Eden Prairie's school superintendent, Melissa Krull, is being shown the door -- ironically -- at the same time that statewide test results show that she's led her staff to do an exemplary job with students.
In announcing her departure, Krull and the board said polite things about "mutual agreement.'' But it is widely understood that the school chief is stepping down because of community pressure over an effort to better integrate the schools and improve achievement for students of color.
It's unfortunate that the district is losing an effective instructional leader. And the circumstances have implications for other suburban districts that are struggling with shifting demographics, the challenge of improving student learning, and the fears and biases of some parents.
Earlier this year, Krull and four of seven board members approved school boundary shifts that moved about 1,100 of 9,800 students to different schools. The students are being bused away from neighborhood schools, but not terribly far in a district of about six square miles.
Still, hundreds of parents opposed the change, some arguing that the process wasn't transparent or well-communicated. Others said they'd prefer voluntary methods such as magnet programs, and some threatened to move or file a lawsuit.
And though it wasn't said out loud, there was likely a racial element to some of the opposition. Some parents don't want their children in school with kids that don't look like them.
That push-back prompted the school board to buy out Krull's contract for $100,000 in exchange for her leaving at the end of this month. Though she already intended to leave her $186,000 per year position in June, the board wanted her out sooner. So now the district will pay both Krull and her replacement for the next nine months.
Krull is leaving even though, since 2008, the district's reading scores on state tests have risen steadily. Scores released last week showed that black students posted a 21 percent gain in proficiency, while other students also improved.
At that rate, Krull said the learning gap could be closed by 2014. But it would help to avoid having all of the district's poor and minority students concentrated in one school.
Decades of research have shown that less racially isolated schools improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged kids. Learning in integrated settings improves the academic achievement of students of color, whether measured by test scores, attendance, graduation rates or college admission.
But it's not only minority kids who benefit. Studies show that white students who attend a diverse school are more likely to establish interracial friendships, be less prejudiced, and be better prepared for a more diverse society.
And it's in the best economic interest of all adults to have well-educated students. When more children succeed in school, taxpayers pay less for programs like welfare, health care, corrections and policing.
It's troubling that what happened in Eden Prairie could have a chilling effect on other suburban superintendents and school boards that understand the value of desegregating schools. More than a dozen suburban districts now consist of 20 to 60 percent students of color.
As they devise plans to improve student learning, school leaders should keep in mind a 2007 Supreme Court decision. Five justices said that there is a compelling government interest in promoting diversity and avoiding racial isolation, affirming research that shows the academic and social benefits for all students.
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