll see if they fix it.

Andrea Touhey

Andrea Touhey has worked as a teacher and an educational consultant — but she taught at charter schools. She’s billing this as a strength: she’s been places that have tried a bunch of innovations, some of which have worked and some of which haven’t.

On her Twitter thread, she re-tweeted this letter along with “agree.” (It’s a letter saying that blaming all school problems on inadequate funding is a dodge. I feel like there are things in this letter I agree with, and things I disagree with.) She also Tweeted a link to this piece with “Any levy = not wise for this year.”

She sounds overly fond of surveys. (She wants to survey students and parents every year about their schools. It’s not that surveys are a bad idea, it’s just that on top of standardized testing, they’re one more day that teachers have to hand out a scan-tron bubble sheet for everyone to fill in, and there are all sorts of weird ways in which they can just go awry. I should tell my “how I decided to screw around with a survey at my high school” story on here sometime, but today’s probably not the day.)

This article talks about a forum attended by the three DFL-endorsed candidates plus Touhey. The bit I found most interesting:

Asked to identify their top priorities for closing disparities in educational outcomes, Foster alluded to some of the things she’s already begun working to address. That includes working with staff and leadership across the district, as well as collective bargaining units, to break away from doing “business as usual.” Part of that work, as she noted earlier, is making a concerted effort to hire with an eye toward diversifying the administrative and teaching staff. She also wants to continue to bring more community groups into the schools to strengthen and broaden partnerships.

“You can expect, from me, to see a greater depth and level of engagement across the district,” she said. “Everybody’s going to have to change.”

Touhey called for more regular surveys, to collect feedback from parents, students and educators on a routine basis. She also said she’d push to improve instruction by encouraging teachers to pursue national board certification and make improving school climate a priority.

For Xiong, family engagement and community collaboration is the logical starting point. She also talked about prioritizing support for existing programs aimed at supporting students of color — like the various immersion programs, English learner programs and culturally relevant curriculum initiatives — as well as professional development for staff and teachers.

Brodrick called on the state Legislature to start investing more in Minnesota schools. He also talked about focusing in on the individual students and creating Individual Education Programs — individual plans typically reserved for special education students — to help track each student’s academic standing and progress. “We can’t just identify schools as performing poorly,” he said. “We have to home in on the most important thing.”

I feel like the worst answer there is Brodrick’s — I mean, yes, it would always be nice if the legislature gave you more money, but the school board is always going to have to figure out how to pursue its goals with whatever you wind up getting and you “calling on” the legislature to give you more money is not actually a useful response. I know people whose kids go to schools where everyone gets something called an IEP and it mostly just means that people do more annoying paperwork during the standard school conferences and everyone pretends it’s meaningful. (IEPs are extremely important if you have a kid with special needs because they are legally enforceable, and that’s actually another concern I’d bring up: it’s extremely common for parents of kids with special needs to be told “oh, you don’t need an IEP, we are happy to provide her with sensory breaks / extra help in reading / etc.” and my advice to people hearing this is to always always always insist on the IEP, because without it, you’re SOL if the school decides the sensory breaks are too much trouble / the reading help is too expensive / whatever. If everyone has something called an IEP, then how much easier is it for the school to gaslight parents when their kid needs an actual IEP?)

Anyway, my initial thought is that I like Jeannie Foster and Marnie Xiong, I’m intrigued by Andrea Touhey while being worried she’s a stealth Republican, and I’m not super impressed by John Brodrick but may vote for him anyway because he’s DFL-endorsed.

There was a woman that announced months back she was running on a vitriolically transphobic platform (Tasha-Rose Hodges): she didn’t actually file, so no worries.


In response to some questions she’s received, Andrea Touhey added a Q&A page to her website.

How would you work with schools to incorporate transgender and gender fluid student policies?

I believe schools should be places where every student feels safe and comfortable to developing the multiple facets of their identity.   One of the most important things is cultural, working to focus on creating a stable governing structure that supports schools in creating safe, nurturing learning communities where diversity, in all its forms, is valued.  At the same time, the district must engage is a thoughtful process of developing a policy for gender identification.  Details matter.  It is not enough to say that a student can self-identify.  Restrooms and athletics are currently gender-based.   I would advocate for a representative body to explore the issue and make recommendations.  I would hope that all students, parents, and staff would then have an opportunity to vote on the proposal.

So there are a couple of significant problems with this response. First, she apparently doesn’t know that SPPS has a gender inclusion policy, which was passed in 2015 (so not all that long ago); she also seems unaware that one of the risks of “exploring the issue” is that you set your community up for a lot of ugly public commentary targeted at already-marginalized, vulnerable kids. Finally, the idea that the community would all vote on whether some kids have access to bathrooms is not OK.

I’m guessing that her “it’s not enough to say that a student can self-identify” is an expression of concern that boys would declare themselves girls so that they could go into the girls’ locker room. That’s not how it works anywhere — your gender identity has to be consistently asserted. However, it fundamentally does come down to a student’s self-identification.

Anyway, I am concerned both about her stance here and how she arrived at it. In light of this, I’m just going to vote for the three DFL endorsees: Marny Xiong, Jeannie Foster, and
John Brodrick. (No rankings for School Board, you just check your three favorites.)



7 thoughts on “St. Paul School Board

  1. Quick note about Broderick and the “throw the bums out” sentiment – before the 2015 folks won, he was on the losing end of a looooooooooooot of 6-1 votes, and since then has been a part of the majority coalition.

    • That’s interesting, because when Keith Hardy was running without endorsement 2 years ago, the people campaigning for the Caucus for Change were all insisting that if he got re-elected there would still be a majority of the Old Guard on the board. So they were more than willing to throw Brodrick under the bus in 2015.

  2. Wait, CfC had mostly folded up shop by that point – that initiative was put together by SPFT, and they joined up/heavily funded the citywide DFL coordinated campaign after the endorsement. The teacher’s ran a paid canvass program but didn’t keep the moniker.

    For clarification: was that argument being put forward by the campaigns, or more like supporters on social media? I just don’t recall seeing that one much after the endorsement went down.

    Regardless, it’s pretty telling that Broderick was endorsed personally by all four of the folks elected in 2015 and by SPFT, and the remaining member of the former majority declined to run.

    • I was door-knocked by someone from the SPFT, who may have just been SPFT and not CfC at that point (but the CfC was clearly the SPFT behind a curtain anyway). I told him I was definitely voting for two of the challengers and was undecided between #3 and Keith Hardy. He was the one who made this argument. This was in September or October, well after endorsement but before the general election.

  3. Oh definitly – CfC held all their events out of SPFT spaces, had the same staff, etc. To their credit, they didn’t really try to hide it.

    Thanks for clarifying! I did a lot of work for the coordinated, and Broderick was never the target of our ire. We did have a talking point about 4 new members with a fresh start being empowered to work together as a team to alter policy (or something to that effect, it’s been a while). I can def see how that could morph into the message you described.

  4. Touhey’s website gives a bit more information. One thing she is interested in is opening health offices in the schools with under served populations so that they can access health care. She also is a proponent of communicating with families in their first language (hence her website with multiple languages). She has some good language about diversity and safety, mostly focused on the immigrant community. I got less of a stealth republican vibe from her website though had the same though. However, I have e-mailed her about her stance on transgender students; haven’t heard back as yet.

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