Name: Ben Karls
Address: 5949 Walnut Drive, Minneapolis
Family: Husband (Kent), Daughter (Cordelia), Son (Thomas)
Employment: Teacher Leader
Education: BA - Saint John's University, MA in Teaching English - University of Chicago, EdS in Educational Leadership - Minnesota State University Mankato
Community involvement: Former: Minneapolis Mayhem BoD, YMCA Camp Icaghowan BoD, Kantorei Chamber Choir
Previous experience: Congressional Intern for Jim Ramstad, Saint John's Senate, Joint Events Council (CSB/SJU)
Contact info: Facebook @BenKarls270
Why do you want to be on the Hopkins School Board?
As a white parent of two children of color, having a district that is forward-thinking, focused on equity and concerned about the future and not staying rooted in past practices that benefit a select few is important to me. The education I have received at various institutions has been fantastic, but it was made for me, a white male. Dr. Mhiripiri-Reed's Vision 2031 focuses on the next generation of which my two children belong, and it's a vision that I support wholeheartedly. My strengths as an educational leader are executing visions and strategic thinking, both needed as a member of the school board, and my commitment to the district, especially when faced with pressure from my neighborhood to open enroll in Edina, is founded in her vision and our shared values of what makes a school district go from great to world class.
What is your view of the state of the school district?
What I appreciate about the district is that it is making some gains in closing the achievement gap, in building racially equitable pedagogy and teaching skills in its staff, and adapting to the changing demographics of the district itself. As good of a job as it's doing, it could be doing better. That's where a strong, vision-directed superintendent and an innovative and values-driven board can continuously improve. Vision 2031 has done a good job at conceptualizing what the world could be and how our scholars will need to ready, yet it's still reactive. We can be stronger at innovating and focusing on academic and social excellence, highlight how the equitable practices and pedagogy are going to better prepare our scholars for the world they will inherit upon graduating, and challenge the presumptions that drive some district residents to seek educational opportunities in other districts or private schools.
What would be your top priorities as a School Board member?
My top priority is to ensure we are leading our budgeting priorities with what we say we value, focusing on what's best for all our scholars (quality, highly-trained instructors and leaders; equitable expenditures that ensure all scholars are ready for learning when they come to our schools, and financially responsible plans and practices that leverage our strongest assets as a school district - our teachers).
What, if any, areas in the district budget should be adjusted?
Honestly, I haven't poured over the budget. When I am elected to the board, I will know it backwards and forwards, stressing the need for our spending to reflect our educational values of equity and innovation and the whole scholar. For now, I have trusted how they've managed the money and am pleased to see them recognized for their financial responsibility.
What should be done to address the achievement gap?
A strong focus on equitable teaching practices and addressing the implicit biases we all carry is a start to revising the system to one that meets the needs of all scholars. Our teachers are doing some great work, but we can do more to address the inclusivity of our district's unrepresented and underrepresented voices. Focused, intentional cultural education and revision needs to happen to ensure that we are learning with each other. For instance, we have a fine Chinese immersion school, and as a community, we value our English-speaking scholars learning another language, so how can we shift the perception and discussion of our English as a Second Language scholars and our traditional schools to one of inclusion by talking about them as English immersion schools, where we see their multi-lingual skills as strengths instead of problems to fix, where instruction is focused on creativity and culture as much as within our Chinese immersion program.
What skills should be added or emphasized in classrooms to educate students for a 21st-century career or workplace?
Our schools are successful for many of our scholars. They are also not successful for many of our scholars. Both are rooted in the systems which have not changed in decades and are slow to respond to the changing world. As an educator, it's easy for me to rest of my conforts, the lessons I like and feel successful teaching, but that is not enough for our scholars. They deserve better. Our Hopkins schools need to focus on the basic skills - yes - but they also need to focus on the non-standardized skills of problem solving, critical thinking, actively anti-racist learning and dismantling of systems which favor whiteness over all other racial groups. Our teachers do not reflect our scholars' backgrounds - anywhere in the state - and that needs to change. We need teachers of color and alternative methods rooted in equity that work for all our scholars, For instance, project-based and inquiry-based courses that are interdisciplinary, where teachers and scholars work collaboratively to address authentic, relevant issues need to be a focus instead of the silos of curricular areas. Our district does a good job of engaging scholars in the process, but we can do more to bring in scholar voice and build their agency as the future leaders of the world, allowing their virtuosities to drive the learning.
How should Hopkins Schools ensure the safety of its students?
The best way we can ensure our scholars feel safe is to provide strong social emotional learning and support in all our schools. From early childhood through high school, we need to make mental health and empathy school-wide and district-wide goals so scholars feel both the needed sense of belonging as well as supported in their mental health. We know scholars coming from traumatic circumstances exist in a far higher number in our district than most know, and providing that support is the most crucial way we can help our scholars feels safe, welcomed, and validated. Unfortunately, our teachers are being asked to work with scholars whose needs are far beyond the training of teachers and require mental health professionals.
Have you ever been charged with a gross misdemeanor or higher, or been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy or foreclosure?
Getting to know you
Favorite book or movie?
My favorite book is "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman or "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë. My favorite movie is "Clue."
Last live show or concert you attended?
On the Run II (Jay-Z and Beyoncé)
Favorite subject in school?
What would be the title of your life story?
"Ben There, Done That"
Dream vacation destination?
Favorite local business?
Monkabeans. I've been going there for coffee since I was a teacher in the district back in the 90s.