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.
A sweeping plan designed to handle booming enrollment in Minneapolis schools over the next five years goes before the school board for a vote Tuesday evening, meaning changes for almost a third of district students.
The plan arrives back at the board with two final changes from the revised version the board got last month:
• A competitive-entry elementary program for advanced students proposed for the Wilder building on Chicago Avenue has been dropped, but an undefined pre-kindergarden to fifth grade program would open there in 2015.
• A middle school in another portion of that building has also been scrapped in favor of expanding Sanford Middle School in 2016. The district previously backed off a shift opposed by some parents of middle-school Spanish immersion students from Anwatin Middle School to Wilder.
The proposal represents the biggest change since the district’s massive restructuring of attendance patterns in 2009, when it was still reacting to declining enrollment.
It’s designed to accommodate the 3,400 students the district projects it will add by 2017, and is aimed at creating some programs to attract students back from charter and other schools. Some of the changes respond to parent feedback in two rounds of community meetings held since the latest proposal was unveiled in September.
Some of those proposed changes include expanding the Spanish immersion program to a third elementary school at Sheridan (2015) and to Roosevelt High School, adding a second magnet at North High School (2015) focused on technical fields, possible later addition of an arts-technical program at Sanford and Roosevelt, and more early childhood programs.
The proposal affects about 10,500 students, although many won’t see much change. Fewer than 500 would shift buildings involuntarily, mainly the move of older special education students in the Transition Plus program to the district-owned former Brown Institute building at Hi-Lake (2015), and the move of a French immersion program to the Cityview building (2015). Some students will follow different paths from elementary through middle and high schools, such as the addition of Roosevelt for Spanish immersion students (2014). Most downtown-area students starting school will be routed to reopened Webster (2015) school and then Northeast Middle and Edison High schools, rather than heading to Southwest High School. Still others will see new or expanded programs in their buildings, such as the proposed fourfold increase in classrooms at Sullivan and Andersen (2014) for students new to the country who don’t speak English. Sanford’s new gym would allow existing gyms to be converted to classrooms.
Overall, the proposal adds 1,400 more seats than the anticipated enrollment, more than half of those in the district’s north and northeast zone. Some parents there has been unhappy about unclear pathways and programs in the proposal. Adding more seats represents an effort to meet the needs of students through a variety of academic approaches, said LeAnn Dow, the district’s project manager.
The proposal handles the biggest enrollment imbalance in the district’s southwest zone by expanding Southwest (450 students) for 2016, sharing of classes at adjacent Ramsey Middle and Washburn High schools (450) starting in 2015, shifting downtown students to northeast (300) and the new Wilder preK-5 school (450). The Wilder program will be defined with parents in the feeder area once that is defined, Dow said.
Major points in the proposal: Expansion of Southwest, Sanford, Seward Montessori (2016); reopening of Franklin Middle (2015), Cityview, Webster and an expanded Cooper school (2017); new early childhood programs at Wilder, Webster, North and Davis Center; eventual addition of arts-technical programs at Sanford and Roosevelt; addition of all-day kindergarten at five southwest schools without it; bus passes for students from outside Minneapolis willing to open enroll in 2014 to high-poverty schools; locating one of Harvest Prep’s sister charter schools at Lincoln building (2014).
The proposal defers to 2017 the idea of a college prep or audition-based arts high school, which some parents felt would weaken existing high school arts programs. A proposal to open a school that would help immigrant students through their college years was also deferred.
A Minneapolis school board member apologized Wednesday for how she worded comments regarding Southwest students while she argued at a board meeting last week against expanding the school.
"Building how many more classrooms for high school, when 50 percent, when the most important kids we want to invest in aren't there," Carla Bates said in part, prompting some pushback from Southwest parents.
"I went back to my statement and went, 'wow.!" Bates said after issuing a statement clarifying her intent. She said she apologized because she didn't want the reaction to how she made her point to undermine the legitimacy of her arguments against the expansion proposal.
"I don't want to become a lightning rod for, "see, the district really doesn't like Southwest'" Bates said in an interview.
