Educators of our year

It is National Teacher Appreciation Week. To celebrate, North News is re-sharing a selection of our “Educator Spotlights” from the 2018-2019 school year. The Spotlight column highlights the work of Northside educators doing innovative and socially just work in North Minneapolis.

By Cirien Saadeh Staff Reporter | Additional Reporting by Datelle Straub and Danae Lawson

Educator spotlight: Patrice Howard

Patrice Howard is the Executive Director of Community Education for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). Howard joined MPS in Nov. 2018 from the Brooklyn Center Public School District where she was the Director of Community Education and the Director of Community Schools for seven years. Howard has worked in youth development for the last twenty years. She attended North Star, Webster, Roosevelt, North High, and then graduated from South High.

Patrice Howard is the new Executive Director for Minneapolis Public Schools' Department of Community Education.  Photo by Cirien Saadeh

Patrice Howard is the new Executive Director for Minneapolis Public Schools' Department of Community Education. Photo by Cirien Saadeh

What is it like being at MPS? This is where I've always wanted to be. As a teen, I volunteered for after-school programs and summer programs throughout Minneapolis and especially in the Minneapolis Public Schools. About seven years ago, when I was in Brooklyn Center and just really learning the work of community schools and community education, I said I want to work in the community where I was raised, where I really learned from a number of different adult mentors and, and where I received my education. I'm an alumna of Minneapolis Public Schools and I wanted to be back here, I just didn't think it was going to come this soon. And so when that opportunity came, I jumped at it.

Can you discuss your support for full-service community schools? I have been really supporting the work, advocating for community schools since 2012 or so. That means working with community organizing groups, local grassroots efforts, really launching what this work is. It's not new in Minnesota, however it's newer as far as receiving support from Education Minnesota, the teacher’s union. I think that support came in 2012 when I worked with a number of colleagues to testify on behalf of first-time funding for full-service community schools. Also we have been receiving support from the Coalition for Community Schools, which is our national partner. We advocated for funding every two years and supported colleagues in the area of advocacy work around community schools, identifying who those champions were in the community school's arena. When I say community schools, it's interchangeably full-service community school. Just last week I went out to the State Capitol and testified again for support around advocacy around full-service community schools.

What is your education philosophy? And do you consider yourself a teacher or an educator? Educator. I don't think I have much patience for teaching. My education philosophy is embedded in community and I'm really relying on families as a foundation of a community. I believe in that if we all work together, we all thrive: strong families and stronger schools. I look at the community as a ecosystem and really responding to the needs of the whole child. And that's the work of full-service community schools, once you support that, that child, that family, that community is strong and that school is strong. So that's where my philosophy is, really.

What was your favorite class in high school? Chemistry. I’m not sure if I am any good at it now, but I liked it then. I had a great teacher, Ms. Rasmussen, who formerly taught at North High.

Do you have an educator that you look up to? I really admire the work of scholar Lisa Delpit. I very much appreciate her transparency and unapologetic view of education in society. As far as locally, I’ve always admired Principal Abdullah [at Patrick Henry High School]. I’ve always appreciated his work.

What about your work in community education? Aside from full-service community schools, I want to North Minneapolis to know that community education is a department and a pro- gram for all people from all ages, from birth to adulthood, lifelong learning if you will. Community education is embedded in this idea that opportunities should be available for community, accessible, and engaging opportunities for all. So I want North Minneapolis to know that what we provide should be for them. If there is something of interest that they would like to see in their community, please reach out. We would love to work with community. I, personally, am not interested in wasting resources and I'm not interested in putting things out that aren't accessible and aren't appropriate for community. We are always seeking new ways to engage with community and as a Northside native, I am excited to have the opportunity to share this work with my community.

Educator spotlight: Katherine Chisley and Debra Johnson

Debra Johnson is a para-educator in Anwatin Middle School’s special education department, having taught at the school for 14 years and been in the district for 21 years. Chisley is a special education educator, who joined Anwatin 8 years ago, but has been with the district for nearly 30 years. They were nominated by their co-worker, teacher John Knudson. “They are confronted daily with challenging situations and always, between the two of them, are able to come up with strategies and plans that not only improve the school for our students but help the students build the skills they will need for their future,” said Knudson. As part of their work at Anwatin, Chisley and Johnson built a “Chill Room” for student and other community members to escape to. The room is decked out with comfortable couches, a rocking chair, calming music, and the smell of essential oils.

