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In her last week at Eden Prairie, Melissa Krull reflects on her tenure

After 10 years in Eden Prairie Schools, Friday will be Superintendent Melissa Krull’s last day. Several weeks ago Krull, who recently survived a bruising campaign to integrate her district’s schools by race and socio-economic status, announced she would retire at the end of the current school year. Two weeks ago, the school board announced it had reached an agreement with Krull that made Sept. 30 her last day.

Neither side is able to talk about the terms of the settlement, but the conflict underlying the buyout has been the topic of numerous headlines over the last couple of years. As increasing numbers of immigrants and people of color moved to Eden Prairie, district schools ended up increasingly segregated and an achievement gap opened up.

During a series of contentious community meetings last year, Krull, her staff, a slim but committed majority of board members and community volunteers redrew the district attendance map, changed elementary schools from a K-5 to a K-6 model and made other changes designed to ensure a low number of poor kids at each school.

Contentious is actually an understatement, the kind of journalistic shorthand that often telegraphs that ugly, ugly things are being said. Many of the remarks were in fact racially inflammatory. Residents who did not want the attendance boundaries changed threatened to sue. The flame war is still being waged on the Internet.

If Krull wants a new job, she’ll have no shortage of possibilities. Superintendents are in short supply in Minnesota. And superintendents who can boast they’ve cut their achievement gaps in half in three short years, as Krull states below — those are about as common as, well, integrated urban school districts.

We caught up with Krull during her last week on the job. What follows is a condensed version of that conversation, and test-score graphics that would serve as an enviable tenure-capper for any educator.

MinnPost: Most people think of integration as an inner-city issue. Can you talk about what it looks like from your vantage point?

Melissa Krull: What we know to be true is that all kids do better when schools are integrated, and when we eliminate low-income isolation or racial isolation. So even in suburban school districts what we have to be very conscious of is that the country is changing demographically. In 2040, or maybe earlier, the predominant race and language in this country will not be white or English. We just have a much richer, more diverse classroom.

As we start to think about our little pockets of the world, we start to see the needs that kids have when they walk into our classrooms changing. It just feels to me like the sooner we get our arms around this, the sooner we embrace these changes and the sooner we prepare ourselves, the more able we are to teach these kids now, the more ready we will be when things really continue to change.

MP: Is this true for all kids or just impoverished kids?

MK: I think it’s true for all kids. There’ve been varied studies on exactly who really gains. For sure impoverished kids gain by being in a setting that is not segregated by income or race. And I also believe that all kids gain by being in settings where they are surrounded by kids who really do reflect the world we live in. You leave your classroom or your school with a much better perspective about the world that you’re graduating into when you spend time in schools and classrooms learning from peers who don’t look like you.

The other thing that is true is that teachers who are practicing new strategies and approaches to teaching that help close the achievement gap become so good at teaching that they automatically improve their teaching for every child while implementing specific strategies that may help a child who’s at risk. Everybody gains from that.

MP: That’s an interesting point, if we could pause there for a second. I think the popular perception of gap-closing is of a teacher drilling to the test. Could you give us some examples of strategies?

MK: The one that’s real obvious to me right now is a new literacy model that we just instituted in Eden Prairie this fall. It’s been in the district for a while, but we’ve made it a systemic approach to literacy. Teachers in all of the classrooms have committed to 120 uninterrupted minutes of teaching reading [every day]. The fact that it’s uninterrupted is a factor, and the fact that it’s 120 is a factor.

And then, within that block of time, there’s a period where everybody gets some basic instruction and there’s another period where the teachers move those kids into groups, and they get specialized instruction with other certified adults in the classroom.

So if you’re an [English-language learner], you move into a group and you get instruction with an ELL teacher. If you’re a gifted-talented kid, you move into a group with a GT teacher.

And then, tier three is independent time where they get to carry out or implement the things they got in the first two tiers of instruction.

So if you have other certified adults in the room, and you keep the kids together, they’re not moving across the hall, they’re not chopping their time up, and the intensity [is maintained], teaching is really good for everybody. Everybody gets what they need.

MP: Did you see gains? 

MK: Yes. Our MCA scores are really interesting — and are quite positive in reading, I will add. I can tell you what they are by heart. Over the last three years, our black students have made a 21 percent gain. Our non-English speaking kids made 28 percent gains and our low-income students have made 21 percent gains. Our white students have made a 5 percent gain, so that moved them up into the 91st percentile.

So what we have is a model where our achievement gap has been nearly cut in half in the area of reading. Prior to this year, we had some schools using this approach, and other schools using different approaches. This year, they’re using it system-wide.  

MP: Are there different challenges in the suburbs in terms of integration and the achievement gap?

MK: For communities that are just becoming more and more diverse, I think there’s just a lot more involved in terms of in really educating ourselves about the changing demographics, and then embracing these changes. 

And it’s this rapidly changing pattern. I think that’s why we’ve got to address it, and embrace it as a society rather than just wait until we get diverse, and then try to figure out what to do.

MP: Do we need a metro-wide solution?

