We’re committed to civility – and more great schools for kids most in-need

Dear Partners,

This week the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers launched a personal attack on several leaders within Minneapolis Public Schools. (In lieu of the original source, Beth Hawkins’ counter is objective and factual.) The MFT called us out, along with other organizations, and we think this bully tactic has crossed the line of civility.

HOW ARE STUDENTS DOING?

In Minneapolis, 30,000 K-12 students come from a low-income family. Most are kids of color and most attend Minneapolis Public Schools. Last year, only 25 percent of these students demonstrated proficiency in either math or reading, and there has been no improvement in these proficiency rates for the past five years. The status quo isn’t working.

At MN Comeback, we’re squarely focused on making sure there are enough high-performing schools to serve all 30,000 students most in-need. These are schools that meet the academic, cultural and social emotional needs of students. Anthony Middle School, Friendship Academy of the Arts and Cristo Rey High School show it’s possible – they’re delivering proficiency rates up to 70 percent for these same kids, more than double the district average. We need more great schools.

DISTRICT PARTNERS

District leaders – our partners and friends – were subject to unwarranted scrutiny. Maggie Sullivan and Betsy Ohrn have been on the front lines implementing game-changing strategies so there are more great district schools. They, too, have pushed others in the K-12 ecosystem to think more holistically about academic performance, authentic family engagement, public policy and school accountability. Working alongside these two intelligent professionals has been a pleasure – their optimism and camaraderie are contagious.

Maggie and Betsy exemplify leaders who have the grit and vision to create a system of schools – including within MPS ­– that meet the needs of all students, especially those not adequately being served by the status quo.

MPS has surely been at the table (I’ve detailed district work below), but the disconnect and disregard for facts among select MFT and school board leaders on this relationship has amounted to creating and broadcasting misinformation. We’ve extended numerous invitations to school board members and social media enthusiasts to engage with us at coalition events or one-on-one; most refuse or our invitations go unanswered (all while we’re used as a scapegoat for the system’s shortcomings, or perhaps for people to deflect accountability – another example of blaming others).

Investments in MPS have been sincere. The district, school board and union need to champion bold structural reforms to ensure that every decision made is in the best interest of students. This includes retaining the strongest teachers and leaders, especially those who reflect the diversity of our students, and empowering educators with more decision-making authority. Doing so, MPS will emerge as a more sustainable institution, and improve student experiences and academic outcomes.

I look forward to the community engaging with us and Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, on February 7 on fixing education as a bi-partisan, collective effort.

Thanks for listening,

Al Fan
Executive Director

 

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MN COMEBACK-MPS INVESTMENTS AND INITIATIVES

As a coalition working toward more great schools, I’d like to elaborate on our work with MPS. Investments have been grounded in talent – diversifying the educator workforce and supporting the instructional leadership of school principals.

  1. Strategic planning – MPS leaders and educators participated in systems mapping, which positioned our coalition to identify schools as the unit of change and the highest-impact levers for more great schools. Bernadeia Johnson, Michael Goar and Courtney Kiernat, and others, were instrumental in forging a strong collaborative relationship – speaking at coalition events, informing and participating in our initiatives. Maggie Sullivan and Betsy Ohrn, too, sit on our Leadership Council, providing us with direction and guidance on our strategies and grant-making. Other district staff sit on our committees to help identify strategies and drive implementation.
  2. Minneapolis Residency Program – We’ve been a principal backer, funding the preparation of people of color entering the teaching profession in district classrooms. We believe firmly that students need more teachers who look like them, and can relate to their experiences and cultures. Absent union or school board funding, we stepped in. We then funded advocacy work to secure state dollars for residency programs like this so more people of color have accessible, affordable pathways into the profession.
  3. Community Partnership Schools – Decisions should be made close to the school level because school leaders and classroom teachers know their families best. Following the MFT-MPS Community Partnership Schools initiative – a strategy to give educators more decision-making over curriculum, budget, staffing and calendar – we helped fund the roll-out at the first four schools. More schools now have the designation, and the future of CPS awaits direction from the superintendent.
  4. Referendum – In 2016, at the request of the MFT, we supported (financially) the district’s referendum campaign.
  5. School investments – Working in partnership with Great MN Schools, which makes investments directly into proven and promising schools, we’ve communicated to schools that serve an FRL rate of 40-plus percent their eligibility for grants to support school-led innovations and improvements. One MPS elementary school took us up on that offer; at their request, we funded the implementation of new curriculum. Teachers from that school addressed our coalition in 2017, sharing how CPS and our grant allowed them to select curriculum that they deemed best to meet the needs of their diverse student body. They elaborated that CPS positioned them to pick and roll-out new curriculum in one school year; whereas, standardized curriculum across the district takes eight years to identify and implement. MPS leadership then engaged with us on funding School Quality Reviews to identify individual school improvement strategies and creating teacher-led innovation micro grants. After months of collaboration, the superintendent ultimately felt that school-specific strategies ran counter to his approach of standardized, centralized academic programs.
  6. Supporting teachers and leaders – Listening to the needs of schools, we’ve helped two principals and one associate superintendent access renowned programs to help them develop as instructional leaders, as well as executive coaching for another principal – professional development that these leaders couldn’t otherwise access. We look forward to supporting more school leaders and schools.
  7. Teacher retention – We provided MPS with a grant to launch a teacher of color retention pilot and study.
  8. Social emotional learning – We sent 12 staff and partners on a MPS-organized tour of Chicago Public Schools, learning specifically about its use of the CASEL framework. We have welcomed discussions on how to apply this to the school level.
  9. Community engagement – MPS parents participated in Design Thinking conversations on how families choose a school and how they want to engage in education. Those conversations, and MPS’s participation on our Community Engagement Committee, led to the creation of ‘Minneapolis School Finder.’ Other MPS staff contributed to this resource guide, too, including content for school profiles.

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