As a teacher in the Minneapolis public schools, I hope the district's new strategic plan is a positive step for families. While I hope it will succeed, I feel I must be skeptical and cautious. I've been teaching in this school system for 28 years. I've seen plans come and die quickly. I want to make a few suggestions.
First, the "small learning community" model the school system has used for the past few years should be dropped. While it is a nice idea on paper, in reality it is counterproductive to good education. Most such learning groups are small because of a lack of interest in what they offer rather than a hope by students to specialize. While the school system puts a limit on how many students can be enrolled in these communities -- the cap is 200 -- the reality is that most programs go begging for students. On the other hand, because access to the popular programs is limited, students who can't get in them often leave the school system rather than selecting another.
We have programs that people want to participate in but cannot because of district limits. The primary examples are the South Open program, the Henry International Baccalaureate program and the Southwest International Baccalaureate program. If families want to be part of such programs, it makes sense to listen to that need.
I would like to propose the following modifications:1Eliminate all small learning communities. Don't put families through the drudgery of applying to different high schools and hoping the lottery will place their children in the one they desire. Focus on good community schools rather than on specialized groups of students. 2Make the International Baccalaureate programs available in all high schools and open to all students. Minneapolis is one of the few school districts to limit this program to a small group of students. Give everybody a chance to take these classes. Trust families and students to know where their abilities are. Allow them to be challenged. 3Concentrate on making good overall schools. Focus on making arts and humanities, athletics, clubs, classes and activities available to all students in all high schools. Right now this is very spotty in Minneapolis. Work to level the playing field, so students know that their nearby school is just as good as the one across town. 4Address the most-important quality families need and deserve -- stability. Families need to know their children will be guaranteed a good education from kindergarten through senior high school. They do not get that by shifting schools, by applying to schools across town or by participating in lotteries that select small learning communities. Families don't need to be part of the constant reinvention of the wheel in which the Minneapolis school district seems to engage, with little follow-through.
Families get stability through knowing that their schools will deliver on promises of good education and good programs. I say get rid of all the candy in this school system -- the glitter and fluff. Give families something they can trust.
Michael Kennedy is a teacher at Southwest High School.