BURNSVILLE, Minn. — For the first time, a black woman is the leader of the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School district.
And that woman, Theresa Battle, looks forward to the day when blacks in high profile positions are "unremarkable" and normal.
She officially started her new role July 1.
"I am so thrilled to be named superintendent of Burnsville-Eagan-Savage, District 191," she said. "I do understand my role as a black woman to be a role model...where the education system was not built to educate women or people who look like me."
As Theresa Battle breaks barriers, the walls in her new office hold reminders of the past. In her office, you'll find a photo of a black teacher leading a classroom in a segregated school.
It shows an example of life before Brown v. Board of Education. Slavery had ended, but blacks were fighting another form of oppression - segregation.
"I keep this picture here to remind me of how blessed I am," she said, gazing at the photo hanging on her office wall. "Some districts felt that black teachers were unfit to teach white children so maybe they only hired one or two, but they had the will and the skill and talent to teach all children."
That was nearly 64 years ago.
Battle knows she stands on the shoulders of others. Based on enrollment, her district is among Minnesota's top 20.
From the city's mayor to the school board, Battle is among the changing faces of leadership in Burnsville. A new era which comes with additional pressure.
"That responsibility to make sure I am not the last. I have this added responsibility to make sure I do well," she said. "I understand that reality as a role model and to make sure this education system serves all children, especially children who are marginalized. I also understand the responsibility I have of being the first."
Burnsville is facing declining enrollment and has had problems linked to racism and equity.
Last December, KARE 11 was there when the student body participated in a day-long conference documenting their concerns. Moving forward, Battle says the district will integrate the recommendation form the high school students who attended that conference created. Listening, she says, is the first step to reduce and address some of the issues related to race and the school climate impacting students of color.
"We heard from our young people that they not only want to have culturally competent schools and teachers, but they want the city they live in to be culturally competent. So, we must hear from people who are not experiencing the idea we want for them," she said.
Battle has 37 years of experience as an educator.
She previously worked as a teacher and principal in St. Paul, and assistant superintendent in Minneapolis. She wants to help all succeed.
"Education is dominated by women. Seventy percent of educators in this country are women. Nationally, only 30 percent of women are superintendents. And in Minnesota only 16 percent of superintendents are women. We have to do better. We have to know women can lead and work together," she said. "I say don't limit yourself because you don't know what the possibilities are."