Led by a stronger graduation showing by its Indian, black and Latino students, Minneapolis Public Schools posted its second straight year of steady gains in its four-year graduation rate.
What's notable for the district is not simply the overall increase in its graduation rate from 51.8 percent in 2012 to just under 54 percent this year, a magnitude of increase that tracked the statewide increase from 77.5 to 79.5 percent
Rather, what's significant is that much of the growth was posted by Indian students, who jumped from 26.9 percent graduating in four years to 33.7 percent; black students, who rose from 38 to 43.6 percent; and Latino students, whose graduation rate grew from 37 to 41.3 percent.
Meanwhile, Asian students held virtually steady at 68 percent, while white student graduation actually fell slightly to 72.1 percent, a 1.2 percentage point drop.
Still Michael Goar, the district's chief executive office, hailed the gains as a sign that district strategies and more effective teaching are beginning to pay off. He predicted bigger gains for this year's graduating class after a revamping of how high school students regain credits missed earlier and an expansion in district support programs for students. The district is also focusing its new student achievement office on improving results for black male students.
Now, he said, “People believe that we can do it. This is a positive sign. Sometimes I feel like we have a belief gap.”
The news of gains among Indian students is particularly encouraging for the district, given years of trying different approaches to raising the academic standing of the district's lowest-performing racial group. Black student gains are particularly important for the district, given that they represent the largest district's racial-ethnic block of students.
Propelling the gain in black graduation rates were Henry, where black graduation in four years rose from 50.7 percent in 2012 to 68.7 percent in 2013, Southwest, where it rose from 52.2 percent to 78 percent; and Washburn, where the increase went from 53.7 percent to 62.5 percent.
Yet the district was held back in further gains overall by low success in graduating students in more than a dozen alternative schools, where only 15 percent of students graduate in four years. In some ways, it's penalized for taking students not making it in other districts. That's one key difference from St. Paul, which boasts a higher graduation rate About 20 percent of Minneapolis alternative school students arrive from other districts, and about half of those are seniors who have earned few credits, the district said.
Minneapolis has now increased its graduation rate by 5.5 percentage points in the last two years, That's twice the 2.7 percentage gain over the past two years posted by students statewide. But St. Paul recorded an eight percentage point gain over two years to stand at 73.3 percent.
Since 2003, the Minneapolis graduation rate has risen from 39 percent to this year's 54 percent, adjusted for federally mandated changes in methods for calculating that rate.
The Minneapolis results include the district's seven big high schools, a smaller immigrant-focused high school known as Wellstone, and its bevy of much smaller alternative high schools. The graduation rate rose for four of the seven big schools, while two fell and one stayed virtually even.
Washburn (63.6 percent) led the gainers at 10.9 percent points, followed by Henry (77.7 percent) with a 9.3 percentage point gain, then Edison (55.9 percent) with a 4.4 percentage point gain, and Southwest (81.1 percent) with a 1.2 percent gain. North 36.8 percent), which is phasing out one academic program by 2015 while adding another, recorded the sharpest drop at 7.3 percentage points. South (70.2 percent) fell by 4,4 percentage points, and Roosevelt (49 percent) held virtually even.
Among subgroups of students, those with limited English skills increased their graduation rate by 6.3 percentage points to 44.3 percent, special education students gained by 5.6 percentage points to 24.9 percent, and low-income students gained by 1.8 percentage points to 44.2 percent percent.
(Update: The middle-grades Spanish immersion program should remain at Anweatin Middle School, the district told parents of immerison students Tuesday night.
That reverses a revised recommendation that district planners made to their board just last week to shift the program to the Wilder building on the South Side from the current North Side site. Some parents wanted a site that more accessible by bus from the South Side, where the bulk of immersion students reside. But others at Anwatin pushed back (see below).
The immerison program will bring a district-estimated 225 to 250 students to the school if a proposed expansion of the program to Sheridan school in northeast Minneapolis is approved. That expansion would help offset a loss of some students feeding to Anwatin from Bethune, who would go to Franklin Middle School. The district said that students from adjacent Bryn Mawr elementary would continue to feed Anwatin, along with Internaitonal Baccalaureate students from Whittier school.)
There's been pushback from the city's northern third recently on a proposed enrollment plan recently in two areas of concern -- the proposed shift of the district middle-school Spanish immersion program out of Anwatin Middle School, and the future of North High School.
Both were topics Monday night when the district opened a series of geographic meetings with parents, this time the North Side.
District representatives hinted that a change in the immersion proposal could be unveiled Tuesday night at another parent meeting at Windom. The district has immersion elementaries at Emerson and Windom schools, and wants to open a third that would share Sheridan. The district last month proposed keeping the middle school program at Anwatin and making Roosevelt the pathway high school for Spanish immersion, But it revised that this month to propose sending immersion students to the South Side's Wilder building for middle school, responding to a concern about making the program more geographically compact.
That prompted an outcry from some Anwatin parents who felt the revised program undercut their school both by shifting 150 immersion students, and by routing some elementary students that now feed Anwatin to a reopened Franklin Middle School. Parent Kimberlee Martinez brought a poster-size map to make her point that the district zone serving the north and northeast Minneapolis is short-changed on Spanish immersion. It does have the city's only French immersion district school.
The school board also got an earful last week from North High School boosters, who wanted to know when the second small academy to operate in that school is going to debut. Several advocated for a revival of the science and math-focused Summa Tech that North used to offer in the days before the advent of STEM (science tech engineering math) programs. Area Associate Superintendent Michael Thomas reassured them that a medical, science and tech program was proposed to open at North in 2015 for up to 500 students, in cooperation with the Institute for Student Achievement, the consultant helping the district with its arts and communication academy now in its second year at North.
North advocates now have a key advocate in board member Kim Ellison, who earlier served on the community committee that several years ago recommended alternatives to a proposal then to close North.
The district was also peppered with questions about what it's doing to strengthen Olson Middle School, as a feeder for Henry High School. One plan is to reopen a prek-5 community school at Cityview that's compatible with Henry and Edison High School International Baccalaureate programs. Cityview would also house a relocated French immersion program.
(Photo: Anwatin Middle School and Bryn Mawr elementary are tucked in an area between Interstate 394 and Bassett Creek)
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