Thomas Brooks has lived in Brooklyn Park for almost 10 years. When the events of 2020 started unfolding, he looked for an avenue for his voice to be heard.
Brooks decided to apply for an open position on the Osseo School Board, and it initially was met with some skepticism from his family and friends. But, onward he pressed.
The work involved dealing with a challenging campaign in incredibly challenging times. However, the work proved worthwhile for Brooks on election night as he was elected to the Board in a special election due to the resignation of Jessica Craig.
The emotion of winning the post was not lost on Brooks, who has two children in the Osseo District.
“It took a while to process,” Brooks said. “I worked incredibly hard on this. It started with just me and this idea to run. I had to convince everyone around me that this was a good idea and build a coalition, which I didn’t know that I could do. To see everything fall into place and see the numbers actually come in was a lot to process. It was an emotional evening, for sure.
“With everything that’s happened this year, from the comments made by the school board member who had to step down, to all of the divisiveness surrounding George Floyd, it really felt like the right time for someone from a community of color to step up. I took that as an opportunity to apply. As a leader of color, I wanted to step up and bridge that divide and hopefully change the culture of the board for the better.”
Five candidates applied for the special election. Brooks earned 31.6% of the vote (18,383) to beat runner-up Bridget Erickson, who had 27.8% (16,205). Kia Xiong was third in the voting with 17% (9,996), Vicki Richardson fourth with 13.2% (7,686), and Khai Vang fifth with 9.8% (5,697).
Brooks grew up in Chicago and soon moved to Las Vegas, where he still has family. His position with U.S. Bank, where he is now a project manager, brought him to the Twin Cities from upstate New York. He will start his two-year term on Nov. 17.
Brooks is a Black man, and his goals start with dealing with racial issues the district. His public service duties resume is extensive. He’s the Chair of the Minnesota Board of Social Work and also serves on the Brooklyn Park Human Rights Commission.
“I’m coming to the board with years of board governance experience and a business background,” Brooks said. “I hope to bring that knowledge and experience to the board as we work to bridge some of this divisiveness that’s happening in our district, as we work to tackle some difficult topics such as achievement gap, racial disparities and systemic injustice.”
His goals are wide-ranging, starting from working the relationship among Board members and also working together to helping students who are struggling academically.
“The biggest thing is changing the culture of the board. “I think there was a clear mandate from the district that they want to see positive change on the board and see them work together to move the district forward,” Brooks said. “I know immediately we have the great challenge of ushering the district through the pandemic. Getting everyone through that is the immediate challenge. We to refocus and reprioritizing our kids in the district, particularly those who are struggling academically.
“We need to work on improving the achievement gap and making sure our schools are safe and fair for all of our kids. There’s a lot that we need to do in the district. We’ve lost many families because of the pandemic to private schools, charter schools and home schools. We need to take a look at the standards that we’re setting for the kids and make sure we earn those kids and families back. There’s a long list of things that we need to accomplish over the next several years, but that’s what I signed up for.”
COVID-19 an issue
With positive cases of COVID-19 on a dramatic rise in recent weeks, Brooks said providing solutions and finding a balance between safety and academics is at the top of his list.
The Osseo District started the school year two weeks later than usual and began with a hybrid learning model in all grades. That, however, shifted to distance learning for grades six to 12 and hybrid for elementary students on Nov. 8, as cases continued to spike.
Superintendent Cory McIntyre warned at the beginning of the school year that these models will likely change frequently. Thus far, that has proven to be correct.
Brooks said he follows the views of many on the COVID-19 learning models, stressing safety while wanting students, teachers and staff back in buildings when deemed safe.
“At the end of the day, I want our students and educators to be safe,” Brooks said. “I want our kids back in school as quickly as possible and as much as possible, but only in an environment that makes sense. With kids in school full time, there are some limitations when it comes to social distancing and safety protocols. My belief on this is we need to follow science and leadership from the state, pay attention to our epidemiologist, our numbers in the district and make those decisions accordingly.
“I know how a board should run and how it should function as a body. I want to create an environment where the board is responsive to our educators, students and our families.”