Brainerd school officials discuss diversity with state licensing board members

Brainerd School Board member Charles Black Lance (right) discusses diversity and educational staff support systems with Dennis Draughn, board member of the state's Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board, and other standards board staff members during a workshop Friday, July 19, at the Washington Educational Services Building. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Diversity, inclusivity and information on educational oversight in the state all came up as topics Friday, July 19, when Minnesota’s Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board visited Brainerd and met with school district officials.

The new standards board was a result of the 2017 legislative session, replacing the Minnesota Department of Education’s Board of Teaching.

The board, which began operations Jan. 1, 2018, consists of 11 governor-appointed members and is in charge of teacher licensure decisions, license renewals, teacher ethics and teacher preparation.

Brainerd Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn serves as the board’s vice chair and suggested Brainerd as the site for the board’s retreat this week in an effort to let board members get acquainted with Greater Minnesota.

It’s been a goal of the board’s, Hahn said, to host an annual retreat at different locations throughout the state, like the previous Board of Teaching did. Last year, the retreat was in the metro area, so this year the board decided on Greater Minnesota.


“And the response we’ve had is great,” Hahn said of the week’s events, which included an all-day retreat Thursday at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter, and various subcommittee, committee and board meetings Friday and the Washington Educational Services Building in Brainerd.

Standards board members and staff had discussions with Brainerd School Board members and district administrators, along with other area educators, including representatives from the Minnesota Rural Education Association and Education Minnesota. State Sen. Greg Clausen, a Democratic representative of the southern Twin Cities area, joined the discussions as well.

Local input

The roughly 40 people present separated into small groups to discuss the licensing and standards board’s goals. The first is to increase a high-quality teacher workforce throughout the state by expanding innovative teacher preparation and elevating the teaching profession, with a focus on increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the workforce. The second goal is to implement the work of the new board by incorporating diverse input from educators’ and stakeholders’ voices, including creating a long-term strategic plan.

“We want to hear from you as we reflect on those goals, how you think there’s different activities or things we can be doing from your vantage point to meet these goals as we sit on the board,” Hahn told the group.

At one table, Brainerd School Board member Charles Black Lance spoke about not only recruiting diverse teachers and staff members but making sure those individuals have the support they need.

“What’s really important for me in this type of mindset is to create a soft landing for faculty, staff, professionals of racial and ethnic diversity when they come there,” Black Lance said. “You can’t just throw a fish into a fish tank with tap water, you have to make sure to have the water taken care of and it’s healthy so that individual’s going to be successful when they get there.”

Standards board member Dennis Draughn said mentorship was one of the subjects touched on during Thursday’s retreat, as another goal of the board is to provide support for new educators -- especially those of racial diversity -- in order to retain teachers. These support services are especially important in inner city and Greater Minnesota districts, he said, as they often have a hard time filling vacancies.

Black Lance added schools should strive to be leaders in their communities with setting up supportive spaces and creating a healthy environment.


As for the second goal, of incorporating diverse input from a variety of educational stakeholders, Draughn and others present said the goal is not simply just getting racially or ethnically diverse input, but reach out to communities outside the Twin Cities metro area, too, so as many educators as possible can be heard and can help create a strategic plan for the future.

But to hear all those opinions, Black Lance said there may need to be basic training on making sure those involved in education know how to make their voices heard, as not everyone necessarily has the skill set.

“You need to be able to articulately and concisely and effectively be able to provide that input,” he said, “and I think we need to make sure we’re providing the how-to of people of color or a different ethnic background and, quite honestly, of all faculty and staff along the way, and I think that’s really important.”

Those comments seem to go hand-in-hand with a theme Hahn saw throughout her group’s discussion, which was guidance.

“When we look at these (goals), what is the guidance that can come from PELSB (Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board) itself? What are the places that we need to be reaching out and supporting?”

Many of the small groups reported similar discussions as Hahn and Black Lance, noting the necessity of including input from diverse groups.

That input also needs to include voices from classroom teachers, one noted, as educational decision-makers aren’t always those who spend time in the classroom.

Licensing board staffers noted teacher input is important to them, as five of their board members are teachers.


After the discussion, Hahn said she was glad for the opportunity to have her fellow standards board members in Brainerd, as they are continually aiming to learn and communicate with districts throughout the state, which can be difficult between meetings and full-time jobs.

Harrison Elementary School Principal Cathy Nault said, for her, Friday’s event was about learning the function of the new standards board and some of its initiatives and goals.

“We talked about the fact that this isn’t just about teacher licensing, it’s about all of us -- admin, speech, psych, everybody,” Nault said, adding it’s beneficial when decision-makers can physically come to a site like Brainerd and see it for themselves.

Brainerd Superintendent Laine Larson wrapped up the nearly hour-long discussion by thanking those from the licensing and standards board and the other organizations present for their dedication to education and for taking the time to come to Brainerd and experience Greater Minnesota.

“Most of all what I would like to add is, we are all teachers, and we are so incredibly proud of this profession that we all get to be a part of, and we’re so proud of the teachers that touch the lives of our children every single day,” Larson said. “They really are the difference-makers in this world. They’re the ones that develop our kids into who they are, and that’s each of you, and I want to say thank you on behalf of the board of education and the school district for giving your professional lives to making this world a better place for the children in the state of Minnesota.”

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads