Osseo School Board
Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation endorses four for Osseo School Board At Large
October 31, 2020
By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor
MAPLE GROVE — The Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO has endorsed four candidates who are running for election for the school board of the Osseo Area Schools.
The MRLF-endorsed candidates include: Thomas Brooks, who is running in a special election to fill a vacant board seat for the two remaining years of the term; and three candidates running for regular four-year terms — Tamara Grady, incumbent Jackie Mosqueda-Jones, and Miamon Queeglay.
All four also have been endorsed by Education Minnesota-Osseo.
The Osseo Area Schools (ISD 279) serve about 20,000 students who live in parts of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Maple Grove, Osseo, Plymouth, Corcoran, Dayton and Rogers.
Yet the six-member school board, whose members all are elected at large, historically has not reflected the racial diversity of the district. The school board also historically has lacked geographical diversity, with Maple Grove residents over-represented on the board and few board members coming from the other communities in the district.
“It’s a huge district” with 55,000 households, notes candidate Tamara Grady. She says the district’s size plus the fact that all school board members are at-large means that all candidates need to campaign across the entire district, creating logistical and financial challenges for candidates which result in “a structural barrier to running.”
The four candidates on the MRLF slate, who are running as team, would bring more racial diversity and (in one case) more geographic diversity to the Osseo school board as well as their shared concerns for the students, teachers, and staff of the school district.
”These four really have the best interests of students in mind,” says Kelly Wilson, president of Education Minnesota–Osseo, the district’s teachers union. “They are very serious about providing an equitable education to all our students.”
“The four of us bring four different professional backgrounds, but together it’s exactly what our district needs right now,” says candidate Miamon Queeglay.
If all four MRLF-endorsed candidates win election, Wilson adds, “the school board might be more on the same page” instead of being divided on issues facing the district.
For too long a time, Wilson notes, all of the Osseo Area Schools board members lived within a two-mile radius of each other in Maple Grove.
And, he adds, only one person of color has been elected to the school board in the entire history of the Osseo Area Schools as one school district while “52 percent of our student population are people of color.”
Wilson continues, “52 percent of our families live in Brooklyn Park or Brooklyn Center and yet only one of the current school board members lives in Brooklyn Park or Brooklyn Center.”
Osseo school district voters will find a crowded ballot.
The special election contest has five candidates on the ballot including MRLF-endorsed Thomas Brooks. In that race, voters can vote for only one candidate and only the top-vote getter will be elected.
The regular election contest has 11 candidates on the ballot, including MRLF-endorsed Tamara Grady, Jackie Mosqueda-Jones and Mimamon Queeglay. In that race, voters can vote for up to three candidates and the top three vote-getters will be elected.
Thomas Brooks, Brooklyn Park, is running in the special election for the Osseo school board to fill out the two remaining years in the term of a board member who resigned.
The incumbent had made racially insensitive remarks — which prompted their resignation — and the incident “was a huge motivating factor for me to run,” says Brooks, who is Black.
Brooks has a fourth-grader and a sixth-grader in the Osseo Area Schools.
Brooks notes that most of the current board comes from Maple Grove. “It’s important for me to bring representation from lesser-represented areas,” he says, adding that he will be “bringing a different voice and perspective to the board.”
“I’m focusing on equity,” Brooks says.
Brooks is a member of the Brooklyn Park Human Rights Commission and also serves as a board member of several other organizations in the field of social services.
Brooks has a bachelor’s degree business administration from the University of Phoenix and a master’s degree in psychology from Grand Canyon University.
He currently works as a project manager for U.S. Bank.
In running for the Osseo school board, Brooks says he is “having an opportunity to talk to so many educators.” He adds: “they currently are not feeling heard by the board.”
“I am so grateful to have the Education Minnesota and Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation endorsements,” Brooks says. “I feel an obligation to make sure union members, particularly educators, are a part of the discussion and that their voices are heard.”
“Every student deserves a safe and equitable learning environment,” says Tamara Grady. “These changes can be made.”
Grady, Maple Grove, has two children enrolled in the Osseo Area Schools.
When her children came out as members of the LGBTQ community, however, she says “we found the school climate unwelcoming.”
“Children can’t learn when they don’t feel safe,” Grady says.
Grady says she became involved with the schools as an advocate for her children, finding other parents — particularly parents of color — who shared similar concerns about safety and equity — and who also were running into systemic barriers while advocating for their children.
“The district needs to build better trust with parents so we can work together,” Grady says.
Grady says the challenges presented by COVID-19 are deepening inequities faced by the district’s students and their families.
People of color are more vulnerable to COVID-19, she notes.
And distance learning compounds economic disparities, she says, as not all parents can provide tech help to their students or even a high-speed internet connection.
“The impact of COVID is accelerating our dependence on digital communication,” she says. “Preparing our students for an increasingly digital and diverse world is better for everyone.”
With COVID limiting traditional campaign methods, Grady has been convening and hosting online forums with local elected officials and other candidates to discuss a series of issues facing the schools. “It’s the thing I’ve most had fun with in my campaign,” she says.
