Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published Apr. 28

Declaring War on the New Superintendent  


Before he has even set foot in his office our newly hired Duluth School Superintendent, Keith Dixon, has had a salvo fired over his head by ex school board member, Eileen Zeitz-Hudelson in a sour letter-to-the-editor. Eileen’s complaints against Dixon were echoed by one of her neighbors in a similar letter a few days later. Having been the target of a Zeitz-Hudelson orchestrated letter writing campaign I couldn’t help but sympathize with our new Superintendent.


Part of Eileen’s distress comes from seeing our current Superintendent leave. She believes, and I agree, that Superintendent Almanza deserves more credit than he’s gotten. Julio stepped into a brawling community with a divided School Board and a shrinking enrollment just as Minnesota began to reduce it’s per-pupil spending. Through all this he avoided a teacher’s strike, maintained a ten percent budget reserve and coped with the Board. As Julio departs not a single Duluth school is on the Bush Administration’s hit list for schools that failed to meet the federally mandated AYP (Average yearly progress) standard.


It’s one thing to mourn the loss of Almanza. It’s quite another to sabotage his successor especially if her attack is intended to launch a campaign to recapture a seat on the School Board. Although Zeitz-Hudelson blames the School Board for Julio’s departure the truth is that it was Julio, not the Board, who made the decision to step down.


Eileen’s caustic criticism of our new Superintendent while unfair may be true and deserves examination. She writes that all of the Faribault Schools have failed to meet the Bush Administration’s standards for AYP.


I attended school in a southern Minnesota town not far from Faribault back when both communities were lily-white. Of the 454 kids who graduated with me from Mankato High School in 1969 not one was the child of a Mexican agricultural worker. I presume it was the same for Faribault . By ten ago seven percent of Faribault ’s students were the children of Central American farm workers. Today 30 percent of Faribault ’s school children have first-generation parents who speak Spanish at home. They are getting the same crash course in bilingualism that Supt. Almanza got fifty years ago when his parents brought him north to the mean streets of Chicago .


Eileen, a Spanish language professor at UMD, once told me that she was not a natural foreign language student. She had to work hard to master Spanish even though she had all the advantages of a middle class upbringing. For her to blast a school superintendent because he hasn’t instantly assimilated the massive influx of foreign students to his district is unfair. Whatever difficulties our schools in Duluth face they are piffle compared to those of Faribault where one-in-three students hail from foreign shores. It’s been nearly one hundred years since Duluth faced such difficulties.


To his credit Keith Dixon seems to have rallied Faribault in the face of this great challenge. This bodes well for Duluth and it would be a terrible shame to see Dixon saddled with a hostile school board.


The Duluth Public Policy Alliance recently invited Supt. Almanza to speak to them about the challenges facing the Duluth School System. Eileen was also asked to speak. An acquaintance of mine who took notes shared Eileen's thoughts with me. Although Eileen spoke highly of Duluth ’s teachers she told her audience that she was “not optimistic” about the future of the Duluth Schools. She began outlining thirteen problems facing our Schools:


1.  Education is a political pawn of both Washington and St Paul .  Politicians want to destroy public education and turn it over to big business.  

2.  Eileen doesn’t think she can ever forgive Duluthians for the racism and classism which were unleashed when the School Board proposed its “corridor plan” back when she was on the Board.

3.  Duluth does not have the resources to support its public schools.

4.  Our local media only covers negative information about the Duluth Schools.

5.  There is a leadership vacuum in the current School Board. 


Mercifully, Eileen stopped here without going through the remaining eight problems. The DPPA’s pot luck supper was getting cold. After her presentation the DPPA urged audience members to find candidates and get involved in the upcoming elections.


Republicans have a reputation for using public education as a whipping boy to win elections. Judging by Eileen’s criticism of our new Superintendent, Republicans have no monopoly on this tactic. Even though Eileen believes that the “No Child Left Behind” law is a threat to public education she has proved willing to exploit its dubious AYP standard to cut Keith Dixon down to size. I think there’s a word for this – maybe several.


Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com


Eileen's letter and her neighbor's letter 

Eileen's response to my column

A correction on my column