School safety, building morale among top priorities for new Department of Education head

January 17, 2019 06:52 PM

School safety and building morale are just a few of the priorities new Department of Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker plans to focus on. 

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"I want to believe part of that work, having a focus on professionalism, will have an impact on this teacher shortage," said Ricker, who graduated from Hibbing High School and taught in St. Cloud, South Korea and St. Paul before moving into state and national union leadership. 

"I want to believe it will have an impact on morale. I want to believe, at the end of the day, it will better meet the needs of our students because it will improve teaching and learning conditions."

Ricker has her own ideas about what will work when it comes to those inevitable money questions - both for metro and outstate schools.

"I think very often when we talk about funding education, we actually start with the numbers and then talk about what we can deliver with those numbers," she said. "But if we identify first the sort of educational experience our students should have, and then start talking about how to fund that, then we're talking about the same experience. And we're making sure if we're not going to deliever all of it right away, we at least come up with a plan for delivering it."

As for the $25 million in school safety dollars lawmakers approved last year, it represents just a fraction of the $250 million requested by schools to improve security in their buildings.

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"That certainly opened up the opportunity for schools to talk about the building needs our districts have," she said. "I think our students and their families and practitioners are going to continue to talk about the kinds of support our students deserve around school safety.

"I think we are going to keep seeing this conversation grow."

Ricker will start visiting schools around the state next week. Her first stop will be in her hometown of Hibbing.


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Jessica Miles

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