Jourdain Seeks to Be A Voice for Native Students

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ira jourdain-web.jpgRaising the profile on Native American

student issues and accountability are the top priorities for Ira

Jourdain in his bid for the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of

Education.

The Red Lake citizen and father of

four – two of whom are enrolled in the city’s school system –

sees equity, its allocation and application to minority students as a

primary means to bridge the achievement gap. “The way the formula

works is equity and equality: everybody gets the same amounts, no

matter what. But that’s just not conducive to our kids, especially

our Native kids and African American kids, who go to what they call

the low-performing schools. These are schools that obviously need

more funding, need more resources. And then that’s where equity comes

into place, to me it’s reallocating our resources and putting those

resources into schools that need them the most.”

Though any primary campaign can

produce candidates who speak in broad generalities, Jourdain links

together problems and solutions for the Native community, which has

continually under-achieved when compared to others. “A lot of our

kids go to low-performing schools that affect their housing, that

affect employment. There’s a multitude of factors that affect our

kids’ performances in the schools and it all boils down to plain, old

equity,” he said.

Jourdain cites specifics issues and

needs that impact student performance such as mental health,

behavioral services and social workers. “There’s this tremendous

need – I’ve heard this from across the district – for school

psychologists to work with our kids on mental and behavioral

disorders.”

In addition, Jourdain said that other

factors stymying achievement may not always be apparent to school

board directors not directly involved with the problems. According to

a recent report by the Indian Education Department, Native American

students have shown an increase in and remain at the top for

homelessness. “We need stronger housing support services. My

daughter at Tatanka Academy has had three or four students in her

classroom that have moved constantly, throughout the school year,

across the district. I was at this recent hearing and the percentage

of Native American kids in our district who move constantly is 19

percent who are either homeless or constantly moving residences

during the school year.”

However personal his experience is,

this first-time candidate for school board was drawn into the process

after the death of Hussein Samatar, the first Somali American to be

elected to the board, in August of last year. While the board combed

through candidates for Samatar’s appointment – which, ultimately

went to Mohamud Noor – Jourdain gleened perspective and gained some

traction through the selection process.

“And so it kind of got the ball

rolling after that and so my overall interest increased and people

after that came forward this past winter and said, ‘we liked what you

had to say, how you presented yourself and we’re curious to know if

you’d ever consider actually running for a full term on the school

board.’ I said I’d think about it and … so I figured now would be

the time to try,” he said.

In addition to admirers, Jourdain took

what he believed to be a cue from the Native community on his

candidacy. “I called around, just to gauge interest, to some other

Native parents and Native teachers in the district and said I was

looking at running for an actual seat on the school board for a term

and wanted to know what [they] thought about it … and it was

overwhelmingly positive.”

Jourdain

has also been listening to what others in his constituency consider

important. “I know that there are some things across the board that

have not been done for Native students because there’s just not a

Native voice on the school board. I sat down with someone from Indian

Education and they shared with me their concerns and what it would

mean if I was elected onto the school board, which would be more

visibility and more accountability in regards to what a lot of Native

parents feel are being ignored by the district: their concerns and

what they would like to see in how the district handles our kids.”

Part of his candidacy also hinges on

taking on what he calls the education industry, in terms of producing

comprehensively-trained education professionals, “in classroom

tutoring and in the classrooms’ teacher’s aide. I think that’s a

glowing need when we have overflowing classrooms in our schools –

especially in our low-performing schools – with inexperienced

teachers that need the mentoring, who come right out of the gate and

they’re thrown right into the fire.”

As he’s identified the issues that

made his candidacy relevant for both the Native community and the

city at-large, Jourdain knows he has an uphill battle, particularly

after the April 26 Minneapolis DFL Caucus and Convention where

newcomer Iris Altimirano received the party’s endorsement. However,

he remains undaunted.

“I think when you’re an under-funded

candidate, you really need to go all out and show people that you’re

dedicated. I’ve got only five or six volunteers, but they work all

day and so do I and it shows. A lot of people that I’ve door-knocked

said they really appreciate that,” Jourdain said. “The other

candidates will have money but what they don’t have is drive and

determination and what we have is a great community who will rally

the troops. I know I’ll do well, it’s just a matter of getting our

supporters motivated.”

For Your Information

Primary Election: Tuesday, Aug. 12

Important Dates

Absentee ballots available for Primary

Election: Friday, June 27

Primary pre-registration deadline

(voters can also register on Election Day): Tuesday, July 22

To check voter registration status or

more information on the primary election, visit www.MNVotes.org.