In 2016, when he led the parent teacher organization at St. Paul’s Galtier Community School, Clayton Howatt organized against the school’s closure. Now, in a district consolidation plan, the school faces closure again. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

St. Paul voters will choose four school board members out of eight candidates. Six of them—James Farnsworth, Halla Henderson, Jennifer McPherson, Jim Vue, Uriah Ward, and Ryan Williams—are running for four-year terms; three will win. Two candidates, Jeannie Foster and Clayton Howatt, are competing in a special election for a two-year term. One will win. You can find the rest of our school board candidate interviews here.

Clayton Howatt, 46, is co-owner of Verus Builders, a residential remodeling company; a district parent; and the former president of the Galtier Community School Parent Teacher Organization. 

Describe yourself in ten words or fewer.

“I’m passionate, knowledgeable, and a person of action.”

In one sentence, why should people in St. Paul vote for you?

“I have a long track record of advocating for students within the St. Paul Public School District.” 

How would you help St. Paul Public Schools reverse enrollment declines and attract and retain students? Give your answer in bullet points/action steps.

  • “Provide equitable opportunities in elementary schools. Our high-poverty elementary schools lack the same educational opportunities that our low-poverty elementary schools have.”
  • “We need to audit the school expenditures to see what the actual operating costs of individual schools are. We need to provide that information to the board and to the public.”
  • “There are many partners within St. Paul that can help provide arts programming, provide enrichment, provide all sorts of things. Many of these organizations reach out to St. Paul Public Schools and never hear back.”
  • “Hire more Black and brown teachers. And there are programs in place to grow your own and try and recruit from the University of Minnesota and our other colleges and universities. But, I feel strongly that that process is too slow, because we’re not producing enough Black and brown college graduates from our state. We need to recruit from states that are predominantly in the southeastern United States, and create a pathway for them to get Minnesota licensure.”

Name 2-3 things the district has done well in its response to the COVID-19 crisis, and 2-3 areas in need of improvement.

The return to in-person learning has gone well, Howatt said. He appreciates the district’s online dashboard that tracks COVID-19 cases by month and school. Both of his kids, one in elementary school and one in middle school, “have been safe, as safe as it can be,” he said. Last year, both of his daughters stuck with distance learning all year. “The teachers did a great job of taking a really difficult situation, and still providing a great education for our kids.”

He’d like to see the district provide COVID-19 testing in all schools. He also wants better communication around positive COVID cases. Under SPPS guidelines, not all students receive notification when a classmate in the classroom tests positive. He’d like to see that change. “I think families understand we’re in a really difficult situation, and everybody’s doing the best we can, but we would rather be informed.” That doesn’t mean that all the kids notified must quarantine, he said, but if parents are informed of a potential exposure, they may choose to get their child tested.

Longer term, he’d like to address concerns about heating and ventilation systems. “The district is kind of meeting code minimums on that,” he said. “I think the district needs to say this is going to be a long-term problem, and that it’s going to be a priority of ours to get all of our buildings upgraded HVAC systems to provide our students with the highest quality of air that can possibly be produced.”

Give an example of a racial equity problem at St. Paul Public Schools, and tell us what you would do to address it.

Howatt noted disparities in the provision of gifted and talented services. The district tests students at a young age to determine whether they qualify for accelerated programming, he said. Students who qualify are eligible to attend Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet School. But eligible students who choose not to go do not always receive the same quality of services. Howatt believes that’s especially true at schools that serve mostly students of color, he said. 

Going forward, the district needs to make a decision about gifted and talented programming, he said. “We either eliminate it, or provide equitable access to it. I would prefer equitable access to those services.”

Who was the best teacher you ever had and why?

“Miss Burroughs, my sixth-grade teacher. She was a teacher that, as a younger kid, everybody had kind of feared. She was real tough and strict, or that’s what we thought of her. But as we aged up and got closer to sixth grade, we started to hear more about her. The thing I loved about her is she was like a rock; she was sort of the foundation. And she had very high expectations for all of her students. And when that spark happened, or when you finally understood whatever problem you were working, you could see the happiness and joy in her face. There was nothing better than having Miss Burroughs proud of you.”

“The school board has no control over charter schools—it’s really a state issue. But the school board is there on the front lines, and our public isn’t really aware of the cost that the school district pays.”

clayton howatt

In two sentences, what’s another issue facing SPPS we haven’t talked about and what’s your plan to tackle it?

“Charter school expansion: The school board has no control over charter schools—it’s really a state issue–but the school board is there on the front lines, and our public isn’t really aware of the cost that the school district pays: the St. Paul Public Schools directly subsidize charter schools for special education services in charter schools. 

No one has decided that this is the route we want to go, but we’re going to be closing district schools, and opening more charter schools, and people don’t quite understand that, including some of our elected officials, so it’s the job of the school board to educate our public and be in conversation with our state legislators.”

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...