It’s time for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) to get serious about breaking down achievement barriers to help all of its students – not just the lucky ones — succeed.
After a school budget vote in June, I wrote a Community Voices piece entitled, “Asking Minneapolis Public Schools: What Are We Worth?” questioning Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s claims that the Office of Black Male Achievement is a priority for Minneapolis Public Schools. There was a discrepancy between these claims and the district’s allocations, and the MPS budget that was set to a vote revealed quite a different set of priorities.
A subsequent school board meeting in August only served to aggravate my concern, and the concerns of many others, that the Office of Black Male Achievement holds low rank with district leaders.
Leading up to the August meeting, most members of the school board seemed unwilling to talk about the Office of Black Male Achievement, a supposed district priority. Securing space on the agenda required serious legwork, with board member Tracine Asberry interceding and publicly asking the rest of the board to put the item on its meeting agenda for August. Even then, our conversation was limited to just over an hour. The topic was finally addressed, but meeting time was restricted on the day of the primary and further split among presenters.
It was obvious that the Office of Black Male Achievement would not receive the attention it deserved from the members of the school board. This last-minute conversation, the restricted schedule, and the decision to divide time among topics rather than hold additional meetings, as had been done before, revealed just how little consideration was given to black male achievement in a district whose largest single demographic is African-American.
Was this really the big plan for first 100 days?
The final blow was dealt when the plan for the Office of Black Male Achievement was unveiled. Rather than outlining a vision to elevate the black males in our community and support their true potential, Director Michael Walker discussed barber shops and hair salons. Was this really the big plan for the first 100 days?
MPS CEO Michael Goar and Superintendent Johnson have both admitted they struggle with community engagement, and with a plan so clearly lacking inspiration, why hadn’t the district taken this opportunity to engage in a real and substantive dialogue with the community?
This office has the potential to do amazing things for the students of MPS and the community. However, the level of commitment to the Office of Black Male Achievement was determined when the budget was created. If MPS had invested $2 million rather than one-tenth of that in the office, dismissive plans like those currently on the table would not be accepted by district officials and leadership.
We are the punchline
Superintendent Johnson had the opportunity to send a message to the city about how serious she was about this office with an initial investment. Instead, she and Walker made the aims and plans for the program seem like a bad joke, attributing their lack of planning to distractions from “silly little things” and making light of a serious challenge facing the students they are responsible for helping succeed. Unfortunately for black males, we are the punchline.
Instead of posing a plan that plays into stereotypes and reinforces the idea that our black males are unable to achieve more, the school board should give us a plan that addresses how and why MPS is failing to help black males — a plan that shows how this office will break down the barriers of systemic racism throughout the district. That’s going to require open, honest dialogue about what’s working and what isn’t, and legislative and financial support that gives the best solutions a fighting chance. It’s not too late to turn MPS around – but it’s time to get serious.
Kenneth Eban is the state captain of Students for Education Reform-Minnesota.
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