Photo by Kent Landerholm, 2012

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At its meeting on January 11 the ISD 196 (Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan) School Board heard from former school board candidate Rebecca Gierok, who has been advocating in support of Echo Park Elementary School teacher Qorsho Hassan. Ms. Gierok urged the Board to issue a public statement in support of Qorsho and commit to listening to and implementing changes requested by students, parents, staff, and teachers of color.

Last summer Qorsho was honored as the 2020 Teacher of the Year by Education Minnesota and was interviewed by Eagan Television and KARE11. Last fall Qorsho assigned to her 4th grade students a widely acclaimed, bestselling book titled Something Happened In Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice. The book depicts how two families discuss the police shooting of a black man.

In October the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association publicly complained to Governor Walz that the book "leaves the impression unchecked that police officers routinely pull over, arrest, and kill black people without consequence." The Star Tribune reported that three state legislators similarly criticized the book. In response, the Minnesota Departments of Health and Education issued a joint statement "saying the book won multiple awards and was authored by psychologists 'seeking to help children process a difficult set of issues.'" Dakota County United Educators likewise supported Qorsho's use of the book in her classroom.

The Pioneer Press reported that ISD 196's communications director, Tony Taschner, initially stated that "[t]he district was unaware the book ... was being used with a fourth-grade class at Echo Park," and that "[t]he book is a resource cited by the Minnesota Department of Education but is not part of the district curriculum. District and school administrators are looking into how the book was used.” The District later clarified that ISD 196 Superintendent Mary Kreger sent parents a statement that said, in part, that the book "is not in the District 196 curriculum or elementary classroom libraries, but it can be used appropriately with elementary age children." Superintendent Kreger also said that "[a]nti-racist work must be a critical part of the fabric of our district."

In November the Sahan Journal chronicled the history of the controversy and quoted Qorsho as saying that with ISD 196's initial statement, "[e]ssentially, they threw me under the bus." Qorsho defended her use of the book and said a "tone has been present this entire time from the district: the willingness to be silent, to keep peace instead of really owning the truth and really tackling this issue of racism and being firmly against it."

Both at a November 16th protest held prior to a special School Board meeting and at the regular School Board meeting on December 14, some district residents seemed to agree. They "said district officials have not done enough to publicly support [Qorsho] after the initial backlash from the book," according to this December 16 story from Sun ThisWeek. At its December 14 meeting ISD 196 staff presented to the School Board an update regarding ISD 196's progress towards promoting equity and inclusion. Superintendent Kreger noted that the recently-formed Equity Advisory Council has met twice and will help inform decision making in the future. Superintendent Kreger also explained that ISD 196 is in the process of hiring a director of equity and inclusion.

Updated: Jan 12

Update: During its January 11 special meeting, Marcus Hill and Daymond Dean were interviewed by the Board. After rounds of voting the Board again deadlocked 3-3. While discussing the Board's options, Board Chair Joanne Mansur said if the Board is unable to resolve the stalemate, the Board could remain a 6-member board for the remainder of the year. Chair Mansur was opposed to seeking public comment regarding the appointment. Board member Terry Stamman also spoke in opposition to seeking public input regarding the appointment.

After rounds of voting, Board member Brenda Corbett eventually changed her vote to support Mr. Hill. Marcus Hill was then appointed to fill the vacancy through January 3, 2022. Pursuant to state law, the appointment will become effective after 30 days unless a petition is filed to reject the appointee bearing the signatures of individuals eligible to vote comprising at least 5% of the number of people who voted within the district in the most recent state general election. 5% of those who voted in the November general election would be approximately 1,983 individuals.

Background Information

In November ISD 197 (West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan) School Board member Stephanie Levine was elected as mayor of Mendota Heights. Mayor-elect Levine notified the Board of her intent to resign her school board seat effective December 31, 2020. Because the term of that seat ends on January 3, 2022, the Board must fill the vacancy by appointment and does not need to hold a special election. During its meeting on December 7, the Board discussed the process for making an appointment. The Board accepted applications to fill the vacancy through December 22, 2020.

There were 25 applicants to fill the vacancy, of whom one was ineligible and one withdrew. The 23 applicants that remained were Cory Engelhardt, Martha Henrickson, Hannah Lichtsinn, Marcus Hill, Rachel Quick, Peter Auran, Rita Laugerman, Abigail Hendricks, Delores Henderson, Rebecca Bullen, Heather Leigh, Jon Vaupel, Timothy Aune, Rachel Lew Power, Adam Crepeau, Sarah Larsen, Brandon Wilcox, Lisa Rogers, Daniel Halvorsen, Megan Redmond, Nicholas Lyons, Alana Lucio Thomas, and Daymond Dean.

During the January 4 School Board meeting (see video at 1:22:35) four applicants were nominated to fill the ISD 197 School Board vacancy, including Marcus Hill (2 nominations), Daymond Dean (2 nominations), Delores Henderson, and Daniel Halvorsen. After rounds of voting the School Board deadlocked 3-3 in favor of appointing either Mr. Hill or Mr. Dean. The School Board announced a special meeting to be held at 6 p.m. on January 11 to interview Mr. Hill and Mr. Dean and then discuss making an appointment.

Marcus Hill is a senior manager at Best Buy and has worked on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues for several years including as the chair for Best Buy's Black Employee Resource Group. He previously was the director of data client management for

Information Resources, Inc., a data analytics and market research company. Mr. Hill currently serves on the board of the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. He has school-age children and lives in West St. Paul.

Daymond Dean is an Assistant Football Coach at Macalester College. He previously worked as an administrator at Macalester College, at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, a K-12 private school, and for Hearthstone of Minnesota, which operated group homes for at-risk adolescent boys. Mr. Dean has volunteered on the parent advisory committee for Henry Sibley High School and helped develop ISD 197's strategic plan. He has also served on multiple boards and committees, both at Macalester College and with other organizations. Mr. Dean lives in Mendota Heights.

The application submitted by Daymond Dean is available here and the application submitted by Marcus Hill is available here. The names of those who applied for the vacancy were released to individuals who contacted ISD 197 asking who the applicants were the same day as the January 4 School Board meeting. Additional information submitted by applicants was released by ISD 197 days after the January 4 School Board meeting pursuant to a data request. A PDF chart listing the city, education and training, employment history, and volunteer work listed by each applicant within their application materials is available here. You may also download a copy of a spreadsheet released by ISD 197 containing that information here. More information is available via this West St. Paul Reader article.

Updated: Jan 18

During our January 2021 meeting our featured speaker was our resident history instructor, Frank Sachs. In this presentation, Frank addressed what makes some inaugural addresses stand out, achieve greatness, and be remembered through the ages, while others have slipped away and have faded from memory.

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