Eric Mahmoud

Eric Mahmoud

In what turned out to be something of a lovefest, Eric Mahmoud, the man behind Harvest Prep, got the rights to add four more charter schools in Minneapolis in the next 10 years.

A parade of community figures stood before the school board to advocate for the new schools, but the outcome never seemed in doubt, with the board granting unanimous approval.

Former school board member Louis King led the boosters for Mahmoud's methods. He argued that the district is getting the necessary elements in place to diminish the achievement gap.  He said those are district leadership, kindergarten improvements and pending North High School improvements.  Northside Achievement Zone's CEO, Sondra Samuels, praised Mahmoud's efforts to educate black students at Harvest.

But perhaps the most eloquent testimony for Mahmoud came when Shana Ford of Maple Grove described the daily commute she makes to get her offspring to Harvest's sister schools.  She drives in from the suburb, drops them at the Olson Hwy. schools, and then continues on to her job in Blaine. In return, their heads are filled with plans to go to college and they gain access to positive models, she said.

Not everyone was fully on board.  Board member Jill Davis had qualms about granting Mahmoud authority to open so many schools, although he'll need board approval for each. But she acquiesced when the district's new schools director, Sarah Paul, described a six-month process to approve each school otherwise.

Schools activist Bill English heaped praise on Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson for setting expectations that all students can achieve.  But he noted that Harvest Prep's model can't serve all 30,000-plus district students.  "We're going to be short-changing some kids in the district who will not have access," he said. He challenged the schol board to do with those students what Harvest has done--operate with an extended day and year and give control over hiring and keeping teachers to school administrators.

North Side resident and school employee Buzzy Bohn raised a concern of geographic equity, fearing that charters will take all district students in that part of the city. Board member Rebecca Gagnon urged that some of the new schools open on the South Side.