Archive | NEWS

Living Word Church slider

From paper warehouse to a community hub

Posted on 09 November 2015 by Calvin

Living Word Church transforms warehouse into home for diverse businesses and organizations aimed at families


An old paper warehouse in the heart of the Midway is being transformed into a hub of community-oriented businesses.

The vision of Living Word Church and World Outreach Ministries is in the beginning stages, but church members, community residents, and business owners are excited by what’s happening at the old Banta Corp. building at 655 Fairview Ave. N.

The 329,000-square-foot facility currently houses the 400-member church (with its door off N. Prior Ave.) in 50,000 square feet, with plenty of room left over for community-oriented organizations. The six organizations currently housed there in 60,000 square feet include Network for the Development of Children of African Descent (see page 10), Spirit Taekwondo, Element Boxing and Fitness (see page 8), West Bank Music School, St. Paul Ballet (see page 9) and R.E.A.D After School & Summer Development Center.

APOSTLE & PASTOR ROSEThe vision of senior pastor Lesley Ford, Jr. and his wife, lead assistant pastor Rosella Ford, is a place in the city where the church can reach out and touch people within the community.

“Eventually, it will be the City of Hope, having anything that anyone in the city could need,” explained Living Word Church Administrative Assistant Sharon Ford, who is the pastors’ daughter. They envision a place that serves the community from birth to death.

“The space at 655 Fairview is rapidly becoming a model; a space for community building and communities,” remarked Network for the Development of Children of African Descent Executive Director Gevonee Ford, who is the son of Lesley and Rosella and the first tenant of the building.

Over the past three years, he’s watched additional organizations move in and bring their own energy and traffic. “They’re really connected to the community,” he remarked, “and it’s the community building community.” Gevonee is particularly excited to see adults modeling community building for children.

“I love the fact that all these businesses not only work toward the betterment of the individual, but also our surrounding communities,” observed Agnes Espino of Spirit Taekwondo. “Our businesses are in full support of each other while remaining independent.”

“We all serve young people in different ways to supplement their academic education and give them creative and physical enrichment,” remarked Lori Gleason of St. Paul Ballet.

“The synergy that I see and feel within my own business and other organizations here is one of those unexplainable beauties,” said Dalton Outlaw of Element Boxing and Fitness. “It’s everything that you would want from a community facility run by community people.”

Church moved in 2006
Living Word ChurchLiving Word Church purchased the block-long facility in 2005 and moved in the next year.

The church had outgrown its home once again.

It had started in 1983 with seven people meeting in a backyard. As it grew, it went from a community center to a small church facility at 205 Otis, and then later into the gymnasium next door. When they outgrew that, they sold that property and the parking lot across the street to purchase the large Banta paper warehouse.

Two other tenants include Murphy Warehouse and Plush Pumpkins.

The church’s Crocheting for a Cause group meets each Wednesday from 12:30-2:30pm. Members crochet blankets for vets, sew caps for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and give blankets to the Episcopal Home down the street. You can find out more at http://lwcwom.com.

Comments Off on From paper warehouse to a community hub

Boxing slider

Element Boxing and Fitness is for everyone

Posted on 09 November 2015 by Calvin


Photos by and © CAROLINE YANG (website: www.carolineyang.com)

ElementBoxingClass_photo (5)Element Boxing and Fitness at 655 Fairview is a fitness center for everyone, including those who want to box professionally and those who simply desire a place to workout.

One of the biggest benefits of boxing is discipline. “It’s only the disciplined individuals that pull through and achieve success,” observed owner and professional boxer Dalton Outlaw.

He knows from personal experience.

Boxing as his outlet
Outlaw grew up in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood. At age 8, he started boxing at a neighborhood boxing gym within walking distance from his home.

“Boxing quickly became my outlet as I grow up in an economically challenged community that didn’t offer much guidance or many positive male role models,” said Outlaw. “The local gym kept me busy and out of trouble. This time spent as a youth in the boxing gym eventually le d me to other sports such as football, where I eventually received a scholarship to Concordia Saint Paul.”

After earning his degree, Outlaw was hired full-time by a corporation, but quickly realized he wasn’t going to find fulfillment in a career selling and servicing products he didn’t believe in.

He decided to go into business for himself.

Element_Boxing_DaltonTeaching_photo 2As he closely watched the local boxing gyms he was involved in, Outlaw knew there was a need for a boxing gym, but he also knew he needed to do something different than they had in order to survive. And so he opened a gym in 2011 where people focus on exercise and health along with boxing.

Although the gym initially opened in a 1,200-square-foot basement on Prior Ave., it quickly grew into a state-of-the-art facility, one that breaks the stereotype of boxing gyms being in smelly basements with leaking pipes.

The move to 655 Fairview Ave. in 2013 provided the business with 8,500 square feet of open space, making it the largest boxing gym in St. Paul.

Delivery and respect
Element Boxing has over 1,400 square feet of field turf, a full competition boxing ring, and 22 heavy bags for punching and kicking, as well as professional strength training equipment for all levels.

“I think that our delivery and respect for the art of boxing sets us apart from not just other boxing gyms, but other health and sports clubs everywhere,” remarked Outlaw.

“We teach our classes and programs as certified experienced professionals. We have a large open space and clean atmosphere with lots of professional training equipment.”
Outlaw pointed out that roughly 90 percent of students come for the workouts, not because they want to be professional boxers.

Classes are structured and entertaining. Some members drive from outside of the Metro to experience classes, and a group of St. Paul police officers regularly train there.
The physical benefits of boxing are becoming healthier, stronger, and faster and achieving weight loss.

“We finish all workouts by yelling as loud as we can, at the top of our lungs, ‘hard work dedication,’” said Outlaw.

Outlaw partners with multiple independent trainers who use the space for their own fitness businesses, helping others achieve their dream of owning their own businesses.
“From that day I came over here, I have continued to pursue and promote more businesses and organizations that have similar missions to join me and the others here,” said Outlaw. “My role at 655 Fairview has been to continue promoting and developing this millennial community center with collaborative organizations that offer a variety of disciplines to help adults and children achieve developmental goals.”

Partnering with at-risk youth
Element works to be accessible to local families, in part thanks to the foundation he started, The Exercise and Health Foundation, that offers free and reduced programs and scholarships to qualifying youth.

ElementBoxing_photo 5The foundation works with the St. Paul Police Department and Ramsey County to offer programs that help troubled youth develop into productive young adults.
One teenager sticks out to Outlaw.

He was at-risk youth from a low-income family who joined the program through a referral program with the Ramsey County juvenile justice system.

“Through some resources and partnerships, I was able to get this kid into my gym and allow him the chance to have boxing be a part of and something he can call his own,” said Outlaw. “After a month in the gym and life away from the streets, he came up to me and said, ‘If I wasn’t at this gym, there’s only other one other place I could imagine I would be and that in jail.’

“This kid is still at my gym, has since joined my competitive boxing time and is developing more and more every day.”

Outlaw encourages people to stop by and visit the gym. “This is a community facility that is fit for everyone,” he said.

Comments Off on Element Boxing and Fitness is for everyone


St. Paul Ballet offers ‘unplugged’ experience

Posted on 09 November 2015 by Calvin

Three-in-one organization offers preprofessional dance training, dance classes for community members and professional dance company


The vision of St. Paul Ballet (SPB) is to lift the human spirit through the art of ballet.
SPB is a company of professional dancers, a pre-professional training program and a place for all members of the community to take dance classes.

ClassStretchPhoto right: SPB utilizes an artist-led organizational model for ballet companies. Now in its ninth year, this artist-led model gives Company dancers opportunities within the infrastructure of SPB to broaden their voice and build their careers in the arts. (Photo submitted)

It was established in 2002 when the St. Anthony School of Dance merged with the St. Anthony Performing Arts Guild located in the historic Grand Ave. “studios above the hardware store” where ballet has been taught for well over 60 years. In 2012, SPB was restructured under an artist-led business model. In 2014, SPB added the studios at 655 Fairview Ave. to more than double space for classes and rehearsals, according to St. Paul Ballet Executive Director Lori Gleason.

The 655 Fairview Ave. location also enables SPB to address socio-economic constraints and lack of cultural exposure to the arts by broadening its reach.

“I first walked into the Grand Ave. studio of the Andahazy School of Classical Ballet in 1978 (our current Grand location), and have stayed involved ever since serving in various ways including as a managing director, a student, a dancer, a parent and a board member,” said Gleason.

One of SPB’s board members was a foster child and credits the classes given to her by the Andahazy’s many years ago with giving her the passion and tools to create a successful, happy and fulfilling life. Now she would like to see others benefit from the same.

“Parents of young children tell us the dance classroom offers their children a place to experiment and be themselves without a right or wrong way to do things,” said Gleason. “It also is completely ‘unplugged’—no phones, television, video or other distractions.”

Benefits of ballet
Ballet is often the basis for many genres of dance. “Besides the obvious benefit of exercise it develops coordination, balance, self-confidence and more,” said Gleason.
Children learn to follow instructions, work in groups and perform before an audience. They gain a sense of their bodies and how to control them in motion.

“We have live accompaniment in all ballet and modern classes which is a must for training,” said Gleason.

Many of the SPB students are top academic students, and credit the focus and demands of ballet for their tenacity and capacity to take on difficult work.

“Ballet classes can also be a stress reliever. The concerns of the day drop away because it is nearly impossible to think of anything but the class,” remarked Gleason. “The exercise of the body reduces stress as the mind is consumed with the art.
“And who wouldn’t want to exercise to beautiful live music?”

Dance classes for professionals and community
SPB offers two programs that attract students of all ages, all levels of dance experience and body types.

More than 100 students participate in the pre-professional program that runs for a school year. There are six levels of training in the progressive ballet curriculum that builds the foundation for college-level programs, conservatory or a professional dance career.

SPB_twoDancersPhoto left: St. Paul Ballet is a company of professional dancers, a pre-professional training program and a place for all members of the community to take dance classes. SPB offers classes at two studio locations in St. Paul, one on Grand Ave. and one at 655 Fairview. (Photo submitted)

The drop-in program serves another 200 students of all ages through classes in music and movement for ages 4-6, beginning ballet for ages 7-11 and beginning and open ballet classes for teens and adults.

