By Sonya Goins
The 2017-2018 school year is upon us and the new superintendent of the Hopkins School District is racing against the clock to get her office set up before the first bell rings on Tuesday.
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed was hired in July to lead the district. She recently moved back to Minnesota from Monterey, Calif. For the past six weeks, she’s made the rounds, meeting staff and students.
“I’m just excited to continue meeting students of all ages, and have them get to know me and just see what our young people’s aspirations are, and kind of get a feel for what our students are looking for and dreaming about,” said Mhiripiri-Reed.
The new superintendent’s education qualifications are impeccable. She holds a doctoral degree from Harvard University, a master’s from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s from Yale.
Mhiripiri-Reed has been an educator for more than 15 years. Before moving back to Minnesota, she was the associate superintendent of Monterey Peninsula Unified. Prior to that, she worked as the director of leadership development for the District of Columbia Public Schools in Washington, D.C. The Minnesota native was also a principal in the Anoka School District for six years.
Mhiripiri-Reed is the first female and the first person of color to serve as superintendent in the Hopkins district. Her goal was to work in a diverse environment, and she said “Hopkins is the perfect fit.”
According to the district, there are over 6,800 students in the district. Fifty-five percent of the student population is white, 21 percent Black, 10 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 6 percent two or more races, and 1 percent Native-American.
“I think that Hopkins is a microcosm of the United States. It’s a microcosm of the metropolitan area, and as a leader of color, I identify with sort of a global feel that exists in a community,” said Mhiripiri-Reed. “It’s not necessarily hard for me to work in a homogenous community, I just think that I, and other people, have a richer experience in a diverse community.”
Mhiripiri-Reed has firsthand world experiences. She has lived in Kenya, Uganda, Italy and Switzerland. Her father is from Zimbabwe and her mother is white; second generation Norwegian. The two met at the University of Minnesota. She credits her parents for encouragement and helping her to think outside the box.
“I never questioned who I could become or what I could achieve. I think because I always knew that the world is bigger than what I saw in front of my very own eyes,” said Hopkins’ top educator.
The former fitness instructor and mother of two says she wants to be an effective leader for all students. She says there are many possibilities for what the Hopkins students can do in the future.
“I think it’s important for them see that the faces of leadership (can) look very different,” said Mhiripiri-Reed. “I would also enjoy being a symbol of hope; that positive role model who signals that you can be anything that you put your mind to. It just takes hard work and lots of practice and some tenacity. So, I would love to serve in that way for students who need it. And maybe for our girls of color to see me as somebody they could emulate.”
But, Mhiripiri-Reed said she can’t do this alone. She is calling on the community to step up to the plate, and uplift young folks in the district.
“Our young African-American, Black American, young people of African descent, whatever people want to call themselves, our young people need sources of inspiration,” said Mhiripiri-Reed.
She says the community needs to wrap its arms around young people so they can thrive, and fulfill their dreams and become productive members of society.
“Anything I can do to partner with our African-American, Black families, so their children can feel supported, I’m excited about working in those ways,” said Mhiripiri-Reed.
One of the first things on the new superintendent’s to-do list is closing the achievement gap. Once school starts, she plans to analyze the numbers and identify strengths, weakness; and come up with an intervention plan.
Mhiphiri-Reed said Hopkins is already a good school district, and she looks forward to building on that success. She says nurturing relationships with students is a key ingredient to making sure the learning environment is conducive for academic performance.
“You can find here in Hopkins, teachers who put students, not content first. Because the content and the skill acquisition will come, especially if the relationship is strong,” said Mhiripiri-Reed.