School Board District 4: Three first-time candidates vie for open seat

School Board District 4

Editor’s note: This story was written in advance of the Minneapolis School Board’s August District 4 primary, won by Adriana Cerrillo and Christa Mins. You can read a story about Cerrillo and Mims’ general election race here.

The Southwest Journal’s 2020 voter’s guide to the general election includes stories on the three competitive races for the School Board and questionnaires with candidates running for the U.S. House and the state House and Senate. We also include a rundown of everything you’ll see on your ballot, including an explanation of the city’s two referendums. You can read our full 2020 voter’s guide here.

The District 4 primary pits a Spanish dual-immersion parent against a Hennepin County social worker and an entrepreneur- turned-schoolteacher.

Adriana Cerrillo, Christa Mims and Ken Shain, all first-time candidates for public office, are seeking election to a seat that covers Downtown, the ECCO neighborhood and the seven Southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods north of Lake Street.

One-term incumbent Bob Walser is not running.

The Minneapolis DFL endorsed Mims over Cerrillo and a third candidate, Kirsten Ragatz, during a virtual convention held April 25-May 4. Ragatz did not file for election.

Shain said he would have sought the DFL endorsement but didn’t because he thought Walser was running; he said he had planned to support Walser for the seat.

Walser declined to comment on when and why he decided not to run but said he would support Shain over Mims and Cerrillo.

“Ken’s values are the closest to mine,” he said.

The Minneapolis teachers union did not endorse a candidate in this race.

Adriana Cerrillo
Adriana Cerrillo

Adriana Cerrillo

Cerrillo, who has her own consulting business and has been active in fighting for immigrants’ rights, is the guardian of her 11-year-old nephew, who attends Emerson Spanish Immersion Learning Center in the Loring Park neighborhood. She is on the school’s site council.

Since moving to Minnesota in 2013, Cerrillo has sat on the Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission, advocated for a sanctuary platform for undocumented immigrants and urged the firing of a Chaska police officer accused of racial profiling.

From 2018 to 2020, she helped over 100 families — mostly families of color — navigate the local education system as a family advocate with the nonprofit Minnesota Comeback, now called Great Minnesota Schools.

Cerrillo said she feels that she has a duty and obligation to run for School Board, adding that she wants to work on “policy that makes sense” and that the board should reflect the community.

She is calling for “solutions” instead of suspensions, equality in funding for schools and diverse curricula and staff.

She said she’s passionate about getting therapists into every single school and that the district needs to provide students with the resources they need in order to close achievement gaps.

All schools should have health care professionals working in them, she said, and the district should look to community partnerships to provide students with support when it doesn’t have resources.

“We need to be radical in our approaches when it comes to education,” she said.

Cerrillo opposed the Comprehensive District Design (CDD) restructuring plan, passed on a 6-3 vote in May, which she believes was more about reducing transportation costs than addressing inequality.

District leaders said the goals of the plan, which redraws attendance zones, reprograms schools and restructures high school career-technical education programming, are to reduce segregation and give all students a well-rounded education.

Cerrillo said she would attend parent- teacher association and site council meetings at District 4 schools if elected.

“We need to be at the table with families,” she said.

Christa Mims
Christa Mims

Christa Mims

Mims, a Hennepin County senior social worker who works with Indigenous youth and families in child protection, envisions a school district with a strong academic reputation that retains its students and makes them feel welcome.

“I think that we’re absolutely capable of all of those things, and I really do believe that’s where we’re headed,” she said. “We have to be willing to do the work, and we have to be willing to make changes where they’re needed.”

She said her top priorities if elected would include closing racial disparities, investing in teachers and staff of color, empowering parents and families and ensuring the district’s financial stability.

Decisions need to be made using a race-equity lens, she said, curricula need to be culturally responsive to students and the district should talk with teachers of color to see what barriers there are to recruiting more teachers of color.

While Mims declined to comment on the specifics of the CDD — “I don’t think it is helpful to … dwell on that decision” — she said the district needs to be transparent as it implements the plan.

“I know there were a lot of very upset people,” she said. “I hear that, and I want those families, those teachers, all of those people to feel like they still have a voice in the transition process.”

Mims is endorsed by state Sen. Scott Dibble (District 61) in addition to the DFL. She has a master’s degree in social work and is on the board of the nonprofit Domestic Abuse Project. She is also a fellow with a progressive nonprofit leadership group called the New Leaders Council.

She and her wife live downtown.

Ken Shain
Ken Shain

Shain, a longtime entrepreneur who began teaching full time in 2014, said his priority if elected would be ensuring MPS’ survival, adding that he’s worried about the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating its recent financial troubles.

He also said that it’s critical that public education isn’t privatized because privatization would lead to variable educational experiences and “rampant” resegregation.

Shain, who was on a panel in the 1980s that advised Georgia’s governor about engineering curricula, said students should learn skills they’ll need when they enter the workforce.

He said the district needs to do a better job of screening out teachers who harbor racial prejudices and that teachers who are racist should not be in the classroom.

“Every teacher in the district should be able to look their students in the eye and see a little brother or sister,” he said.

Shain said many teachers in the district have asked him to run because they were afraid the other two candidates “weren’t committed to public education.”

He said he thinks the CDD vote was rushed and that district leaders used listening sessions this past winter as a way to sell the plan to the public instead of taking feedback.

He called for community oversight of the CDD as it’s implemented and predicted that the plan will change as registration patterns shift.

Shain was one of 132 teachers statewide named as a candidate for the 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year award. He has spent much of the past three years at Stadium View, which is for students in Hennepin County’s juvenile detention center.

The Bernie Sanders-inspired progressive group Our Revolution Twin Cities has endorsed his campaign.