School Board – Joe Erickson

Augsburg professor Joe Erickson is excited about a lot of ideas in education, but says he can't pick one as his motivation for running for the Minneapolis School Board.

"It's not specific issues," he said. "It is, how are we going to get the whole community thinking of schools as our treasure? And I don't mean that lightly; it's about what do we really care for about our kids and how are we going to get the whole community organized around that."

Erickson is referring to the "Developmental Asset" model created by the Search Institute, an education research foundation. The model encourages communities to identify goals for their children, and form a community-wide plan to reach those goals.

Erickson, a former high school teacher who now teaches new teachers, insists that schools and the School Board cannot solve low educational achievement alone.

"I want to be part of that broader vision. People misunderstand us, they get mad at test scores and mad at graduation rates. Yeah, there are things we can do in the schools, but we are very limited. Ultimately, the solutions to these problems are in affordable housing, a better economy, and how does the school district work with that?" said Erickson.

Erickson said he would look at the broader vision when faced with more school budget cuts next year. Erickson thinks that the community needs to designate their core values, and base funding according to those values. "I want to take the philosophical approach," he said. "It's not cutting to save money. Clearly, if we wanted to save money, the easiest way to do it would be to cut class size. But since we value small classes, we cut according to our values and cut outside of the classroom," said Erickson.

Bill Green, a recently retired School Board director and 10-year colleague of Erickson's at Augsburg, strongly supports Erickson. Green said one of the toughest challenges facing Erickson and the board will be educating minority children. "In terms of challenges, achievement comes first, the achievement specifically of kids of color and adequate representation of the north side."

Green notes that Erickson lives in the Nicollet Island-East Bank neighborhood, straddling the city's Downtown and northeast communities. "He's not even from the north side technically, but if none of the candidates running from the north side get elected, Joe is closest to their region and going to be looked to," Green said. "On the north side, you've got a larger concentration of kids that are dealing with this high mobility stuff, and they're dealing with deeper poverty," said Green.

Erickson said he's qualified to lead that discussion. "I don't have all the answers, but at least I can frame the discussion. I can say these are the things people who research this are saying," he said. "As a therapist, I see families on an intimate level when they are dysfunctional, and I've also seen it at a very macro level doing research on thousands of kids

and families and how they are developing."

Erickson fervently believes in getting kids out of the classroom. His two children attend the Downtown Open K-8 school. "A great place for a school; my kids saw President Clinton when he had apple pie Downtown. How? They walked down the block," said Erickson.

He thinks kids learn best when they are excited about what they are learning, and said teachers need to be able to adapt to the kids' interests.

Erickson is quite candid that often people's attitudes towards education are colored by their own negative experience in school. Too often, discipline is the focus of school, instead of learning. "Parents think, if it was bad enough for me, it's bad enough for you," said Erickson.

"Frankly, that whole business -- the pragmatics of school discipline -- is such a misperceived view of what it means to be a teacher. That view of discipline is so punitive and coercive, and blinkered by a sort of prison-like mentality. Even teachers who are trying to be positive, like writing names on the board, completely misunderstand the whole process. It's assumed that people would be oppositional and it's going to be a battle. For good teachers, it's not a battle; good teachers don't even think about it. With good teachers, you don't think about goofing off because you don't want to miss something," said Erickson.

This is Erickson's second run for School Board. He sought the DFL endorsement in 2000, but dropped out of the race after he didn't receive it. Erickson got the endorsement this year, plus a bevy of labor endorsements. He came in fourth in the primary -- last among the DFL-endorsed candidates. Still, finishing fourth on Nov. 5 would earn him a School Board seat. He racked up over 6,000 more votes than the fifth-place finisher, Lucky Rosenbloom (who coincidentally is Erickson's former student).

JOE ERICKSON Address: 140 Bank St. S.E., 55414 Phone: 822-2691 E-mail: Website: Occupation: College professor and psychologist Family: Married, three children, two at Downtown Open Endorsements: DFL Party, StarTribune, AFL-CIO, COPE, AFSCME Local 14, MFT Local 59, SEIU Local 63, Mpls. Building Trades, United Auto Workers, Stonewall DFL Caucus, Progressive Minnesota