In Minneapolis, nearly one in four K-8 students has switched schools since the start of classes in September.
Fernando Tarios-Cazoles, a fourth-grader at Burroughs Elementary in southwest Minneapolis, works on a reading exercise. School staff works with families facing challenges so that their children don’t have to move to a different school. Stability is a key to improving learning outcomes, educators say.
Frank Catching Jr.'s school bus isn't yellow.
It's a deep burgundy Ford Econoline 150 with plush gray interior and a dolphin-shaped air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror.
For students at Burroughs Community School in Minneapolis, the assistant principal's van is a dependable ride when they miss the bus, but it's also a symbol of the support they receive.
Burroughs students whose families move frequently outperform their peers on state and district tests, and school leaders think they know why: Once students enroll, the staff goes to great lengths to keep them in the neighborhood and in class daily.
The southwest Minneapolis school stands out from many others in the district.
Since September, nearly one of every four Minneapolis students in kindergarten through eighth grade has switched schools. The rate is much lower at Burroughs, where one in every 25 students has transferred in or out.
"That stability is pretty critical," said Cory Dawson, the school's family liaison.
In Minnesota and across the country, there is a strong correlation between subpar academic performance and bouncing between schools. Students who change schools frequently are more likely to have poor test scores, repeat a grade or drop out than students who don't, regardless of income, U.S. Government Accountability Office data have shown.
At Burroughs, staff links parents with nearby social service agencies for help paying bills or finding furniture. Families scratch and claw to stay in their homes and apartments.
When circumstances do force moves, Dawson and other staff members work to find families housing within Burroughs' attendance area, which also covers the free- and reduced-lunch-eligible students in the Green Central Park Community School neighborhood.
Students on the move
The Minneapolis school district, with help from the Hennepin County Office of Planning and Development and other agencies, studied student mobility in the mid-1990s. The Kids Mobility Project detailed how changing residences affected students. Most moves were tied to poor housing or stressful events such as job loss, abuse or divorce.
Students who were absent 20 percent of the time scored, on average, 20 points lower on state reading tests than peers who attended nearly every day, researchers found.
"It was a sad confirmation," said Elizabeth Hinz, district liaison for homeless and highly mobile students.
Since the start of classes at Bethune Community School, one of the state's 19 "Turnaround Schools," almost half the students have transferred either in or out. The turnaround designation puts the north Minneapolis school among the bottom 5 percent in Minnesota.
Almost all Bethune students qualify for free or reduced lunch while about 15 percent of Burroughs students do, Minnesota Department of Education data indicates.
Bethune and Burroughs use similar strategies and programs to help their struggling students. Like the demographics, the results are different.
People pushing for staff, curriculum and policy changes often assume such adjustments will influence a constant population of students. In Minneapolis' struggling schools, that's highly unlikely, Hinz said.
"They are busy processing all these changes," Hinz said. "It takes a period of time for kids to adjust ... and they need help."
The constant churn also affects the more stable students and the teachers, who must keep adjusting to new faces with new needs, Hinz said.
During the previous stops in his 17-year Minneapolis school district career, Catching has volunteered to swing by students' homes to get them to school.
Now his co-workers match his drive. Fifth-grade teacher Lonnie Hulsey often loads his pickup with beds and couches for families in need.
"Families come," Principal Tim Cadotte said, "and they stay."
Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491