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Meet the St. Paul school board: Mary Doran
Mary Doran’s priority was never to be St. Paul’s first elected lesbian. As a parent and an active citizen – and as a laid-off worker with extra time on her hands – Doran spent more and more time volunteering in St. Paul Schools. Her new role as school board member is officially only part-time, but she’s making it a full-time job. Doran said before her term expires, she plans to visit every school in St. Paul and understand every job that an employee in the school system could have.
Doran worked for years at corporate Lifetime Fitness and has done freelance drafting and design work. She has two kids, and yes, she is an out lesbian – St. Paul’s first to be elected to a public position. She talked to the Daily Planet about what that means and about what she has planned for her new position.
Is there one teacher that sticks in your memory as someone who has influenced your life?
Wow. That’s going back a few years. I can’t think of their name, but it was a history teacher. He made it relevant to what was going on then. He kind of said, here’s the past, how it influenced what’s going on today. So he connected the two for me. Ever since then I’ve always been interested in history.
This is your first political appointment. What made you decide to enter that world?
I’m a political activist, so I’ve worked behind the scenes on campaigns, so there’s that aspect. I have two daughters in the school district, ages soon-to-be 8 and 11, and they’re both at the year-round school Crossroads Montessori. I started getting involved when I got laid off. I thought okay, I’m going to use this time to go and volunteer at my kids’ school because they always need volunteers.
And then I started noticing how the cuts at the district level were starting to affect the classroom, like class sizes got larger, and how come you don’t have that assistant anymore? I started noticing changes. I tried to understand, well, why are you putting a new floor in when you just laid off a couple of teachers? So then I went up a notch and went into the Citizens Budget and Finance Committee as a citizen and learned all about the intricacies of the budget. Then I understood that the money that went to fix the flooring – it’s a different pot of money that’s only used for structural upgrades.
After being on that committee for a couple years, I decided I want to go one more step up, and I wanted to be a voice and a vote.
If you could address one issue during your tenure on the school board, what would it be?
During my reign, one of the things I really do want to address is shoring up the communication better with the district, to not only the constituents, but partnering with community leaders, like 3M or the St. Paul Foundation, because there are a lot of wheels, there are a lot of balls in the air. The district is getting a lot better with their communication, now that we have a communication department. That helps. We’re streamlining it a little. It’s not perfect, yet, but we’re getting there.
What unique perspective do you bring to the school board that wasn’t well-represented before?
Well, this wasn’t one of my top things, but I am the first open lesbian elected to any office in St. Paul, which is kind of great, but sad all at the same time that it’s 2011 that it happened. But that’s all right. I have a perspective of that community as a parent. A few of the board members had children in the district or they’re just about done, but that’s one thing that I bring. I have young children in elementary school.
Do you feel that you have a special responsibility to queer or LGBT kids in St. Paul schools?
I’d be lying if I were not to say that, yeah, I’m a little more hyper-vigilant of that.
Growing up, was school hard for you?
Yes, it was on two fronts. I grew up in a small town, so I wasn’t out. I felt like I was the only one that was a lesbian. And number two, I have dyslexia, and it still continues to be something I work on regularly – you know, reading and writing and comprehending. My background is architectural drafting and design, so I can do calculus and trigonometry.
I would have to read chapters three or four times to understand – to comprehend it. And taking notes was difficult, because if someone’s lecturing and I’m writing a note, I completely missed the rest of what they’re saying. Technology has been kind. Now I have Dragon Speak, so I can get my thoughts down a lot quicker. Dragon Speak is a computer aid – you talk and it only knows your voice, so I do a lot of my emails now that way.
You said you grew up in a small town?
Yes, Monticello. There was no such thing as school choice. There was only one elementary, one junior high, one high school. My family still lives up there.
What brought you to the Twin Cities?
The LGBT scene is up here, where I could be more comfortable.
Having children as an LGBT is a whole different level of coming out – completely different. My partner and I, we kind of screened the schools. We wanted to know, does the principal understand LGBT issues? Are they comfortable with LGBT? We talked to teachers, every teacher that our kids ever had. We don’t want our daughters to have any issues with this. How can you address this?
We have a little bit more to worry about. I feel more like they could be picked on, and I’m doing the best I can to monitor that, but at the same time, they have to experience it, because it’s going to happen. We’ve given them the tools to deal with it. You talk to them, and if that doesn’t work, tell the teacher, and if that doesn’t work, then come to us.
Are there things schools and districts could do to better support LGBT families?
They are. They have revamped the Out for Equity program. They have brought in a wonderful person, Tiffany Lane. I’ve already spoken to her to find out what her thoughts might be, and I’m really excited. They’re bringing gay parents more into the district, communication-wise. We said this when we did ECFE – we were in the LGBT ECFE group – we have the same needs and wants for our children. We want to have a safe environment, a great education, but with that added stress of the bigotry that is out there. We’re a little more heightened to that. That’s why I like that the district has recognized that. I feel like they’re re-launching it, just making it bigger and better and more inclusive of everyone. They’re still focused on the LGBT kids and gay-straight alliance at the high school level, but they’re also bringing the parents in.
Do you have any advice for LGBT parents that are sending their kids to school for the first time?
I say this to all parents, especially newcomers, and I said this at the parent fair. I said, you have to go and tour the school during the day. Talk to the principal. When I walked into my kids’ school, I could feel that this is the school for her. This is perfect. She can thrive in this environment. I tell all parents that. And LGBT, talk to the principal, and you can get a sense from them if they’re comfortable talking to you or not.
I’m here to serve all the kids. I don’t have an agenda, but yeah, I do have things that I’m passionate about, and that’s the Out for Equity. I’m passionate about early childhood education. So this referendum to me is extremely important, because right now, that’s paying for the four-year-olds and some of the pre-Ks, and it’s also paying for a majority of the ECFE classes. I’ll be working hard on the referendum, because of those issues. These kids need a strong foundation – is my core.
You live in the Como neighborhood. What do you like about Como?
We live right by the lake, so that’s a great spot. I like going around the lake with my eight-year-old. We take my bird book, and instead of taking 45 minutes to go around the lake, it takes us easily an hour and a half, because she likes to stop. She sees a bird and we have to sit and look up the bird, so she’s really interested in wildlife, which I enjoy because I enjoy that too.
© 2012 Alleen Brown