Woke but helpful: Stillwater union questionnaire identifies parent-centered candidates

The Stillwater teachers’ union, known as the St. Croix Education Association, is doing the voters of Stillwater a favor with their outrageous questionnaire for prospective school board candidates. First, the questions they ask (and don’t ask) tell voters a lot about the priorities and values of union teachers in Stillwater (hint: they value equity over academic achievement). And second, the questionnaire makes it easy to see who will stand up for parents and who will take their orders from the education establishment.

Not one of the union’s eleven questions has to do with improving academic achievement in the district. That’s striking considering 42% of Stillwater students are not meeting proficiency standards for reading and 44% of students are not meeting proficiency standards for math based on the recently released MCA test scores. According to our most recent poll, an overwhelming plurality (41%) of respondents chose academic excellence when asked to choose the top priority for your local school leadership. The next closest answers were “supporting teachers” at 17% and “student mental health” at 13%. No other answer received more than 9%.

Instead, the union focused on divisive issues like racial identity and systemic and institutional racism. One question asked candidates, “How has your racial identity shaped and informed your world view? How are you actively working to expand your own racial and cultural lens?” Another asked candidates to “Share examples of systemic and institutional racism that you have experienced or observed in Stillwater public schools. How will you work toward dismantling those barriers?”

Leftist candidates fell all over themselves convincing the union they are sufficiently woke and aware of their white privilege.

My racial identity has not held me back personally and I understand many cannot say the same — Pete Kelzenberg

As a white woman, I feel I have had a life of privilege in America.  In many ways the institutions I’ve encountered have been structured in a way that provides a path forward towards success.  I have been actively working to expand my racial and cultural lens through education. — Eva Lee

I am a white Cis woman…

I recognize that I have lived a life of privilege even though I grew up in a working class household where money was often short. My march through life has been invisibly smoothed, compared with the lives lived by those who do not have the advantage of having white skin. It is my duty, especially as a school board member, to recognize that privilege and continually educate myself about the experiences and needs of other cultures. — Beverly Petrie

I know a critical step in expanding my own racial and cultural lens is to first have a deep understanding and awareness of my own identity – how I show up, my own biases, being aware of social and political contexts, and understanding our nation’s deep and complicated history. I humbly acknowledge I have much more to learn and am committed to doing so.  — Alison Sherman

I am proud of my mixed-race identity as my father is Caucasian and my mother is Hispanic…

Yet, each person is prone to developing inherent biases due to their own cultural lenses in how they view and experience the world. To this point, I continue to be intentional about increasing my own intercultural competence… — Andrew Thelander

All of the liberal candidates, including three who are currently on the school board, accepted the premise that systemic and institutional racism is alive and well in Stillwater Schools. Really? Who’s been in charge while all of this systemic racism has been allowed to exist? Throw the racist bums out! Current Board Member Allison Sherman said, “Institutional racism can also be found in school policies and procedures which can adversely harm and impact BIPOC students.” Why hasn’t she identified and changed these racist policies and procedures? Talk about a “self-burn.”

Of course, the only concrete example any of them raised was counting how many teachers of color the district had compared to the number of students of color. I guess Stillwater will be watching Minneapolis as they attempt to retain teachers based on the color of their skin.

Jessica Johnson and Phil St. Ores, two of the parent-endorsed candidates, had much better answers to these ridiculous questions. Both challenged the premise that Stillwater Schools are suffering from systemic racism.

If the union has evidence that systemic or institutional racism is occurring within our district, please share. I would work with the other board members to put an end to it if found to be true. — Jessica Johnson

I know of no systemic or institutional racism in Stillwater public schools. Given this question has been has been asked for years, I would expect your previously endorsed candidates should have addressed it by now.   If there is racism, I will address it promptly as a board member.  — Phil St. Ores

Good point! Johnson and St. Ores also rejected the idea that their racial identity had much to do with how they would serve as school board members. Johnson said, “My identity is much more complex than either the heritage of my ancestors or the pigmentation of my skin.” St. Ores said, “I have never thought about expanding my racial and cultural lens given everyone I worked with, and hired, was a high performer.   After all, poverty and the lack of education is the great divide.”

Another poorly worded question from the Stillwater teachers’ union had to do with this question of governance verses management that’s been the focus of trainings sponsored by the Minnesota School Board Association. According to them, elected school board members have very little power to influence the daily life of a school district and just provide a broad vision, or governance. Here is the union’s attempt to identify candidates that might want to influence the management of the district:

As described by the Minnesota School Boards Association, what does governance mean to you in terms of board work and the role of the school board members?

Are candidates supposed to answer for themselves or “as described by the MSBA?” It’s a very confusing and poorly worded question. It’s also the beginning of the indoctrination process for new school board members. You will vote yes, stay quiet and do what the superintendent says.

Johnson and St. Ores deserve credit for taking the time to fill out the union questionnaire even though they had no chance (or desire) of receiving the endorsement. Between this survey and the Minnesota Parents Alliance voter guide, parents in Stillwater have all the information they need to make an informed choice for school board.