Clockwise from top left: Sonya Emerick, Collin Beachy, Lori Norvell, Fathia Feerayarre, and Abdul Abdi. Credit: Drew Arrieta and Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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Minneapolis voters chose five new school-board members Tuesday night. The new board members will compose a majority of the nine-member board, and will face the responsibility of hiring a new superintendent once they are seated in January 2023.

Collin Beachy, a special-education teacher, won the most votes for an at-large seat. Lori Norvell, a former district math teacher, defeated Laurelle Myhra to represent a south Minneapolis district.

Abdul Abdi and Fathia Feerayarre ran uncontested to represent parts of Northeast and south Minneapolis, respectively. They both won easily.

Sonya Emerick narrowly won the race for the other at-large seat. With all precincts reporting, Beachy received more than 68,000 votes. At 11:11 p.m., Emerick had received 52,365 votes, while KerryJo Felder had received 51,872. Lisa Skjefte received 31,941 votes.

Reached Tuesday night, Emerick said their team was reviewing procedures around close races, but felt hopeful. “We’re cautiously celebrating,” Emerick said.

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Felder congratulated the DFL-endorsed winners and thanked her supporters.

The election came eight months after a three-week educator strike in March. Among the winners are candidates endorsed by the teachers’ union, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals, and the Minneapolis DFL. Beachy, Felder, Norvell, Abdul, and Fathia ran on a DFL-endorsed “slate,” hoping they would all be elected together.

Collin Beachy: ‘There’s got to be a better way to bring the public back into our public education system’

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

Beachy, 51, is a teacher for Minneapolis Public Schools at Transition Plus, which serves students ages 18–21 who need extra support as they transition to adulthood.

The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020 and the educators’ strike motivated Beachy to take on leadership roles in his school. Now, he hopes to bring his perspective as a teacher to the school board.

“I’m a teacher,” he told Sahan Journal earlier this fall. “Right now, we don’t feel like anyone has our back.”

As a school-board member, he hopes to increase culturally responsive programming and voices from teachers and parents.

“We’ve got to be much more transparent with what we are doing,” he said. “There’s got to be a better way to bring the public back into our public education system.”

He hopes to find a superintendent who has experience in urban settings and a cooperative approach to working with the school board.

Sonya Emerick: ‘I think racism is the biggest threat that we are facing as a district right now.’

Sonya Emerick poses for a portrait at their alma mater, South High School. Sonya is the parent of a 7-year-old enrolled in Marcy School for the Arts, who receives his services at home due to complex disabilities. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Emerick, 40, decided to run for school board based on their experience as a parent. Emerick’s 7-year-old son has complex disabilities. When it was time for him to start school, Emerick hoped to enroll him in a traditional kindergarten setting. But because of his disabilities, the district told them he would be in a separate special education placement, Emerick explained in a campaign video.

After battling for their son as a parent advocate, Emerick decided it would be a better use of their time to fight for all children as a school board member.

Emerick told Sahan Journal that as a board member they will prioritize equitable access to education for all children. They want a new superintendent who also shares those priorities.

“The most important thing that I will be looking for is someone with the will and the expertise to dismantle racism and related forms of systemic oppression in our district,” Emerick said. “I think racism is the biggest threat that we are facing as a district right now.”

Emerick will be one of the only transgender school board members in the country. Only eight current school board members nationwide are out as transgender or nonbinary, according to the Victory Institute, which tracks LGBTQ political representation.

Abdul Abdi: ‘Board members must collaborate with one another to be successful’

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

Abdul, a father of five Minneapolis Public Schools students, easily won his election to a Northeast Minneapolis seat. He ran unopposed.

“I’m running because I care deeply about this community,” he told Sahan Journal in an interview earlier this fall. “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.”

Abdul, who works as a software architect for the state of Minnesota, told Sahan Journal he hopes to bring a collaborative approach to the school board.

“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,” he said. 

“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.”

Fathia Feerayarre: ‘Public schools should do better because it’s one of the places that people can come together’

Fathia Feerayarre poses in front of the Heritage Academy in Minneapolis. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

Fathia, 41, is a mother of five children and a doctoral student in public health. Two of her children attend Minneapolis Public Schools; the oldest is in college and the youngest two are toddlers.

In a recent interview, Fathia told Sahan Journal she ran for school board in part because of the need she saw in the Somali community. She wants to help improve the public schools to attract and retain Somali students, many of whom now attend charter schools.

“I think public schools should do better because it’s one of the places that people can come together,” she said. “In this country, we are a melting pot. We should have schools, especially our public schools, that accept everybody and welcome everybody.” 

Charter schools that serve only one community may not prepare students for college, when they will face a more diverse environment, she said.

Fathia hopes to retain immigrant students by improving school transportation, providing school options that serve kindergarten through eighth grade students, increasing the numbers of teachers of color, and training educators in anti-racist practices.

“I want to make sure that families and educators are at the center of the decision-making,” she said. “Without the families there’s no schools.”

Lori Norvell: ‘I am seeing what’s happening with privatization of schools, with districts, and it worries me’

Lori Norvell at Field Elementary School. Sahan Journal asked each candidate to choose a school for their portrait. Norvell chose Field, which her children attended, and which she credits with inspiring her to get back into teaching. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Norvell, 50, plans to bring the voice of a recent former educator to the Minneapolis school board. She’s also a district parent: Her youngest child attends Washburn High School, and her older children are Minneapolis Public Schools alumni. 

“I’m a recent former educator, and also I’m a parent, so I can see this from different lenses,” she told Sahan Journal earlier this fall. “We need the voice of someone who is going to be able to share concerns about what is happening in schools.”

Last December, Norvell left her job as a math teacher at Anthony Middle School, in Minneapolis, citing burnout and a lack of support.

She hopes she can help more educators and parents feel heard on the school board, she told Sahan Journal.

“I decided to run for school board because I am seeing what’s happening with privatization of schools, with districts, and it worries me,” she said. “It’s really important that we have quality public schools for all of our kids. It’s the cornerstone of our community.”

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...