Zuki first became an activist as an advocate for her son. She recognized the stark differences between schools in our district, where some schools have art, music, gym, and support staff, while others do not.
Prior to her election four years ago, she served as the PTO president for JJ Hill Montessori.
Zuki is a National Trainer for the Parent Home Visits, working in partnership with educators and parents to build a connection between home and school.
She attended Webster Elementary and Highland Junior and Senior High, and is the proud and involved parent of one current and two former SPPS students.
Doing the Work
The last four years saw a lot of changes come to our district. We still have challenges, and a lot of work lies ahead – but we are moving the district in the direction it needs to go in order for us to truly support all our students. I’m proud of the work I’ve been a part of during my first term on the board.
Hired our New Superintendent
- Searching for and hiring a new superintendent was a difficult process. It’s the biggest decision we have made as a board, and will have the greatest impact on our district. We wanted to make sure our process was collaborative, that it involved our whole community, that all our stakeholders understood what we were looking for – we did not want to have the same experience as Minneapolis and have to repeat the process.
- I worked with Director Vanderwert and our General Counsel to vet and narrow search firms down to the finalists who presented to the board.
- The community engagement piece was absolutely critical. We worked with all our parent advisory committees, the unions that form our twenty-six bargaining units, community organizations, and our Student Engagement and Advancement board to create a shared vision of what we want from our new superintendent – and a structure by which we could evaluate candidates.
- When we were building our outreach program around the search, we involved multiple departments from within the district. We collectively developed criteria for candidates. We wanted someone who would get out in our schools, someone who would be purposeful about being in community, someone who would be an advocate at the capital, and who would be committed to increasing enrollment and closing the opportunity gap. We needed a person who understood the complexities of relationships across the city, and who would work to bring new partnerships to the district. We wanted someone with long-term vision with who had a commitment to longevity and was planning for the next five, ten years.
- The board conducted site visits to see how our candidates worked in their current positions. I went the visits to see both finalists – I wanted to be able to directly compare their work cultures and talk with the people they interacted with every day. Once we had selected our finalists, we held public Q&A meetings with a lot of our students present, and input from our PACs and community organizations. The final interviews were livestreamed, so that everyone could be in the room.
- After this exhaustive process, I voted to hire Joe Gothard, the former Superintendent of Burnsville Public Schools, as our new superintendent. I believe that he has the vision and commitment to our district that we need in order to support all our students.
Served as Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) Representative
- I’ve served on the MBSA since 2017. In a state where our demographics are rapidly changing and becoming more diverse, I am the only black woman — and the only person of color — serving as a representative. My role is to speak truth, to push our demographically diversifying districts to adequately address the needs of their student body.
- The board provides professional development to board members across the state, putting on workshops, trainings, providing oversight to those programs. The board also gives members a structure to work with and listen with each other, to shape collective work around a shared vision for public schools. It helps us see the impact across the state of what we are or are not doing for our students. And it helps us build the coalition that we need to effect change at the legislature and at the state level.
- I also serve on the student scholarship committee and as a delegate to the National School Board Association.
Approved our New Strategic Plan
- Before I got on the board, the strategic plan was difficult to understand — the metrics were not transparent, the evaluation system was unclear to both board directors and district staff, and there was a very clear lack of structure.
- The new plan was built with input from community, staff, and the board, and was managed by the new superintendent. Planning sessions, visioning workshops, and community engagement spaces were held across the whole district. Parent Advisory Committees, the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, the NAACP, the African American Leadership Council, the Wilder Foundation, and SPFE members were all involved in these sessions.
- Through those sessions, we worked to determine what the district’s priorities should be, focus how we move on achievement, and make sure clear accountability and evaluation were built in.
- The new plan contains categories, developed with communities and stakeholders to envision what each category means for the district, and is meant to guide the work of the district and serve as an overall values document. The full text of the plan, and longer explanations of the Focus Areas, Phases, and Action Plans can be found at www.spps.org/strategicplan.
Advocated at the Minnesota Legislature
- Our district is critically underfunded. I’ve met with legislators to press for increased per-pupil funding, for approval of the pension plan, for the state to meet its commitments to special education, and for fully funded public schools.
- I haven’t just talked with our metro delegation – I’ve worked to build a shared legislative agenda across district lines. I’ve talked with rural board members & legislators about how what helps their districts helps everyone. We can’t get where we need to go with just the people who already understand our view. I’ve been purposeful about talking to those who don’t understand yet about our shared values around education, about what students need across the state.
Passed the 2018 Referendum
- The 2018 School Funding Referendum will bring $18 million a year into our district for the next ten years.
- I helped build the coalition that passed the referendum, fundraised, did outreach and education across St. Paul, and worked with community groups to make sure that people understood its importance to the district and why we put it on the ballot.
- The referendum received over 65% of the vote this year — St. Paul demonstrated our commitment to strong public schools.
Ensured Living Wage for All District Employees
- As of June 2019, all new hires will start at $15/hr and every current employee of the district will be making $15/hr.
- The board is also responsible for keeping the district fiscally stable – we’ve been able to return to balanced budgets, but that has been a very difficult process.
- We have twenty-six union bargaining units in our district. Before we started negotiating contracts, we worked to set the percent increase for all units, so that we were not doing different percentages for different units.
Hired a Special Education Assistant Superintendent
- Last year, the district created and hired for a Special Education Assistant Superintendent position.
- The Department has a budget of $100 million a year, and running it requires an understanding of compensatory structures, funding streams, state & federal mandates, student services, legal requirements, and all the complexities of special ed.
- These are our most vulnerable students. Advocacy needs to happen at multiple levels, we have to make sure the district is doing everything we can to follow the law and support students. We have to be accessible – it’s often difficult for parents to even know what they can ask for. We have to be acting in the best interests of our students’ academic success.
Trained, Hired, and Retained Teachers of Color
- SPPS has partnered with St. Thomas on the Urban Teacher Program (SUTR). SUTR is a 15 month long teacher residency program, aimed at bringing more teachers of color into the district. Originally grant funded, the district has taken over funding in order to ensure the program continues.
- It’s what’s called a “Grow Your Own Program,” designed to help SPPS staff become SPPS teachers – this also helps us increase retention and sustain teachers of color in the career.
Implemented Facilities Master Plan
- We have to be committed to creating functional spaces in our schools. There needs to be a distinction between the gym and the cafeteria, our buildings need to help, not hinder, our students’ learning.
- While this plan was developed before I joined the board, we’ve worked to help revitalize and repair district facilities across St. Paul.
- I am also proud of our commitment to local union hiring – to bringing jobs and creating work in our community, and to keeping money in the local economy.
Opened River East Level 4 Facility
- In 2018, we opened River East, which is SPPS’s first specifically designed Level 4 facility, where we can provide support in an adequate therapeutic setting for students and their families.
- Before then, we had to send students to other districts because we didn’t have the right resources to support them close to home, where we can easily send students back to their home schools when they’re ready.
Served on SPFE Retirement Fund Board
- Our teachers who have worked in the district need to know that they will have a pension when they retire, and that the district has fulfilled its role in supporting that.
- I helped pressure legislators to pass the state pension bill, and to study the impact on the district so that we knew what to do whether it passed or failed.
Reaffirmed Sanctuary Schools
- Community members came to me with concerns that ICE would be able to get at students through the district. I brought forward a resolution re-affirming that SPPS would not cooperate with ICE under any circumstances, full-stop.
Updated School Start Times
- Everything we know about how students learn, all the research and science, tells us that it’s better for student achievement to have our high schoolers start later.
- Starting in the coming school year, our high schools will now start at 8:30am instead of 7:30am.