Collin Beachy poses for a portrait at Transition Plus, where he is a special education teacher. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

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Collin Beachy, 51, is running for an at-large seat on the Minneapolis school board. Four candidates are running for this position: Beachy, Sonya Emerick, KerryJo Felder, and Lisa Skjefte. All Minneapolis voters will have the chance to vote for two of these four candidates. 

Name: Collin Beachy

Age: 51

Day job: Special education teacher for Minneapolis Public Schools at Transition Plus, which serves students aged 18 to 21

Kids: None

Neighborhood: Sumner-Glenwood

Collin Beachy has been teaching for 21 years. For the last eight years, he’s taught special education in the Minneapolis Public Schools. The two main things that inspired him to run, he said, are the murder of George Floyd and the Minneapolis educator strike. 

“I felt like I needed to do more than just be a teacher,” he said. “I wanted to have a bigger impact.”

After Floyd’s murder, he took on an equity leadership role at his school. Then after the strike, he decided to run for school board, hoping to bring an educator perspective to the board. 

If elected, Beachy will have to leave his district teaching job and find employment elsewhere.

“That was almost a deal breaker when I found that out because I love my job so much,” he said. “But I just think this is worth it.”

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

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

I’m a teacher, I’ve been a part of the system for eight years, and not only do I understand how the system works, I know who a lot of the system players are.

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

  • I honestly and truly am working with the most amazing, creative outside-the-box, caring staff that I’ve ever worked with.
  • I love the diversity that we have here amongst our students and how much you can learn from all these different cultures.

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? 

I’d like to have someone who has shown that they’ve had some sort of experience in an urban school district. I need to know what the plan is to help bring students back. What is their plan about stopping an exodus of teachers and students from the district? Number three, the budget. How are they going to be working with the legislature to try and get some more stable funding? I’d like to see some more cooperation with our unions as well.

I’m a teacher. Right now, we don’t feel like anyone has our back. And so I need to know, are you more of a business person, or are you going to be taking care of the schools and your employees? I want to find out what the values are here.

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?

One thing that I learned is that there’s a way to have the parties, the administration and the union leaders, sit down and create some kind of pathway so that this doesn’t happen again. During the strike, I got to hear a lot of things that unions from around the country were saying and advice they were giving our unions. There are two clear paths for how to do this thing. There’s one teachers’ group that went on strike and their administration and their teachers union are still fighting. There’s another district where they are sitting down and creating a path forward. 

There was some damage caused during the strike between the administration and teachers and even from within the union. So I learned that this fighting isn’t going to help anyone. I don’t think this strike needed to happen. That’s the first thing that I learned. It just shouldn’t have happened in the first place. 

It was very difficult for me to watch the proposal for our teacher salary go down. But what offset that was that I saw educational support professional pay rise to at least a living wage now. So I’m willing to take that hit right now if it’s stopping my colleague from living in his car. That’s the biggest thing that pushed me into the race. We’ve got to take better care of the people who are here. That’s one of the best ways to stop people from leaving. 

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

At school board meetings I’ve been to, it feels like the people sitting at the table were never hearing from teachers and never hearing from parents. It’s always administrators. Other people who have been kind of left out of conversation for a while are going to be brought to the table a little bit more. That is one thing that I’m hoping to have happen. 

I don’t set the agenda. The superintendent does that. I want to have someone that I know is going to work with us, someone that is going to not come in and say, ‘Here’s our agenda, approve it or don’t approve it.’ They’re supposed to come to us with the plan to implement our agenda. And we should be working on that together. So that’s what I’m hoping to try and do with a superintendent, is find someone who is not going to be a ‘my way or the highway’ person.

The cuts that we had to make here awhile back, it’s not sustainable. We have got to start figuring out a way to reinvest back into our schools. That’s going to take all of us sitting down, taking a look at the books, taking a look at our values, taking a look at what would happen if we started going in a different direction. 

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.

  • Start taking better care of the people who are here, and start being more responsive to some of their needs. That means getting out of our chairs and going to PTO meetings and hearing from staff and parents.
  • Recruiting more teachers of color. I don’t like when people say that you just need to have teachers who look like them. It’s not that simple. It needs to be people who have gone through the same lived experience. 
  • More culturally responsive programming. Once people feel like we are being more culturally responsive to our culturally diverse district, that again, will retain and attract people to our district. 
  • From talking to a lot of parents, they feel like they are just being shut out and not informed. We’ve got to be much more transparent with what we are doing. We have got to make sure that people know not just when our meetings are, but when people have questions about some things, we’ve got to answer some of those questions. There’s got to be a better way to bring the public back into our public education system.

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?

It’s not working. There are two former board members who are advising me on my campaign, and one thing that they have told me about is that they feel that this body has lost its deliberative process. That is something that I would start to bring back here a little bit. There’s no reason why we can’t go out and have a cup of coffee, have a glass of wine, just talk on the phone, whatever it might be, to keep each other informed and make sure that we’ve got an established working relationship where we actually respect each other as people. And make sure that we don’t have nine people with their own agendas. 

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?

We need to dive strongly into more culturally responsive education. There are models that are out there. It’s just a matter of us making sure we go out and grab it and start implementing it.

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?

It goes back to all the issues that we have in terms of budgeting. Look, if I had the money, I’d obviously give everybody everything that they need. We need more nurses and we have got to get more counselors and social workers into our schools. We need teachers, but then that has also got to be a priority as to how we are hiring. 

This is a public mental health crisis. And this was building before the pandemic. This is where it goes back to this investment part of it. We have got to take this as a serious problem. Our counselors are great. But we just don’t have enough of them. And they’re overworked. We’ve got to invest in making sure we get everyone mental health supports in our schools.

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

Some high schools have been budgeted to have seven hours during the day, and some of them have been budgeted to have six hours a day. At those that have six hours a day, some teachers feel like that’s putting some of their students at a disadvantage in terms of a competitive standpoint, but also when you have one less hour, what usually is taken out of your offering is the arts—so I would like to hear more about how that decision was made, and if there’s a way to adjust that.

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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...