The unique “Take Back the Tutu” initiative promotes the ballet dancer as athlete and celebrates the unique body types of individuals. “You don’t have to look just one way to wear the tutu,” observed Gleason. Free, public, monthly conversations are led by health professionals on topics about healthy bodies and dance.

The school has the advantage of a close affiliation with the SPB Company members, and advanced students have opportunities to perform in productions with the professional dancers.

The School of SPB holds a residency for Great River School (1326 Energy Park Dr.), including two, 12-week sessions in fall and spring with on-site classes culminating in a performance of student work and SPB Company excerpts.

Professional company works full-time
The St. Paul Ballet Company is experiencing a rebirth under Artistic Director Zoé Emilie Henrot, with the guidance of Artistic Advisor Christina Onusko.

NicoleBrown_CompanyDancer_SnowPhoto left: “I believe any story can be told through dance, but only successfully if the eyes are present to complete the puzzle. The beauty of dance truly lies in the details. That’s real artistry,” said St. Paul Ballet Company dancer Nicole Brown. (Photo submitted)

The Company includes ten professional dancers, plus four apprentices. They perform a repertoire of classical and contemporary works, ranging from story ballets to works by local and national choreographers that explore new directions for ballet.

St. Paul Ballet recently performed at The O’Shaughnessy for the first time with its new Company, and the organization was happy to read the following review in the Star Tribune: “The October performance  ‘hit all the right marks, weaving an enchanting tale with a sense of wonder.’”

“It is quite rewarding after all of the hard work over the last three years to revive the organization,” Gleason observed.

SPB utilizes an artist-led organizational model for ballet companies. Now in its ninth year, this artist-led model gives Company dancers opportunities within the infrastructure of SPB to broaden their voice and build their careers in the arts.

“One of our apprentices to the company was told as a child that she would never be a dancer. At SPB she has been able to pursue her dreams and has excelled,” remarked Gleason.

The Company dancers rehearse and perform for audiences four times a year; participate in outreach activities such as Ballet Tuesdays; take professional classes and rehearse during the day, Monday to Friday for five hours, September to May; and work 3-6 hours a week on their administrative duties. Some of the dancers also teach classes in the school several times a week. All Company classes and rehearsals take place at 655 Fairview.

Holiday show planned
The third holiday production of “Clara’s Dream,” an abbreviated version of the classic “Nutcracker” created and premiered in 2013, will be performed at the Janet Wallace Mainstage Theater at Macalester College Dec. 17-20. This year’s extended run will feature enhanced costumes and new backdrops from scenic designer Anne Henly, funded by an Arts Activities grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. Tickets are on sale now at spballet.org.

Comments Off on St. Paul Ballet offers ‘unplugged’ experience

NdCAD slider

Non-profit encourages African American children and parents to connect with culture to build self-confidence needed for academic success

Posted on 09 November 2015 by Calvin


When children feel strongly connected to their culture, they do better in school, pointed out Gevonee Ford, whose 18-year-old non-profit provides a range of holistic services for children and families with the goal of connecting them to their African heritage and building towards academic success.

The Network for the Development of Children of African Descent (NdCAD) at 655 Fairview Ave. is a place where the African spirit is nurtured and renewed.

It is a place where African people come together to learn of and from themselves.

It is a place where people come to learn from their elders and children.

It is a place where they affirm their global family.

Family education center
105_0573The family education center in the Midway neighborhood offers a variety of literacy programs with a cultural component that leads to academic success and lifelong learning, according to Ford.

Photo left: Children select free, cultural books to keep during the NdCAD Saturday Book Giving Program that runs every Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. (Photo submitted)

Ford pointed out that research has shown that if children believe that they can learn, and if they understand the connection between literacy and culture, they will do better in school.

In 2012, Ford and NdCAD were recognized as a White House Champion of Change. The organization has also received the MLK Drum Majors of Service Award.

The vision for NdCAD emerged out of grassroots community organizing effort that took place from 1995 to 1997. Cultural Beginnings, a project of the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network, identified the need for building and strengthening connections within the black community. NdCAD was created to address the need for networking and community building.

DSC00017Photo right: Children participate in NdCAD’s annual summer literacy and cultural enrichment camp where children build reading skills and cultural awareness/knowledge. For example, children learn how African/African Americans have contributed to society and the world through science and technological invention,s as well as other intellectual and cultural contributions. (Photo submitted)

Founder Gevonee Ford remains the executive director, and has overseen the organization first in South Minneapolis, then North Minneapolis, and now the Como Midway. NdCAD was the first tenant in 2006 in the former paper warehouse owned by Living Word Church where Ford is a member.

“At each stage of NdCAD’s development,” Ford said, “the community has been involved in helping us to heal, learn and grow.”

The most important message NdCAD wants to share is that each person involved is “a part of a community that values and cares for them, and has expectations for them,” said Ford.

Since its inception, NdCAD has asked: “How do we heal, repair and strengthen the village so that the village can raise every child?”

Ford strongly believes that “each of us as community members have an opportunity to educate and develop our young people.”

Supporters include the Greater Twin Cities United Way, Saint Paul Children’s Collaborative, Ramsey County Workforce Solutions and St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, as well as individual donors. “Generous support from individuals and groups like these help make it possible for us to positively impact the lives of children and families,” said Ford.

Sankofa Reading Program
NdCAD offers a nine-week after-school program for struggling readers. The holistic approach of the Sankofa Reading Program “helps children make connections between knowledge of self and literacy,” said Ford.

The approach is working. Participants have been going up 2-5 reading levels.

DSC00028Photo left: Kindergarten to third graders participate in the Sankofa Reading Program offered at the NdCAD Educational Center in the Midway neighborhood. (Photo submitted)

“Most importantly, there is increased confidence in their ability to learn which translates into better school performance,” remarked Ford.

Last year, the program served 180 students throughout the metro area.

Parent power
Concurrently with each Sankofa session is a nine- or four-week Parent Power program. The program “helps parents make literacy and cultural identity connections,” said Ford. The group also talks about how parents can work with teachers and schools.

Parent Power is built on the principle that parents are a child’s first, primary, and life-long teacher. Everything parents do at home to advance literacy has long-term effects on preparing children for success in school and life.

Through Parent Power, participants begin to challenge self-doubt and begin to think critically about how they view themselves through the eyes of others; they recognize how their self-concept impacts how they parent and teach their children. Participants also begin to deconstruct myths about themselves, African people, and their community, making invisible systems of oppression visible. Together, parents gain a deeper understanding of their innate power to bring about change in themselves, schools, and community.

DSC00045Parent Power graduates stay in frequent contact with each other through NdCAD Nia Gatherings, which include monthly activities for parents and children. Through the gatherings, families build community together, parent-to-parent and family-to-family.

Photo right: Sankofa and Parent Power participants celebrate their achievements during a graduation. The community is invited to attend these events. Call 651.209.3355 for more information (Photo submitted)

Uhuru Youth Scholars
The Uhuru Youth Scholars Program offers high school students two full semesters of exploratory research experience, as well as the opportunity to earn high school and college credits.

Last year, the group focused on how the media and colonization impact how African American youth view themselves.

Students first design the project, conduct research, analyze results and present solutions. Learning these helpful skills translate into improved academic performance, and also provide students with skills for college.

“The idea is for them to take on the identity of scholars and researchers,” observed Ford.
Last year, students held focus groups in beauty salons, set up interviews with adults and youth and conducted research at several high schools.

Educator workshops
In addition to teaching, NdCAD never forgets that it is a learning organization. What it learns, it then shares with others.

NdCAD offers professional workshops for educators and others, with the goal of broadening the impact of what it has learned to increase children’s success.

Free books
Each Saturday, noon-2pm, NdCAD gives away new and gently used children’s books that focus on African culture, such as President Barack Obama’s, “Of Thee I Sing.”
Since 2001, they have put a half million books into the homes of children.

Many assume that all children have books in their homes, but that isn’t always true, pointed out Ford. Books are expensive.

“There’s nothing like when a child can pick a book, write his or her name in that book and say, ‘This is my book,’” remarked Ford. “It sends a profound message on the value the community places on children.”

Anyone who would like to donate books may drop them off at the NdCAD office between 10am-7pm Monday to Wednesday, 10am-5pm on Thursday and Friday, and noon-2pm on Saturday.

Comments Off on Non-profit encourages African American children and parents to connect with culture to build self-confidence needed for academic success

Soccer Ball In Grass

Minnesota United announces Midway is the chosen stadium site

Posted on 09 November 2015 by Calvin


Soccer Ball In GrassIt’s official: soccer is coming to the former Midway “bus barn” site. The announcement in October by Mayor Chris Coleman and Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire has a launched a flurry of community planning, as well as a continued debate over the pros and cons of pro soccer here.

One thing is for certain. Soccer will bring change to a part of the Midway that has been eyed for redevelopment since the 1980s. The 10-acre bus barn site and about 25 acres of land owned by Midway Center owner RK Midway/RD Management make up the “superblock” bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. Almost a dozen different ideas have been vetted for all or parts of the site, ranging from hotels and movie theaters to a home improvement retailer.

Applications closed in early November for a community task force that will spend the next several months debating issues around stadium development. Recommendations need to be in place before an anticipated May 2016 groundbreaking. Games would start in 2018.
Dozens of soccer fans packed an Oct. 23 press conference for the announcement, as McGuire and Coleman announced that they will work together to build an 18,500-seat stadium by 2018. They erupted into chants and cheers, lined up behind the mayor, McGuire, and elected officials.

“This is a very exciting opportunity to bring the world’s game to the state of Minnesota,” said Coleman. “I will guarantee you that there will be no better place for soccer than the Twin Cities, on this site.”

McGuire praised the site’s location and the potential for redevelopment there, citing its proximity to Green Line light rail and the proposed A Line Metro Transit bus line. He also cited its convenient freeway access.

