Election 2021: Saint Paul School Board

Saint Paul is having a school board election this year. There are four seats: three in the regular election for four-year terms, and one in a special election for a two-year term (this time because someone moved away). They’re being voted on separately. (They’re all on this year’s ballot, just to be clear, but there will be separate sections for the four-year seats and the two-year seat.)

On the ballot for the four-year seat:

Uriah Ward (DFL-endorsed)
Jennifer McPherson
Ryan Williams
Jim Vue
Halla Henderson (DFL-endorsed)
James Farnsworth

On the ballot for the special election (the two-year seat):

Jeannie Foster
Clayton Howatt (DFL-endorsed)

I am planning to vote for Jim Vue, Halla Henderson, and James Farnsworth in the regular election, Jeannie Foster in the special election.

In the regular election:

Neither Ryan Williams nor Jennifer McPherson is a candidate I’d pick. Ryan doesn’t have a campaign website, just a not-very-informative Facebook page, although he’s more active on Twitter. I sympathize strongly with Ryan’s desire to require students to be vaccinated against COVID but it would require an awful lot of digging to figure out what else he stands for and “having a website where you lay out your positions in an organized way” is kind of my minimum standard for candidates. Jennifer’s website has a list of grievances but not much of a plan for what she’d do. Both ran in 2019 and neither blew me away that year, either.

That leaves Halla, James, Jim, and Uriah, all of whom, honestly, look really pretty good.

Jim Vue is an incumbent; he was elected in a special election last year after Marny Xiong died of COVID. Jim pushed to require mandatory COVID vaccinations for teachers and staff, which I strongly approve of. Also: in January of 2021, there was a request to allocate some extra money to the superintendent’s staff, which Jim pushed back on. Almost everyone who runs for school board says that they’ll cut money from the administration if they’re pushed about how they’ll balance the budget, and then this almost never happens. I also tend to lean towards incumbents (unless I’m really annoyed at them) when it comes to the school board: this is a thankless job, you spend a lot of time getting yelled at, you’re paid almost nothing, and it’s really nice to have enough continuity/institutional memory that you don’t make the same mistakes over and over.

That leaves Halla, James, and Uriah. And again, all three of them look really pretty good.

I really appreciate the fact that James, on his website, talks about how incredibly traumatic COVID has been for kids. This is something that schools are going to be dealing with for years to come, and if we frame that solely as “getting kids caught up” we’ll be failing them. James is a young person of color who was adopted from foster care by two teachers, and his website also talks about outreach and inclusion towards young people experiencing homelessness. He’s a recent graduate (2016) and he was my pick in 2020. I still really like him.

Halla is also a young adult and a person of color, and works for a youth advocacy organization. If Saint Paul’s proposal to close under-enrolled schools is something that concerns you, Halla’s history in North Minneapolis informs her own reservations about the plan. She’d like to do exit interviews with families leaving the district (link goes to a set of profiles of all the candidates), and notes that the establishment of an online school helped boost enrollment by meeting a clear demand.

Uriah Ward is a slightly older young adult (like, late twenties instead of early twenties), a former teacher and a union organizer. I really appreciate his focus on mental health supports (that link goes to a questionnaire that everyone responded to), and that his website mentions comprehensive, consent-focused sex ed.

I like them all, but I think I like Jim, Halla, and James more than I like Uriah, so that’s who I’m planning to vote for. I think any three of those four is a reasonable choice; I would not recommend Jennifer or Ryan.

In the special election:

Jeannie Foster is an incumbent, but entered the race really late (too late to seek endorsement). I e-mailed to ask why she entered late, and ran for the 2-year- seat. She replied to say that she’d had some COVID-related issues that required her to prioritize her family for a while, and didn’t get into the race until she felt confident she’d be able to serve. She chose not to run for the four-year slot because Jim Vue hadn’t received DFL endorsement and she didn’t want to risk causing him to lose his seat: “He is a strong board member. Representation matters to me and with 1/3 of our students and families being of Asian decent, if is my belief we need to be intentional about selecting qualified, diverse representation.”

Clayton also looks like a good candidate (and received DFL endorsement) but I think Jeannie’s done a good job during a really difficult period of time and again, for school board races, if I’m not generally furious at the direction the board is going, I tend to err on the side of incumbents.


Did you know that I had a book released this April? Chaos on CatNet is a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and takes place in a future Minneapolis. Signed copies are usually available from Dreamhaven and from the current mail-order-only incarnation of Uncle Hugo’s. Books make great holiday gifts, but should be ordered early this year — Tubby & Coo’s bookstore explains why.

I do not have a Patreon or Ko-Fi, but you can make a donation to encourage my work! I get a lot of satisfaction watching fundraisers I highlight getting funded. Since this is one of just a few Saint Paul posts this year, I’m going to highlight some Saint Paul fundraisers:

Two science teachers at Washington Technology high school in St. Paul would like learning materials for their chemistry classes: one wants to buy glassware and microscopes, the other precision nanotech equipment that will allow students to “see how adding nanoparticles to a conductive solution affects voltage.”

Crossroads Elementary needs a large stock of disposable face masks. (This doesn’t seem like something you should have to fundraise for, does it? but apparently it is.)

And a Head Start teacher would like snowpants, mittens, and hats for her students to wear to play outside in the winter!

6 thoughts on “Election 2021: Saint Paul School Board

  1. What are your thoughts on Envision SPPS? I am not impressed at all so far with how Jeannie Foster interacted at the board meetings. I sometimes didn’t even know she was there. All the other board members had good questions. I’d be interested to hear where you thought she’d done a good job. I kind of felt she mostly went along with what the district said.

  2. For several years, up until a year ago or so, James Farnsworth was the admin of a Facebook page–Working for a Better SPPS–that routinely labelled white, female teachers as racists or white supremacists. James seemed fine with that many times, even while others objected. Is that the sort of person who would be great on the school board? Racism and misogyny should have no place in school governance.

    • I felt compelled to drop by and address this contextually inaccurate comment in the event folks see it and have questions.

      The issue at hand was two fold. Folks that have done it know firsthand: Facebook group admining is often an excruciating experience. I served as the sole admin of the Working For A Better SPPS Facebook group for several years because I believe in the importance of an organic engagement platform focused on school district issues that isn’t facilitated by district administration.

      There was a lot of passionate discussion that happened in the group about a variety of topics. One topic that was increasing in intensity and rich discussion as I left as the admin (due to my candidate status) was the issue of racial equity in the classroom. There were some folks in the group that were, in my opinion, respectfully yet directly and perhaps not always the most “eloquently” (I hate using that descriptor but am choosing it here to communicate a specific point) pointing out how white supremacy exists in our classrooms and public education systems. So, what the original commenter is describing here as “routinely labelled white, female teachers as racists or white supremacists.” is really taking out of context important and valuable (and sometimes uncomfortable for some) discussions that were happening in the group at the time. As the commenter here also says “James seemed fine with that many times, even while others objected. Is that the sort of person who would be great on the school board? Racism and misogyny should have no place in school governance.”, I couldn’t agree more that racism and misogyny should have absolutely no place in our school district. Period. As a multi-racial adoptee that is a product of Saint Paul Public Schools and someone who really cares about racial equity and identity issues from first hand experience, it’s offensive for someone to suggest otherwise, especially in a completely contextually inaccurate way.

      My apologies for the long comment. The racial and gender equity challenges we continue to face in our schools is of high important to me so I felt the need to address this. Thank you Naomi for your always insightful analysis of local elections. It’s much appreciated.

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