As Minnesota’s first African American Commissioner of Education, I am responsible for policies that impact the lives and education of nearly a million Minnesota children. I come to this task with a profound sense of gratitude for the opportunity to influence an area I care so deeply about. I also come with a deep sense of humility, and the knowledge that I stand on the shoulders of many who have come before me, including my own parents and my grandfather.
I grew up poor, but I never felt a poverty of love. My mother, just sixteen when she had my sister and only a few years older when I came along, never graduated from high school. Though she struggled at times, she was our greatest advocate. She was also was a firm believer in the notion that it truly does take a village to raise a child. So I was a Head Start baby. I was involved in community programs and I loved going to, and later serving as a youth counselor at summer camp. Each of these experiences opened the door to a world of possibilities. My father, also a consistent presence in my life even though he and my mother were not always together, reinforced the notion that education was my ticket to a better life. He would tell me I could either continue the cycle of poverty into which I was born, or could choose to continue my education and break the cycle. He told me “This is America. You can be anything or anybody you want to be. You might have to work harder than most folks, but if you’re willing, the future is yours to determine.”
As true as those words were for me, they were not, and are not, always true for everyone. Any forward progress that African Americans have achieved has been hard won through the heroic efforts of many, including my own grandfather, Melvin Alston. He played a key role in the relationship between race and public education years before Brown v. Board of Education changed the course of history in the United States.
Governor Dayton's visit to school district 287, the first school to participate in the Minnesota Adopt-a-School initiative.
>> KSTP: Dayton Urges Minn. Businesses to Adopt a School
>> Learn more about how to Adopt-a-School
On Tuesday, Governor Mark Dayton again asked businesses throughout Minnesota to take an active role in educating the state's youth by adopting a school. Standing with Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Governor Dayton launched Minnesota's Adopt-A-School initiative, presenting the first awards to Parasole Restaurant Group, TE Connectivity and Intermediate School District 287.
Orginally aired: 02/14/2012 on KSTP.com
“We need FastTRAC on every campus in Minnesota. We need state and federal job training and workforce development monies to be better coordinated with higher education funding and programs, so that all of our students come out of our educational systems, skilled and ready to succeed. The success of our state depends upon it.”
- Governor Mark Dayton
In his annual State of the State address to the Minnesota Legislature, Governor Mark Dayton pointed to the success of Antoinette McCarthy, a 27-year-old mother of three who was formerly on the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) as she struggled to find a career in today’s competitive job market. Her successful completion of a new career training program, being shaped with the help of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), was cited by Dayton in his Feb. 15 address as he urged legislators to expand the program, called FastTRAC.
“Antoinette McCarthy is another wonderful success story,” said Dayton. She struggled to find a decent-paying job and a career with a future. Now, Antoinette is poised for success. She just completed a FastTRAC program at Inver Hills Community College, receiving her Certificate as a Nursing Assistant. Her hard work for that certificate means she will earn, on average, nearly double what someone would at a minimum-wage medical job. We need FastTRAC on every campus in Minnesota. We need state and federal job training and workforce development monies to be better coordinated with higher education funding and programs, so that all of our students come out of our educational systems, skilled and ready to succeed. The success of our state depends upon it.”
FastTRAC, is a career training initiative that now has hundreds of students enrolled in one of 34 different training paths to careers that pay a living wage.
McCarthy attended a month of full-day sessions at Inver Hills Community College, one of 20 campuses in Minnesota with a FastTRAC program. The first half of the day focused on the academic work that prepared her for the state CNA exam. The second part of the day was hands-on work in a nursing lab, handling real medical equipment and modeling situations that students would be faced with in a nursing job every day.
FastTrac provides training and education for an array of Minnesota industries -- health care, manufacturing, education, business, energy and culinary – and is intended to help close a serious skills gap in Minnesota’s workforce by focusing on re-engaging adults who need foundational and occupational skill training. Economists estimate that in seven years, 70 percent of Minnesota jobs will require a college credential. Right now, 40 percent of the state’s adults have that level of education.
The program is a multi-agency partnership, guided by experts from DHS, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, the Greater Twin Cities United Way and others.
“I am hopeful, because I believe in Minnesota. I believe in Minnesotans.”
Governor Mark Dayton – February 15, 2012
Last night, Governor Mark Dayton delivered his State of the State address to a joint session of the Minnesota Legislature at the Minnesota State Capitol. By stressing the need to make key investments to get Minnesota working again, Governor Dayton outlined a clear vision for future prosperity in Minnesota: investing in jobs, investing in stronger education, and reform of government services.
