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Continued: New office aims to zap the gap in Minneapolis public schools

  • Article by: ALEJANDRA MATOS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 28, 2014 - 5:38 AM

Chris Chatmon, executive director of the Oakland office, said they created the Manhood Development Program, a mentorship program and a class in numerous schools designed to convince black males that they matter.

For one period, the students read black literature and learned how to tie a necktie. They were not allowed to use the N-word and disciplinary action entailed dozens of pushups or essays.

For those who participated in the program, graduation rates, GPAs and test scores increased dramatically and suspensions were virtually eliminated.

Although his office has a budget of about $1.2 million, Chatmon said it is almost all funded by outside donations.

The other challenge for Chatmon is ensuring that the program continues to be a priority for the district. He’s on his third superintendent in five years.

“Every time I have a new superintendent, my role has changed,” Chatmon said. “I went from being a department head to a department within a department.”

Of his earlier administrative power that came with being a department head, “I no longer have that.”

Barbershops and churches

After meeting with residents, Walker intends to begin formulating a plan. On a dry-erase board in his office, Walker had drawn a basketball court with his ideas. First quarter: listening. Second quarter: strategy development. Third quarter: implementation. Fourth quarter: measure goals and recalibrate.

His biggest obstacle, he said, will be convincing the young students that they can achieve their goals.

“They don’t feel valued,” Walker said. “Their confidence level is low.”

For now, Walker is trying to immerse himself in the problem. He is not waiting for parents to come to him; instead, he is going directly to them.

He spoke to two men Friday who were getting their haircut at All Hair Cuts & Styling in southeast Minneapolis.

“Why was your child successful in Minneapolis schools?” Walker asked.

Kevin Jones, the shop owner, said he didn’t think his son was as successful in school as he could have been. Part of the problem, Jones said, was that the teacher would not call and tell him his son was having problems in the classroom.

“So, you want instant parent communication?” Walker asked.

“Exactly,” Jones said.

Jones recommended that Walker not limit himself to talking to parents at the events he has organized.

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  • Michael Walker, who said his first job is to listen, made a stop at All Hair Cuts & Styling in Minneapolis to get parental input.

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  • Office of Black Male Student Achievement

    closing the gap

    Michael Walker, director of Black Male Student Achievement for Minneapolis schools, aims to:

    • Increase GPAs

    • Listen to the community

    • Reduce suspensions

    • Boost graduation rates

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