Saturday, November 18, 2006

Chris Stewart: An apology and a call for action to lift kids out of poverty

Furor over website has diverted attention from serious challenges that confront the Minneapolis schools.

Chris Stewart

I write to express my sincere apology to Tammy Lee, the citizens of Minneapolis and the students, staff and board of the Minneapolis public schools for my role in the creation of a website lampooning the Lee campaign. The site was offensive and crude and reflected behavior unbecoming a public official. My connection to the Web page has disappointed many people, called into question my integrity and set back the important work of healing in the Minneapolis public schools.

The timing could not be worse for our school district. Over the course of the last several months I have met many people who put their faith in me and who voted for me. They were looking to my colleagues and me to restore public trust in our district. What should have been a joyful and hopeful time after the election has been damaged by news of this incident. I am painfully aware of the gravity of this situation.

I entered the race for school board with a lot of energy, some good ideas, the best of intentions, and a stubborn mission to open the doors for kids to leave poverty. I wanted to craft policies to help kids who are struggling find a path into the workforce, much as I had been able to do. The last thing I wanted to do was give people a reason to criticize our schools or divide along racial lines. I feel particularly sick to be associated with something viewed as "hate." I hate no one and I believe that we can work through the difficult and painful politics of race by discussing the issues openly. I am deeply sorry for damaging the public discourse on race that we so badly need to have.

Some people have asked for more details, so let me state a few things for the record. I have been part of several writers' groups for years. I have published poetry, short stories, and newspaper articles on poverty and race. Over the years I have made many friends who write for different purposes. The Tammy Lee spoof was written by a group of people who blog together. I participated in very loose conversations about politics with these friends and some of what I said is part of the spoof they created. I did not create or publish a hate site, nor am I responsible for everything posted on it. I have contributed to the blog in the past and once owned the domain name. Despite these disclaimers, I accept responsibility for the site and its misguided content.

I feel strongly about restoring order in our schools, increasing the prominence of math and science in the curriculum and using public education as a way to move young people into jobs with good pay. Too many kids are not making it into the workforce, and I have a strong vision of how vocational education can prepare many of them for a better life. I am deeply troubled by poor performance in high-poverty, racially isolated schools. I decided to run for the Minneapolis school board because I believed my experience in workforce development, social services and staffing would open doors for people who might otherwise be excluded from the prosperity of Minneapolis. This still drives me to push an agenda for those who have no one opening the gate for them.

I pledge to work hard to bring real change for our schools. Despite my mistake, I want and intend to prove myself as a reliable and effective leader who can help create a vision that leaves us all in better shape.

Chris Stewart is a consultant and member-elect of the Minneapolis School Board.

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