MK: Well, of course I’d love to see that, or even a legislative decision would be wonderful. And I know our commissioner is working really hard at this, too, to come up with a solution that really makes school number one for all of us. I’d really like to see them make school number one for all of us, [so] no matter where you work, where you teach, you’re goal number one is to eliminate the gap.

And I would respond to it, of course, if that’s what I was told.  But as long as we work in isolation of each other, I think it’s hard to not feel the need to compete or to protect, you know?

MP: I think you had a school that was heavily East African. Did you have success bringing the community into the school? 

MK: Yes. The principal there is a remarkable person. She really instituted a terrific model. For example, they established a family service center right in the school designed to help families come in, get their questions answered, and help them really navigate the school, or navigate school life. We’ve now replicated that at all of our schools with our transformation process.

When families — and parents especially — feel welcome in their school, they’re more prone to show up, they’re more prone to come to conferences, they’re more prone to come to “New Family Night” or open house, and then they become more connected to their children’s school experience.

And research will prove that when parents are connected to their child’s school experience, kids do better in school. I think it comes full circle when you can create those venues for parents, especially parents like a Somali family or an East African family. When they feel like their school is a place where they belong, they’ll come back. But you have to work at making that environment feel that way for them.

What I’m learning about these schools that you’re talking about, these “beat the odds” schools, is that there’s great success when the leaders of the school are just really embracing these ideas, and courageously taking on, and making really hard decisions that, in some cases, aren’t even popular.

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/26/2011 - 11:51 am.

    “In 2040, or maybe earlier, the predominant race and language in this country will not be white or English.”

    I’ll leave the specious concern over skin color to the leftist experts for whom such things are all important; but anyone who does not have a care about the consequences of the loss of common language epitomizes the foolishness of Nero.

    The cost to humanity of what has been “lost in translation” due to our confounded languages is incalculable. To describe such loss as the “richness of diversity”, honestly, makes my head hurt.

    For that odious reason alone, I congratulate the people of Eden Prairie on the removal of Ms. Krull’s presence from their schools and their children’s lives.

  2. Submitted by B Maginnis on 09/26/2011 - 01:26 pm.

    What Thomas said.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/26/2011 - 02:44 pm.

    I think Ms. Krull is incorrect about 2040, though not for reasons that would appeal to either Mr. Swift or Mr. Maginnis. In any case, I’m not likely to be around to verify it. There’s nothing “specious” about concern over skin color, nor is it necessarily all-important. Members of the majority have often dismissed as mistaken or exaggerated the concerns of minorities, but the dismissal often reflects a reluctance to deal with what’s plainly evident all around them. Suggesting that skin color is unimportant in this culture betrays a woeful ignorance of many things, but our history might be chief among them.

    If Ms. Krull means “culture” rather than “race,” then I’m inclined to agree. Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the population, but racially, most Hispanics qualify as “Caucasian.” Lumped in with the rest of us whose backgrounds are European, my hunch is that “Caucasian” will still encompass the largest single racial group in the population 30 years down the road. A sizable chunk of that group may have cultural roots that don’t necessarily trace directly back to London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, or even Madrid, but physiologically, they aren’t, and don’t seem to me to be likely to be, significantly different from those whose cultural roots DO trace back to Western Europe.

    Be that as it may, it does seem possible that purely “English” traditions may not be as common, or perhaps as commonly-accepted, in 29 years as they are at the moment. That said, of course, I’m pretty sure similar concerns have been raised with every single wave of immigration, whether from Asia, southern Europe, Eastern Europe, or wherever else the immigrants were coming from, going back to the early 19th century. Certainly the same fears and phobias were raised, and perhaps even more loudly, more than 150 years ago with the original “Know-Nothing” hysteria. I live a few blocks from an inner-ring suburb that was formed in 1912 specifically to get away from “those people,” meaning recent immigrants to Minneapolis from southern, and especially eastern, Europe. Ethnic prejudice has a long and not-very-original history in the United States.

    I don’t claim much expertise on the matter of language, but I’ve seen nothing in print, at least, to suggest that large numbers of immigrants to the United States, and more importantly, their children, are refusing to learn English. Nor did I detect in anything Ms. Krull said an indication that Eden Prairie schools would stop teaching English, or stop using it as the primary language. A minimal command of English is a requirement of citizenship, for one thing. More importantly, the children of immigrants typically want desperately to fit in with the existing culture, and being able to speak English with some fluency has been part of that syndrome for many generations.

    I don’t want to go too far down the multicultural road – not every aspect of every culture is equally deserving of emulation – but “tolerance” has been an American characteristic (Mr. Swift and Mr. Maginnis excepted, of course) for centuries, and while “Know-Nothing” sentiment against immigrants and “foreigners” in general has been on the rise, especially in the decade since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, immigration, and the simultaneous ability of immigrants to adapt while those of use already here do the same, has turned out to be one of the central strengths of this culture.

    “America” is not necessarily a place, it’s an idea, and that idea is neither racially nor linguistically specific. That, too, has been one of our strengths. A nation of ideas and laws can – and I would argue should be able to – accommodate people of most, if not absolutely all, cultural heritages.