Grady earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degrees in Cultural Anthropology and is currently pursuing master’s degree in Advocacy and Political Leadership at Metropolitan State University.
“I really see union membership as a critical piece for how we move forward for our communities, especially in the middle of a global pandemic,” Grady says.
After winning election to the school board two years ago in a special election, union member Jackie Mosqueda-Jones now is running for a full four-year term.
“A lot of people know who I am because over the last two years I’ve reached out and listened and tried to be a bridge between the district and families as much as possible,” Mosqueda-Jones says.
Mosqueda-Jones, Maple Grove, is in her 10th year teaching pre-K for the Columbia Heights school district and is a member of Education Minnesota Local 710. She previously taught for 12 years in the Osseo school district and has worked as an educator for 30 years.
In running for a full four-year term on the Osseo school board, she says, “the priority remains as it should be: tackling any barriers and opportunity gaps so our students can succeed. That helps all students succeed.” But, she adds, working to eliminate opportunity gaps can’t be done without true community engagement and input.
Toward that end, Mosqueda-Jones has pushed the school board to convene four listening four sessions in the community, one at each of the district’s four high schools. Three listening sessions have taken place so far, and at two of the three “we got really good participation,” she reports. The fourth session, however, may need to take place online due to the continuing pandemic.
Mosqueda-Jones also has pushed the district to offer training for staff in how to best support LGBTQ students. “The district wasn’t willing to do it,” she reports. But, “we went through the union and the union came through.” Voluntary trainings for the district’s education support professionals and for teachers were offered through the district’s Education Minnesota local.
“The biggest impact I have had on the board in the last two years is writing our anti-racist resolution and getting that passed,” Mosqueda-Jones says. After the murder of George Floyd, she co-wrote the resolution with Kelsey Dalton Walton, the only member of the school board who is a person of color. Initially, Mosqueda-Jones notes, no one else on the board was interested. The two co-authors felt it was important for the district to issue a statement of support for students, families, and constituents and pressed forward. The board passed the resolution by a 3-1 vote in July. “We had a lot of support from the community,” Mosqueda-Jones says. Most importantly, she adds, the resolution includes 15 action steps for the district to implement.
The diverse communities which are part of the Osseo Area Schools are “like a microcosm of the United States,” Mosqueda-Jones says, including every income level and ethnic background. “It would be really amazing if the district can figure out how we can all support each other so we can all succeed.”
Mosqueda-Jones earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of St. Benedict and a master’s degree at Concordia University.
“I’m a product of this district,” reports Osseo school board candidate Miamon Queeglay, who attended Zanewood Elementary and Northview Junior High and graduated from Osseo Senior High in 2004. She went on to the University of St. Catherine in St. Paul and earned a bachelor’s of science degree in public health.
“I’m a public health professional, Queeglay says, adding “with my expertise in the intersection of public health and education, there has never been a better time for me to join the Osseo school board than during this pandemic.”
Queeglay, who is the U.S.-born daughter of Liberian immigrants, also would bring added racial diversity to the school board.
Her husband, too, is an Osseo High grad and the couple have three sons in the Osseo schools — in kindergarten, second grade, and ninth grade.
“Our district is very, very segregated,” notes Queeglay. “It’s really important to me that my children are not part of the opportunity gap and that no children are.” Queeglay was a strong supporter of the anti-racism resolution passed by the school board this past summer and advocated for its passage.
“We have a moral obligation to make sure all our students are succeeding,” says Queeglay. “We’re really wasting our money if our students aren’t ready to enter the working world or attend college by the time they graduate from high school.”
Queeglay works for the Brooklyn Center school district, where she is community schools manager. “The community schools model is an evidence-based model that is proven to close the opportunity gap by providing wrap-around services to support the whole child… in participation with community partners and stakeholders,” Queeglay notes. The model includes: before-school and after-school programs; medical, dental and mental health services; academic support; family resource centers.
The Osseo school district, however, does not have any schools following the community schools model. “My goal is to bring that model to the district,” Queeglay says. “There needs to be a community needs assessment,” she adds. “It needs to be community-driven.”
“The community schools model is beneficial for all students,” Queeglay says. “All of our students could use that support, especially now more than ever.”
Right now, Queeglay says, there’s a disconnect between what the current majority on the board sees as the district’s needs and what she’s hearing from the community.
“I don’t think the current board really includes the teachers and staff in the decision-making,” Queeglay adds.
“I’m a huge advocate for unions,” says Queeglay. “Our unions have really paved the way when we look at fair and just workplaces,” she adds, which has been especially important “for me, as a woman of color.”
“I want to send thanks and unconditional support to our teachers,” says Queeglay, noting that many are now work two jobs in a way because of the extra demands of teaching remotely or under a hybrid model during the pandemic. “I want to also advocate on behalf of teachers,” Queeglay says.
“Miamon was one of my sixth-grade students,” reports Kelly Wilson, Education Minnesota-Osseo’s president. “It makes me proud that she graduated from Osseo area schools… [and] she’s running for office… She’s a smart person… She cares about what happens in our amazing community.”