RD Management will work with United Properties of Bloomington to work on redevelopment plans for its properties. While this isn’t formally part of the stadium plan, the two developers and soccer team are expected to work together. Shopping center ownership and United Properties representatives said they expect to announce a master plan in three to six months.

Several business owners were at the press conference, including the Applebaum family, owners of Big Top Liquors; MidPointe Event Center owner Marcy McHenry and several members of Midway Chamber. The Chamber, which recently passed a resolution in support of a stadium, has stated it “seeks to help engage the community throughout the design and development process to engage the community to ensure the voices of Midway businesses and residents are heard.”

For Big Top, redevelopment will mean working to make sure a new liquor store would meet the city’s separation requirements from other liquor stores. Other existing Midway Center businesses don’t face the same types or restrictions, but there is much speculation as to whether or not they will stay or go.

Area residents’ reactions range from excitement about soccer to concerns about noise, spillover parking into the neighborhood and losing businesses they use. The site is in the Union Park District Council (UPDC) area. That group has had a task force looking at Midway Center and bus barn development for several months. Eric Mohlo, who chairs the UPDC task force, said that while there is a lot of excitement about redevelopment, “we have a lot of issues that are unknowns. We don’t know what this will do to traffic and parking, and we don’t know about other long-term issues.”

Not everyone at the press conference was cheering. Ward Four City Council candidate Tom Goldstein handed out a 2007 Securities and Exchange Commission press release describing the $468 million settlement by McGuire of civil fraud charges related to a stock options backdating scheme. Others from the St. Paul Strong group, which is advocating for change and openness at City Hall, were also on hands to raise concerns about the proposal.

McGuire said the $120 million stadium would be built with private funds. The city, St. Paul Port Authority and bus barn site owner (Metropolitan Council) recently approved a pact to work together on a lease agreement for the property. City officials have said it’s likely the soccer stadium would be turned over to the city once it is built.

McGuire described the site as “ideal” and “iconic.” Details of what a stadium would look like haven’t been released.

While the team owners would cover stadium construction and any cost overruns, the city would be responsible for infrastructure such as streets and sewers.

One huge question mark is whether the 2016 Minnesota Legislature will sign off on the tax exemption the stadium needs. At a recent legislative forum, some state lawmakers said they don’t want to see the city lose out of its other needs, such as Local Government Aid or bonding requests if the tax exemption goes through.

There is also a need for the Federal Transit Administration to sign off on the new use for the 10-acre parcel, because of funds it provided years ago for the bus barn.

Another wrinkle is timing for Major League Soccer. The team is currently in the North American Soccer League, and would transition into the higher league. But if that happens before the 2017 season, the team would have to find an interim space.

Comments Off on Minnesota United announces Midway is the chosen stadium site

mkuchta slider

Como Community Council taps neighborhood resident as Director

Posted on 07 October 2015 by Calvin

Newly-hired Executive Director Michael Kuchta is excited to tap into energy in a neighborhood where people care


mkuchtaFifteen-year Como resident Michael Kuchta stepped into the role of District 10 Como Community Council Executive Director on Oct. 5, 2015.

After a month long application period, the District 10 Executive Committee examined each application submitted and conducted interviews. “We were immediately impressed by the experience and qualifications of Michael Kuchta,” stated Council Chair Ryan Flynn. “Michael has experience with multiple nonprofit organizations in various roles. He brings a deep understanding of community based organizing, communications, and project management.

“He has worked extensively with volunteers and community members to accomplish organizational goals, and we are thrilled to have him as a part of District 10.”

A great foundation to start with
Kuchta grew up in Chicago but moved to the Twin Cities area 16 years ago because it is where his wife, Katie, is from. The couple is on their second house in the neighborhood, slowly doing all the things you need to do to update an almost 70-year-old house.

“It’s a great location, it’s safe, it’s friendly, it’s human-scale,” observed Kuchta.

As they walk their dog, the Kuchtas have realized how often people are out in the neighborhood.
“You get to meet people, know people, see people taking care of their gardens, see kids playing, see people working on their houses,” he pointed out.

“People care about this neighborhood. They have expectations about the quality of life you can have here,” said Kuchta. “And that’s a great foundation to start with if you’re a district council. I think there’s an energy here that we can be part of.”

Although he’s lived in the neighborhood for 15 years, Kuchta acknowledges that there is much he has yet to learn about Como.

He owes it all to his bicycle
Bicycling got Kuchta involved in community action projects.

He is an avid cyclist who bikes a lot in the summer, commutes to work when he can, and even rides in the winter as long as the roads are clear.

“I was pretty active as St. Paul developed its new city bicycle plan. I really hope we can build that out because I think it’s a great way to connect neighborhoods and make neighborhoods much more people-centered,” stated Kuchta.

He serves on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the St. Paul Grand Round project.

“I really want to see the Grand Round develop so that we can have safe, efficient bike paths, and pedestrian paths, and bike lanes for people of all abilities,” he noted. “The Grand Round runs right through our neighborhood along Wheelock, through Como Park, then along Como Ave. past the Fairgrounds. So that could be a huge asset to the neighborhood if we can get it done.”

Constructive not obstructionist
Kuchta foresees two sets of challenges for the District 10 Community Council.

The first is at the city level, managing the ongoing budget problems the city of St. Paul always faces. Kuchta pointed out that the city’s finances impact city services and property taxes, which impact the quality of life in the city and its neighborhoods, and who wants to live in Como or who can afford to live there.

“That also limits the ability of the city and neighborhood groups and institutions and businesses to do things—sometimes relatively minor things that can make a big difference,” said Kuchta.
The second challenge is how the neighborhood reacts to change.

“Things are pretty decent in Como, so there’s a tendency to be skeptical of change,” remarked Kuchta. “But I think there’s a big difference if you perceive change is happening to you, or if you are part of making change happen. That’s where I think a strong district council and good community organizing can make a difference.”

Kuchta seeks ways to be constructive, not obstructionist—finding common goals and solutions rather than merely riling people up.

As an overwhelmingly residential neighborhood, the area is always balancing the positive and negative effects of the two huge institutions (the fairgrounds and Como Park) located within its borders.

“Keeping that balance takes a lot of energy and effort,” Kuchta observed.

Because of its layout, Como doesn’t have a neighborhood business district like others do, such as St. Anthony. Instead, businesses in Como tend to be on the edges of the neighborhood, or scattered in various places.

“Even though we have a nice neighborhood where it’s relatively easy to walk or bike, we don’t have that central gathering spot or spots that can unify a neighborhood or add a level of cohesion to a neighborhood,” said Kuchta.

“Are there ways to create that—and what role can the district council play?”

Listening and explaining complex issues
Kuchta believes he was selected as the Como Community Council Executive Director because the job requires communication skills, administrative skills, and community organizing skills—and he’s got all three.

Kuchta earned his bachelor of arts in journalism from Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill. He worked for daily newspapers for 15 years and was the editor of a business trade magazine for five years. Most recently, he has done communications work for labor unions in St. Paul, producing the twice-monthly St. Paul Union Advocate.

In addition to honing the typical journalism and administrative skills, Kuchta also fine-tuned the ability to listen.

This translates into the skill of being able to understand complex issues and then explain those issues in a way that people who are not experts can understand.

“Plus I’m pretty good at connecting dots and seeing where there might be common ground that isn’t always obvious,” remarked Kuchta.

Kuchta earned his master’s degree in Advocacy and Political Leadership from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and now teaches in the graduate-level program at Metropolitan State University.

His labor union background has taught him the ability to organize and connect people while advocating for better outcomes.

Kuchta has spent more than a decade serving on various boards, including Our Savior’s Community Services which provides emergency shelter and advanced housing services for more than 125 homeless adults, plus adult education and citizenship classes for 400 immigrants.
He co-founded the Twin Cities Labor Chorus in 2009 and served as its treasurer.

In the winter, when he’s not biking, he’s skating, cross-country skiing, and listening to a lot of hockey games.

Comments Off on Como Community Council taps neighborhood resident as Director

Yvonne Williams Slider Imaqe

Finding sustainable jobs that support impactful quality of life

Posted on 07 October 2015 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARIA A. HERD

Over 800 economically disadvantaged women received career development help last year from Dress For Success (DFS) Twin Cities, a nonprofit organization located at 1549 University Ave. W.
DFS has been suiting women for interviews and assisting them with job search and retention in Midway for five years.

“This is a great location,” said Program Manager Lily Ubbelohde. “We love how close we are to the light rail (Snelling Ave. Station), and we’re easily accessible off public transportation and from Minneapolis or St. Paul.”

The main mission of DFS is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women.
“We work with women across all industries, all fields, all levels; there isn’t a typical Dress for Success client,” said Ubbelohde. “We see women from 18-80, all racial backgrounds and all educational backgrounds.”

DFS, which has only four full time staff members and four contract staff members, really makes DFS a volunteer driven organization. works on a referral basis with over 180 partner organizations, including local homeless and domestic abuse shelters, the Department of Labor, and other government agencies and social services.

These organizations will often refer women seeking employment to DFS, and they in turn frequently refer women to other social services. The partnerships help DFS clients overcome barriers that could keep them from holding down a job such as a lack of shelter, food, child care or transportation.

“There are so many amazing community partners that are already doing phenomenal work,” said Ubbelohde. “We don’t want to be a one stop shop. We really want to do what we do, and do it well, while being sure that our clients are getting their needs met.”

Yvonne WilliamsSuiting Coordinator Yvonne Williams feels a strong connection to many of the women who come through the doors at DFS because of the hardships she overcame in her life, including teen pregnancy, depression, prostitution and drug abuse. “When I see them blossom while they’re here, well it’s very encouraging,” she said.

Photo left: Yvonne Williams formerly utilized Dress For Success’s services and is now employed full time as the Suiting Program Coordinator. She looks through donated suits to prepare for a suiting appointment with a client. (Photo by Maria A. Herd)

Williams first came to DFS as a temporary receptionist after being unemployed for eight years and struggling with mobility issues. She was placed in the position by a partner organization to be observed an office setting.

