An interview with Richard Mammen (RM)
MSR: Why do you want to be a member of the Minneapolis Public School Board?
RM: We really are at the crossroads in our community. Our city has such tragic results for so many kids that we have to refocus on them. I believe I bring urgency and advocacy that I have brought for the last 40 years. We need to do better by our children. I truly believe we can do better.
MSR: What is your position on the closing of North High School?
RM: The superintendent and the board gave up on the North High School students. They have abandoned their task. North High needs to survive. It needs to thrive.
MSR: Why shouldn’t Superintendent Johnson resign if her recommendation for North High is a charter school?
RM: We can infer lots of things. Her recommendation is to stop sending ninth graders to North High. Should she resign? No. I’m calling for leadership that is going to be effective. I’m calling for people to get back to work.
We want the best possible education available for our children. I choose to try to improve North. I suggest we start with students and families to tell us what the solution is.
MSR: With 65 percent of the district being children of color, is it important to have teachers and principals that look like the children they serve?
RM: It’s very important. Kids need to literally see and feel themselves successful. Cultural competency is a real issue in our schools and should be valued. It should be pursued aggressively.
MSR: In the last three years, seven African American principals have been demoted. There has been no transparency. The Principals’ Academy is less than 25 percent people of color. How do we change this trend?
RM: This is an area that I look for leadership from the superintendent. The board needs to be clear of what outcomes they want to see, and she needs to fulfill them.
MSR: A covenant with the African American community, with the African American Mobilization for Education as the community agent, was signed by the MPS school board two years ago. Nothing has been implemented from the covenant, which is based on creating greater successes for African American children. It’s on the MPS website, but there is no movement, no progress. Have you read it, and will you work to assure that MPS fulfills its commitment?
RM: Yes, I have read the covenant. All the contracts the district has must be met, and where they haven’t been fulfilled, the district needs to tell the community its intent.
You have to elect people you can trust. Where things aren’t happening, you have to develop strategies to make it happen. Kicking and screaming hasn’t worked. This is going to take collaborate advocacy and effort, honesty and forthright discussions.
MSR: A lot of promises were made to the African American community with the Northside Initiative. Again, the practice fell short for the African American community. How can we trust that the district will do what it says in relationship to the African Americans?
RM: By going back and holding people to the agreements that were made. There is a lot of confusion about the agreements that were made. The district has tried a lot of things and has failed at all of them.
MSR: After 13 years, the Minneapolis Public Schools stopped financial support to the partnership with the community for the largest Kwanzaa celebration in the state. Why?
RM: I have no idea what went into the decision-making. In the past, the district saw the value in the program and the cultural literacy. I’m assuming they made the decision for some reason. I personally saw great value in the program. It brought together the community. I will ask why they made this decision.
MSR: Is MPS trying to undermine the success of the African American children?
RM: Institutional racism is a reality. I am hopeful that the leadership of the district is committed to the success of all children, including African Americans. They must recognize that there are special challenges and opportunities.
MSR: How do you think your 40 years of experience will help you be an effective school board member?
RM: Over the last 40 years, when working with the most at-risk kids – I mean poor [kids] and kids that have very few positive opportunities in their lives – I felt that we should always put something positive in front of them. It meant to talk with kids and create relationships.
MSR: Have Title I dollars served the needs of MPS students?
RM: No, not adequately. It is part of a bigger puzzle. Are dollars administered properly, and are they reaching the children they are supposed to reach? My understanding is no.
I think all funding has to be put on the table. Money should follow kids. That is the filter we must run funds through. Title I is one important part of that.
MSR: There are four people running for two at large positions for the MPS school board. Why should the community vote for you?
RM: I’m intent on creating a stronger community for children and families, and I know how to get results. I have 40 years of experience. I understand the importance of change and how to achieve it.
I have experience in leading. I have created institutions that support children and families. I have lifelong experience of living in the community. You are not voting for me, but [for] a person who will bring hundreds of people together. It’s not about how smart I am; it is about how smart we are.
[I have] an ability to reach all areas of this community, [from] those that are considered the most powerful to those that are considered the least powerful, with respect for all. Minneapolis has to decide about the future of its children.