Our support for community challenges

COVID-19 Racial Injustice

Report date
May 2020
Learning Log

Reflections on my Fellowship Journey: My Fellowship Overall was great, fulfilling, enhanced/enriched my leadership, perspectives, and will impact me positively for the rest of my life. I have traveled to six countries in four continents, learned from six unique public education models, met their leaders, and established friendships that will last a lifetime. In Minnesota, I had reached out and met many public education leaders, learned about their challenges and accomplishments, but most of all, I enjoyed connecting with and getting to know Minnesota School Board Members of Color, which I co-founded, throughout Minnesota as a support network for people of color, from Bemidji, St. Cloud, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, to Winona, St. James, and Moorhead, and many other communities in between. I have learned the most from this group, who most often are the only person of color or Native on their boards. The similarity of how minority or Native school board members were treated and continue to be treated in the boardroom has been the most surprising discovery in my Fellowship Journey. From the start when I was elected to Mankato Area Public Schools in November 2015, I was treated horribly, beyond what words can describe, simply because I was different from my colleagues in the boardroom, who were at that time All white women, and they reserved no energy to try and exclude me in the board governance at every opportunity along the way, and I feel that, If they had invested all the energy it took to exclude me and used it to improve our District's educational inequities, we would have ended up with much improved school district for all our children. Throughout my Fellowship Journey, I have discovered that my experience in the boardroom was not unique at all in Minnesota or the country, and this is one of the biggest barriers to addressing the so called "Achievement Gap" in the United States. Majority white school boards, even in majority minority communities, usually elect a one person of color on the board as a token and window dressing, that is intended to have no opinion, and does not share board leadership positions, which are elected among the board members every year. The experience most common among lone person of color in all white school boards, include learning at the board table that issues to be discussed at the table are already discussed and decided on in exclusion of the single board member of color, before arriving at the table, and in violation of the Open Meeting Law. To resolve the "Achievement Gap" or the " Opportunity Gap", we must find a way to have school boards reflect student racial and cultural composition of every community, all significant cultures must be represented in the boardroom table, to address educational inequities at the local level, and set up policies that lead to racial and cultural representation in public education workforce and leadership from E-12 to higher ed. Representation matters and systems will not change until good old institutions are made to loosen up and reflect the reality in the demographics of communities across Minnesota and the country. I have learned many things from different countries in the Globe that deliver equitable public education, to possibly use and help improve our own public education: Chief among them are; Canada's 100% Federally funded public education, with no local or State component, unlike our system. The model allows equitable funding for inner city, suburban community, Native reservation, and affluent communities. Because of this funding, throughout Canada, you will see more or less similar outcomes for culturally different communities and student groups. For this Canadian model, accountability is also achieved effectively, even though local school boards, trustees as they are called in Canada are elected by the people, they can be disbanded by the Federal Government, if they mismanage the district funding, and the FEDS can ask the people to elect new group of trustees to take over. This seems to incentivize the trustees to manage public funds well and avoid being disbanded. The Canadian also surprisingly has Catholic Schools that are also public funded, in addition to having a French and English language public schools. The areas of Canada where I visited also have higher proportions of students from home languages other than English language, and overall, English Language Learners acquire language acquisition in much faster rate the United States. In Finland, which has the best education outcome Globally, has been reforming their public education since early 1970s, with all stake holders at the table, and this intentional and persistent effort resulted in a public education today in Finland that values teachers the highest among all professions. Teachers in Finland are the highest compensated among all profession, they have autonomy to prescribe education down to the individual pupil. E-12 Public Education in Finland has no standardized testing and students learn out of curiosity, interest, and passion, and not for testing. Public Education system in Finland also embraces and values all their student groups, their cultures and home languages, to the extend that for example, the three major student home language groups, which are Estonian, Russian, and Somali: Their languages are taught in the public education system and their cultures embraced by the system. This results in student that are self confident, proud of their heritage and identity, and fully contribute to their adopted home country, including using their language skills to facilitate Global commerce and support the national security of Finland with their unique skills. As a result of this equitable public education in Finland, currently, the five biggest political parties in Finland are lead by young women, and Finland currently has the youngest female prime minister in the world. Equitable education like the one in Finland, creates a society that has no barriers for it's citizens, citizens are able to realize their full potential, regardless of their gender, race, national origin, lifestyle, and so on and so forth. Throughout the Globe, leadership, intentions, policies, and mindsets, produce better education outcomes, regardless of level of national resources. Among the countries I visited included the smallest country in continental Africa, The Gambia, with a population of less than two million, and since 1997, with intentions, persistence, and without a lot of resources, achieved many educational milestones for their citizens today, and will benefit collectively in the long run as a result. During my visit in Taiwan, a small very successful liberal democracy in the shadows of and in constant threat of being incorporated into the all powerful communist China, I have learned that they have embraced their historical oppression of their indigenous communities, and created systems to right the historical wrongs, such us going in great length to embrace indigenous languages and restore them in the public education system, as well as establish Federal Agency run by indigenous people, who are about 3% of the population, to support indigenous communities, and address historical wrongs.
What I wish I had known when I started perhaps was to consult with more former Bush Fellows/Elected Officials to further maximize my Fellowship overall and the other thing I wish I had known at the beginning of my Fellowship is that two years which seemed a lot at the start of the Fellowship, comes and goes very quickly. I had received information and support as much as requested and needed from the Bush Foundation Support Team, and for that I am very grateful.