The Governor called on business leaders and legislators to work with him to invest in more jobs in Minnesota. “They must be our No. 1 priority. So I say to legislators, let’s take your best ideas and my best ideas and turn them into jobs, and let’s do it now.” He urged the legislature to pass a combination of his bonding proposals, “Jobs Now” tax credits, and the Vikings stadium to put tens of thousands of Minnesotans back to work.
The Governor also stressed the reforms that have been made in education over the last year. In 2011, the Governor expanded Early Childhood Education, a step which helped to win Minnesota a federal Race to the top award. This year, Minnesota was one of only 10 states to earn a waiver from the failed No Child Left Behind law. The Governor acknowledged these successes and then challenged legislators to develop education initiatives in cooperation with educators. He challenged educators to prepare their students for jobs of the future.
Following through on the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Financial Literacy Action Plan released last October, Commissioner Mike Rothman invited the heads of nine state agencies to the Department for a first of its kind Interagency Work Group on Financial Literacy at 3:00pm this afternoon. Agencies invited to participate in the work group have existing programs, outreach efforts, or other interests in financial literacy.
The goal of today’s meeting is twofold: 1) to increase communication and collaboration across the administration in order to improve or expand existing financial literacy programs; and 2) identify new ways an administration-wide partnership may help ensure Minnesotans from Kindergarten to retirement have the skills, knowledge, and resources they need to achieve financial security.
“This is an unprecedented coalition that demonstrates this administration’s strong commitment to financial literacy and consumer education,” said Commissioner Rothman. “With an economy in recovery, and an increasingly complex marketplace, countless Minnesota families are facing real and difficult financial challenges. It has never been more important to work together across agencies to strengthen the systems that educate and support knowledgeable, financially secure Minnesota consumers. Working together in strong partnership, this coalition can make a big difference in the lives and finances of Minnesotans.”
On Monday, Governor Mark Dayton convened the first Governor's American Indian Summit, with the goal of improving access to high quality education opportunities to all Minnesota youth. The summit brought together tribal and state education leaders, as well as key stakeholders, to address barriers and challenges currently facing the state's Indian students. Star Tribune reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger covered the event in the story below.
The dismal statistics are too familiar: American Indian students' test scores lag behind those of their white peers, their dropout rates are higher and alcohol abuse is more frequent.
On Monday, Gov. Mark Dayton kicked off the first Governor's American Indian Education summit to tackle the vexing issues.
"Something is missing," Dayton said at the opening of the daylong meeting. "Something is either not there that should be there or is there and is being misdirected, and that's the purpose of this summit."
While the gubernatorial imprimatur on the summit was unique, the DFL governor is at the end of a long line of officials who, over the years, have brought together top minds in the state to cope with the problem. The St. Paul gathering stands out because this time, the state and the 11 tribes are working side by side on the thorny issues surrounding Indian education, said Keith Hovis, a spokesman for the state Education Department.
Getting Minnesota Back to Work
- Under the Governor’s leadership Minnesota continues to outpace the national economic recovery. Minnesota’s unemployment rate is 5.9 percent, compared to 8.6 percent for the rest of the country. There are 53,000 more Minnesotans at work now, compared to the bottom of the recession.
- Governor Dayton worked to pass a $500 million bonding bill, putting thousands of Minnesotans back to work improving bridges, roads and infrastructure.
The Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant will focus on efforts to improve and boost early childhood education. Minnesota was one of nine states selected to receive a grant.
"Today’s announcement fulfills Governor Mark Dayton’s promise to utilize a collaborative, community based approach in applying for the grant and furthers the Administration’s commitment toward positioning Minnesota as a national leader in early education reform," the Park Rapids Enterprise reports.
After the announcement, Governor Dayton held a news conference at the Capitol.
Minnesota Public Radio reports:
At a Capitol news conference, Gov. Mark Dayton described Minnesota's award as great news in several ways.
"It's a great day for everyone who cares about the future of our children," said Dayton. "And it's a great day for Minnesota, because it's a day that Minnesota has been recognized nationally, where we should be, as one of the preeminent leaders in the nation when it comes to such important areas as early childhood education."
Gov. Mark Dayton and his commissioners are fanning out across Minnesota.
Education, revenue, pollution control and agency heads are following their boss' lead by hitting the road to take the pulse of the people.
"I think it makes a better relationship between Minnesota citizens and their government," Dayton said. It is essential, he said, for administration officials to "get out from behind the desk and the office and really see firsthand what's going on there in the real world and get the dialogue going. I really encourage commissioners to do that. I am very proud of them for doing so."
As a candidate, Dayton toured Minnesota's 87 counties in 87 days, covering 9,000 miles in less than three months. At the tour's conclusion, he bragged that he'd probably been to more counties more often, "than all the other candidates combined."