Election 2022: Minneapolis School Board At-Large Primary

There are two vacancies, and no incumbents are running. School Board member Josh Pauly (elected in 2018) resigned in March during the teacher’s strike and Cindy Booker was appointed to serve out his term; she is not running. Kimberly Caprini stepped aside when she was not endorsed by the DFL.

Here’s who’s running:

KerryJo Felder
Lisa Skjefte
Harley Meyer
Jaton White
Collin Beachy
Sonya Emerick

ETA 10/27 — I want to note this post was written in the primary season. I am working on a post for the general election and my recommendations will not be the same.

KerryJo Felder (DFL-endorsed).

While there are no incumbents running, KerryJo has served a previous term on the school board, as the representative for North Minneapolis; she lost to Sharon El-Amin in 2020. While on the board, KerryJo was a strong advocate for the Northside schools and opposed to the CDD (comprehensive district design), and in particular, opposed to pushing it forward at the beginning of the pandemic.

With the school board, I tend to have a bias in favor of incumbents who are running for re-election, because I’m pretty sure serving on the Minneapolis school board is one of the worst elected jobs out there — you work extremely long hours for very little money and part of your job is to listen politely when people show up to say that you hate children. And that was true before the right wing added “go to the nearest school board meeting, spew transphobia” to everyone’s to-do list. It’s an extremely hard, literally thankless job, and very few people want to do it more than once, which means chronic problems with a lack of institutional memory.

I have a generally favorable impression of KerryJo. She’s also endorsed by the DFL and by the teacher’s union. I would cast one of my votes for her.

Lisa Skjefte

Lisa Skjefte is a staff member at the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center and has been in the news for things like overseeing the Native Prom. However, she has no campaign website of any kind that I could find, and her Facebook page does not reference her candidacy in public posts. I think she considers herself to be running, but it’s unclear how I would find out more about her goals if elected. I would not vote for her.

Harley Meyer

Harley Meyer spent about a decade living in Thailand and teaching there; he developed a proprietary method for teaching ELL students English and (he says) for teaching high school algebra to second graders, and he is running for school board because he wants to put his personal research into practice in Minneapolis schools.

Do I sound skeptical? Here’s the thing: the vast majority of the time, when people think they’ve discovered an easily replicable magic to teaching kids some skill that’s typically hard-earned, they have not. I would also, honestly, really question the value of teaching high school algebra in elementary school. What elementary schoolers are often learning is a bunch of math-related skills that are in fact a lot more broadly useful than algebra: they’re learning arithmetic, fractions, decimals, all the foundational pieces that they’ll hopefully draw on for years to come to know why a sign offering something for “$2.33 each, or two for $5!” is funny. My older kid did an enrichment program with algebra in early elementary school that was pretty great, and that was something more kids should have access to, but it also wasn’t high school algebra, it didn’t replace Algebra 1 and 2 later on.

I sent everyone an e-mail about reading instruction (phonics vs. “balanced literacy,” basically) and got back a prompt response in which he expanded on his educational theories, which includes a dismissal of “the philosophical debate between ‘Whole Language’ v. ‘Balanced Literacy’ v. ‘Phonics'” as ” a debate created by textbook publishers to sell their materials. It has nothing to do with helping people to learn to read.”

Here’s the thing about curricula, basically just across the board: they kind of all suck but I really do see them as a necessary evil, because kids are not taught by one person from K through 8th grade, they get passed from teacher to teacher, and if you don’t have some sort of guide to what they cover when, important stuff get skipped or else taught over and over.

(Edited to clean up some stray text, and can I just say, I AM VERY FRUSTRATED WITH WORDPRESS THIS WEEK. ***heavy sigh***.)

little arithmetic, a little geometry and a little statistics, a little algebra, etc.

I kind of think Harley Meyer should write a book about his educational theories and approach, and sell it, because then people could try it out and see if they thought it worked well for other people or just for him. I do not think he should be elected to the Minneapolis school board, though, so I wouldn’t vote for him.

Jaton White

When I started this writeup Jaton’s website wasn’t working, so I did some Googling and turned up some news articles about the Northside Achievement Zone (she’s Director of Wellness). She now has a website up, but there isn’t a whole lot there. (A video that looks like it should have sound but does not, a couple of goals that suggest you can click for more info but nothing loads.) I would not vote for her.

Collin Beachy (DFL-endorsed)

Collin Beachy is one of the two candidates endorsed by the DFL (the other is KerryJo). He’s a special ed teacher who works at Transitions Plus (a school that helps students with significant disabilities with the transition to adulthood).

His “Why I’m Running” page is interesting, because it’s stuff I broadly agree with but a lot of it is teacher-centered. His first priority is doing an examination of why the strike happened and how to avoid a strike in the future. His second listed priority is “high expectations and clear goals,” but this doesn’t talk about goals regarding student achievement, this talks about getting money from the state. Third is “accountability and focus,” but I’ve read that set of bullet points three times and I’m still not sure what he actually wants to do. He mentions “vetting the flow of information coming from the administration” and “enacting more oversight of the administration and their cabinet” which honestly sounds to me like adding yet another layer of administration, this one to oversee the administration. The next point, “equitable programming,” is fine, as is “recruit and retain BIPOC staff.”

He genuinely strikes me as a lovely person, and maybe a teacher-centric perspective on the school board would add something we need post-strike? I like him, but I think right now he’s my #3. (You get two votes.)

Sonya Emerick

Sonya Emerick is the queer nonbinary autistic parent of a disabled child, and is on the MPS Special Education Advisory Council. Their website is fairly spare, but their Facebook and Twitter have more details on their priorities. I e-mailed everyone a question about reading instruction (phonics vs. “balanced literacy,” basically) and got back a prompt answer from Sonya that made it clear they (a) pay attention to the science, (b) know exactly which curricula use it, and (c) pay attention to the weaknesses of phonics-based curricula (“I do believe that [Science of Reading] informed methods need to be delivered in culturally sustaining ways, which requires thoughtfulness across instructional design, environments, materials, assessments, and requires actively recruiting educators of color and supporting and valuing those we already have. I also think increased partnership with families and communities around literacy would benefit some of the students facing real belief gap barriers at school.”) Anyway, I was impressed with their response and their knowledge about the issue I asked about, and I think MPS would benefit from having a school board representative with personal expertise on accessibility issues. I would vote for Sonya Emerick.

In addition to writing political commentary, I write science fiction and fantasy. My book that came out in April 2021, Chaos on CatNet, takes place in a future Minneapolis. It’s a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and signed copies of both books are usually available from Dreamhaven. You will also be able to get them from Uncle Hugo’s when it reopens at 2716 E 31st St! (and maybe by mail order now? I’m not sure how much mail order Don is doing while getting ready to re-open.)

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 (or, in the case of the Movement Voter fundraiser, continuing to raise money past their goal). I explained back in May why I’m fundraising for the Movement Voter PAC and that fundraiser is still active. (Also, I owe some embarrassing readings of my juvenalia to the Internet.)

I also went looking and found two DonorsChoose fundraisers for classrooms at Bethune Community School in North Minneapolis: math manipulatives for pre-K students (this is such a good idea) and a nice book organizer for a first-grade classroom where the shelving is coming apart.