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A parent activist, Jennifer McPherson wants to open up bus zones within St. Paul Public Schools so families have more choice for their children’s education. 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.

Jennifer McPherson, 39, is a personal care attendant and activist.

Describe yourself in 10 words or fewer.

Describe yourself in 10 words or fewer.

“Activist, leader, mentor, intelligent, fun, team player, common sense, historical, passionate, caring.”

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

“I can relate to the average family, and I fight for everyone: They’re trying to close all the schools that are linked to poverty, and as a person who lives in poverty, I can relate and fight for those schools heart-to-heart.”

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

  • “Open up the bus zones, allowing families to have real school choice. When you give parents that option, it takes away from the charter schools and the private schools and online options and helps their child to get into the school building that matches their personality. It helps them to be the person that they are instead of covering up who they are to fit into a building.”
  • “Fire the people who need to be fired. We have staff that are telling people to remove their children from the district, which is creating low enrollment.”
  • “Have a plan to retain students. My plan would include bringing businesses into the equation and helping families with employment. We have positions in the district that can be filled just with a high school diploma. If we help parents to get employment, then their children are likely to stay in our district.”
  • “Open, honest communication.”

“My plan would include bringing businesses into the equation and helping families with employment. We have positions in the district that can be filled just with a high school diploma. If we help parents to get employment, then their children are likely to stay in our district.”

jennifer mcpherson

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.

McPherson said she didn’t have any areas to name where the district performed well.

Looking at potential improvements, she said the district needs new HVAC systems for better filtration, and to utilize portable filtration systems. She’d also like to see a pandemic response team that can monitor conditions and advise when schools are ready to open, or need certain accommodations for safety. Another safety priority, she said, is smaller class sizes.

“Right now, we have the perfect opportunity,” she said. Between low enrollment and some kids choosing online learning, “we should have the spots open in the buildings to have smaller class sizes.” She’d like to see the district better use empty building space.

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

She thinks district schools mete out suspensions unfairly. “A lot of that is due to miscommunication: not being able to read body language correctly and not being able to relate to other cultures,” McPherson said. Educators need better and more frequent training so miscommunication doesn’t lead to suspensions. 

“If teachers or counselors or educators in general are constantly falling behind and not going with those trainings, it might be time to just part ways,” she said. 

Who was the best teacher you ever had and why?

“The best teacher I ever had was Judith Sheldon, in the sixth grade, because she taught us the sky was the limit. And she made us understand what that meant. Once you have your mind set to something, nobody can stop you from doing what you want to do.”

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

“Bullying from the district level: We have teachers who get bullied by other teachers and teachers who get bullied by principals. The teachers are getting false reports put in their permanent records. I would create a way for teachers to have this safe space to talk and to report other teachers and report their superiors as well, with a three-strikes policy. If you get in trouble the first time, then you go back and get your training,” McPherson said. “The second time would be a written warning, and the third time would be termination.”

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.