Citing “Superman” for Change

An Edina woman uses the documentary Waiting for Superman documentary to educate and affect her community.

After watching Waiting for Superman, Bonnie McGrath became a crusader for kids.

The Edina mother of four and former CEO has made education reform her investment in what she sells as a smart business decision. McGrath isn’t seeking angel investors or the aid of foundations; she is enlisting a growing and eclectic group of like-minded citizens.

“This is a topic I doubt I will ever be able to get out of my system,” McGrath says.

McGrath’s movement started with one. After watching the documentary on how the U.S. education system has failed some children, she hoped “that this filmmaker was exaggerating.”

She wanted to learn more, so she watched Waiting for Superman again. She then began inviting friends, neighbors, retired educators and young people to viewing parties in her Edina home. She has repeated that eight times.

“If we had 50 other Bonnies in Minnesota, we would have legislative change,” says Edina mother Brenda Quaye, who attended a viewing party last year.

After one party, McGrath asked one of her bridge-club friends — a retired principal at an inner-city school — if the education system was as bad as the movie portrays.

“She said, ‘It’s so much worse than the movie shows you,’ ” McGrath recalls.

After the film, the party moves to McGrath’s round kitchen table. The six to 12 guests then share their reactions after watching the harsh reality revealed in the documentary. The group also discusses important statistics that resonated with them, reform measures the film introduces, and opportunities to get involved and effect change.

“I’m hoping that a lot of the people get involved in the community somehow to make a difference,” McGrath says of her mission.

The stat McGrath uses to prompt a stand against the status quo: If you are an African-American fourth-grader in Minnesota, you’d have a better chance in 31 other states of reading at your grade level.

Quaye, who has two children in Minnetonka schools, said that bureaucracy, the teachers’ unions and the school districts are not the problem.

“It’s a parent problem; all the parents should be concerned,” Quaye says. “We have to be informed to have and ask for change at the district, state and federal level. What is going on isn’t acceptable.”

At some parties, some Edina mothers think of positive changes that could affect Edina’s already strong public schools.

McGrath often hears sentiments that focus on Edina schools, but that’s not enough for McGrath. “I’m sure they go off and do things in Edina, but I’m more interested in helping the inner-city kids. I think that we can always improve our schools in Edina, but I think we are certainly sitting here with a lot of good opportunities.”

McGrath, whose four children have attended Edina schools and Blake, last spring became a member of the board at KIPP Stand Academy, a group of charter schools featured in the documentary. After viewing parties, McGrath offers a litany of other schools, nonprofits, foundations and government organizations to which people can donate time, money and resources.

“I also want people to know that they live in a community where a lot is happening,” she says.          

McGrath has hosted other gatherings. In May, more than 40 people came to her home to listen to Matt Kramer, the president of Teach for America, an organization that has volunteers teach in low-income areas for a finite period.

“The fact that 42 people came to my home on a beautiful Sunday afternoon makes me feel like our community is very interested in this topic of having our kids get a better education,” McGrath says.

As a former leader of a technology training company, McGrath has insight into what is a good investment. She cites Waiting for Superman’s presentation of  the high cost of incarceration (which is often an indirect result of a poor educational system)  compared with the lower cost (and value-added) of a good education.

“It seems so natural to put the investment in up front, and a good education would lead to so many benefits not only for the person,” McGrath says, “but the generations that follow.”