Williams loved the work and atmosphere at DFS so much that after her observation was over, she continued volunteering at the front desk for three years. Then through donation funding, Williams was hired on as a full-time employee last January.

Watching women come into their suiting appointments shy and intimidated, yet leaving happy andconfident, is her favorite part of the job.

“Seeing this transition in such a short amount of time and being able to help women in whatever their situation may be—being able to boost them up a little bit—brings tears,” said Williams.

Over 80 percent of DFS clients utilize its suiting program. At suiting appointments, women meet one-on-one with an image coach who helps them pick out a professional outfit and cure any jitters they might have about their interview or a new job.

“We’re preparing them to not only get ready on the outside for their new experience but so that they also feel ready on the inside,” said Ubbelohde.

Women preparing for an interview are suited head to toe with a pair of shoes, a handbag, and an outer jacket if necessary. If a woman is starting a new job, she is given a weeks worth of professional clothing to mix and match.

“The confidence level is really brought up when you’re wearing something that’s stylish and fits well,” said Molly, a DFS client, and volunteer. Her name has been in changed in this story for privacy reasons.

A dislocated worker, Molly has recently started her job search after being unemployed for several years. Back in the day she volunteered for five local food shelters and is now surprised to find herself seeking help from others.

“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be on the other side to receive instead of give.That is a heartbreaking thing to be the one on the other side, when I’ve always, always been on the giving end,” she said. But because of the ongoing support at DFS to find employment, “I feel very confident that it is not going to be for long.”

DFS is a volunteer driven organization. A third of their funding comes from individual support, one-third is corporate support, and the final third of the budget are grants. Over 300 people volunteer at DFS annually, and about 400 pounds of clothing are donated weekly.

Volunteer sortersVolunteer sorters go through the donations, looking for items that are fashionable and in good condition.

Photo right: Volunteer sorters inspect donations in the back room for items that are business appropriate and in good condition. (Photo by Maria A. Herd)

“My goal is that when our women walk into the waiting room for an interview, they can’t tell the difference between our women and anybody else who is interviewing for that position,” said Ubbelohde.

The sorters estimate that they keep about 25 percent of donated clothes, while the rest is re-donated to other organizations.

Everything from hair pieces to jewelry to undergarments is available for women in need.
“When we work with women as they are transitioning out of homelessness or fleeing a domestic abuse situation, sometimes they don’t always have a chance to pack an extra pair of underwear,” said Ubbelohde.

Although DFS is most well-known for its suits, Ubbelohde says it’s the career development programs that make the biggest difference in women’s lives. This is referred to in the hashtag “#beyeondthesuit”.

“We want people to understand we do so much more than suits. Suits are what get people in the door. But suits don’t get you a promotion, suits don’t help stabilize your life, suits don’t pay the bills,” she said.

About 40 women annually participate in DFS’s job search class called Going Places Network, referred to as GPN. The class meets twice a week for 10 weeks in downtown Minneapolis at business community parter offices and the DFS office in Midway. Women build self-esteem as well as interviewing, job searching, resume, and cover letter skills. Walmart Foundation sponsors the class through a grant.

On average participants have been unemployed for over a year, so getting them into the routine of attending classes and connecting with other women is impactful said Ubbelohde.

Holding half of the classes downtown also gives women experience maneuvering their way through the business world.

Molly said that the classes made her more comfortable with public transportation, allowing her to focus more on responses to a hiring manager’s questions.

“It dispels that nervous feeling so you can concentrate on what’s most important and keeping your chin up,” she said.

Molly also highlighted the unique social aspect of GPN. Sometimes women can be exclusive and competitive, “but here we are GPN sisters. We are all rooting for each other and praying for each other,” she said.

GPN gave Williams the confidence to overcome her criminal record barrier during her employment search. She explained that it’s better to be upfront about one’s criminal background and then turn it into a positive by demonstrating recent self-improvement.

DFS follows up with graduates 30, 60 and 90 days after the class is over. Within 90 days, 70 percent of GPN graduates have found employment.

“We’re especially proud of that statistic,” said Ubbelohde, noting that the DFS Twin Cities office has some of the highest numbers in the country for GPN.

The Professional Intelligence Initiative (PII) is another successful career development program at DFS. The 14-month job retention course was created a year ago specifically for the Twin Cities market by co-founder and CEO Jeri Quest.

Quest saw the need for a job-retention program because it was common for clients to cycle in and out of unemployment quickly.

The first six months consist of classes on time management, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and financial education to help women stabilize their lives and be successful at work.

Women also receive encouraging cards and notes from an anonymous “angel” to offer support. Then, each participant is partnered with a mentor—a business woman in the community who has 10 or more years of experience—to offer professional guidance for the last eight months of the course.

DFS holds graduation ceremonies for the graduates of their programs. Williams graduated from both the GPN course and the PII course. “You feel special, you’re given a little gift bag and certificate, and you walk away with the tools and confidence to continue your journey,” she said.

The third program at DFS is the Professional Women’s Group, which is more of a support network than a class. The group meets monthly for activities and speakers that cover topics from managing personal finances to eating healthy on a budget to laughter yoga. The women often bring their work problems to the group for advice, but also celebrate new jobs and promotions together. The Professional Women’s Group gives these women “the tools that they need to create social support in a way that social services can’t provide for them,” said Ubbelohde.

Molly believes that the ongoing support at DFS is what sets the organization apart from other services. “I have heard that this is something other programs lack,” she said. “For them, it’s something like there is this program for one day or five days, and then ‘bye you’re on your own.’”
But DFS works hard to provide its clients with tools that they can utilize when barriers arise and a supportive network to be successful.

Comments Off on Finding sustainable jobs that support impactful quality of life

IMG_0185 CMYK Cutout

ALLY People Solutions celebrates 50 years

Posted on 07 October 2015 by Calvin

ALLY brings the historic struggle for rights for people with disabilities into the mainstream


ALLY People Solutions, 1246 University Ave. W., has seen a lot of change since its inception 50 years ago when a group of determined mothers set out to change disability services for good.

ALLY began in 1965 as a parent effort to provide education and socialization to their children with intellectual disabilities. The group has since evolved into a broad network of career and life support services for the 285 adults who now participate in ALLY’s programs.

Today, the group serves as a powerful example of what long-term community engagement looks like.

“For 50 years, we’ve been helping create a genuine relationship between the individuals we serve, the community who supports them, and the businesses who employ them,” explains Erika Schwichtenberg, Director of Development and Communications for ALLY People Solutions.

Leading the way
ALLY’s been part of historic struggles for the rights of people with developmental disabilities.
At the time ALLY was founded, doctors and state officials regularly encouraged parents to institutionalize children with intellectual disabilities—sending the children to state hospitals, which kept residents in dehumanizing and abusive conditions.

ALLY (originally known as the Merriam Park Day Activity Center) revolutionized this approach. The original group of parents knew they wanted to provide socialization and recreation for their adult sons and daughters, who were normally isolated from their peers. Even more importantly, they were committed to building a culture that would treat their children as people, not as problems.

As the program developed, parents of participants shifted their focus to developing job skills. If their sons and daughters were going to live independently, they would first need the skills necessary to make a living wage.

To do this, the group—which by this point, in 1985, had grown to sixty-five participants—moved into the Midway neighborhood on University, and rebranded themselves as the Midway Training Services (MTS).

Participants worked both on-site and in local businesses. As former board member Mickey Michlitsch recalls, “There would be a staff trainer and five or six workers, and we had jobs at a window company and other companies, like machine companies, and direct mailing companies.”

As MTS developed, it took advantage of government funding for disability services, as well as new legislation prohibiting discrimination against those with disabilities. They pushed for more workplace integration—putting MTS participants at jobs alongside non-disabled workers—and acquired a fleet of vehicles to help participants get to their new jobs.

In the 2000s, the organization began focusing on digital imaging services—converting physical records to digital ones—which remains a mainstay of ALLY’s employment opportunities. As more participants joined the program, the group added new locations, expanding to five sites around the metro area.

Finally , in 2013, MTS adopted their new name, ALLY People Solutions, to better reflect their mission as Allies of those with disabilities.

Employment services
Today, ALLY provides a broad range of services. Their largest focus is on employment.
“We have our individual placements with fifty-two area businesses that hire our program participants,” Schwichtenberg explains. “We also have supported employment services, where a job coach is on the job with participants

The ALLY employment model is “person-centered,” meaning participants go through a discovery process to figure out what jobs or services would be most fulfilling to them. “We’re not just filling jobs or reporting numbers,” says Schwichtenberg, “we’re focusing on the individual’s needs and employment goals.”

To provide this level of service, ALLY employs about 70 staff members, as well as a team of volunteers, who aid individuals and families in discovering the services that are available to them, and opportunities that best fit goals, skills, and desires of program participants.

ALLY also sets itself apart by ensuring higher wages for its participants. Organizations that provide employment services for people with disabilities are allowed to apply for a Special Minimum Wage Certificate, which permits them to pay disabled employee workers less than minimum wage. For the last three years, ALLY has refused this exemption, meaning that all participants in ALLY’s programs earn minimum wage or above.

Creative touch
ALLY also provides a variety of life skills services to participants, including self-advocacy training, volunteer opportunities, counseling, and recreational programs.

One ALLY participant has enjoyed particular success because of the recreational programs. ALLY participant Tony Harold-Pappas, who has been with ALLY for three years, found his artistic calling through one of the painting programs.

After taking his first class, Harold-Pappas knew he had found his passion. Since then, he has been constantly painting and has sold so many paintings that he says he can’t keep track of them. In January, he achieved a major artistic milestone when the Ordway chose him as a featured artist in a month-long exhibit.

For Harold-Pappas, the experience is therapeutic as well as recreational. “Painting is an outlet for me,” he explains, “so if I have something building up inside me, I can paint instead of doing something destructive.”

He reflects on his work with pride. “It’s a joy every time I see my paintings,” says Harold-Pappas. “I’m proud of what I’ve done, and how far I’ve come.”