    So, with all that, Ms. Krull’s forced departure from the Eden Prairie schools reflects – badly, very badly – upon the individuals and groups in and out of the community who seem happy to get rid of a superintendent who’s actually been able to inspire district personnel to get some things done in response to the changes taking place in their community. I personally place virtually no faith in test scores, but knowing that many others do, ‘twould seem that good things have been happening in Eden Prairie classrooms, for the most part. The plan that has provoked the hysterical response from some seems to be producing academic results that many a surrounding school district would like to be able to emulate.

  4. Submitted by Derrick Schluck on 09/26/2011 - 03:05 pm.

    @ Thomas; you’re seriously going with the common language argument? Why how quick many of us forget our own roots. In 1854 the Territory of Minnesota ballot was printed in at least 20 different languages, none of which was the native language of the land. (That is a different argument for a different day.) Our rich diversity and cultural differences are what have made this country great, what is tearing it apart is the close minded silent bigotry and not in my backyard syndrome. God forbid that a suburban school district in a predominately upper class income bracket with a majority white population try something different as a way to teach children and enhance the richness of the entire community. I will agree that many of the logistical challenges proved to be difficult for Mrs. Krull’s changes to the system, but for you to applaud the release of someone for an outside the box approach only proves the current path of our countries huge racial divide will continue. Like it or not Mr. Swift, you and I are not the majority or will not be the majority in this country for much longer and all of us better work together to solve the many differences between the races and classes or this country will head the same direction as the Roman, Persian, Greek, and many other empires where the rich became richer and the poor became more and more obsolete and eventually the entire system fell apart.

    I’ll agree that people are responsible for many of their own choices in life and often lead themselves down specific life paths, but it is completely naïve to believe that a larger system or societal systems do not play a major factor in ones life.

  5. Submitted by B Maginnis on 09/26/2011 - 04:13 pm.

    Ray, so you’re FOR social engineering then, right?

    Got it.

  6. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 09/26/2011 - 04:39 pm.

    Poor Mr. Swift – who uses the handle Swiftee or TJSWIFT in the blogosphere. All he can do is come up with crocodile tears and red herring complaints about the loss of English as a common language in the schools. As Ray points out, this most certainly is not a real problem.

    Meanwhile superintendent Krull has lead a district where the reading gap was reduced significantly over the last three years.

    I thought you were “agin” the status quo, Swiftee? To be logically consistent, you should applaud these efforts.

    Maybe we should forget about the reading gap and concentrate on enforcing English as the only language to be spoken? That would certainly solve all of our problems…

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/27/2011 - 11:10 am.

    Bill, what do you suppose my “handle in the blogosphere” added to the discussion?

    Perhaps if you’d address yourself more carefully to the topic at hand, you’d have noticed that my observation regarding the confounding of language was general. I’m pointing out that encouraging the notion that a country in which multiple languages somehow helps society is crazy.

    That doesn’t mean I would discourage kids from learning how to speak as many languages as they can, it just means it wouldn’t be necessary if everyone spoke a common language.

    Getting the picture, Bill?

  8. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/27/2011 - 11:49 am.

    Indeed, Mr. Maginnis, I’m as much for social engineering as you are.

    Glad you got it.

  9. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 09/27/2011 - 12:54 pm.

    What does your handle in the blogosphere have to do with it Swiftee? Just a reminder to gentle readers that you may have an agenda that you are not completely frank about here. I think when evaluating what someone has to say about their past history and beliefs about education is fair game.

    And as for the topic at hand:

    “the notion that a country in which multiple languages somehow helps society is crazy.”

    Completely absurd.

    Got the picture Swiftee?

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/27/2011 - 01:43 pm.

    Yes, Prof., I think that big, smoking hole standing in your posts where a point, or a scrap of rational thought would be expected gives us a very clear picture.

    BTW, I’d bet my next paycheck that your observation that I’m “not being frank” about my agenda (or anything else) caused more than one explosive eruption of coffee to hit computer screens!

  11. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 09/27/2011 - 02:18 pm.

    Funny, Swiftee.

    I guess it is hard, when you are not out there in the blogosphere, for you to keep it clean and on topic?


  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/27/2011 - 02:20 pm.

    In an effort to be kind, and to avoid hundreds of repeated failures, maybe this is a good time to let Prof. Gleason in on a non-secret.

    MinnPost isn’t Twitter.

    Not only do you get more than 140 characters, the inability to express more than that (in context and on subject) may be reasonably percieved by thoughtful readers as a sign of vapidity.

    Let’s take, for instance “Completely absurd”, which, by itself, is a non-sequitur Prof. I’m sure that even an Associate Professor can do better.

    Hope that helps, Bill; I’m a helper.

  13. Submitted by David Greene on 09/27/2011 - 03:53 pm.

    Isn’t it interesting how the conversation turns nasty when race is involved?

    That’s not coincidence. We have shaped our society to be a place where we cannot talk truthfully, rationally and deeply about race. Until we can do that, progress will continue to be slow and painful.

    White people have the majority of the burden to make the necessary change.

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