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Minneapolis Public Schools board vets five blueprints for district redesign

The official rollout for board members focused on three main structural changes: centralizing magnet schools, reconfiguring grade levels and changing school boundaries. 

At the board meeting Tuesday evening, senior staff presented the five models, which were released to the public just a few days prior.
At the board meeting Tuesday evening, senior staff presented the five models, which were released to the public just a few days prior.
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs

As the fates of individual schools and programs under the Minneapolis Public Schools district redesign effort come into question, parent unrest has captured the media spotlight. 

Parents at Windom — a K-5 Spanish Dual-Immersion magnet school slated to close under four of the district’s five proposals — are speaking out in opposition. Likewise, Barton Open parents are ordering “Save Barton” T-shirts to protest proposals to shut down a second magnet school located in southwest Minneapolis. They’re also finding spaces in mainstream media to voice their disapproval. 

Another display of protest coming out of the southwest part of the district has generated quite a bit of attention on social media. Some parents are rebuking an anonymous sign posted in the Kenwood community lamenting a proposed pathway change that would feed Kenwood elementary students to Anwatin Middle and North High School as a move that “will destroy our community.”

This is the sort of feedback that school board members are sorting through as they consider all five blueprints now being considered under the district’s redesign effort, also known as the Comprehensive District Design (CDD). 

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At the board meeting Tuesday evening, senior staff presented the five models, which were released to the public just a few days prior. This official rollout for board members focused on three main structural changes: centralizing magnet schools, reconfiguring grade levels and changing school boundaries. 

Teeing up the presentation and opportunity for board members to weigh in, Superintendent Ed Graff reminded everyone of the inequitable academic outcomes driving the need for major system-level changes. 

“I recognize the significant impacts the Comprehensive District Design presents for all of us,” he said. “But I see this as my responsibility, my obligation as superintendent to find a way to ensure that every child — including those who are not well served by our current system — has access to the school programs, opportunities and experiences that they deserve.”

Changes under consideration

Model 1 doesn’t include any magnet, pathway or boundary overhauls. It’s the scenario that maintains the current structure by making some major changes to balance the budget. Those changes include: multiple school closures, increasing walk zones, redrawing some school attendance zones, limiting enrollment in oversubscribed schools, and limiting federal dollars to schools with high concentrations of poverty.

Doing nothing isn’t an option, given the fact that the district is facing a $19.6 million budget deficit for the 2021-21 school year, with shortfalls projected to increase each year.  

The four other models up for consideration all prioritize community schools with centralized magnets — each containing various changes to magnet school offerings.

Director Kim Ellison, Superintendent Ed Graff and Director Kimberly Caprini
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
Director Kim Ellison, Superintendent Ed Graff and Director Kimberly Caprini shown during Tuesday night's meeting.
Models 2 and 4 include adding Spanish bilingual strand programs in community schools with the highest concentrations of Spanish-home-language students. But district staff caution that these programs, which establish two parallel tracks inside a single school,  are costly and pose challenges when it comes to creating a united sense of school culture or identity. 

Models 3 and 5 both include a third K-5 Spanish immersion magnet program at Green Central.

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In all four scenarios, Andersen — a Spanish immersion magnet — and Jefferson — a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) magnet — would swap programming. 

The K-8 grade configuration, currently at four magnet schools in the district, would be dropped entirely under Models 2 and 3. In Models 4 and 5 it would be preserved at Seward and added at Sullivan, which would become a magnet school under the centralized configuration. 

Senior staff also presented information on new high school pathways, Career and Technical Education programming, walk zones that would — for the first time — take violent crime occurrences into account, and special-education program placement changes designed to decluster special-education programming. 

Special-education students currently only represent about 3 percent of the student population at some schools, compared to over 30 percent of the student population at others, says Rochelle Cox, associate superintendent of special education for the district. And many existing magnets don’t have citywide special-education programming.

“Those schools with 30 percent special education, it becomes challenging to do inclusive, core programming well,” she said. “A school with 3 percent special education, those students are missing out on some really great peers.”

Division among board members

During the Tuesday meeting Director Bob Walser, who represents families in District 4 — which includes downtown, the Isles neighborhoods and Bryn Mawr — championed the concerns of his constituents.  He questioned the accuracy of the data being presented by members of the superintendent’s leadership team and urged the board to consider alternate input from “people in our community who have done some really solid research” in support of preserving and expanding upon the K-8 model.

Another K-8 charter school just received approval from the city, he added. There is demand among Minneapolis families for K-8 schools — both among white families and among large immigrant families who value having their children attend two school sites rather than three. 

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He criticized the models for “not taking into account the attrition the move from K-8s to all K-5” would have on the long-term health of the district. 

“Back in May, I said this process had, to that point, already eroded trust. My observation, at this point, is that that has continued,” he said. “This process has done damage to Minneapolis Public Schools by the process — the way it’s been done — and by the result that’s being put in front of people today.”

While many community members, parents and educators in attendance at the board meeting backed up his sentiments by snapping their fingers in a show of solidarity, Director Kimberly Caprini — an at-large member from the north side with ties to both north and northeast schools, where she sent her own children — pushed back on the narrative that the district redesign is going to fail or disempower families, including families of color. 

A perspective is largely omitted right now: that of black, middle-class families. And that’s because they’ve left, she says. They’ve left because the district isn’t serving their kids well — and every time the district attempts to make meaningful, system level changes, a segment of the parent population shows up to shut things down because their child will be affected. 

She said she’s tired of “kicking the can down the road” when one of the models presented, in her opinion, does offer a solution for better serving the needs of the district’s most vulnerable students. 

‘You’re not the most vulnerable’

In closing, she told families who have the means to continue supplementing their child’s education: “You are going to have to recognize that you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. You’re not the most vulnerable.”

The district will continue to host community input sessions over the next couple of months to help inform the final plan that’s slated to be presented to the board for consideration on March 24 and voted on at the April 14 board meeting. 

Asked about the possibility of a divided board, come decision-making time, Graff stressed this is an opportunity to untangle district programs and resources that have been built up over the years in more of a cumulative design. 

“Right now, for us to go through a process of having to respond to a funding need, or a lack of funding, we just kind of pluck around the edges,” he said. “There are values that we have to declare. And we can’t sit in a space of saying, ‘I want to be everything to everyone.’ We do not have the resources to do that. It’s not sustainable. And it’s actually not delivering with intentionality.”