Walz seeks synergy in education, higher education and corrections commissioner picks

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Gov.-elect Tim Walz named three more Commissioners Thursday to lead the Departments of Education, Higher Education and Corrections.

There’s a big reason why he included the new head of prisons with the heads of education, too.

The new Governor sees education and corrections as very much tied together. It was a lesson day for the incoming teacher-Governor.

Students at Farnsworth Aerospace Magnant School in St. Paul schooled Walz on how to fly an airplane and coordinate air traffic all as the Gov.-elect revealed his own lesson plans for the future of education in Minnesota.

“And it’s no secret this one is personal for me,” he said.

His pick to lead the Department of Education was Mary Catheryn Ricker. She’s a certified middle school English teacher and current Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers.

“We know we are still not where we should be as a state,” Ricker said Thursday.

For the Department of Higher Education, Walz chose Dennis Olson, the current Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.

For the Department of Corrections, he chose respected Inver Grove Heights Police Chief Paul Schnell.

His first priority as it relates to corrections is to keep prison guards safe after two recent deaths.

“The first thing I’m going to do starting today is reaching out of folks in union leadership and talking with the wardens and learning what the issues are and begin the work of trying to put together whatever the plan is going to be to bring about the safety, to address the safety needs of our staff and the safety of the people they are supervising inside institutions,” said Schnell, the Corrections Commissioner Designate.

With Chief Schnell at Corrections, along with the new Commissioners for Education and Higher Education, they join the new announced Commissioners at Housing, Management and Budget, Administration and the Chair of the Met Council.

The education and corrections agendas are deliberately tied together by Walz. He wants schools to holistically serve students on the front end, to keep them out of prison on the back end.

“And so the approach is one of, look at our issues holistically,” Walz said. “Look at how we are delivering services.  And just to the taxpayers of Minnesota, if we do this right, we save money.” 

In Walz’s mind, the holistic plan will set kids and families on a flight path for success. Walz said Thursday people and families don’t live in pieces and state government shouldn’t be working in pieces either.