'New schools' to serve poor students proposed
- Article by: EMILY JOHNS
- Star Tribune
- November 18, 2009 - 12:13 AM
The Minneapolis school board will get a chance next month to give its blessing to the creation of up to five autonomous schools in the city.
The district hopes the schools, some of which wouldn't be run by the district, could more effectively educate poor students and be a lab for innovation regarding what works in urban education.
"There are a number of new autonomous schools across the country that have demonstrated tremendous success with economically disadvantaged children," said Jon Bacal, who heads the district's new Office of New Schools. "The end result should be a high-quality learning program for Minneapolis children."
The Office of New Schools is an effort to address quality issues in the lowest-performing 25 percent of the district's schools. Converting one of these schools to a "new school" is one method; others include changing leadership, school staff or curriculums.
"New schools" can be charter schools, "self-governed" teacher-run schools or contract schools, which would be run by an outside provider. The school board would monitor the schools and close them if they don't get results.
It's an opportunity "to address the needs of kids that we have failed the most," Board Member Pam Costain said at a meeting Tuesday. "We have a set of kids that we are failing, and we're going to try something new with them."
'Reach their potential'
Earlier this month, the district received five applications for new schools. Two would be "self-governed" teacher-led schools that resemble charter schools, but remain part of the district. The other three would be charter schools that the district authorizes, or sponsors.
"Frankly, Minnesota has struggled to serve low-income students for a long time," said Benjamin Lindquist, a member of a team that submitted an application for the KNOVA Leadership School, a charter school that would open in 2011 to serve poor students in north Minneapolis.
The school would focus on closing the achievement gap and getting students ready for college.
"We think the only way to close the gap is to have schools that really specialize in helping low-income children reach their potential," said Lindquist.
Board members said they don't want the new schools to be places where education experiments are tried on at-risk kids.
Small tweaks and adjustments the district has made repeatedly in struggling schools haven't worked, board member Chris Stewart said, and the worst schools in Minneapolis have become "holding tanks of failure."
Vote scheduled for December
The proposed "self-governed" schools would open in 2010. One would be a K-5 French immersion school in north Minneapolis and the other an arts high school at Edison High School in northeast Minneapolis.
Two more charter schools were also proposed for 2011: the Minnesota School of Science, a K-12 charter school in northeast Minneapolis, and Universal Learning Academy, a K-8 charter school for immigrant and refugee children.
On Monday, external evaluators interviewed the people who want to start the five schools. Groups that the evaluators recommend will attend community meetings and make presentations to the school board.
The board plans to vote on which schools -- if any -- it approves in mid-December.
Self-governed schools are possible because of reforms passed at the Legislature this year. If Minneapolis goes ahead with the French immersion or arts program, it would be the first district in the state to approve a "self-governed" school.
Under the new law, self-governed schools would be exempt from district rules regarding staffing, budgeting, curriculum and scheduling. Teachers would be unionized, and schools would decide how they would be governed, by a teacher collaborative or a principal.
Emily Johns • 612-673-7460
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