Looking forward
As it passes the fifty-year mark, Schwichtenberg says that ALLY is going to continue supporting and removing barriers for people with disabilities. “We’ve seen a lot in our fifty years. Before, it felt at times as if we would take a few steps forward and one step back. Now we’re ready for a renewed growth phase, and ready to engage the community we’ve worked to co-create.”

In addition to providing its normal host of services, ALLY will look to expand in a few ways. According to their strategic mission for the next three years, ALLY is committed to increasing collaboration with other organizations, while also increasing revenue. They will expand their education and advocacy efforts, and finally look to formalize a volunteer program for other people looking to get involved in ALLY’s work.

Comments Off on ALLY People Solutions celebrates 50 years

Dai Thao

Competition brewing in all local city council races

Posted on 07 October 2015 by Calvin


The upcoming election Nov. 3 for city council will offer some competitive races in Wards 1, 4 and 5. Incumbents were asked by the Monitor what their greatest accomplishments were, and new candidates were asked why they chose to run. All candidates were asked about the greatest challenges facing the council, what issues they would like to work on, any specific problems in their Wards and their thoughts about the extended use of parking meters in St. Paul. All who had filed as candidates were contacted.


Mohamed Said is reportedly running as a write-in candidate for Ward 1 and had not filed. Trahern Crews, also a candidate for Ward 1, did not respond by the deadline for this article.

Dai ThaoDAI THAO was elected two years ago to complete the term of Melvin Carter III, who resigned as a Ward 1 council member to take a job in state education. Thao became the first Hmong-American elected to the St. Paul City Council.

Thao, 40, lives in the Frogtown neighborhood and is an IT manager for the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery.

“In my two years, I’m proud to have focused legislation on social justice, affordable housing, road and pedestrian safety, and parks and green spaces,” Thao said. “We formalized a Sister City agreement between our city and the city of Djibouti, approved Paid Parental Leave, secured pool vouchers for low-income youth and supported the Women’s Economic Security Act, ensuring all women contractors are paid the same as men.”

Thao said he also increased local efforts to support women and minority-owned businesses, declared Indigenous People’s Day, passed Responsible Banking Ordinance and limited the tobacco industry from targeting youth with the Single Cigar ordinance.

Thao said he supported police body-worn cameras to strengthen community relations, passed the citywide bike plan and supported the implementation projects within Ward 1. He worked on completing sidewalk projects, supported community gardens and farmer’s markets on city-owned lots, brought in over $12 million to rehab, maintain and create affordable single family and multi-family housing. Thao said he got more green space on Griggs, Little Mekong Plaza, Rondo Commemorative Plaza and helped complete Frogtown Parks and Farms.

“Our challenges are all so interconnected that we need to work across our differences and see that even though we have different histories, we share a common destiny,” Thao explained. “We need access to good paying jobs and affordable housing. We need to create safe and vibrant neighborhoods and commercial districts, all of which connect all of us to doing better together,”
Thao said there remained a lot of work to do to create a strong tax base to meet the demand of city services. “We need to maintain a good mixed housing stock of market rate, senior and affordable housing to prevent gentrification,” he said.

Implementing racial equity tools into city policy and budget, making city services more accessible and streamlined, creating jobs for youth and positive after-school programs for kids are also areas

Thao would like to work on if re-elected. He would like to see better use of city resources and dollars, an increase in the minimum wage and earned sick and safe time.

Thao said specific problems of concern in Ward 1 are jobs and economic development, equity and education, public safety, and affordable housing.

“I am undecided on the expansion of parking meters in business corridors and commercial districts,” Thao said. “I do think that the parking policy in downtown needs to be flexible and adaptive to the current demand.”


Russ StarkIn Ward 4, RUSS STARK, 42, who lives in the Hamline Midway area and is the City Council president, is running for re-election.

Stark cites numerous accomplishments during his time in office. He ensured the Green Line included high-quality streetscape, that businesses were supported during construction, and that walkable, mixed-income and mixed-use urban environments are created around the stations. He worked to maintain high-quality services despite flat or shrinking budgets, including preventing the closure of Hamline-Midway Library and restoring weeknight library hours.

Stark authored the City’s Complete Streets Policy and sponsored the City’s Green Building Policy and the Urban Agriculture Amendments to City Zoning.

“I championed the City’s new Bicycle Plan and the creation of the 8/80 Vitality Initiative and insisted on the inclusion of affordable units in housing developments seeking the use of Tax Increment Financing,” Stark stated. Other accomplishments were creating the Como Regional Park Advisory Committee, sponsoring the Student Housing Overlay Zone and supporting improvements to major streets in Ward 4 to make them more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

Addressing challenges facing the City Council, Stark said, “We need consistent, long-term financing sources for the maintenance of our aging infrastructure. We need to continue to innovate to tackle racial disparities in St. Paul. We need to keep making our city more sustainable, and we have to keep investing in our commercial corridors to attract and create new job and business opportunities and new housing options.”

Stark said he would like to see the continued momentum of the success of the Green Line with additional planning and investments in new transitways. “The Riverview Corridor connecting the airport and the Mall of America to downtown St. Paul is a top priority among many transitways being planned,” Stark added.

Stark added that he would like to focus more resources on reducing racial disparities in the community and continue progress toward improvements to the city’s solid waste systems.
Regarding Ward 4, Stark sees a continuous need to strengthen and improve relationships between the large institutions and the neighborhoods that surround them, including the University of St. Thomas, Hamline University and Como Park.

“Just outside the Ward, we must focus attention on the redevelopment of the Snelling ‘Bus Barn’ site, whether or not the proposed MLS Soccer Stadium is built,” Stark explained. He said the Green Line, while improving livability in many ways, has made it more difficult for semi-trucks to navigate around the community. “We need to focus resources on creating new truck routes that will minimize their use of residential streets,” he added.

Stark considers parking meters as a tool to better manage parking and maximize the benefits of a major public asset—the space in our streets. “The expanded hours for meters in downtown St. Paul are sensible to encourage turnover of parking for businesses that rely on short-term parking being available. Parking meters may also make sense in some neighborhood commercial districts where parking demand is very high, such as Grand Ave. and the Selby/Western area,” Stark stated.

Tom GoldsteinThe other candidate in Ward 4 is TOM GOLDSTEIN, 58, a lawyer by training who lives in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood.

Goldstein said there were a number of things that spurred his decision to run for the Council. “During light rail construction, the city and our council member did little to prevent the project from harming existing businesses along University Ave.—and the minimal funding that was appropriated to cover business losses came too late and with too many strings attached to make it effective,” Goldstein said. “Meanwhile, the city seems to have no shortage of funds when it comes to subsidizing downtown condo projects or stadiums. In recent months, my opponent has voted to award Comcast a no-bid contract to manage the city’s internal Internet network while doing nothing to leverage customer service improvements for the public or address the digital divide; sponsored a resolution to reduce parkland/green space requirements for developers and been unwilling to aggressively oppose teardowns that have negatively impacted several blocks in Ward 4.”

“Imagine where we could be as a city if we focused on sustainable development practices, realized the potential in our parks, lakes and riverfront amenities, and repaired our long-neglected infrastructure.”

“We need an advocate in Ward 4 who will put people before politics and leaders who will insist on accountability and transparency rather than pay lip service to citizen concerns. That’s why I’m running for City Council,” Goldstein explained.

Regarding challenges to be addressed, Goldstein said the most recent data gathered by the Wilder Foundation shows St. Paul has a poverty rate of 24%, with 67,000 individuals living below the poverty line, including 25,000 children.

He said the quickest way to build wealth and prosperity in a community is through job creation. “Instead of figuring out how we’re going to create the thousands of livable wage jobs we need to grow our tax base and help lift people out of poverty, our City Council remains fixated on tax subsidies and corporate giveaways that only serve to increase the burden on everyone else.”

Goldstein said that if St. Paul is going to compete in the 21st century, the city needs a bold, sustainable vision that includes greater educational opportunities; multiple affordable housing options; proper maintenance of roads, bridges and sewer system; expanded recreational amenities and green space and investments in the kind of technological innovations that will attract the companies and entrepreneurs creating the high-paying jobs of tomorrow.

For St. Paul to thrive, Goldstein said the opportunities for entrepreneurs and startups to succeed must dramatically improve. He suggests starting an Office of Enterprise Development that encourages businesses to locate to St. Paul, identifies barriers in making that happen, and provides technical assistance to new ventures.

“As part of that effort, we need to explore ways to make affordable, universal, high-speed Internet a reality for everyone in St. Paul,” Goldstein noted. “We also need to extend the livable wage ordinance to all St. Paul employers with exemptions for small businesses and start-ups,” Goldstein said he would push to leverage city resources that maximize educational outcomes for children, primarily by encouraging businesses and nonprofits to partner with local schools and provide adult mentors. He added that there is a need for fairer tax policies and changes in the zoning code that will stop senseless teardowns and curtail the growing boom in ‘McMansions.’

To achieve these goals, Goldstein emphasizes the need for complete transparency in local government. “I will advocate for the hiring of an independent City Auditor who would regularly evaluate city programs and departments for their effectiveness so that we can have an honest appraisal of how the city is performing from one year to the next,” he said. He added that the city must also take care of neighborhood amenities.

Goldstein cites the pursuit of a soccer stadium on the old Bus Barn site is of particular concern in Ward 4. “St. Paul just completed building a new ballpark for the Saints that involved nearly $7 million of public funding, handed all the stadium revenues to the team for a mere $2.5 million up-front investment, and now the city is faced with a $10 million deficit this budget cycle,” Goldstein said.

He suggested that a tech hub for the medical device industry, a St. Paul equivalent of the Midtown Global Market or a version of The Shops at West End entertainment complex in St. Louis Park would be a better choice for the Midway.

“Additionally, we have a golden opportunity in Ward 4 to address the digital divide in our community by piloting an all-fiber network along Snelling Ave. or as part of the Green Line along University Ave.,” Goldstein noted.

He said that as a former business owner on Grand Ave., he is particularly concerned that expanding parking meters is more about raising city revenues than addressing a specific problem.

