Minneapolis Public Schools would relocate its magnet schools to the center of the city so that everyone, particularly families of color, would have easier access to them, reconfigure grade levels and redraw school attendance lines as part of a plan to remake the state’s third-largest school system, according to district documents released Friday.
District leaders say the goal of the various models outlined is to offer equal access to resources to improve academic achievement for students of color, decrease the number of high poverty schools and reduce the number of racially segregated schools.
“From the way things are structured currently, integration has been on the backs of our students of color,” said Eric Moore, the district’s chief of accountability, innovation and research. “Integration should occur both ways.”
At a school board committee meeting Tuesday,Superintendent Ed Graff is scheduled to present the five models, or scenarios, that would affect the district’s elementary and middle schools as part of his evolving strategic plan. Details about the models were included in board materials that came out Friday.
The first of five models is similar to the existing structure the district is operating under and calls for drastic changes such as limiting federal grants to schools with high concentrations of poverty, placing enrollment limits in oversubscribed schools, redrawing school attendance zones in certain areas, increasing walk zones and closing a “significant” number of underutilized schools that fail to provide a rigorous education.
Those changes are critical to keeping budgets balanced and remaining operationally effective, district leaders note.
The other four models, which vary slightly from one another, feature community schools with centralized magnets, including limiting K-8 schools, reconfiguring grade levels for elementary and middle schools and switching programs at Jefferson and Andersen. Currently Jefferson is a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) school while Andersen is a Spanish immersion school.
Under models two and four, district leaders are also considering adding a two-way language program at up to three select community schools, meaning a 50/50 mix of Spanish-speaking students and native English speakers. Adding a third K-5 Spanish immersion magnet at Green Central is an option in models three and five. Meanwhile, scenarios four and five call for the addition of two K-8 magnet schools.
Board Chairwoman Kim Ellison said there is space in the district for a Spanish immersion program and that she would like to see it centrally located. Windom, Emerson and Sheridan elementary schools are the only Spanish-language magnets in the district. Both Windom, in southwest Minneapolis, and Emerson, a South Side school, are full and have long waiting lists.
The district is now spending $4.6 million on busing students who attend magnet schools. In 2021, that would go down to $1 million, with remaining dollars being allocated for the magnet school classrooms. Ellison said her number one priority is making sure that Graff’s plan, which the board is slated to vote on in April, will provide the same opportunities for all students and bring spending in line.
“I would like to see more money spent in direct services to students and not just transporting students,” Ellison said. “I will be looking at costs.”
Meanwhile, Board Member KerryJo Felder, who represents North Side schools, said that she hasn’t seen the models yet, but that she would like to see a dual-immersion school in her area. Many of the students in her neighborhood, she said, are opting out of their community schools for others in South and Southwest, or they’re fleeing the district. Felder said the city’s affordable housing crisis and the unequal access to programs is to blame for the drop in North Side school enrollment.
“I hope we are not talking about closing schools on the North Side again,” Felder said. “The district has not shown equity for a very long time and we can’t go on the same.”
Board Member Ira Jourdain said he doesn’t like any of the five models, particularly those that call for reducing magnets and K-8 schools. The district hasn’t done enough to engage all families of color, he said.
“I agree there has to be changes, but some of our transitions for our students are pretty bold,” said Jourdain, who represents Southwest schools. “If we are going to have that bold of an approach, we need to have more robust community engagement.”
On Monday, district leaders are planning to hold a community meeting at Northeast Middle School, where they will present the five models for the first time and gather feedback before Tuesday’s school board meeting.
The district will continue with community engagement until April, when the board votes. And structural changes would not happen until the 2021-22 school year, with some of the bigger changes taking longer to implement.