St. Paul School Board Candidate Questionnaire: Jessica Kopp

Jessica Kopp is running for St. Paul School Board. Learn more about her at http://www.jessica4stpaulschools.com/

How do you understand the school-to-prison pipeline, and how will you work to eradicate it?

As I understand it, the school-to-prison pipeline describes the movement of disadvantaged youth through our school systems into our prison systems because, but not limited to, zero tolerance and other discipline practices that push students out of the classroom. I’m concerned about the overrepresentation of African-American boys in our EBD (emotional behavior disorder) programs and am committed to reviewing current assessments used to identify students to screen for ambiguity and bias and adjust where necessary. We also need to look at the practice of placing all our elementary level 3 EBD programs in higher poverty, majority student of color schools and have an honest conversation about why that happens and how we change it.

Name a book, movie, individual or experience that has most influenced your understanding and orientation on the school to prison pipeline or youth justice? How did it affect your analysis and work?

I attended a Minnesota Education Equity Partnership forum “Excluded: How Race Plays a Role in Exclusionary Practices in Special Education in Minnesota” in March, 2019 which confirmed some things I knew and taught me so much that I didn’t. I know African-American boys are over-represented in EBD programs and as such may frequently be out of community with their peers. I had never considered how that diagnosis can be used as a tool of discipline and control. It created for me a real urgency to evaluate and adjust the assessment tools currently in use to eliminate bias and ambiguity to ensure precision in diagnosis so no student is unnecessarily labeled and that students who require those services receive them with skill and compassion.

Saint Paul Public Schools employs police officers/school resource officers (SROs) to work in several of its buildings. What is your position on the role of police in schools, and the cost of this service to the school district?

I believe the role of police in schools should be limited and that school communities (including teachers, administrators, students, and families) should be involved in the decision to place (or not place) an SRO in their building. I have talked to school communities who value their SRO’s presence and believe they contribute to a positive school climate. Importantly, these communities also report good relationships and open and honest communication within their communities and that their SROs are from their neighborhood which is deeply important to connection and accountability. School communities who do not want SRO’s in their buildings should have access to an equal amount of district dollars to implement community-based solutions to build a positive school climate in a way that best meets their needs.

Over the last three decades, spending on corrections in Minnesota has outpaced spending on K-12 education by nearly three times. Budgets are moral documents that express priorities and commitments. How will you use your position to advance investments in education instead of incarceration and systems of punishment and control?

As often as possible I will advocate for policies that prioritize investments in education to local, state, and federal officials. As a community member I have worked hard to elevate the topic of education and its vital role in the development of healthy communities and will continue to do so as a candidate and school board member and encourage my fellow candidates and colleagues to do the same.

The most recent data available show that black students are 8 times more likely to be suspended than white studentsin St. Paul Public Schools, and that the use of suspensions has been increasing in recent years. Students of color, especially black students, are overwhelmingly more likely to be pushed out of learning through exclusionary discipline practices. How will you address the alarming and growing disparities in the use of punitive and exclusionary discipline policies?

I’ll advocate for the continued collection and reporting of data and identifying best practices in and outside of SPPS for reducing and eliminating disparities. I think our learning communities would benefit from continued guided reflection on implicit bias and development of clear guidelines for which behaviors warrant suspension, making it less arbitrary and prone to bias.

How will you work to support the leadership of youth in co-creating their learning pathways, especially youth who are not traditionally supported in leadership roles?

To get inspiration for expanding leadership opportunities we should look to strong student leadership models in SPPS, like the Govie Leaders program at Johnson High School, as well as looking outside of SPPS at a program like Black Pride Organization at South St. Paul High School that encouarges leadership both inside and outside of the school. We should be intentional about talking to our students about being leaders and provide opportunities to be leaders in their school and community when they begin elementary school and invite partnership from our local universities, business community, community groups, and local non-profits to build creative, meaningful opportunities to lead.

What is your vision for meaningful engagement of youth and families in school buildings, and the district, to make sure all have a sense of ownership in what happens in schools and the district?

Continued support of SEAB (Student Engagement and Advancement Board) and exploring how it can be expanded to younger grades. I’d like to see the district support the expansion of high-quality, inclusive engagement at school level — the place closest to students and families. This can look like a lot of things and may vary from building to building. The goal should be to build trust with families by creating welcoming and responsive communication strategy (multiple modes, clear process to access translation services, etc ..) and providing regular opportunities for informal conversation between educators, administrators, and families where the school is focused on listening, not presenting. (I’d like to see the district do more listening and less presenting, too). School and district communication should use plain language (not education jargon) so families can feel confident in their knowledge of how to support their child’s learning and be unafraid of advocating or asking questions. I think it’s powerful for families to be able to contribute and lead in their school communities and in SPPS and I am not only committed, but excited to explore all the ways we can do this.

In the spring of 2018, all school board members approved a controversial data sharing “Joint Powers Agreement” that created a legal structure to share data and apply predictive analytics to flag youth “at risk” of delinquency. Due to community advocacy, that legal agreement has been dissolved. Yet Ramsey County, St. Paul Public Schools, and the city of St. Paul continue to push for data sharing. What is your position on that Joint Powers Agreement, data sharing, and predictive analytics? How will you work to ensure that sensitive family and youth data are protected, and that families and youth are partners in any collaboration around data or services?

I was/am opposed to the Joint Powers Agreement and grateful for the community advocacy and push back that stopped the original agreement from going forward. While I understand the intent, the terms of the agreement lacked specificity and the agreement did not address bias in data collection making the risk for harm and misuse too great. I would prefer the district, city, and county invest time and resources into community-built supports and interventions, using community input and solutions, rather than put the privacy and future of families and individuals in the hands of an algorithm. Youth and families should always be included in any collaboration around data or services as soon as possible in the process.

Students in the district bring a range of experiences, strengths and challenges from their homes and communities with them into schools. How can our schools build upon youth and family strengths, and reduce the impacts associated with adversities?

I’d like to support school communities to identify, amplify, and make the best use of their shared community knowledge — but first we need to start by recognizing the value of different experiences. Building a framework of shared knowledge based on the collective experience of a learning community demonstrates that all families are important and necessary to the health of the community. The opportunity to give and receive support builds strong relationships between families and creates more positive social connections for youth.

How can schools expand social and emotional supports for youth, rooted in healing, justice and wellness?

In addition to the expansion of restorative practices, I would love to see broader partnership with local non-profits as well as city and county services to bring family-centered supports into our school buildings. I would also like to see the framework of family to family support (described in response to question 9) used to raise and identify positive social connections for youth.

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