Experiences from the first student rep on school board

On February 10, 2015 the Minneapolis Board of Education welcomed Patrick Henry student, Noah Branch to the board as the first ever student representative. On February 9, 2016 the “student representative baton” will be passed from Noah Branch to Patrick Henry sophomore Shaadia Munye. In a citywide selection process it is noteworthy that two Patrick Henry students have been selected. This is a significant honor for the students and their families, and a tribute to the teachers and staff at Patrick Henry High School.

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The Minneapolis Board of Education had planned to give recognition to Noah Branch and announce the selection of Shaadia Munye at their January 12 meeting. A last minute agenda change put the vote on the superintendent selection ahead of the planned recognitions and the protest that ensued resulted in a postponement until the February 9 Board meeting. The protest at the January meeting was indicative of the year that Branch spent on the Board and is likely predictive of the experience incoming representative Shaadia Munye can expect.

One year ago Noah Branch was welcomed onto the Board at the same time they were approving the selection of Michael Goar as Interim Superintendent following the resignation of Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson. Branch served during a tumultuous superintendent search process that resulted in the Board voting against hiring first choice Sergio Paez, and Michael Goar withdrawing his name from the bid for the permanent superintendent position. Branch was also on the Board during the Reading Horizons debacle which resulted in the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) district pulling the questionable books and apologizing for purchasing the $1.2 million curriculum that contained books that teachers and community members found racially offensive and sexist.

When asked if the experience was what he expected Branch said that he was surprised at how the politics were a driving force, rather than working on educational matters. Branch said he expected there would be a lot of emails and papers to read, and indeed there were. Asked about advice for incoming student representative Shaadia Munye, Branch suggested that she read her emails and get acquainted with the Roberts Rules of Order. He also advises her to stay true to herself and her personal voice, noting that there are times he was offered subtle notions about how he should represent his student voice on the Board. He said he would also advise her to have a thick skin or be sure not to read on-line comments about the things she says as a student representative. Branch said they don’t care if “you’re a kid,” they will harshly criticize you on-line.

In regards to the protests that occurred during his year, Branch said there were three times when meetings were interrupted and he was there for two of the protests. “100 percent of the time I was in agreement with their protest.” Branch stated that many Board members left during the first protest he was at, but he stayed commenting, “I didn’t agree with leaving. Publically elected officials shouldn’t walk out on their constituents.”

When asked what he was most proud of Branch said, “I stayed pretty true to what I believed and spoke what I believed. I felt like my voice was heard regarding my opinions on the superintendent search and the Reading Horizons curriculum.” He also noted that a lot of people have agendas, but overall the truest voice for the concern of the students comes from the parents who have children in the MPS.

Noah Branch had a list of people he was thankful to for support during his time on the Board. He cited Syreeta Wilkins, former Communications and Public Affairs Specialist with MPS. “She helped me by supporting and welcoming me. She encouraged me to speak my opinions and taught me how to represent myself as a public figure.” He also mentioned Stan Alleyne, former Chief Communications Officer remarking, “He told me, ‘we will guide you, but we will not censor you’.” On the Board, Branch said he was very appreciative of Tracine Asberry, “I could go to her about things. It wasn’t political and I didn’t have to worry about what I said.”

When asked if he would do it again, Branch asked for clarification, “Do you mean right now or would I do it for another year?” In regards to the experience he said, “Heck yay, I’d do it again. It was a very valuable experience.” As for politics Branch is still on the student council and noted that, “Student council is way more fun. We keep it light. It’s not as political.”

On February 9 Shaadia Munye will officially join the Board as the next student representative. She is a sophomore at Patrick Henry and previously attended Anne Sullivan Elementary School and Northeast Middle School. She has been an active student leader in the Black Student Union and she is a member of the Pilot 30 program. Munye excels academically and has interests in math and English. Her interests also include volleyball, spending time with her six siblings and helping others through the Horizons Youth Program. Patrick Henry Principal Yusuf Abdullah describes her as “a very smart, energetic young lady that wants to see positive change happen to her school and community.”

MPS acknowledges that the student board representative provides an important perspective and gives voice to those at the heart of the district’s work–the students. For their service, both Branch and Munye will receive a $5,000 scholarship to recognize their dedication and commitment to MPS.