“If there are areas in the city where parking is clearly a problem, utilizing parking districts or other means to ensure turnover of parking spaces may be appropriate,” Goldstein said. “But moving forward on a proposal without seeking feedback from taxpayers is exactly the kind of practice that I would work to stop as a council member.”


Amy BrendmoenAMY BRENDMOEN, 45, is the incumbent council member in Ward 5, covering Como, the North End, Payne-Phalen and Railroad Island.

She said that she has been very accessible to the community by having bi-monthly community office hours, authentic involvement in her diverse neighborhoods, taking “Lake Laps’ with constituents, managing an active and responsive social media presence, and having a very high-quality Ward 5 staff.

“Community members have led the way and helped shape projects 30 years in the making. We have also been able to create immediate change, sometimes in the span of a business day,” she said. “On a weekly basis, someone takes the time to tell me that they feel heard. And that’s a pretty cool thing.”

Brendmoen said that in partnership with the community, she was able to facilitate a long overdue district council boundary change. “I helped increase services and programming at the Como Lakeside Pavilion, not to mention 79 new jobs,” she said. “We will see 12 new single-family homes on a city-owned land on Maryland Ave. that will bring new homeowners and investment in the North End. I helped to ensure the preservation of the affordable senior housing building ‘Como by the Lake’, and I directed resources to create a plan to reignite the oft-overlooked Railroad Island neighborhood. I followed up by delivering significant funds to begin the execution of said plan.”

Brendmoen said that as the chair of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, she has worked well with her fellow council members to stabilize home prices in many neighborhoods through targeted investments.

According to Brendmoen, St. Paul is on the right track. She said it is crucial that the city continue rebuilding all that was lost during nearly a decade of recession. “This means ensuring our city workforce is fully restored, and overdue maintenance projects are re-prioritized,” she stated. “It means addressing the stark inequity seen from one neighborhood to the next so that all may share in the fruits of our recovery.”

Brendmoen said the greatest challenge St. Paul faces is its wholly inadequate state funding under Local Government Aid, and the absence of a meaningful state transportation funding plan that recognizes the responsibility of the State to equitably fund heavily utilized inner city street and bridge infrastructure.

“Compounding the State not holding up its end of the deal, St. Paul also has 1/3 of its parcels off of the tax rolls due to the large number of churches, parks, schools, hospitals, nonprofits, government buildings and private colleges as the state’s capitol city. Balancing the very real need for maintenance investment against important new projects critically timed to draw in both retiree and millennial residents is incredibly challenging,” Brendmoen explained.

Brendmoen said that an underlying and deep concern of hers remains the method in which city services are delivered. “So much of our work is driven by complaints made directly by residents,” she stated. “This approach can be very effective for people and neighborhoods that actively report problems, concerns or suspicious activity. But in areas where neighbors are struggling just managing their own daily lives or where residents may not speak English as their first language, I can see a visible difference in how that area is served.”

A more organized, intentional system of scheduled service-delivery would help provide balance and equity in how services are delivered across the city and Ward 5, Brendmoen believes.

She said Ward 5 still needs more jobs and economic development dollars. “We have a ready workforce ready for action,” she said. “In addition, we need housing that is affordable, dignified and adding value to our community.”

Brendmoen said she would like to continue livability work in St. Paul by continuing to support multi-modal transportation projects and the development of beautiful parks and neighborhood amenities that make public spaces attractive for residents and employers.

“St. Paul has made significant investments in the downtown core, and there is so much action in our city,” Brendmoen said. “It is thrilling to visit downtown in the evening these days. The parking study took a long look at our downtown parking. I believe the recommendation to expand parking meter times and rates was thoughtful, and I support that change. I am also glad that our new technology allows us to adjust meters as appropriate.”

David Glass (2)DAVID GLASS is a business owner whose office is in the North End neighborhood and whose home is in the Como area. He and his wife Pam are former 3Mers and were co-owners of Black Bear Crossings since 1996.

Glass is running for Ward 5 council member, and he is endorsed by the Minnesota Young DFL, Saint Paul Indians in Action and the St. Paul Police Federation. “I’m told this is the first time the police have pulled its endorsement from an incumbent and given it to the challenger,” he said.
He is active on numerous nonprofit boards, including Minnesota Housing Partnership, Ain Dah Ung Center, National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media and the American Indian Chamber of Commerce.

Glass said he chose to run because he is concerned with cost overruns on the Green Line rail project and CHS stadium project, the lack of commitment to economic development on the East Side and North End, struggles for absentee housing, support of recreation centers and libraries and effective implementation of community policing.

“I am committed to honesty, open transparency, good business ethics, better city services and better neighborhoods,” he said. “I’ve seen a pattern of decision-making by our current city council member that has ignored neighborhood interests and good management practices.”
Glass said the greatest challenge to the city council is to put neighborhoods first.

“Walk with me on Front St., Wheelock Pkwy,, Dale St., Rice St. and Edgerton,” he commented. “Most of the neighbors I have talked to who live on these streets or have businesses have not been engaged during the past three years.”

He said decisions about bike lanes, parking meters, community policing, recreation center programming, relationships with schools, neighborhood housing and street maintenance are all helped by effective neighborhood interaction.

Glass said, if elected, he would like to be a good neighborhood liaison on issues like problem drug houses, unrepaired roads, traffic hazards, safety hazards, new business start-ups and noise issues.
“I would publicize our budget and budget changes, so that the neighborhood can see where our spending priorities really are,” he noted. “I would use my city council vote and influence to ensure that the basics like safety, street repair, more plowing and recreation centers are funded first.”

Glass stated he would identify a real business plan to fix the city’s infrastructure, starting with streets, and understand how amenities are added where they make sense.

“I would ensure that our city government is transparent and accountable,” he said. “Currently we find out about decisions made if the news or print media decide to report on them, if they even get the information.” Hes said meetings on Wednesday afternoons at 2:30pm are closed to public discourse, and consent agendas hide important issues affecting our communities and neighborhoods.

Glass said he would find ways to develop an effective housing plan for St. Paul. “Foreclosed houses should be going into homeownership programs through the city partnering with many nonprofit groups,” Glass said. “The current city council person could be doing much more to encourage home ownership instead of just selling homes into the rental market.”

Glass claimed he would promote the diverse ethnic, cultural events of Ward 5 and all of St. Paul. He would also reach out to local media and the neighborhood through a Ward 5 newsletter that fully covers relevant neighborhood issues.

Regarding specific concerns in Ward 5, Glass said that while areas like Grand Ave., 7th St., Selby and Payne avenues are experiencing a renaissance and renewed prosperity due to efforts by their local city council people, Rice St., Dale St. and Maryland Ave. have been neglected for years. “Our current Ward 5 city council person has spent over a million dollars to add a bar to our previously family-friendly Como Lake while other areas have been ignored,” Glass stated.

He said that as a city council person he will bring the economic development and business knowledge, skills and commitment to bring renewal and prosperity to Rice, Dale, Maryland and all of Ward 5.

Glass said he would be a strong advocate for community policing. “My already active good relationship with local police resulted in the endorsement by the St. Paul Police,” he added.
“Neighbors throughout Ward 5 are telling me that the city has left them out of decision-making and communication loops on removing trees, installing bike lanes, new assessments, expensive art projects, changing zoning rules and more,” Glass said. “The absence of our current city council person at doors, district council meetings and events has been noted. I intend to be very active and present in the neighborhood.”

Glass expressed concern about the rec centers, stating there is not enough rec equipment. “Our Sylvan and Front Rec Centers were torn down and replaced with restrooms,” he said. “The warm-up rooms, gyms, indoor activities and supportive, caring adults are all gone. Our rec centers need to be people-staffed centers with activities, not just a few fields.”

Glass explained that advocating for neighborhoods has to go beyond city hall. “We need an active city council person who will also advocate at the state and city level as well,” he said. “Active advocacy goes even further. Railroad safety has become a significant neighborhood issue.” Glass stressed that railroads are running longer trains of 100 cars, running contents of crude oil through neighborhoods, running during all hours of the day and night.

“We should be holding neighborhood meetings not to alarm neighbors but to remind them of what we should do if there is an accident and advocate for additional safety measures,” Glass said.

“Budgeting new parking fees for many neighborhoods that previously have not had parking fees without neighborhood input is one more example of why we need a new city council member in Ward 5,” Glass said. “Neighborhoods should be first in budget spending priorities, not the first to be tapped for more funds. Parking fees would provide another reason for people to go to free-parking malls instead of local businesses.”

David Sullivan-NightengaleDAVID JAMES SULLIVAN-NIGHTENGALE, 41, has been a safety engineer for almost 15 years after having served in the US Army. He lives in the North End neighborhood and is the other candidate from Ward 5.

“Safety issues in my neighborhood and within the city have gone unmitigated for years,” he said. “As a safety professional I can contribute best as a council member.”

Sullivan-Nightengale said, “We are the least represented of the citizens of Minnesota’s biggest cities, about one council member for every 42,000 citizens. We need to increase the number of elected representatives to reflect our diversity,” he said. “We need affordable housing with good paying and stable jobs. We need to run the city like successful and responsible large businesses including best practices such as kaizen, lean, and quality and safety management systems to provide our citizens with on-time and on-budget products and services.”

Sullivan-Nightengale said the issues he would most like to work on if elected are those involving safety, design of infrastructure and quality of services.

Regarding Ward 5, he sees specific concerns as being public education, traffic safety, street maintenance and affordable housing. “These are just a few of the things my neighbors are really fired up about,” Sullivan-Nightengale noted.  “We also have the high hazard trains coming through areas within Ward 5 that could kill many people if there was a derailment and fire.”

Sullivan-Nightengale said he would expect expansion of parking meters more in a downtown where you have to pay for parking anyway, rather than on Grand Ave.

“I don’t want to turn St. Paul into Minneapolis, where you have to pay to park just to go for a walk in the park or shop at local businesses,” Sullivan-Nightengale said. “I saw more people enjoying Minneapolis parks before the meters. We don’t want to discourage people from shopping at our small businesses.”

