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At graduation time, reflecting on what it means to be MPS Strong

Our students, families and staff are inspiring, courageous leaders who strive each day to leave the world a little better than they found it.

Ed Graff

For the last two years, as I’ve met countless Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) students and staff in every one of our schools, I’ve reflected on what it means to be MPS Strong. Our students, families and staff are inspiring, courageous leaders who strive each day to leave the world a little better than they found it. They come from every corner of the globe, speak more than 100 languages and represent every race, religion, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.

This week, as we continue celebrating graduations and recognizing the 13 years of hard work that came before for our seniors, I think about students like Ben from Roosevelt High School. After tragically losing both of his parents, he worked full time while going to school so he and his brother wouldn’t become homeless. After being taken in by relatives and given a stable environment, he began to thrive. There is much more to Ben’s story, and he’s just beginning to write his next chapter as he heads to college with a scholarship from the Children’s Defense Fund.

Great challenges, greater potential

Stories like Ben’s are common throughout MPS. They show our students, staff and families often face great challenges, but have even greater potential — potential that can be reached when we match high expectations with high support.

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MPS’ success is dependent on our ability to provide what students need in the moment they need it. And there are already positive signs. Last year, nearly 800 students demonstrated proficiency in a world language and earned the Minnesota Bilingual Seal, 15 were National Merit Semifinalists, and more than 1,200 continued their learning at post-secondary institutions. We saw 73 percent of MPS students graduate within seven years, a measure that reflects the realities of our student population better than the traditional four-year rate.

However, we know we need to graduate more of our students and fully prepare them for college and career. Our goal must be to make sure every student has an opportunity to walk across the graduation stage, diploma in hand, ready to conquer whatever comes next.

Time to do things differently

This starts with a new vision for MPS’ future and a framework for what it means to be MPS Strong. It’s time to do things differently.

For the last year, MPS has been conducting a comprehensive review of our work — everything from our achievement to our bus routes and enrollment. Over the next several months, we’ll be proposing ideas about how we can move from a vision of MPS Strong to a reality. We should contemplate how to offer comprehensive services that meet complex needs, enrich opportunities across all grades, and more.

But this isn’t about a single program or process. It’s about how we operate day in and day out. MPS Strong should be the basis for how we are held accountable. We’ll need the community to stand with us in this, and to consider how increased funding from referendums in November can help us realize our strength.

Our goal must be to lay a foundation of support that students, families and staff can rely on year after year — especially in our finances and operations. MPS Strong should be grounded in effective management and extraordinary governance. And because we cannot do this work alone, we’ll need the community to partner with us.

With that base, we can be more intentional in our decisions about the schools and services we offer. Everything we do in MPS must be equitably grounded in students’ and families’ needs.

I believe all of us want students to receive an education that prepares them with the knowledge and skills to succeed in life and work. We want to foster a lifelong love of learning and instill an appreciation for the diversity of the world around us. We want families to feel that they have a stake in their children’s education, equipped with tools and tips to support their children’s growth and development.

That is MPS Strong: Strong students and families supported by strong schools and services and empowered by strong leadership and partnership.

Anchored in this vision, we can better individualize learning for students, expand on efforts we know are working, and prepare every student to walk in the world MPS Strong.

Ed Graff is the superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools.

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