Katherine Chisley (Right)andDebraJohnson(Left) were nominated for the Educator Spotlight because of the compassion and innovation they bring to their work.  Photo by Cirien Saadeh

Katherine Chisley (Right)andDebraJohnson(Left) were nominated for the Educator Spotlight because of the compassion and innovation they bring to their work. Photo by Cirien Saadeh

What does a work day look like for you? Chisley: Sometimes we have to be there just to support the kids in like a motherly fashion. Sometimes we have to be that enforcer for them. Sometimes a cheerleader. It just all depends on how the day goes. Each student and each day is different.

What’s your teaching philosophy? Chisley: I feel that all students can learn, but they all learn differently. And I feel that it's up to us as educators to find out how they learn. And to treat each kid differently, but fairly. Johnson: As a duo, we work pretty well together. We both have our strengths and we lean on each other. And we're both committed to the students in this program.

Tell us about the Chill Room. Chisley: The chill room is not for students just when they're having a hard time. It's for them if they want to come in, just talk to each other. They can come in here, they can work if they want to. Sometimes kids do not get enough sleep, and they just need ten minutes. So it's not just what they're doing wrong. It's where they chill, refuel, reconnect. Johnson: And sometimes, we come in here and we'll do homework, because we push into a large math class with over 30 students, and sometimes it can be overwhelming for them. So sometimes we'll come in here and we'll do more small group. We have computers or we have an area free, for each individual to work in. Chisley: They love it. Sometimes they say, “I just need to go to the chill room. Will you take me to the chill room?” And we don't question it. They know when they need to chill. They chill and come back.

Where do you think your partnership is strongest? Johnson: I believe in our commitment, to each other and to our classroom. We're rarely out, and that says a lot, even when we're sick, we're still committed to come in, because it is a hard job when one person is out. Cause the other one just has to pick up and keep going. I'm not saying that it doesn't happen, so we're committed to each other as well, as a classroom.

What do you think are each other’s greatest strengths? Johnson: Ms. Chisley has high expectations. She is firm, and she is consistent. But she's also loving, and compassionate. So with that mix, you just can't lose. Chisley: And with Ms. Johnson, she's patient. Very caring. Very straightforward with me, she doesn't sugarcoat it with me. If she's here, she's here not only for the children, but also for me, working with me, and I love it. And she can tell when I'm not doing my best, it's like, “You go, and you take a little break, and I'll do it.” So we know each other like that, and I feel like she has great strength. She's very strong when it comes to helping me to realize that sometimes you just have to let it go. Don't push it. It will fall in place, it will happen.

Educator spotlight:Morgan McDonald Sr.

For Morgan McDonald Sr., Student Support Specialist at Lucy Laney Community School, positivity is everything. McDonald was recommended to North News as our Educator Spotlight, because of the love he shows for the school community and the impact he has had on students, including a dramatic decrease in suspension and expulsion levels. As Student Support Specialist, McDonald deals with behavior at the school and on busses, liaises with parents, and bridges the gap between home and school. He also founded the Lucy Laney Boxing Academy, a registered USA Boxing school, recently inaugurated on Jan. 9. McDonald was raised in Illinois and graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He made the decision to go into education because of his mother, who he says taught him what not to do, because of her own troubles. McDonald joined the Lucy Laney community seven years ago, “give or take,” and has four kids, two of whom attend Lucy Laney.

Morgan McDonald is this month's Educator Spotlight. He was recommended because of the love he has for his school and the impact he has had on his students.  Photo by Cirien Saadeh

Morgan McDonald is this month's Educator Spotlight. He was recommended because of the love he has for his school and the impact he has had on his students. Photo by Cirien Saadeh

How do you build a positive relationship with students? Honest truth, I am trying to be that person that I needed, that I really needed. I actually had some dope people

in my life. My basketball coach, my mentor, I call him my big brother and another mentor, I call him my dad. He is not my dad, my dad died when I was six. Those two men, they taught me a lot, what to do, what not to do, how to dress, code-switching, they taught me all that. They did it to groups of kids. I think I was just one of those kids that listened and both of those guys gave me a torch, they poured into me, and my spirit loved it. I owe it to my ancestors, to them, to pass that torch on. I had men in my life who really showed me some things, who talked to me. I don’t know if they knew what they was doing, but I appreciate them.

You discuss code-switching a lot. What does that mean to you? To me, code-switching is being able to communicate with someone from different backgrounds, different upbringings, being able to live in both realms of our society. Will Smith, I love how he speaks. Mrs. Friestleben, I watch her speak, how comfortable she is and how she plays with words. I know they can code- switch, they’ve been on both sides of the fence and can jump the fence at any time. There is nothing wrong with teaching kids to code-switch. They already code-switch with their parents, their friends.

