A week of interviewing three finalists for the Saint Paul Public Schools superintendent’s job came to a lively end Thursday night as about 30 high school students stood outside the district headquarters holding signs and yelling out that they did not want the school board to hire North Branch superintendent Deborah Henton. It was Henton’s turn to meet with the press, the public and the Board of Education Thursday.
The protest was organized by Cheng Mee, a senior at Harding High School, where Henton served as principal from 2001 to 2005. Mee said many of the Hmong parents did not like Henton because of some things that happened while they had children at the school. “Henton was not supportive of minorities,” Mee said. Most of the protesting students were from Harding, but some were from Como Park and Central high schools. Two teachers and a counselor from Central stood off to the side. They said they were there to support their students.
One boy with the group explained that when Henton was the principal at Harding students from Washington High School came to the school and started fighting with the Asian kids. He said students who were beaten but did not start the fight were suspended from school. The parents, he said, are still angry about it.
At 5 p.m. the crowd moved into a conference room in the building where Henton was to take questions from the public.
As the meeting began, Henton said she was happy to “see so many kids” at the meeting. She introduced herself to the roomful of people by saying she’s learned that “we are more alike than we are different,” and began to quote Donald Brown, author of Human Universals, who lists five categories of human similarities. Henton listed them: Human beings have a need for security and want to feel secure with their leaders, and humans have a need for community, clarity, authority and respect.
Then the questions from the public began.
A high school student asked how she would help teachers help students in raising test results. She said teachers need time to meet together to learn from each other. She calls these “professional learning communities.”
When asked if race and poverty have a role in the achievement gap, she said poverty does, but race does not. Another question came later asking how she could say that race is not a factor in student achievement when African-American males, despite family income, tend to score lowest on standardized tests.
She said that achievement is effort-based, not race-based. “We need to teach our kids that it’s not about race. . . . not that culture doesn’t play a big role,” she said.
A question came from the audience that was read in both Hmong and English. Essentially it said that when Henton was at Harding she did not support the Hmong students. There was a fight that happened and she did not support the students, it said. “You treated other students with more fairness than you treated the Hmong students.”
“That’s an opinion,” Henton responded. “Here are the facts. A number of students were involved in a fight with different groups. There was a discipline situation that left [some bad feelings]. Perhaps you are talking about that.” She said she would like to talk to those who were there who felt she had not treated the students fairly.
She was asked at the end of the public meeting what her strengths were and she said she had a lot of courage. “It took courage for me to come in here with people outside chanting and holding signs. I have a lot of courage.”
Answering questions at a press conference in the afternoon, Henton said that if she was given the job she would continue with plans set under Meria Carstarphen and interim Superintendent Suzanne Kelly. She said when she worked in the district as chief of staff she was part of crafting the current strategic plan.
Answering questions from the board in the evening session, Henton was asked about the Q Comp program in her current district, North Branch. Q Comp is a performance-based pay system for teachers. She said it’s working well in North Branch but said it’s essential to have harmonious relationships with the employee unions for it to work.
Henton’s contract with North Branch expires in June. If she were offered the Saint Paul job, she is not sure when she would start. She said she has not “had that conversation” with her current school board.
Valeria Silva, chief academic officer in SPPS; Charles Hopson, deputy superintendent in the Portland, Oregon public schools; and Deb Henton, superintendent in North Branch were named November 14 as the three finalists for superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS). A decision by the board is scheduled for Monday, November 23.
To offer feedback to the board, fill out a feedback form at the afternoon public candidate forums or at the SPPS website.
Hometown candidate for St. Paul superintendent (TC Daily Planet)
For St. Paul school district’s Silva, a tough call, with a pledge to serve (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
Charles Hopson: Portland to St. Paul? (TC Daily Planet)
Candidate for St. Paul schools chief comes to town: Portland’s Hopson likes what he sees (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
St. Paul Public Schools select a superintendent: The semi-finalist round (TC Daily Planet)
Three finalists named for St. Paul Schools superintendent post (St. Paul Pioneer Press)