Uriah Ward, running for the St. Paul school board, poses for a photo at a brewery fundraiser. He’d like to help the district diversify its teacher workforce. 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.

Uriah Ward, 30, is a financial aid counselor at Augsburg University.

Describe yourself in ten words or fewer.

“I’m a former teacher, community activist, and labor union organizer.”

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

“I’m a former teacher with classroom experience, and it’s important to have that perspective on the school board.”

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.

  • “Regularly survey our community to figure out why people are leaving and why people are coming.”
  • “Reduce class sizes.”
  • “Invest in mental health support.”
  • ”Make sure that there are nurses in every building.”
  • “Work to implement a more culturally responsive curriculum.”

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 district did well in pivoting quickly to remote learning, Ward said. Implementing a distance learning option for all students this year has also been a success.

He’d like to see the district provide more COVID-19 tests to students and staff. And he wants to see improved communication. “Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what the district is doing or why,” he said. That results in families, staff, students, and the rest of the community feeling like they haven’t had an opportunity to provide input.

“The research is really clear that all students, but especially students of color, do better whenever we have a more diverse set of teachers. We need to recruit and retain talented teachers.”

uriah ward

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

Ward wants the district to prioritize hiring more teachers of color. “The research is really clear that all students, but especially students of color, do better whenever we have a more diverse set of teachers,” he said. “We need to recruit and retain talented teachers.” 

He would push the district to expand the St. Paul Urban Teacher Residency, which is how his wife, a Black teacher, was recruited into the district. He’d also like to see the district invest in its diverse classroom aides and encourage them to become licensed teachers.

Who was the best teacher you ever had and why?

“Stephanie Knowles. I had her for social studies, I think it was my freshman year of high school. I had her during a really hard time in my life, and she was very welcoming and encouraging and that meant a lot to me. She’s one of the reasons why I eventually became a social studies teacher.”

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

“Based on my experience working in public schools, I believe that it is really important for us to invest in the staff that work directly with students. I think that whenever we make budgetary decisions, we should try to hire more teachers so we can reduce class sizes, hire more mental health counselors so that students have those supports, and again, try to make sure that we have a nurse in every building.”

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...