Star Tribune: Minneapolis school board will delay vote on district’s new strategic plan

Minneapolis residents will get more time to weigh in on proposal, officials say. 

By  Faiza Mahamud Star Tribune JUNE 10, 2019 — 9:31PM

Superintendent Ed Graff spoke to a room a teachers during a meeting at the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers 59 headquarters in Minneapolis, Minn., on Wednesday, May 15, 2019.

The Minneapolis school board is expected Tuesday to delay a vote on the district’s new strategic plan after public outcry last month from parents and school staff who said they felt blindsided by the proposed plan, which could affect attendance boundaries and threaten some language-immersion programs.

“The initial feedback we got was that we needed to make sure that there was a more inclusive process going forward,” school board Chairman Nelson Inz said. “We had a lot more work to do in reaching out to the community and developing the plan.”

At a recent board committee meeting, Superintendent Ed Graff recommended that the board push back the vote from August to December to allow more time to engage the community in the summer and fall.

“The initial recommendations have, I believe, opened the door to a substantive conversation about desegregation, integration, choice and how placement protocols have impacted the district and how race and income affect public education,” Graff said at the meeting.

The recommendations, rolled out at the end of April by district leaders, include options that would change attendance boundaries for some schools, reassign students to new schools, and possibly jeopardize some language-immersion and magnet programs.

The focus of the new three-year strategic plan, district officials say, is to improve academic achievement, boost enrollment, and restore parents’ trust by providing rigorous instruction and equal access to programs across the district.

But district staff and parents are pushing back on the proposed plan, arguing that redrawing school attendance zones to fill under-enrolled schools will lead to segregation and accelerate enrollment declines.

Absent from the plan, others say, is ensuring that underserved students have equitable access to effective, experienced and diverse teachers. They have called on the district to delay the final school board vote on the plan and give the community enough time to offer feedback.

Bringing students back

Under the new strategic plan, the goal is to strengthen academics to lure about 6,000 additional students into the district, making sure that schools are operating at 70% capacity. District administrators said the plan would bring students, particularly those in north and northeast Minneapolis, back to their neighborhood schools. Parents of at least one-third of school-age children in the city are choosing education elsewhere, according to a recent Star Tribune analysis.

Family advocates with Minnesota Comeback, a coalition of foundations and community-based groups aiming to close the achievement gap, have started an online petition, asking district leaders to reset the process. The petition, written in three different languages, says the process was “conducted without sufficient transparency and without significant community voice.”

Minnesota Comeback was among a string of organizations that sent a letter last month to the school board, supporting a delay of the vote to involve parents and address the widening achievement gap between children of color and white students.

“As a [member of the] Latino community and [a person] of color, we’re sick and tired of us being left behind,” Adriana Cerrillo, a parent in the district and a family advocate, said in an interview Monday. “But I’m happy that the Minneapolis Public Schools is listening to the community and taking action.”

In the meantime, district leaders have posted on their website a job opening for a new full-time outreach and community engagement specialist, preferably a Spanish-speaking candidate, to help with the process.

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