Tales out of School

An exit interview with former Minneapolis school-board member Bill Green

When a child is ill and needs to see a doctor or a nurse, most parents take them to the hospital or the clinic. But kids of poverty go to school because that is the only nurse they have access to. Kids can get glasses, clothing, food--things that are not even thought about in many other school districts. But that, unfortunately, figures into education [in Minneapolis]. Kids can't think, can't focus if they're hungry. They can't read if they can't see the page. So it is hard.

CP: How much does the appeasement of non-poverty parents and students contribute to the test-score disparity? For instance, some critics say schools segregate kids according to their perceived abilities.

Green: Well, the call for ability grouping comes from parents in poverty, too. The complaint about students not being able to learn because other kids are acting up cuts across class lines. The problem is, how do we ensure that the kids who are having troubles and disrupt the class don't lose out on education, too? I believe most families just want a good education for their kid and want the kind of diversity we can offer. If a school that may have a higher degree of poverty is still showing achievement and stability, then a middle-class family will put their kid in that school.

While on the Minneapolis school board, Bill Green missed interacting with students one-on-one
Craig Lassig
While on the Minneapolis school board, Bill Green missed interacting with students one-on-one

CP: There's been a lot of criticism recently about the pay raise given to Carol Johnson.

Green: I knew it would be misconstrued to either look like she was conspiring to make more money or that the board was soft-headed. But I agreed that we needed to do it. Carol is world-class and worth the money. She has a national reputation and gets calls from [recruiters in other school systems] on a weekly basis. But Carol's not about the money and never has been. The reason why I ultimately supported the increase was in part to position ourselves for the future. We're going to lose her someday; when her contract is up, she'll be at that age where she can retire. And we need to have in place some way to attract top-level superintendents, and, unfortunately, money is the way to do that.

CP: What is one of the reasons you think she is so valuable?

Green: She still knows teachers and parents who have called her up two or three years ago, and she can pick up the discussion as if there had not been a span of time separating their conversations. There is that kind of personal connection she exudes. You get the feeling that despite her acclaim and high profile and intelligence she is just a regular person. And you don't find folks on her level that have that quality.

CP: If you could change one thing from your eight years, what would it be?

Green: I'm just tired of our kids not knowing how to count and not knowing how to read as well as they should. Not just more kids passing a test, but better achievement across the board. I pushed as hard as I could, but being a board member isn't like being in a classroom, where I know when a child understands this or that basic principle and when I need to intervene--go talk to a parent or a teacher. School-board stuff is abstract and political. I can only do it for so long. It's important, but the heart of it is going to the classroom.

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