Jessica Kopp steps into new role on school board

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Tesha Christensen

She views her job as connecting community, SPSD

Former middle school teacher Jessica Kopp started a new part-time job in early January. She is one of two newly elected members of the Saint Paul School Board: a four-year, non-partisan position which she won with more than 20,000 votes.
Interviewed after her first two weeks on the job, Kopp said, “I’m aware of the bigness of it right now. Our school board has a budget of more than $700,000,000. We’re the second largest school district in the state, with more than 35,000 students in K-12, transitional programs, early childhood education, special needs, adult basic education, and more.
The school board administers almost 70 different programs across the city. Being on the Saint Paul School Board is a big responsibility.”
Kopp doesn’t want the identity of the elected official to be her dominant one. She sees herself as being a connector between the community and the district in her new role.
The 20+ year Midway resident feels she was “accidentally prepared” for becoming a school board member. Kopp was very involved at Hamline Elementary when her daughter (now 12) was a student there. She said, “Although we’d lived in the neighborhood since 2000, it wasn’t until 2013 that we really felt we were part of the neighborhood.”
Kopp credits her involvement with Hamline Elementary for solidifying her family’s sense of belonging.
She often talked about the foundational value of neighborhood schools during her nine month campaign last year. Kopp said, “St. Paul has some really awesome specialty schools, but we also have to invest deeply in our neighborhood schools. As I travelled to different parts of the city, the message that ‘neighborhood schools strengthen neighborhoods’ resonated with a lot of people.”
The idea of running for school board was born out of those years of working in the school district and in the community. Kopp didn’t claim to know much about local politics when she started campaigning, but she did know how to organize – and she had years of experience helping to rebuild Hamline Elementary when it was facing declining enrollment and funding levels.
Kopp had a campaign team of talented, smart, dedicated volunteers working behind her. Some had political experience, but most didn’t. She said, “Because of the years I spent teaching, I’m good at recognizing people’s strengths – and getting them to work from their strengths.” She ran her campaign the same way she approached advocating for education as a community activist, which was by doing the very best she could.
St. Paul schools face many challenges in the coming years including budget shortfalls, declining enrollment, and racial disparities in both learning and discipline. Kopp believes there’s a full palette of opportunities within the district, and that there’s a school for every student out there.
Her advice to families considering where to send their children? “Don’t just read the demographics online – go into the schools and talk to staff, students, and families. Move away from your computer and pick up on the real vibe of a place before writing it off.”



Jessica Kopp has three broad areas she wants to influence during her tenure on the board:

1. To contribute to a school board and school district that are welcoming, responsive, and accessible to all.

2. To build strong partnerships between the school district, the city, and the county – so schools can concentrate on teaching. Mental health, food insecurity, and homelessness are issues more appropriately handled by staff at the city and county levels.

3. To support diversity of education in both teaching and learning.

School board meetings are held on the third Tuesday of every month at the District Office, 360 Colburne Street. The public is welcome to attend and participate. Jessica Kopp can be reached by direct email at Jessica.kopp@spps.org.

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