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Meet the candidate: Yusef Carrillo

School Board candidate 

What are your three biggest priorities if you are elected? Please try to keep each priority to one sentence.

A. Transform the culture of our administration to help them focus on transparency.  Leading our schools from the bottom up rather than with a top down management structure. 

B. Revitalize our schools by focusing our efforts on developing strong, resilient and healthy school site leadership teams, composed of Educators, Parents, Staff,  Students and Site Administrators. 

C. Make sure that our board and district truly engage with the community and stakeholders in our decision-making, not to buy in support for already made decisions, but to build our district together.

The School Board recently passed a $1 billion budget for St. Paul Public Schools for the 2024 fiscal year, the first budget of that size for any district in the state, with a plan to increase the number of teacher and support staff in the district. The increased budget includes an increase in state funding, a substantial portion of general reserve funds and federal COVID relief funds that will sunset at the end of next year. Do you approve of the plan for this budget? How will you prioritize budget items in future years as funding sources reduce, sunset or become otherwise unavailable?

I was aware of the sunsetting of ARP funds back in 2021. I believe that the overall plan for the budget has not really been vetted by the community to understand if the impact of the targeted funds is going to be the most effective. I believe, on paper that using funds to hire school site staff is the most effective use. However, if our schools are not supported and struggle with low morale, safety concerns and a high turnover rate in our staff, the overall effectiveness of the use of funds becomes diluted by our own misgovernment. I believe that the budgeting process needs to be more transparent and people need to have early access to understand what are the main drivers for budgeting throughout the year. I would focus on targeting funds that sunset on effective curriculum and targeted investment on culturally relevant learning materials for our students. While staffing can help, one to three years of staffing increases, followed by sharp declines only help to reinforce that our public education system is not the priority of our society.

As we emerge from the COVID pandemic, test scores are continuing to show students tracking behind pre-pandemic levels. While test scores aren’t the only measure of academic success, what are your thoughts on the district’s response to the learning loss experienced by students during the pandemic? 

My biggest concern for post pandemic return to school was that there was a general assumption of business as usual for many schools, especially elementary schools. The COVID pandemic reinforced already existing discrepancies and inequities in our system as the lack of socialization and isolation affected lower income students in our district. A lot of our kids lost crucial years for socializing, emotional development and reading and math skills. However, students and families have shown a tremendous resilience to recover lost ground. The question is if we are ready to meet their needs and their desire to learn. I believe that as a district our educators are ready to meet the need, but we need to support them on the ground with the training, staffing support, and especially the intervention support for the small number of students that really need the one on one to feel part of a learning community. I think focusing our efforts on those students that lost key years in reading development will be the most effective way to invest our effort and funds, as it will help them recover lost time. 

Student’s need to feel safe to learn their best, yet St. Paul Public Schools has had a number of high profile violent incidents in recent years. In fact, a recent survey by SPPS found that about a quarter of families reported one or more of their children being involved in a violent incident. What is your position on how the district is addressing violence in St. Paul’s schools and ensuring student safety?

The response from the district administration has been underwhelming. SPPS has really focused their efforts on making sure that people understand what crisis response is and what people do in SPPS to handle crisis response. I don’t want to minimize the efforts of the teams that are currently working at schools and in the central office to make sure we respond to safety situations in a timely manner. But to equate that to safety is short sighted and it shows the lack of clarity and leadership we have on the issue. Safety begins when we are busy instituting cultures of accountability and trust in our schools, and also within our organization, at every level. We can’t claim to be working on safety if we still have a culture of retaliating against people who report incidents and deficiencies. I want SPPS to be a place where people can speak the truth (in kindness) with no fear of being sidelined or admonished. I want SPPS to invest heavily in adding more School Safety Liaisons, and fully implementing Restorative circles at each school site. I believe that students want to be a part of community more than anything. And some students lack that love and structure that a healthy community offers. I want to make sure that every student in SPPS feels like they are safe to learn and thrive, and that the staff in the District feel safe to want to be the best version of themselves. 

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