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School diversity goal widens

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Politics and government, Urban living Updated: October 12, 2012 - 12:47 PM

If like this reporter, you've returned to a close relationship with Minneapolis schools after five years away, perhaps the most visible sign of change is the prominence of African-Americans among the district's leadership.

So it was somewhat unexpected when the school board set a goal of better leadership diversity for Superintendent Bernadiea Johnson in her annual job evaluation.  But diversity is being defined differently at the district these days. 

Superintendents <a href=Bernadeia Johnson of Minneapolis, left, and Valeria Silva of St. Paul, right, shown here with Robert Bruininks, couldn't get hired in each other's districts. " align="right" width="400" height="267" src="http://apps.startribune.com/blogs/user_images/brands_1349991329_supes.jpg" />

Superintendents Bernadeia Johnson of Minneapolis, left, and Valeria Silva of St. Paul, right, shown here with Robert Bruininks, couldn't get hired in each other's districts.

Seven of the 17 people listed on the superintendent's org chart are black. That's 41 percent, pretty close to the 36 percent of enrollment comprised of black children.  You can add more black administrators if you drop down to the next level of the organization.

Turns out that that the two board members who made the issue a priority have a different kind of diversity in mind.

They're Puerto Rican-born Alberto Monserrate, the board's chair, and Somali-born Hussein Samatar.  They say the district's diversity dwindles when immigrants who make up its school population are considered, particularly Latinos, East Africans and Hmong.

Both men agree that the district has made big strides from the days when a board member or two and the superintendent were black and only a few others in leadership as well.  But they say it's time to redefine racial and economic diversity in a district that's vastly changed since it was two-thirds white in the 1980s.

Samatar notes that 22 percent of district students last year were learning English, and said that employing multi-lingual administrators is important. He's also been pushing for achievement numbers to be broken out for American-born and foreign-born blacks, so the data can be more helpful. For example a recent academic achievement report found 44 percent of Somalis proficient in reading, slightly better than all black-skinned students.

"Language and culture matter almost equally to race," he said.

Added Monserrate, "If you look around the [headquarters] building, you not going to see many Latinos or not many Somalis or Hmong."  Latinos comprised 19 percent of students last year. Somali and Hmong numbers are harder to isolate because they're lumped with other blacks or Asians in counts.

A prime example of a Latina job applicant who couldn't get a foot in the door is Valeria Silva, who applied to be  district's multiculutral director around 2004 and couldn't get an interview. She's now superintendent of St. Paul schools. (A couple years later, Johnson applied to be St. Paul superintendent and didn't get the job.)

"Leaders in the Latino community are aware," Monserrate said. 






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