I appreciated the Star Tribune’s recent analysis of school enrollment trends in Minneapolis, where about one-third of kids now attend a charter school or a school in another district (“Black families are fleeing Minneapolis schools,’’ Sept. 20).
But as a Minneapolis parent whose children are part of these trends, I was frustrated by the notion that parents like me are “fleeing.” To me, “flee” suggests a departure that is swift, impulsive, even cowardly. My deliberate and tough choices on behalf of my children’s education have been anything but that.
At first my only goal was finding a school that was safe for my kids and close to home. But as I saw my oldest son struggle in the same high school where I had succeeded years earlier, and I saw my other children encounter challenges in school, I realized that what works for one child might not work for another.
I first decided to explore other options for my kids when my neighborhood public school started calling me at work several times each week, asking me to pick up my child for behavior issues. The teacher advised that I put my first-grader on Ritalin because he was “obviously ADHD.”
I wanted to make things work at that school; having my son stay in our neighborhood school certainly would have made my life easier. But basing decisions on what’s easy for adults — and not on what children actually need — is how our education system has gotten to where it is today.
Instead of putting my son on medication I knew he didn’t need and keeping him in a school that had preconceived ideas about his potential, I made my first school choice. I enrolled my son in a Montessori school in north Minneapolis, where his independence and curiosity were seen as assets, not burdens.
With this choice, my son thrived, and I found my power as a parent. I learned that a drastic change can literally save a child’s life. I learned to never again let chance, my address or one educator’s opinion determine what is possible for my kids.
Since then, I have tried every type of public school, including traditional district schools, more alternative models such as Montessori and charter schools. Ultimately, charter schools have turned out to be the best fit for my kids.
Because they’re smaller, they provide much greater access to administration and staff members. Instead of getting invitations to huge parent-teacher conferences spread out over three floors, and weekly calls with nothing but bad news, I now attend family nights where the entire school community fits in one room.
I’ve also found that charter schools often have higher concentrations of teachers who look like my kids as well as specific academic focus areas and approaches that engage my children in their learning.
I didn’t leave the Minneapolis Public Schools impulsively or in the dark of night. And I certainly didn’t leave because the district didn’t have enough marketing consultants — nor because my neighborhood school didn’t have a fancy enough gym.
I made the intentional choice — and continue to make the choice every day — to put my children first. I put my children ahead of what is convenient for me, ahead of what would be best for the district’s budget and ahead of what other parents whose kids do just fine in their neighborhood schools think I should do.
I believe we should stop suggesting that parents like me are fleeing. Instead, we should call the trend in Minneapolis what it is: parent empowerment. I believe that we should encourage more parents to make the kinds of choices I’ve been able to make and that more privileged families have been making for generations.
Finally, I believe that if the Minneapolis Public Schools truly want to bring families like mine back, the solution is simple: Do better.
Just as a drastic change was all my son needed to go from struggling to thriving, I believe that real, transformative changes — centered on children and not adults — can turn the Minneapolis Public Schools around.
Until then, you can expect more empowered parents to keep putting their children first.
Marguerite Mingus, of Minneapolis, is the mother of four and an education advocate.