What is your teaching philosophy? I just love on the kids. Once you love on them, they are gonna let you know what they need. You can learn your kids, they are gonna let you know what they need, you’ll know when something is wrong. Get to know your kids, pour into them, figure out what pushes them. Give them role models, they are going to mimic them, they are going to reach for that. Kids have to see that there is greatness in them, they need to be able to have their own cycle, away from their parents cycle. They need someone there to pull it out of them. I also believe that if you put positive stuff out, positive stuff happens. You put positive energy out, positive energy is coming back.

What is your favorite quote? When Mrs. Friestleben told me that I was going to like the new theme for the year, I asked her if it had to do with boxing. When she put it up, I don’t know, it actually brought something out of me, because boxing is my sport, my kids’ sport. I don’t make them do it, they love it.

For those able to support the Lucy Laney Boxing Academy, you can do so by donating workout gear, boxing gloves and bag gloves, exercise equipment, and/or boxing gear. Email McDonald at Morgan.

Educator spotlight: Quinton Bonds

Quinton Bonds has been at Patrick Henry High School since 2010. As Public Relations Coordinator, Mr. Bonds liaises with family and the larger Northside community. But he’s also the advisor to LINK Leaders (Henry’s student ambassadors), the Senior Committee, the school’s new student council, and its step team. He’s also the school’s graduation coordinator. Mr. Bonds holds a Master’s Degree in marriage and family therapy, but after receiving his undergraduate degree he began working in the Admissions Office at the University of Minnesota. His work at the U introduced him to Henry, and he says that he visited the school often and felt at home there. It was there that he met Henry’s Principal, Yusuf Abdullah, back when Principal Abdullah was working with Achieve MPLS. When Principal Abdullah left Achieve MPLS to join the Henry community as a dean, Mr. Bonds moved into his role at Achieve MPLS and then joined the Patrick Henry community in 2010. Mr. Bonds was recommended to North News as our next Educator Spotlight, because of his commitment to the Henry community, which students say he calls a “Phamily.” Mr. Bonds is also looking to go into school administration with the hopes of one day becoming a school principal.

Quinton Bonds is a longtime staff member at Patrick Henry High School.  Photo by Cirien Saadeh

Quinton Bonds is a longtime staff member at Patrick Henry High School. Photo by Cirien Saadeh

Why do you think it’s important to develop student leadership? Well I always operate under the assumption that I can't assume that I know what's best for person A, B, C, D. I can't make that assumption. I have to be at the table to have that conversation, especially with students and I need to be able to ask "What do you need?" I'm not gonna assume that you need this, I'm not gonna assume that you want this. It's really important for students to be able to inform us, as educators, as to what they need. And so part of being able to articulate that need is developing a leader. I think it's really important for student voices to be heard, because I think our students are what drive the schools.

What is your dream for Henry students? My dream for Henry students is that they go and be productive citizens in our country. My hope is that it looks like something that's fulfilling for each of them. Whether it is a career, or a job right after here, or college, going to a college or university, I just want all of our students to have a plan and be confident in that plan.

Do you consider yourself a natural caretaker? You know, I'm naturally empathetic and so I do have a natural sense to empathize with people. I don't know, I guess I never thought of myself as a caretaker, but maybe, wow. I never thought of myself that way. I just care about people. I just care about humanity and it's one of the things that I'm really passionate about.

What are your hobbies or things you do outside of school? I'm active in my church. I actually coach the step team at my church. I do like to travel when I can. I really enjoyed London. I liked the chocolate in London. I know that sounds really weird, but it's super good. I like movies a lot. Net ix is my deal, and On Demand. Redbox is my friend. I like movies and I like to hang out with my friends, but I'm more of a relaxed guy. When I can, I go home to my family in Milwaukee. I'm more of a homebody, but I'm okay with that.

Have you considered going into traditional teaching? You know what? I like where I'm at. I like being where I'm at because it does allow me to be flexible and to wear multiple hats. I think, in my role, I have been given opportunities to teach, not necessarily with the traditional lesson plan and all the other good stuff, but I had opportunities to teach many life lessons. I'm more of that guy, the one teaching the soft skills and all the other good stuff. I do feel, even though I'm not in the classroom, that when I do have interactions with students learning is definitely taking place.

What was your favorite class in high school? My favorite class went back and forth between English and then history. I loved history a lot. I still like history a lot.

What is your five-year plan? I plan to stick around here at Henry for quite some time, actually, as a part of my plan, but I'm actually in the beginning stages of planning a transition into administration. I plan to begin work on my principal licensure.

