Establishing new precedent in Minneapolis

By: Al Fan, MN Comeback Executive Director

Ensuring all children, especially those most in-need, have access to rigorous and relevant schools means no one is a bystander to the inequities of K-12 education. I’m sure like many of you, the recent school board meeting protest reaffirmed for me that our families are energized, engaged and want enriching, equitable schools.

These families – and educators – vocalized frustrations rooted in their realities.

Glaring disparities in K-12 disproportionally impact marginalized communities. That’s on all of us. Culturally affirming curriculum, a diverse workforce, safe school climates, academic success across all racial and ethnic lines – there’s work to be done.

It’s imperative that we as a community collectively own up to these shortcomings. We can all do better by truly hearing the expressed concerns of our parents, students and educators. We should – and can – center their voices.

When we launched in 2015, we heard a resounding call from parents and school leaders for more teachers of color. (Studies, too, support this strategy toward closing opportunity gaps.) And because no single group could afford to resource transformative solutions to create new pathways for people of color, we did. We also stood on the shoulders of many brilliant minds who designed these pathways, such as residency models.

Through collaboration and systems change, we believe it’s possible to create a more just system for families. That’s why we’re intentional in co-designing our work with diverse groups.

This includes investing in the district’s Minneapolis Residency Program and other strategies to recruit and retain teachers of color. What’s more, groups like MnEEP, the Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers in Minnesota, Teach For America-Twin Cities, The School Leadership Project and New Leaders are paving new pathways for people of color to enter the teaching profession – and once they’re there, to surround them with meaningful support.

We take great pride in helping lift up this work. We can accomplish more collectively than we can independently.

I share this to amplify that – while there will be missteps along the way – many organizations in our community are bringing great intentionality, energy and urgency to fostering more equitable schools. And we see evidence of this at the district.

Undoing generations of structural inequities in K-12 requires a sustained level of action and reflection. Throughout this process, we must constantly listen to and learn from our communities. Self-awareness – while uncomfortable and vulnerable as it is – can help surface understandings of disconnections. We also have to learn from the history that provides the context we are responding to.

Transforming education to better meet the needs of our families has never been and will never be easy work. But it’s necessary work. To ensure the next generation of children inherit a future that is inclusive and equitable, we persist. Listening to what our families are telling us. In doing so we establish a new precedent.

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