Dozens of Minneapolis Public Schools parents peppered officials Monday night with questions about the district’s proposals to eliminate racial disparities by reducing and moving some magnet schools, redrawing boundary lines and closing some schools.
The community meeting at Northeast Middle School was the first time district leaders presented the ways the school changes could be made and the first time families reacted to it.
Parents wanted to know how the district’s plan will affect the future of their kids. Others lamented whether Minneapolis Public Schools would still be a viable option for their family. They posed questions on placement protocols, hiring more teachers of color, segregation and how the district will ensure that the voices of Northeast and North Side parents aren’t overpowered by affluent families in South and Southwest.
In their presentation, district leaders kept the conversation focused on how the strategic plan will improve the educational experiences for all students, particularly students of color, who make up about two-thirds of the student body.
“If your child is a student of color, there’s a greater than 50 percent chance that they aren’t going to be getting the education and the support that they need to be successful,” Superintendent Ed Graff said. “So as a superintendent who represents all of our students, I have to do something different.”
After the meeting, Quang Nguyen, who has two children in the district, said he likes the proposed changes. He said he wants to see an end to the achievement gap between students of color and white students and better integration in the system.
“Being a person of color and an immigrant, I believe in equity,” he said. “Something needs to change.”
Graff reminded families that everyone in the district will be affected by his plan regardless of where they live.
The plan is trying to strengthen Minneapolis Public Schools and provide stability, Graff said. It will take three to five years to see positive student outcomes after the strategic plan is implemented, he added.
The five models would reshape the school system as part of Graff’s evolving strategic plan. The proposals include major changes to the state’s third-largest school district to make it more equitable and financially sustainable. They include reducing its magnet schools by nearly half and relocating them to the center of the city so that everyone, especially families of color, could easily access them. Also being weighed are grade-level reconfiguration for elementary and middle schools and redrawing school attendance lines with the possibility of two-thirds of community school students switching schools.
Almost all of those recommendations were informed by a two-part transportation study conducted by Education Logistics Inc., a bus routing and tracking software company based in Montana. Since August 2019, Minneapolis Public Schools has been working with the company to carry out the studies that were released late last year and creating the models, costing the district $111,000 to date. In 2017, the district also hired consultant Dennis Cheesebrow, and for 18 months Cheesebrow has been helping district leaders develop the strategic plan and improve enrollment numbers. That project cost the district more than $179,000.
The first of five models, which is similar to the existing structure the district is operating under, keeps school grade levels and programs the same. But this model calls for significant changes such as limiting federal grants to schools with high concentrations of poverty, placing enrollment limits in oversubscribed schools, redrawing school attendance zones in certain areas, increasing walk zones and closing considerable number of underutilized schools that fail to provide a rigorous education.
The other four models use the boundary study, which strictly looked at community schools with centralized magnets and could help the district reduce racially segregated schools by more than half and give special needs students more choice. The options suggest limiting K-8 schools, reconfiguring grade levels for elementary and middle schools and switching programs at Jefferson and Andersen. Currently Jefferson is a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) school while Andersen is a Spanish immersion school.
Under models two and four, district leaders are also considering adding a two-way language program at up to three community schools, meaning a 50/50 mix of Spanish-speaking students and native English speakers. Adding a third K-5 Spanish immersion magnet at Green Central is an option in models three and five. Meanwhile, scenarios four and five call for the addition of two K-8 magnet schools.
School closures and funding reallocation could still happen in any of the proposed models, but not as drastic as the first model, district leaders said. Graff is scheduled to discuss the various models and his plan in detail with Minneapolis school board members at a committee meeting Tuesday night. There, he plans to outline the pros and cons of each of the models as well as any structural changes that will be required for sustainability in the scenarios.
The school board is expected to vote on the plan on April 10 at it regular board meeting. Unless “urgently required,” changes to school boundaries or magnet programs would not happen until the 2021-22 school year.