The Minneapolis and Robbinsdale school districts are forging ahead with plans for the FAIR School even though legislators failed to pass a measure that would formally transfer management of the fine-arts magnet school.
The agreement was a casualty of the session ending without the Legislature approving the bonding bill, which contained a proposal to transfer management of the FAIR (Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resource) School.
It is possible that the measure could be taken up during a special session likely in June, but it is unclear whether that will happen given the narrow focus of the session.
Since it opened its doors, the FAIR School has been managed by the West Metro Education Program, known as WMEP. But leaders of the integration district — comprising 11 urban and suburban school districts — are getting out of the business of running schools and focusing their efforts on teacher training and student programs. Leaders of the program became convinced that the increasingly diverse west-metro school districts don’t rely on them to foster racial balance, which was a guiding principle when formed.
Outgoing WMEP Superintendent Keith Lester had repeatedly warned that the clock might run out before approval was granted, but he said there is no reason why the school districts would deviate from plans to take over FAIR’s two campuses.
The downtown location will be run by Minneapolis, and the Crystal campus will come under Robbinsdale’s control. Already, those districts are beginning to make some staffing changes, but nothing that looks to drastically alter the school’s current focus on arts and racial equity.
“We are talking about a Plan B,” Lester said. WMEP might hold on to some administrative duties until the transfer is complete, he said, “but we will not have any responsibility for the day-to-day operations. That’s still going to be Robbinsdale and Minneapolis.”
Lester and other WMEP leaders have tried to reassure nervous parents that even though the integration district is ceding control of FAIR, the school will remain open and remain an arts/integration magnet school.
Yet, some change seems inevitable.
For example, Robbinsdale has recently named Chris Hester, current principal of Robbinsdale Cooper High School, to lead FAIR’s Crystal campus, which currently serves students in the fourth through eighth grades.
Drawn to the school’s focus on the arts, Hester asked for the post at FAIR. A former principal of a Spanish immersion school, Hester said that she believes the arts serve a critical purpose in education and that she wants to see the school’s mission stay intact.
“I hope parents understand that as we move forward, Robbinsdale will make sure that we’re still arts-focused, equity-minded,” she said. “None of that changes. If anything changes, it will be for the betterment of the school.”
Downtown principal stays
Minneapolis has opted to maintain Principal Kevin Bennett at FAIR’s downtown campus, which currently serves students in kindergarten through third grade and ninth through 12th grade.
Lester said Minneapolis school officials have signaled their intent to keep some continuity at the FAIR School downtown by maintaining Bennett there.
He also confirmed that FAIR’s downtown campus has seen a higher-than-average resignation rate for teachers this spring. He attributed that to the fact that Minneapolis school leaders have talked publicly about the possibility of turning the downtown campus into a high school someday.
Similarly, Robbinsdale school leaders have expressed a desire to make the Crystal location a K-8 campus.
Whatever happens, students enrolled in kindergarten next year will be allowed to finish third grade at the downtown campus and students enrolled in fourth grade can finish eighth grade at Crystal.
Some parents are leaving
While some FAIR parents are warming up to the idea of Minneapolis and Robbinsdale managing the FAIR School, others are not.
Julia Singer and her husband have decided that their son Grant, who has attended FAIR since kindergarten, won’t be returning for ninth grade next school year.
“We’ve been mourning the loss of FAIR for some time now,” Singer said. “It’s not going to be the same place.”
Lester said it’s too soon to tell how many FAIR students won’t be back next year — enrollment on the first day of classes this fall will tell the story.
Next steps for WMEP
Either way, FAIR’s enrollment won’t be Lester’s concern. He’s leaving WMEP in June. In doing so, he’ll be the group’s last superintendent.
The integration district is on the verge of naming an executive director who will be responsible for leading the district in a completely different direction.
Lester said the plan is to improve WMEP’s current teacher-training services with a renewed emphasis on helping districts recruit and retain teachers of color.
When the East Metro Integration District transferred control of its schools to focus on professional development and student programs, several of its member school districts left.
But Lester is hopeful that won’t happen with its west-metro counterpart.
“One thing that I’ve really pushed is this idea that you have to give it [WMEP] time,” Lester said. “You’ve got to give it three years at the least.