Educator spotlight: Lindsey Cermak

Lindsey Cermak is a GED teacher with the Open Door Learning Center, a project of the Minnesota Literacy Center. Cermak, who works out of the Sumner Library, has been with the program for eight years, most of that time spent in the Northside. Cermak was recommended for this month’s Educator Spotlight, because of her “groundbreaking” work.

Lindsey Cermak is a GED teacher who works out of Sumner Library.  Photo by Cirien Saadeh

Lindsey Cermak is a GED teacher who works out of Sumner Library. Photo by Cirien Saadeh

Why go into teaching? I always thought about teaching. At least that was an option for me in high school. I never thought about adult education, though. When I graduated college, I did Americorps Vista, as a way to learn more things about myself. And, by taking the position working with the GED program here, I fell in love with it. Adult education is not always on people’s radar. It’s always elementary education or secondary ed, but I absolutely loved it, so I stayed. The rest is history.

What does a day in your life, as a teacher, look like? We have classes Monday-Thursday, in the morning, for about three and a half hours a day. Writing skills, reading skills, math skills. Also students have time to work individually on a particular subject that they may be studying for. So I try to a hybrid of individual time and class time. And then lesson planning and other administrative work take up some of my day. But, definitely, with all of the different things I am responsible for, teaching in the classroom is the highlight of my job because of my students. The relationships with my students are why I love my job so much.

What are your favorite pastimes? I love being with family and friends and I’m also very active in my church. I also have an adorable nephew who I love to see.

What are your thoughts on the Northside? I think the Northside is a great place with amazing people, and it’s unfortunate that so much of what is reported is violence and crime and which I think is not giving an accurate picture of everything that the Northside is. It’s an amazing community and that does not make it out to the news.

What is your favorite subject to teach? I get pretty excited about teaching math, but I did not always like math. When I was in school, it was not my favorite subject. It became my favorite subject to teach, though, one reason being because it can provoke so much fear in people. It can be such a barrier and cause people to be very down on themselves. That doesn’t have to be the case, though, because people know more than they think they do. So I think by helping to instill that confidence in students, that you do know this, you can do this, this does not have to be a scary thing, that confidence can translate to other areas of their lives. It’s what it represents; I think that is why it became so fun for me to teach.

What should potential adult learners know about this program? Give yourself a break. Believe you can do it, because that’s half the battle. I think people are very hard on themselves and there is a lot of shame that can come around getting your GED, but that doesn’t need to the case, because it’s not a shameful thing. I think another important thing is that it does take time; it requires a commitment. If you can come consistently, that is when we see progress and when we see knowledge and skills build. It’s not the learning, they learning they can do. The key is to give yourself a break and believe that you are smarter than you think you are. And then just know it's a time commitment, but it's temporary.

Educator spotlight: Tamala Washington-Green

Tamala Washington-Green, Secretary at Olson Middle School, is new to Olson, but not new to North Minneapolis. She has worked for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) since Sept. 2007, as office manager in the district offices for the College & Career Readiness department. Before that, she was school secretary at Bethune Elementary School and the media clerk at North High School. Washington-Green was born and raised in South New Jersey, but she has lived in the Northside since 1989 and has two MPS graduates, one a Polar and the other a Patriot. Washington-Green’s recommenders, which included a North High alumna as well as a parent and their student from Olson, nominated her for the Educator Spotlight because of her gentle demeanor and her love for Northside kids.

Washington-Green sits at her desk in the Olson Middle School office. Washington-Green is new to Olson, but not new to MPS.  Photo by Cirien Saadeh

Washington-Green sits at her desk in the Olson Middle School office. Washington-Green is new to Olson, but not new to MPS. Photo by Cirien Saadeh

 What does a day in your life at Olson look like? There really isn’t a typical day and I think what I appreciate most about the work is the variety. Most days I start out with a plan, but most mornings, I rarely get to execute it because the needs of the building are ever-changing and you just need to adjust and adapt to meet them. But, primarily, my goal is to make sure our busses are getting in for our students on time, making sure our parents have communication about a late or disabled bus, so that they can communicate with their student, greeting our customers and families and clients as they come in, and answering phone calls about attendance. hen I get those calls from families, the first thing I want to do is acknowledge that their child is ill and tell them that I’m sorry to hear that and let them know that we’re looking forward to seeing their student back the next day. Some days I’ll walk in and we’ll have four subs waiting; sometimes there are none. 