Comments Off on Competition brewing in all local city council races

Zuki Ellis

School Board election draws full slate of choices

Posted on 07 October 2015 by Calvin


The Nov. 3rd election is approaching, and a full slate of candidates is running for four at-large positions on the Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) school board. The candidates who filed for election were contacted by the Monitor. One of those candidates, Aaron Benner, has since decided not to run. Rashad Turner is a write-in candidate who did not file.

Greg CopelandGreg Copeland
Greg Copeland, 63, is a long-time resident of the East Side’s Payne Ave. neighborhood. He is a retired newspaper reporter, grant writer, nonprofit adult and youth job training program director, a community action agency administrator, and was Maplewood city manager. He also served as caregiver and health care advocate for his wife Betty for 16 years following a disabling on-the-job auto crash.

Copeland strongly believes a new superintendent needs to be hired. “We cannot afford to wait any longer if our SPPS district’s record of educational failure over the last five years is to be turned around,” he said.

“The incumbent school board absolutely ignored the scope of Supt. Valeria Silva’s failure to make any reasonable academic progress over the last five years, especially in closing the achievement gap. The 2015 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) Math student proficiency gap between White students and Blacks was 37%; with Hispanics 31%, American Indians 33% and Asians had a 9% gap with White students. Reading results for the 2015 MCAs had the gap between White and Black students at 33%, 31% with Hispanics, with American Indians 29% and Asians at 13%,” said Copeland.

Copeland said St. Paul students deserve better than a school system of big financial favors for the insiders in the administration, while rank and file teachers and classroom aides get layoff notices, and property taxpayers get asked to pay yet higher taxes for less academic achievement. Copeland said that voters need to realize this is a non-partisan election for an independent school district. “Voters need to elect only those candidates pledged to carry out the needed leadership and policy changes after the election,” he stated.

Copeland said he is an independent thinker who is unafraid of making institutional change. “I believe that in choosing democracy and self-government we have accepted that there is inherently controversy as we decide together to leave past failures behind, learn what we can from them, and agree to start anew for a future we choose to improve for both our family and our community,” Copland noted.

Copeland cited several school programs that he considers system failures and would like to end. He said these include: mainstreaming of Special Education students with behavioral and emotional challenges that led to needless disruption of classes for students and faculty; unilaterally placing English Language Learners in regular classrooms without respect to cultural preferences and individual readiness; and rigid adherence to a centralized top-down system that has robbed children and their teachers of exercising creativity, variation and initiative in the classroom.

Regarding the achievement gap, Copeland said that every student needs an individual education plan to eliminate it. “To keep them current we need to hire a lot more guidance counselors,” Copeland said. “In today’s complex fast moving world every student can benefit from an education plan and later a vocational, college or career plan that we update as they grow, and their interests take shape.”

Copeland said the funds for hiring more guidance personnel would come from setting new priorities for spending limited funds. He suggested elimination of programs like the Pacific Education Group race training and reducing staff travel outside the state, except that earned by bringing tax dollars back from the federal and state governments in the form of grant contracts to support new priorities. He also suggested reducing central administration and reorganizing district support staff and functions to strengthen schools.

Copeland said only 48% of General Fund dollars are currently going directly into classrooms. “My focus will be to spend more dollars than ever before on direct student instruction.”

Developing legislative policy with state lawmakers and state and federal agencies to improve district budgets is a goal of Copeland’s. He also proposes going to single member districts and using the seven city council wards to apportion representation fairly on the school board. He would like to see board meetings held twice a month in regular public sessions.

“All board meetings should be broadcast on cable TV, as should all advisory bodies appointed by the board of education. Transparency is required, not optional,” he noted.

Zuki EllisZuki Ellis
Zuki Ellis, 41, is a parent trainer for St. Paul Federation of Teachers’ Parent Teacher Home Visit Project. She lives in the Summit-University neighborhood.

Ellis said she decided to run for school board because she feels that the current board is not acknowledging or listening to the concerns of families and the community. “I’ve been an advocate, organizer and an ally for our teachers and our support staff within the district, and I know the power of listening to students, the community, parents and teachers and how beneficial it can be for everyone when all parties have a seat at the table,” she said.

Ellis said that working with the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, PTO and site councils for years has given her lots of experience working closely with educators, students and families. “I hope to leverage these community ties to keep the district communicating better with the community,” she noted.

Ellis claimed the largest issues facing the school board are improving communication and transparency within the district, so parents, teachers and students all feel as if they have a seat at the table. “Beyond that, we need to work on closing the opportunity gap,” she added.

Ellis said there isn’t a single simple answer to the problem of the achievement gap. “It’ll be a long process to address this,” she said. “As an initial improvement I’m passionate about, we need to be better about keeping strong levels of support staff in our schools. Staff like social workers, nurses and teachers’ assistants often provide the most support to students who are falling the furthest behind. While their work is critical for all students, disenfranchised students are hurt by their absence the most, and we need to see support staff in that light.”

Ellis’ biggest goal is making sure more groups in the district feel they have a seat at the table, and that the district is communicating and being transparent with them. “Beyond that, I have some background working with the Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights on special education, so I’d look into what work I could do there as well.”

Linda FreemanLinda Freeman
Candidate Linda Freeman, 63, is from the Como neighborhood and is a licensed elementary and Montessori teacher and consultant. She said she decided to run because she considers schools to be the most powerful place to assure the best possible future for children and the school board the most influential position to keep the focus on children.

“I’m in an optimal position to give the necessary attention to the school board where some of our current and previous members have been falling short,” she said. “I’ll take the time to ask questions to inform our decisions and reach out and listen to children, parents, teachers, and principals to support our district’s data.”

Freeman said she has enduring experience with education that she can bring to the school board. She was owner-operator of a preschool and daycare in her home for 10 years. She has taught in SPPS since 1998, focusing on programs designed to meet the needs of at-risk and homeless children. She said she also taught in innovative Montessori schools on a Lakota reservation and in North Minneapolis.

“I’ve served on the District Budget Committee, school committees, a site council and a district parent group,” Freeman noted. “I’ve had input in developing a Minnesota Montessori resource group, and I’m active with a local Montessori mentorship committee.” She said that her active immersion in the culture and cultures of St. Paul and its diverse neighborhoods are as important as her education and experience.

Freeman said the budget is always the bottom line regarding upcoming challenges. “We have to be prepared to present the budget and bottom line needs that will make our schools great, and bring the public into the spending discussion, especially at their school sites where solutions can become a reality.”

To diminish the achievement gap, Freeman suggested a strong, radical effort to minimize testing is overdue. “We should be developing a stronger relationship with the Minnesota Department of Education to assure it’s in touch with supporting our needs,” Freeman said.

“We can’t wait any longer to develop a world class early childhood program through our public schools,” Freeman added. “This is necessary throughout Minnesota, but St. Paul is positioned to be in the forefront.”

Freeman said she does not support Minnesota’s current view of universal Pre-K, which she considers has become a diminishing catch phrase for a very important initiative. “I see public schools teaching four-year-olds the same way they teach 10-year-olds, with no regard for stages in child development,” she said. “We have to accept only highly trained, dedicated teachers to this program, who are willing to be scrutinized.”

According to Freeman, the St. Paul community has to step up to support closing the achievement gap. “We choose and continue to live in St. Paul because we’re a rich, creative, caring culture,” Freeman said. “We have to be unified and dynamic in living out our choice.”

Freeman emphasized that all children must be reading at grade level. “We have to think twice when we level the playing fields with our IPads, to assure we’re not covering up realities in students’ abilities.”

“We have to assure that our ‘gifted and talented’ children learn responsibility for their abilities within their curriculum,” she continued. Freeman said that obsession with high achievement must be set aside with all the St. Paul community working toward a manageable, significant goal that optimally and realistically positions everyone for success.

Keith HardyKeith Hardy
Keith Hardy, 52, an IT project manager for US Bank who resides in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood, is the only incumbent in the race. He decided to run for re-election because he does not believe his work on the board is finished.

“The issues facing our students, especially students who are immigrants, who are poorer or from communities of color, are too important for me to stay out of the campaign,” he noted. “I also want to continue being a strong voice for the under-represented communities and for getting more members of those communities involved in our schools as teachers, administrators, tutors and in other ways.”

Hardy added that because of policy changes and district initiatives during his service on the board, SPPS graduation rates are increasing across all student groups while academic achievement has increased for more students in the past four years. “However, too many of our black and brown male students continue to feel pushed out of school or feel that school is irrelevant in their lives. As an African American man, I feel responsible for changing that.”

Hardy, who has been the only African American on the board for the past eight years, said he comes from a family that was not well off financially. “While I have strongly supported academic rigor and success for all students, I have felt a special responsibility for the majority of our students who come from families of color and of poverty,” he noted.

He considers his most important accomplishments to be helping create the racial equity policy and anti-bullying policy; championing the establishment of credit unions in high schools and the Parents of African American Students Advisory Committee; and expansion of FIRST Robotic teams in traditional and alternative high schools. He also passed the gender inclusion policy, tutors students and said he ensures fiscally responsible annual budgets, which included voting twice against the proposed budget. “I also observe learning and authentically listen to principals, students, teachers and staff at all 70-plus SPPS Schools and advocate for students in alternative schools,” Hardy said.

Hardy said some of the greatest challenges facing the board include narrowing the education equity gap and strengthening bonds with community organizations to help students and their families receive necessary mental/emotional and physical/safety needs. Other challenges are pushing the district leadership to recruit and retain more teachers from communities of color and immigrant communities and ensuring racial equity and high academic rigor are practiced daily in all schools.
Some of Hardy’s suggestions for eradicating the education equity gap are to help every student read at grade level, continue to challenge students academically, connect students with their culture, educate the whole child and keep students focused on a successful future.

Hardy said his personal goals if re-elected are to become more fluent in multiple languages, continue tutoring in math and reading and add science, help coach urban debate and robotics teams and become a stronger advocate for public education and the school district with federal and state leaders.

