Superintendent Ed Graff, the new chief of the Minneapolis schools, is bearing a hefty message, just days before kids will pack into schools on Monday: It’s time to turn over a new leaf.
“I want to use this moment to reset the narrative about Minneapolis Public Schools,” he said at his State of the Schools address Friday, adding multiple times that the state of the schools is strong.
It’s a bold assertion after the past year in the district. The 2015-16 school year started out with controversy over a reading curriculum some thought was racist. Then a choice for new superintendent was overturned when problems in his past surfaced. The attempt to give the job to interim Superintendent Michael Goar was first foiled by protesters, then by Goar’s withdrawal from consideration.
Speaking at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Graff didn’t dwell on past struggles. Instead, he boasted of the rising graduation rates and students’ success stories. He played a video that featured students who flexed their biceps to prove they were “MPS strong.”
He even let his guard down to sing in a tribute to Minneapolis alumnus Prince with a choir made up of students and adults in the district.
Community members and staff members sporting T-shirts bearing the names of different schools cheered him on and gave him a standing ovation as he bellowed Prince’s famous opener: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life!”
Still, the pressure is on for Graff and the school board to prove themselves this fall.
The day before Friday’s event, a woman was shot near Lucy Craft Laney Community School on the city’s North Side.
A test of Graff’s fresh superintendency will come with the Nov. 8 vote to maintain funding from a previous voter-approved property tax increase.
And in the schools, the achievement gap persists. After results from math and reading tests were released in July, the Star Tribune reported that it was clear that the district wasn’t meeting the goals it had outlined.
School wasn’t the target
The Minneapolis Police Department is ramping up gun violence prevention efforts in light of the shooting near Lucy Laney, according to a news release.
The incident, which took place during the school’s open house, shook up Mauri Melander, the school’s principal.
She wrote about the shooting on her Facebook page on Thursday: “There is no way that a civilized society with advanced degrees and expertise can justify a reality such as this.”
Graff said after the event that the district would provide any support needed at the school, and he brought up the incident to members of the administration on Friday morning.
“This is a shared responsibility,” he said.
Lucy Laney wasn’t the intended target, police said. The department’s news release said it would increase beat officers at the school in addition to the school resource officer already assigned there and that it would add “additional officers working the area on overtime.”
Graff’s State of the Schools address is the district’s first such event since 2014, when Bernadeia Johnson was superintendent.
Graff talked about the “on track” program, which uses school attendance, behavior and grades to pinpoint struggling students, who are then put on a help plan. He mentioned the Grow Your Own residency program, which is in place to help Minneapolis Public Schools employees who work with kids become elementary schoolteachers.
And he highlighted the news that on Sept. 9, Edison High School will celebrate becoming the state’s first “green campus,” with stormwater and energy-efficiency items that combine for an outdoor environmental lab.
He’ll be welcoming students to their first day of school on Monday, though he has only been in office for a couple of months himself.
“We have no option other than to move forward for our students,” Graff said.