Mary Frances Clardy, an Inver Grove Heights Democrat, is a longtime elementary reading teacher for St. Paul Public Schools. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Mary Frances Clardy, who teaches reading to elementary students in St. Paul Public Schools, won her race to become the next state representative from Inver Grove Heights.

Clardy, a Democrat, received 55 percent of the vote. Republican Todd Kruse received 41 percent of the vote, and Brent Jacobson from the Legal Marijuana Now Party received 4 percent. The newly redrawn district, 53A, includes most of Inver Grove Heights; Lilydale and Sunfish Lake; and parts of West St. Paul and Mendota Heights.

In an interview before the election, Clardy told Sahan Journal she hoped to use her education expertise to craft better laws for students and teachers.

“There is a lot of legislation that’s made with really good intention that makes no sense,” she said. “We have one of the largest achievement gaps in the States, and so we need to look at how to improve it.”

That plan includes fully funding special education, providing wraparound services for schools and apprenticeship programs, and addressing bias in standardized testing, she said.

Activism runs in Clardy’s family. Back in the 1950s, her integrationist parents moved to Burnsville in order to become the area’s first Black family. That activist spirit pushed Clardy into the classroom, too. She jumped into action decades ago when her first-grade daughter came home from school with a note from her teacher. 

The teacher’s complaint: The beads in her daughter’s braided hair were too noisy. It was a complaint rooted in “cultural insensitivity,” Clardy said.

“I decided that I had to do something immediately,” she said. “I needed to be a mentor, caregiver, and advocate for kids of color.”

Clardy is now in her 27th year of teaching. In 2014, Governor Mark Dayton appointed her to what was then called the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Then, in 2019, Governor Tim Walz appointed her as the teacher representative on the Minnesota Board of School Administrators. Later that year, she won a seat on the Inver Grove Heights school board.

Madaline Edison, the former executive director of Educators for Excellence Minnesota, worked with Clardy in advocacy efforts to recruit and retain teachers of color. That advocacy included testifying before the legislature and meeting with members of Congress. Edison described Clardy as a “quiet leader” who listens to many perspectives before making a decision.

“I think that is particularly important in today’s political climate, given the divisions we have,” Edison said.

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...