Steve MarcheseSteve Marchese
Steve Marchese, 48, a Pro Bono Director at the Minnesota State Bar Association, lives in the Summit-University neighborhood. He said that as a parent and school volunteer, he has watched the central administration take decision-making authority away from the schools and bring it to the central office, leaving educators, families and staff with little influence over what happens in their own buildings. “Time and again, the administration with the support of the current board have pursued a well-intentioned effort to increase educational equity only to have that agenda undermined by poor communication and questionable administrative decisions,” he said.

Marchese believes a more inclusive, transparent and effective district is needed; one with clear goals, objectives and strategies for improving achievement. “We also need an independent school board that holds the superintendent and administrators accountable for both their promises and their performance,” Marchese said. “I believe I have the professional and personal experience to bring thoughtful, strategic and pragmatic leadership to the SPPS board.”

Marchese said he brings over 20 years’ experience as an attorney to the school board. He was in private practice earlier in his career, including representing families and children in special education proceedings and as co-counsel for plaintiffs in Michigan school desegregation litigation. He currently serves on the St. Paul Civil Service Commission, as well as several boards.

The school board faces several challenges, according to Marchese. “We need a more independent, active school board committed to representing the public’s interest and holding district administrators accountable for results,” he said. “The district needs to do a much better job of engaging all stakeholders in the work of our schools. The district needs to address inequities within our schools, as well as develop a focused commitment to excellence for all students. Every family should be able to believe their children can receive a top-notch education in a St. Paul school regardless of location. Unfortunately, that is not so today.”

Lessening the achievement gap starts with a board that is connected to the community, committed to closing the gap and willing to set expectations for administrators, staff, and students, according to Marchese. He said the district needs to think more creatively about how it is meeting the educational needs of students and involve educators, families and students in the process of determining how to be more effective. “What can we learn from successful schools outside of SPPS? How do we look at supportive services for students in schools so that they reinforce teaching and connect students and families in a holistic manner?” are some questions Marchese poses.

Marchese said the board should be the rallying point for a community commitment to closing achievement disparities. “Every parent, caregiver and community member in St. Paul deserves to believe that their schools are excellent,” he said.

“I am particularly interested in improving the functioning of the board,” Marchese continued, “engaging more actively with the community by soliciting and including their input, and addressing inequities in our schools while also focusing on excellence across the district.”

Scott RaskiewiczScott Raskiewicz
Scott Raskiewicz, 62, is a Highland Park resident who is a semi-retired tennis teaching professional, writer and author of the book “Economic Democracy: Ending the Corporate Domination of Our Lives.”

Raskiewicz was a substitute teacher in the SPPS district for 17 years. During that time, he said he witnessed much dysfunction, most of which he considered the result of America’s political and management classes.

“These people are detached from their decisions while wielding great power with little accountability,” said Raskiewicz. “I am running to hold the decision-makers accountable and to draw attention to the root cause of the problems facing education and our society.”

Raskiewicz said that in his professional life he was worked with young people in a variety of settings for over 40 years. “I know that all people have an intrinsic desire to learn,” he said. “But that desire is negated by crowded classrooms and too much standardized testing. We must have smaller class sizes and a more individualized approach to education to maximize the intrinsic desire to learn.”

According to Raskiewicz, the single greatest challenge facing the school board and society is an inhumane, inequitable and antidemocratic economic and political system supported by a corporate cartel that controls nearly all major media. “These systems are hostile to poor and working and middle class Americans, particularly people of color. Social and educational progress requires real democracy—economic, media and political democracy.”

Raskiewicz said the achievement gap is largely a result of this same system. “We must also remember that parents are a child’s first and most important teachers, and the home is the first and most important educational setting,” he explained. “Because the economic and political system and media are hostile to families, it has become very difficult for many parents to provide the sort of stable home and consistent nurturing children need to thrive. Once we have authentic economic, media and political democracy all problems, including the achievement gap, will be solved or ameliorated.”

Working for smaller class sizes and an individualized, project-based approach to education is something for which Raskiewicz said he will strive. “We must also guard against the increasing corporatization of education that merely tries to prepare students ‘to compete in the global economy’,” he added.

“The purpose of education is to help students strive for self-actualization and prepare them to be cooperative members of the global community. These approaches will also help close the achievement gap,” Raskiewicz said.

Jon SchumacherJon Schumacher
Jon Schumacher, 63, is the father of two SPPS graduates and lives and works in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood. He has been the executive director of the Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation since 1999. For the past 23 years he has served on school site councils and committees and helped to develop and fund innovative learning solutions for area elementary, middle and senior high schools. “I’m experienced in board management, mediation and community building,” he said.

Schumacher said he is running for the school board because he is passionate about St. Paul’s kids and wants to do everything he can to give them the public school system they deserve. “I will leverage the skills, experience, and city-wide relationships I’ve built over my 23 years working with our schools, to develop a more collaborative approach to ensure successful outcomes for all of our students.”

Schumacher said he has three top priorities for the board to work on. “First, we need a process of disciplined inquiry to drive improvement,” he noted. “I will work with our board to set clear, consistent expectations for fully developed strategies—informed by open and honest evaluation—with measurable goals and implementable teaching tools.”

“Second, we have to re-engage and rebuild trust among our school community,” Schumacher said. He said the board must set an expectation of collaboration to actively engage families, students, educators and the broader community by developing a more open process for decision-making with timely presentation of pertinent data and details.

“Third, we need to work to ensure adequate classroom support for students and teachers,” Schumacher continued. He said this involves having the necessary staff in place to meet all student needs, which is critical to creating successful and racially equitable learning environments. “In addition,” he said, “we need to take more responsibility for preparing our graduating seniors for post-secondary success, and that includes a renewed focus on career and technical education.”

Addressing the achievement gap, Schumacher said the first step to overcoming it is to acknowledge that the teacher-student relationship is the heart and soul of any successful learning experience. He said that teachers must be supplied with adequate training and support, and parents and caregivers need to be recognized as the students’ first educators and welcomed into the schools and engaged.

“We also need to ensure our curriculum includes an accurate and balanced reflection of all cultures,” Schumacher said, “and that every school has a full complement of special education, mental and physical health, behavioral and library specialists, as well as regular access to art, music, and physical activity.”

“I also see a need to work with the Department of Education to find ways to better align our large standardized tests with our evolving understanding of what constitutes achievement,” Schumacher added. He said he believes there is a sound case to be made that the MCAs contain content that might be unfamiliar or unfair to students of color, recent immigrants or students with learning disabilities.

Schumacher cited a recent report about the success of the state as a whole in closing the achievement gap while the gaps in St. Paul and Minneapolis persist. “We need to learn from successful strategies implemented elsewhere, determine if and how they make sense for St. Paul, and keep our minds open to new approaches,” he explained.

Based on his experience working with boards, governance and community-building, Schumacher said he would like to find ways to make board meetings more effective, efficient and user- friendly. He would also like to find ways to better engage families and educators where they live and work.
“That might mean regular opportunities for board members to hold listening sessions at schools or community centers,” Schumacher noted. “It certainly means forming deeper relationships with members of our school community to bridge the communications gap that sometimes exists between district policy decisions and implementation.”

Mary VanderwertMary Vanderwert
Mary Vanderwert, from the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, is an independent contractor with America’s ToothFairy, National Children’s Oral Health Foundation. She said she has spent her entire 25-year career working with young children and their families in early childhood education, most of the time in Head Start and programs at the Wilder Foundation for five years. She also spent eight years at the Minnesota Department of Education as the Head Start state collaboration director. “My experience in early childhood education, both in the classroom and in administration, would be unique on the school board,” she said.

Vanderwert said she raised three children as a single parent and all graduated from St. Paul Public Schools. “I understand how decisions are made in families when there is limited time and even more limited resources,” she said, “and how important schools are to families in reaching their goals and dreams.”

As an educator, Vanderwert said she also understands how policies created and drafted by the board will affect teachers and students in the classroom environment. As an early childhood education professional, she said she has studied, and continues to study, brain development and the implications for policy development.

Vanderwert has provided training and technical assistance to Head Start programs throughout the state on issues related to organizational development and strategic planning, and she was selected to serve on the governor’s early childhood council.

“I have worked with many children and families and developed programs to support their stability and development,” she added.

“We need to improve the culture of the schools to one that is collaborative, creative, supportive and exciting,” Vanderwert said in response to challenges facing the school board. “We need a culture that values the contributions of staff and provides them a voice in decision making.”

Learning happens within the context of a relationship, according to Vanderwert. “When  teachers know their students and families, they can adapt their classroom environment and instructional practices to fit their students’ needs, and children will perform better,” she continued. “We need to shift the focus from testing children to ensuring that teachers have what they need to get to know their children to gain their trust and be as effective as possible.”

Vanderwert stressed that parents are critical to their children’s success. She said parents need to be authentic partners in the decision making for their children and their schools.

Vanderwert said that the earlier the school system starts to support children and families, the better the outcomes will be regarding the achievement gap. “The schools need to work with early childhood programs to provide support and information to families as soon as a baby is expected,” she said. “When children enter our doors, we need to embrace the whole family and treat them with respect and openness.”

She spoke of the need to ensure that our instructional practices and learning environments meet the learning styles and needs of children living with stress. “Children with stress at home need access to health services and mental health services within the schools,” Vanderwert said.

Vanderwert said that when children come to school they need to know that their teachers like them, want what is best for them, and believe in their ability to achieve. “This makes it imperative that we have staff/teachers/leaders that come from their community, look like them and are trained in mental health and brain development. All teachers need training in how to navigate many cultures and how to relate to parents.” She also emphasized the importance of teaching and practicing emotional skills in the schools.

Vanderwert said she is very interested in assuring that SPPS implement Universal Pre-K in a way that is effective and works for children and families. “The program needs to be provided where children already are, such as in high-quality child care, work with families as much as children, and ensure that children are healthy both physically and emotionally.”

“From my experience working with Head Start programs on culture and as an administrator, I want to lead the board as it defines the kind of organizational culture we both want and need in our schools,” Vanderwert stated.

Comments Off on School Board election draws full slate of choices

Little Brothers 2-tile Online Ad


Nilles-Filler Combo Online ad