What is your role within the school community? The teachers, they are the planners. They come up with the big ideas and then my job is to make sure that all of the small details fall into place so that it actually happens. Field trips are an example. Teachers and staff will decide what is an appropriate field trip or what is an exciting thing that is coming up, but instead of having them bogged down with the details: finding the bus, getting permission slips, getting lunch, and all of that. I will take over those pieces and that will allow them to stay in the planning and focusing on developing and delivering a curriculum for that field trip. My role is to make sure that the plans and goals and expectations can be implemented in the building, whether that is making sure we have enough supplies, enough staff members, that all of our equipment is working, and making sure that all of the little things that need to happen are in place.

What makes you passionate about this work? To make sure students know that they have options and choices. That is important to me.

What is your favorite student memory? A student had a difficult encounter with another student and was very upset by what had happened. Even though I’m the office support staff, I could tell that the student was in crisis, and so I left behind my desk to see about that student and to just make myself available by being warm and by letting them know that I care about what happened with them, and that we could  talk it through and resolve it. What I didn’t realize was that the student was truly struggling with a personal issue and my care for them meant I could connect them with the social worker and our speech pathologist to work through those issues. Having the opportunity to build trust with someone and then direct them to someone who could offer support was an impactful and memorable moment for me.

What do you love about North Minneapolis and why work in Northside schools? Community recognition. I came from a very small town where you had one school and one grocery store; you just knew everybody. For me, I want our students to know that there are people caring about them right here in the community. hey see me at the grocery store and at the laundromat. It is that reflection of someone who looks like you, that is in your immediate community on a regular basis. It’s a sense of connection even though I don’t know everyone, a sense of familiarity that often makes you want to step your game up.

Educator Spotlight: Sherrill Lindsey

Principal Sherrill Lindsey joined the Elizabeth Hall community on July 31, but she comes well recommend- ed by peers who praise her commitment to equity and a diversity of school voices. Lindsey has been an educator for 27 years, but this is her first time teaching in the Minneapolis Public School (MPS) district and her first year as a school principal. Prior to joining MPS, Lindsey had a number of positions in Brooklyn Center (where she served as an Assistant Principal for three years), Robbinsdale, Osseo, and Bloomington.

Principal Lindsey joined students and educators from Mrs. Patty Phillips’ rst grade classroom as they cleaned up the school’s playground.  Photos by Cirien Saadeh

Principal Lindsey joined students and educators from Mrs. Patty Phillips’ rst grade classroom as they cleaned up the school’s playground. Photos by Cirien Saadeh

Why teach and what do you teach? I wanted to do something every day that would make me feel like I made a difference. My dad is an engineer and he had the same position his whole life and I would think “how boring,” but it was what certain generations did. For me, I wanted to explore different parts of teaching. I started out as a classroom teacher, but in Bloomington where I worked as a Youth and Family Coordinator, I really fell in love with communities where there is a need, doing home visits, doing things in community. I’ve also served as a community education coordinator, as a special education trainer, and intervention specialist. It’s been a weird trajectory of wanting to try different things that sort of meet up with my passion. I think, maybe over a decade ago, it crystalized for me. For me, it’s about making a difference and helping people navigate difference. That’s why I like being in roles outside of the classroom. We’re in a state where the racial achievement gap is greater than almost any other place in the country. I’ve wanted to engage folks in those discussions and those practices of dismantling those inequities.

Why Hall? I think I got to a point in my career where, as I said I worked in different districts, and I wanted to be engaged in racial equity work, you can get to a certain point and hit a wall. If they are not ready to have those conversations or not ready to act beyond having those conversations and deinstitutionalizing some of those structures. For me Minneapolis was very exciting with some of the work that I could see was happening, with what Superintendent Graff is doing and he is about, and what he is doing to dismantle some of those things. As well, I love being in communities where lots of dynamics are happening. Hall has a great legacy. This building has had a former superintendent as principal. This school has also had a great legacy in this neighborhood is very exciting for me to be a part of that.

What do you love about Hall? Kids and parents, no doubt. But also the staff. When I interviewed for this position, I was able to ask them what they loved most about Hall. Every single person spoke up and wanted to answer. Every person wanted to be here and loves being here. Each person loves the challenge, the complexity, and the beautiful brilliance of these children. It’s just an amazing community, a very small school in comparison to what I’m used to.

What is your teaching philosophy? Whether its teaching children that show up differently or parents that show up differently, in a way that is unfamiliar with staff, I want to help us understand how do we leverage difference as a form of prosperity rather than as a form of adversity. All students are whole beings and that is how they need to be approached.

If you have any recommendations for our upcoming spotlights, email North News at ciriens@ Please provide contact information for the person you recommend.

Cirien Saadeh