La Shella Sims describes herself as a "community person." To her, that means getting involved with her church, her children's schools and social justice organizations. She decided to run for the School Board because she feels "the role of education in my life has come full circle."
Her two children have graduated from North High School's Summatech magnet program; now, Sims is getting her own degree in education. She feels that her years of parent involvement in the Minneapolis Public Schools are an asset to the School Board.
Besides being involved with her children's education, Sims has been a member of the school district's faculty professional development committee. She said this experience gives her insight on the inner workings of the district. "At this point, I'm an asset to the system. A lot of parents who've been involved for 12 years are assets; when their children graduate, the system loses their assets. I know the system, I've been in the system, and I've stayed connected with the system," said Sims.
A political newcomer, Sims has not run for office before. She finished seventh in the primary (eight candidates qualified for the Nov. 5 general election), but said she thinks her chances are better in November because she believes she will appeal more to a wider variety of voters who didn't vote in the primary.
Sims is the daughter of a West Virginia coal miner, and said that although her parents didn't graduate from high school, they instilled the value of education in her. Sims said her focus on improving the reading skills of Minneapolis children comes from her family's dedication to reading.
Carl Griffin is the Development Director for a youth organization in north Minneapolis and, like Sims, has been a board member of the Headwaters Fund, a nonprofit organization that gives small grants to local nonprofits. He said Sims' dedication to education is real. "The value of education is very strong with La Shella. She has children that have gone through the system, and [she] hasn't had a whole lot of money. She believes in making sure that people are getting the appropriate access to a decent education to compete in the world," said Griffin.
Griffin said that as a Headwaters director, Sims has the capacity to make others see what she sees. He recalls an organization on a shoestring budget that didn't make a good impression on Headwaters directors. "La Shella does not monopolize conversations, but she really saw that part of the reason the organization didn't rank well was because of a social class thing," Griffin said. "She saw things that were missed by our folks, because the organization didn't present itself well. She advocated for them, and we ended up giving them the grant."
Race and residence are potentially significant factors in Sims' bid. She is the only north Minneapolis resident, and one of two African-Americans, in the eight-candidate field. Al Gallmon, a north-side African American board member, is retiring, leaving only one other African-American on the seven-member board in a district where minority children are a majority of
Sims said she won't focus on her race in her campaign. "I do bring that to the table, there's no denying it. But I don't want to emphasize that and limit my scope to only consider issues that relate to the north side or to African-Americans," said Sims.
Sims refuses to accept that there will be funding cuts from the state legislature, even though education spending is a major part of a state budget with a projected $2 billion-plus deficit in the 2003-2005 biennium. "It pains me to hear people accept it. That type of thinking, accepting that it will happen, I don't believe in. There's always something we can do," said Sims.
She admits that she doesn't know exactly how the schools have lobbied the state legislature. However, she believes that the negative impression some legislators have of the Minneapolis Public Schools can be changed by relationship-building. "We need to take time to go deeper, way before the session starts, and to talk to them to find out what has caused their negative experiences with the schools," said Sims.
Catherine Shreves, the current School Board President, empathizes with Sims. "I give La Shella credit -- I felt that way when I was running," said Shreves. "It's a hard reality to face. But the reality is that you have to plan for it."
The problems with funding urban districts goes deeper than relationships, said Shreves. "Relationships are one of the things we have done successfully," she said. "But some of the legislators are running their campaigns on getting rid of compensatory money for urban
districts. For them, it isn't about
Sims didn't receive the DFL and Minneapolis Teachers Federation endorsements, but said she wasn't expecting to receive the endorsements. She plans to focus her attention on the people who know her, the organizations that she's been involved with and voters who look for candidates outside of the endorsements.
LA SHELLA SIMS Address: 915 Upton Ave N., 55411 Phone: 588-3762 E-mail: [email protected] (no website) Occupation Data entry, Hennepin County Faculty Associates Family: Divorced, two graduates of North High School