MPR News with Angela Davis

Minnesota's former education leader aims to give kids a healthier planet

two women smiling in a studio
MPR News host Angela Davis and Brenda Cassellius on Thursday at MPR News headquarters in St. Paul
Danelle Cloutier | MPR News

Minnesota’s Brenda Cassellius grew up in public housing in Minneapolis and she considers that her greatest asset.

“I grew up in poverty but there was never a poverty of love,” she said, stressing that it’s possible to get out of poverty and chart your own path. “It instilled in me to give back.” 

Cassellius has given back to communities by spending decades working in education.

She was the first African American woman in Minnesota history to serve as the commissioner of education, under Gov. Mark Dayton.

She was later the superintendent of Boston Public Schools, including throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and was a leader in bringing a climate plan that makes schools in the district more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. 

Now Cassellius is back in Minnesota and she recently started her position as the executive director of Fresh Energy, a nonprofit aimed at transitioning our state to clean energy. 

She also mentors women of color who are school district superintendents and leaders of large organizations. 

Also, hear from our listeners who called in to talk about their personal stories of growing up from humble beginnings and later overcoming a path of obstacles.


Brenda Cassellius is the new executive director of Fresh Energy, a non-profit aimed at transitioning Minnesota to clean energy. She formerly worked for three decades in public education, including as Minnesota’s education commissioner and as superintendent for Boston Public Schools.

Subscribe to the MPR News with Angela Davis podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or RSS. 

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.   

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.