KerryJo Felder poses for a portrait at North Community High School's football field. Felder was part of the community effort to keep North High open after threats of closure in 2010. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

To continue reading this article and others for free, please sign up for our newsletter.

Sahan Journal publishes deep, reported news for and with immigrants and communities of color—the kind of stories you won’t find anywhere else.

Unlock our in-depth reporting by signing up for our free newsletter.

Support local nonprofit journalism that works for you.

A generous group of donors is matching all donations to our end-of-year campaign. They’ve pledged $50,000 to match donations dollar-for-dollar through December 31. Become a Sahan Journal supporter now and double the impact of your gift.

$
$

Your contribution is appreciated.

KerryJo Felder, 49, is running for an at-large seat on the Minneapolis school board. Four candidates are running for this position: Felder, Collin Beachy, Sonya Emerick, and Lisa Skjefte. All Minneapolis voters will have the chance to vote for two of these four candidates. 

Name: KerryJo Felder

Age: 49

Day job: Organizer at Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation

Kids in the district: “Bonus mom” to two kids, a 13-year-old son at Franklin Middle School and 15-year-old daughter at North High School

Neighborhood: Victory

KerryJo Felder previously served four years on the school board, winning election in 2016 to represent District 2, a north Minneapolis seat. She lost her reelection bid to Sharon El-Amin in 2020. Now, she’s running for an at-large seat.

Felder voted against the Comprehensive District Design plan. The plan aimed to create more programming equity across the district, but many families said that it would also dismantle successful programs. That plan’s passage motivated her to run again, she said.

She pointed to her previous work to bring AP classes to some Northside schools, help open Franklin Middle School, and bring full-service community schools to the district.

“North Minneapolis still hasn’t been shown equity as far as programming is concerned,” she said. “I’m upset that we’ve lost a lot of parents because they felt like they haven’t been listened to. I just really want to make sure, before I leave this earth, that we really get this right. And I’m really excited to be running with people that I think are going to get it right this time.”

She also wants to see more funding for schools from the legislature. “We’ve never caught up to the cuts that [Governor Tim] Pawlenty made,” she said. “We’re so far behind.”

Here’s how Felder would approach a new term on the Minneapolis school board.

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

I did get $160 million for District 2 in the first six months of being a board member my first term—we found out what the deficit had been for North Minneapolis and so we did a lot of updating to the schools: lockers, carpets, lights, pools, gyms—so I believe that I do have good ideas for the things that our students and our parents want.

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

  • I love it that we’re so diverse. 
  • I love it that our parents and our students voice themselves. 
  • I also love that we have opportunities to showcase our talents, because I think we have a lot of talented students.

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? 

They have to be from Minneapolis. They have to know Minneapolis, point blank. That’s the number one. Number two, they have to be up to date on what’s going on with our students. And number three is that they have to be prepared to change. Because our policies have to change. How we attend to each other has to change. How we attend to bullies has to change. 

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, that we didn’t have to go there. Two, that the current board does not respect teachers. And three, that we’re not equipped to care for children when things like that happen.

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

I would take them seriously. 

Number two, I think that if money is truly a value, I would have had to think how much that would have cost me, those three weeks. What would it take to have to make those three weeks up? I don’t think that that was fully thought out on behalf of the district.

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.

  • We have to change our policies as far as bullying.
  • We have to change our policies around what does it look like to be proactive for restorative justice. What does restorative justice look like if it can be applied? 
  • We have to raise our standards when you cross the school line. That has to be explained to every student and every parent/caregiver. That means the cussing, the fighting. When you come to school, you are nurtured, you are here to learn and we are glad to have you here to learn. And if you are not going to learn, then maybe this is not the place for you. We really have to make sure that we are setting an example for our students that they’re going to understand that this is a respectful place.
  • I see that as key to reversing enrollment declines because students are saying that kids are out of control, and that’s why they don’t want to send the kids there. Not only is it partly the curriculum, it’s also how the adults in the building are reacting to the students’ behaviors.

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?

I thought that was really rude. It was really childish. Obviously, people are there trying to tell you something. They’re trying to tell you something strong. There are cases where there are some groups out there who are telling you something wrong. Then you meet with them. 

All of the district people are there. And every time somebody comes up to the mic and they speak, when they walk away, someone from the district is supposed to go running after them and talk to them. I hardly ever saw that happen. That is their job, to run after that person and talk to them, or pass them on to somebody. That’s why they’re all there. They don’t just get paid to sit there and watch. They get paid to sit there and handle business. And that’s going to be something that’s different too. We’re going to make sure that they’re handling their business. 

We need to have some accountability from the cabinet and their teams, which cost us lots of money, that they’re taking care of business and fulfilling their relationship with the community.

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 that we probably do need to do some online classes. Some kids really liked that, and excelled. My daughter excelled, my son did not. 

I think that we need to be prepared for the next time. We need to go and rally at the state for money for computers and hotspots should this ever happen again. The ideas that we had that children could share the computer in the house were pathetic. Somebody’s not going to be in class. It was just not well thought out and it didn’t make any sense to me.

We should be opening up our schools to the community and asking people to come in and help and volunteer to help our students catch up. That’s one of the things that we’re going to do when we get back in: go in and open the schools back up. So that if people want to have a volleyball birthday party, they can have a volleyball birthday party. That’s one of the really positive things that I really want to get back into doing: making sure that we can open up our schools for meetings and bingo, for our elders, and get some cross-generational movement going on. Because our children are missing something.

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?

I think that we better meet those by opening up our schools. We have a lot of retired teachers, we have a lot of retired nurses, we have a lot of retired folk in Minneapolis who could actually come in and help our children. I would like to see that happen. I think that that would help, for someone to have a friend or somebody that they can confide in. I think that that can help our students calm down a little bit. I think that community more than ever is needed to come back into our schools and help.

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

We’ve lost so many students and we have a lot of buildings, and we’re going to have to figure out what we’re going to close or how to combine some schools and what programming looks like going forward to stay successful. We have to listen to what our families want.

🟥 READ MORE

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...