Abdul Abdi poses for a portrait at Edison High School, which his three oldest children attend. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

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Abdul Abdi, 47, is running to represent District 1 on the Minneapolis school board. District 1 represents northeast Minneapolis. Abdul is running unopposed.

Name: Abdul Abdi

Age: 47

Day job: Software architect for state of Minnesota

Kids: Five. Three attend Edison High School, one is in 7th grade at Northeast Middle School, and the youngest is a 4th grader at Pillsbury Community School.

Neighborhood: Northeast Minneapolis

Abdul Abdi, a father of five Minneapolis Public Schools students, has been involved with his kids’ schools over the past decade. “One thing that drives me is to help kids have a better future,” he said.

Now he wants to bring his leadership to the school board. 

“I’m running because I care deeply about this community,” he said. “I’d like to make a difference in the lives of our students. I’d like to work on improving relationships between the parents, schools, teachers, and communities. I would also like to encourage family involvement.”

Here’s how Abdul would approach the job on the Minneapolis school board.

In one sentence, why should people in Minneapolis vote for you?

They should vote for me because I will prioritize the education of our kids and the future of our kids and build strong relationships between the community and the schools; it’s been a tough few years, and I would love to rebuild, support teachers, staff and the community and the connection between the home and school.

What do you love about Minneapolis Public Schools? Can you give your answer in two to three bullet points?

  • I like the diversity that we give to our students.
  • I like the neighborhoods that we are in. 
  • I like the sense of community that some of the schools have. My kids love it, too. They like their friends, the neighborhood we are in. They grew up here, all of them were born here. And this is their community.

After a tumultuous term, superintendent Ed Graff left the district at the end of June. Selecting a new superintendent will be one of the next school board’s most important duties. Briefly, what do you think are the three most important criteria for Minneapolis’ next superintendent? 

The next superintendent should be someone who develops a strategy to help children with their wide range of abilities and needs and backgrounds, someone who is going to prioritize kids’ education, build relationships between the teachers and the district, and someone who engages with the community and parents.

In March, teachers and education support professionals held a 14-day strike, which made many staff frustrations public and kept kids home for three weeks. What are the two or three most important lessons you learned from the educator strike?

Minneapolis didn’t have a strike for 50 years. So that was a big concern for a lot of parents and communities. It was really disappointing that the district could not avoid it, the way St. Paul did. The next superintendent’s job is to build the relationship between the district and the teachers, be forthcoming and build the community’s trust. It will be the next superintendent’s job to learn from that lesson and have in place a system that really can learn from that 14 days’ strike. After COVID, that was a really big letdown for the community and everybody.

For me as a parent at that time, I learned that our kids lost education. It wasn’t even online or anything like that. It was completely shut down, which really exacerbated the education loss that our kids already were experiencing, coming from the two years of COVID. So the pandemic learning loss was accumulated by this strike, and that was a really big black eye for Minneapolis Public Schools.

How would you apply those lessons as a school board member?

One of the most important things to be on the school board is someone who can collaborate, someone who can listen to opposing ideas, and who is not afraid to listen to the other ideas: someone who can build bridges with the values he believes in. The Minneapolis Public Schools is going to have nine board members. One individual can’t really deliver anything. Board members must collaborate with one another to be successful. You have to find those values to promote, to discuss with community, and encourage other people to have their voices heard.

Over the last few years, Minneapolis Public Schools has struggled with steady enrollment declines. How would you help Minneapolis Public Schools reverse enrollment declines and attract and retain students? Please give your answer in bullet points/action steps.

  • Increasing enrollment will not solve the financial problems that we have, but I also understand that there are many families in Minneapolis Public Schools who go to other districts. 
  • I will pay attention to those families’ needs so they have a voice in MPS. I believe we have robust programming in Minneapolis Public Schools. We have AP courses, we have athletic departments. I think we should be able to compete with those families and encourage them to give a second look to Minneapolis Public Schools.
  • That’s the job for us and the superintendent, to listen to those families, listen to their concerns. Make sure that we answer their questions. You live in this community, we’d love to have you in the Minneapolis Public Schools. 

Over the last year, the school board has sometimes appeared sharply divided—not just in split votes, but in dynamics at school board meetings. That includes one board meeting where the superintendent, then some school board members, walked out. Do you think the current school board dynamic is working? If you think it isn’t, how do you propose to make this a more effective governance body?

The school board’s elected by the community, and they are ultimately accountable to the community. You have nine individuals who got elected, and those are really responsible to deliver the future of the kids. The ultimate goal is the education of the kids. The reason why I’m running is, I am someone who can collaborate, listen, and make sure that our kids have a good future.

Pandemic disruptions exacerbated racial academic disparities, in Minneapolis and around the country. What investments do you think the district needs to make now to help accelerate student learning and close gaps?

I think accountability is essential. I will hold the leadership of the district accountable to meet grade-level reading. I have a passion for literacy and passion for grade-level reading. We will put the resources where it’s needed. And we will hold accountable the district leaders. We will make sure that it’s measurable and there’s objectives for the district to work toward. We will examine what we have been doing and we will chart paths forward to give those kids that need extra help, the help that they need.

Statewide, students have reported higher levels of mental health needs than before the pandemic. How do you think the district can better meet student mental health needs?

The crisis is the failure to put enough support staff in schools. As a community, as a society, we should really be concerned about mental health needs. I would like it to have it as a community-wide initiative that should prioritize the students’ mental health needs, staff mental health needs. I think that is such a priority. After the pandemic, this is something that we should have honest and open discussion to support those students, because they are our future.

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

I will prioritize investment in good teachers, hiring policies that attract more diverse teaching forces, while also bolstering voices of the teachers of color through leadership pathways and opportunities. We should attract good teachers, retain the existing ones that are really good, and also hire a more diverse teaching force as well.

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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...