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Pam Costain's Defense of David Jennings (Nov. 2003)

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Pam Costain's Defense of David Jennings (Nov. 2003)

 "During this past year I also had the opportunity to work fairly closely with David Jennings. Over time I came to appreciate what a gift he was to the Minneapolis Public Schools and how right Carol Johnson had been to hire him..."

- Pam Costain, in a November 2003 letter to the editor of Southside Pride.

I, Doug Mann opposed the Board's decision to hire David Jennings as the interim, then permanent, superintendent. 

Jennings played a big role in formulating and implementing a plan to downsize the district-run school system during Carol Johnson's administration. Several initiatives, including a new attendance policy, a new disciplinary policy, and massive cuts in bus service in 2002 all contributed something to the exodus of students and did very little to improve the quality of education to which a majority of student have access. Johnson found another job in 2003, before an October Head Count day when the district found that it had 3,600 fewer students than the year before. 

Jennings advocated the charterization of the public school system, i.e., sponsoring charter schools to recruit students fleeing from the regular schools. Jennings envisioned a total charterization of the public school system, if necessary, as a way to strip teachers of their due process, seniority, and tenure rights.

And Jennings was the guy in charge of the massive teacher realignment of 2004: A parting gift to the district's school community?

The full text of Pam's Nov. 2003 letter to the editor of Southside Pride is pasted below

Readers fire back at Ed Felien
[Statement by Pam Costain]

I was really disappointed to read the front page Southside Pride story "What is the School Board Doing Now?" (really an editorial) about the appointment of David Jennings as superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools. In my opinion, it lacked depth, perspective or an appreciation of how seriously public schools are under attack by conservatives who wish to dismantle public education. Now that Mr. Jennings has signaled his intention to withdraw from the superintendency, maybe we can all take a deep breath and talk about it.

I spent six months last year helping to launch a statewide parents organization to defend funding for public schools. During that time, it became quite apparent to me that there is an all-out assault on public education in our state and nation. The agenda of the president, our governor, the current education commissioner and many conservatives is to dismantle public education as we know it, and to eventually privatize the entire system. This truly is and will be the fight of the next decade. Among many conservatives there is a visceral contempt for the Minneapolis Public Schools, for the challenges of the large urban school districts and most probably for the needs and concerns of children of color. It's a frightening scenario and requires a clear vision from those of us who care about all the kids in urban districts throughout the state. We need allies and we need to work with everyone who believes that strong public schools are the centerpiece of democracy.

During this past year I also had the opportunity to work fairly closely with David Jennings. Over time I came to appreciate what a gift he was to the Minneapolis Public Schools and how right Carol Johnson had been to hire him. David is smart, politically savvy, deeply committed to public education and very clear about the conservative agenda to privatize public education. He cares about kids and is very concerned about the achievement gap for kids of color. He knows the opposition, took them on publicly and was willing to put his neck out in defense of the needs of Minneapolis children time and again. In short he was an important advocate at a time when his voice could make a real difference.

I believe the actions that were taken to force him out of the superintendent's position were shortsighted and potentially very damaging to the city, to our public schools and most of all to the kids who we all have at the center of our concern. We need to get serious about who are enemies really are and focus on that.

Now, we can only hope the Minneapolis Public Schools will recover and be able to move forward quickly to find a good superintendent. I hope I'm wrong, but I fear that the road ahead will not be easy and we may not be able to attract the kind of leadership we need in these times.

Pam Costain

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