"I first of all want to assure everyone that I am a strong advocate for all our children in all parts of the city," she said.
Southwest, which has the smallest share of low-income students among the district's seven big high schools, leads those schools in graduation rate, ACT scores, and going on to college. The school enrolled a count of 1,662 students, and district administrators proposed a 450-student addition to the school at an very preliminary estimated cost of $47 million. Some parents also have questioned that approach to handling an expected enrollment bulge in southwest Minneapolis
Bates argued that investment in added school space doesn't make sense when so much learning is shifting online. She also argued that Washburn is a more appropriate site for an addition because of its more central location and the size of the campus it shares with Ramsey Middle School. And she suggested that improvements at Roosevelt High School, which have yet to show up in the district's statistical measures of performance, will draw more students there. "I think Roosevelt is poised to become one of the best schools in the city," she said. That might require redrawing the Washburn-Southwest boundary, she added in an interview, but they could be phased in.
Bates cited several factors in an interview that make her optimistic about Roosevelt;good leadership, engaged staff, a strong IB with diverse composition.
"I think that putting $40 million at Southwest is looking backward instead of looking forward," Bates said at the board meeting. "I'm very concerned, very very very concerned, about the Southwest proposal because of the money, because of the location of the school, because of how secondary [school] is changing." .
The scoreboard that accompanies the new athletic field that debuted at Washburn High School a year ago is now operational.
The new scoreboard was in place for Friday's homecoming football game against Roosevelt, won 62-6 by the home team, but was actually lit up for its first use the night before in Washburn's soccer matches against Southwest.
Using the long-anticipated scoreboard puts a punctuation mark on a painful chapter in the school's past year, when the scoreboard played a contributing role in the ouster of a principal and an athletic director.
The board was originally to be much bigger than the one pictured above and installed outside the north end of the stadium. But when neighbors objected to the cutting of trees for its installation, the city discovered that the district hadn't obtained the necessary municipal approvals.and ruled the original proposal too tall under city zoning rules.
That got Athletic Director Dan Pratt in hot water, and when some of the student body got wind that he was being reassigned to teaching full time, they rebelled with a walkout and a sit-in. That in turn led to Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson's reassignment of Principal Carol Markham-Cousins.
She remains with the district overseeing the small school operating within the Juvenile Detention Center. Pratt left over the summer to head ahtletics and activities for Rockford schools. The district's hand-picked replacement for Washburn principal, Patrick Exner, never got to serve in that role after an allegation that he participated in changing student test answers surfaced at Ubah Academy, his previous school. He denied doing so, but Exner is no longer with Minneapolis schools, the district said Friday.
Four public meetings divided by sector of the city have been scheduled by the Minneapolis school district on a proposal by district planners to shuffle programs and schools for about one-quarter of district students to handle rising enrollment.
The meetings are scheduled for these areas and the prooposal potentially affects certain schools in each sector:
North portion of Area A: Tuesday, 6-8 p.m., Anwatin Middle School, 256 Upton Av. S. Cityview, Franklin, Lincoln, Olson, North and Sheridan schools, plus Davis Center.
Northeast portion of Area A: Oct. 14, 6-8 p.m., Northeast Middle School, 955 Hayes Av. NE, Same schools.
Area B (eastern portion of South Side plus part of southeast Minneapolis): Oct. 10, 6-8 p.m., Northrop school, 4315 31st Av. S. Cooper, Hiawatha, Howe, Sanford, Seward, and Wilder schools.
Area C (western half of South Side plus downtown): Oct. 9, 6-8 p.m., Ramsey Middle School, 1 W. 49th St. Barton, Burroughs, Hale, Kenny, Lake Harriet, Ramsey, Southwest, Washburn and Wilder schools.
Also up for discussion at the meetings are potential city-wide impact changes affecting Longfellow, North, Roosevelt, Sulivan, Tuttle, Webster, Wilder and 2225 E. Lake St.
More information about the proposal discussed Tuesday evening is available through the district.
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