Parents and students from two south-side Minneapolis schools — Barton Open (K-8 magnet) and Windom (K-5 Spanish Dual-Immersion magnet) — filled the school board meeting room Tuesday evening.
For the better part of three hours, they filed up to the podium during the public comments session to talk about how they value the diversity, programming and strong sense of community at their schools.
So why, they pressed, is the district floating models that would close these two schools?
The district’s response, at this point, centers on a basic detail lost on many impassioned parents: a draft model, with specifics, hasn’t been released yet.
“Nothing has been decided. There’s no model,” Director Kimberly Caprini said in her closing remarks, in a near-empty room that had been packed full during the public comments portion of the meeting. “So when I hear people talk about a school closing, it boggles my mind. Because programs can move. No one is trying to close the schools that were brought up.”
On Jan. 24, the district will be releasing up to three Comprehensive District Design proposals. These drafts will be presented to the board on Jan. 28. Following a number of public comment sessions, the board is expected to make revisions and adopt a new strategic plan in April.
All of this decision-making will take place as district leaders grapple with financial constraints that are largely driven by declining enrollment and chronic underfunding in public education at the state and federal levels. The district is facing a $19.6 million budget deficit for the 2021-21 school year; shortfalls are projected to increase each year.
Parsing out parents’ concerns
Much of the pushback from parents, at this point, stems from a two-part boundary study that the district asked its transportation company, Edulog, to conduct. The charge of that study was twofold: look for potential transportation savings and look for ways to boost integration based on race and income level.
In one scenario, the company drew up a model that reduced the number of magnet schools from 12 to seven and centralized them. These changes would likely result in six fewer schools with a poverty level over 80 percent; and 10 fewer racially identifiable schools, staff reported when the board reviewed these studies in the fall.
To the alarm of some parents, this model also left out K-8 schools altogether — a grade configuration that drew many parents to schools like Barton Open when seeking out school options for their children.
A group of sixth-graders from the school praised the diversity and experiential learning opportunities and buddy program at their school that matches elementary students with middle schoolers — the sort of thing many parents who spoke credited with helping middle-schoolers stay grounded and supported as they sort through identity issues.
“This plan to close K-8s and eliminate successful integrated magnets does nothing to help struggling schools or to bring families back to this district,” Anjula Razdan, a Barton Open parent told board members last night.
She urged board members to consider the effectiveness of K-8 schools at retaining students as they transition into the middle-school years, the lower suspension rates at K-8s than at stand-alone middle schools, and the impact to larger immigrant families at her school who seek out a K-8 setting.
A number of Barton Open Somali parents, including Hawo Hassan, mother of three elementary students, spoke about the importance of keeping their children under one roof through middle school.
“Due to the change that’s being proposed, it will be difficult to drop my kids off at several schools. That’s one of the reasons I’m here today,” she said, adding she also has concerns that the plan would increase racial segregation.
Many parents who addressed the board with pleas — and, in some cases, ultimatums stating they’d leave for a charter or open-enroll in a neighboring district if they’re not pleased with the outcomes of the district’s new strategic plan — also spoke of a desire to make changes that will lead to more equitable outcomes for students across the district.
It’s a commitment that those from the north side are quick to challenge.
Heather Anderson, a white mother of two black students, reminded people that the district’s resources are limited.
“There are a lot of things that are working in the south and southwest parts of our city. But there are many broken things in north and northeast. I believe that we cannot continue to leave two parts of our city alone to make one part work,” she said. “I would like us to think of all of our children. And that would mean that some parts of our city might have to give some things up.”
Offering her concluding comments, Director Kerry Jo Felder, representing District 2 on the north side, said the public comments session had left her feeling “overwhelmed.”
She then pointed out that the part of the district that she represents currently only has one magnet school, one mainstream K-8 school and zero dual-immersion schools.
“I appreciate everyone coming out. I especially appreciate those parents who could take the time to change the lens a little bit and remember that there are other areas out there that are suffering just a little bit more.”