Parents voice concerns about district comprehensive plan

District proposed changes to programs, pathways at multiple Southwest schools

Armatage Elementary School parent Kelly Barkman, who has three kids in the district, asks a question during a community meeting May 16 at Southwest High School. Barkman, who lives east of Interstate 35W, said her family would be displaced from Armatage under the plan. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Southwest Minneapolis parents expressed concern this month with a plan to change programming and pathways at public schools across the area.

Some parents said the changes, if enacted, would end effective academic programs, and some said they would decrease diversity at their children’s schools. Others said the plan would dilute the student mix needed to effectively run certain programs, and some questioned whether their proposed pathway middle school would effectively serve their children.

“Looking at this plan, it seems clear that the families who send their children to our schools were not given a voice,” said parent Amy Gustafson, who co-chairs the parent-teacher organization at Windom Spanish dual-immersion elementary school.

“It’s unclear how the plan supports equity [and] retention or saves us from further financial slide,” she added.

The parent comments came at a series of community meetings between May 13 and May 21, two weeks after the district released the proposed changes. District leaders said they intended to utilize the feedback to revise the proposal, which is part of a broader strategic plan to increase academic achievement and student retention and create more equitable programming options.

“Please know that this an iterative process,” third-year Superintendent Ed Graff said.

Minneapolis Public Schools serves approximately 36,000 students in preschool through 12th grade, including over 12,000 in Southwest Minneapolis. Nearly 64% of district students are kids of color, though only about 47% of students in Southwest Minneapolis are non-white.

The district operates about 70 schools, including a mix of elementary, middle, K-8s and high schools. Most of its schools are “community” schools, meaning they draw most of their students from the surrounding neighborhood or neighborhoods.

The district also operates about over a dozen “magnet” schools that draw students from larger regions of the city and specialize in specific types of teaching, like Montessori, Spanish immersion or International Baccalaureate. It also has several citywide and specialty programs that are open to all school-age residents.

Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff speaks to community members about the proposed district strategic plan May 16 at Southwest High School.
Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff speaks to community members about the proposed district strategic plan May 16 at Southwest High School.

The strategic plan comes as MPS students continue to perform academically below their Minnesota peers, as measured by standardized test results. About 45% of MPS students tested in 2018 were proficient on the statewide reading exam, including just 23% of black students and 39% of Latino students. Statewide, 60% of students were proficient. The district also lagged behind the state average last year with its four-year graduation rate of 69%. The state’s was 83%.

The plan also comes as the district continues to find its financial footing after years of budget deficits, including a projected $33 million deficit for the current school year. In addition, it comes as enrollment continues to decline, with about 40% of Minneapolis students enrolling in other public or private schools. The decline in enrollment appears to be most precipitous in northern Minneapolis, where most schools are nowhere close to their student capacities.

Graff, who initiated the planning process 18 months ago, said academics is a huge driver in the strategic plan conversation, noting the disparities between white students and students of color. He said he doesn’t want the School Board to “rubber stamp” any changes and that he expected people would have strong reactions to the proposed changes.

The proposed strategic plan includes multiple academic strategies district leaders said could help boost achievement, such as a K-2 literacy initiative for African-American and American-Indian students who are not proficient. In addition, it calls for adopting “differentiated and intentional” enrollment strategies to correct uneven enrollment patterns, with an initial focus in northern Minneapolis.

District leaders said they proposed changes to academic programs and pathways at schools to “create a structure” to support their academic achievement and sustainability goals. They also said they want to establish “zone, region and districtwide learning options” with clear K-12 pathways and respond to families’ need for safety, quality, predictability and equity.

The plan would divide Minneapolis into a north region and a south region, in which students would generally stay, unless they attend citywide programs. Students would still be able to choose their nearby community school, but they also could choose from the regionwide magnets, most of which would stay the same.

Another version of the plan would further divide the city into four quadrants, with the district offering transportation to students who live in those areas.

Graff speaks with parents after a community meeting at Southwest High School.
Graff speaks with parents after a community meeting at Southwest High School.

The plan would include the “demagnetization” of Anwatin Middle School in Bryn Mawr, which would become a community school serving the Kenwood, Bryn Mawr and Jefferson attendance zones. Anwatin would no longer be a Spanish dual-immersion and International Baccalaureate school.

The plan also calls for Lyndale Elementary School and Justice Page Middle School to become science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, or Steam, magnets, in addition to being community schools. Both would also have a Somali language and culture program.

Other proposed changes include shuffling Windom’s boundary and having it feed into a new middle school at Andersen in Midtown Phillips. The plan also calls for making Jefferson Community School in Uptown a K-5 instead of a K-8 and making Anwatin the pathway middle school for Kenwood, instead of Anthony.

Other changes include making Anthony the pathway middle school for Whittier Elementary School and removing Green Central Elementary School in the Central neighborhood from Justice Page and Washburn’s pathway.

Gustafson, the Windom PTA co-chair, said the boundary change at the school would mean that fewer native Spanish speakers would enroll there. She said such a change would prevent the school from having the necessary mix of native and non-native Spanish speakers needed for a dual-immersion program.

Parent David Weingartner, a former School Board candidate who has children at Lyndale and Washburn, said he would like to learn more about what the Steam and Somali culture designations will mean for the school.

Weingartner said he likes the idea of having families choose schools in closer proximity to their homes, but he said the academic component is what will drive families into the district. He said the district needs to support its teachers and give them the tools they need to be successful, including a solid curriculum.

The district was originally planning to have the School Board vote on the strategic plan in August, but leaders have since pushed back the vote until December. More information about the plan is available at mpls.k12.mn.us/comprehensive_district_design_2.

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