Webster Elementary School principal Ginger Davis Kranz shows off the school's project lab during a Nov. 7 tour as part of Visit Our Schools Month. About 20 families toured the school as part of the program. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Webster Elementary School principal Ginger Davis Kranz shows off the school's project lab during a Nov. 7 tour as part of Visit Our Schools Month. About 20 families toured the school as part of the program. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Schools notebook: MPS wraps up first-ever Visit Our Schools Month

Updated: December 5, 2016 - 8:50 am

Principal Ginger Davis Kranz led about eight families around Webster Elementary School in Northeast this past month, showing them classrooms, the school’s project lab, the cafeteria and more.

Kranz explained the unique aspects of the school such as its family-style dining, integration of Spanish into classrooms, no-homework policy and learning hallway with a magnetic white board.

“We really try to make learning playful at Webster,” Davis Kranz said. “… We work really hard to let kids problem solve on their own.”

Kranz was one of dozens of Minneapolis Public Schools staff members who led a school tour during the district’s inaugural Visit Our Schools Month. The program allowed families to visit the district’s elementary schools on five designated tour days. It ran Oct. 15–Nov. 7, although families can still take tours.

The program was the first step in getting individual schools to begin driving their own recruitment efforts, said MPS Director of Enrollment Management and Student Placement Services Bryan Fleming.

“We want every building to have a recruitment mindset,” Fleming said. “This was the first sort of paradigm shift toward that goal.”

Fleming said 1,127 families visited MPS elementary schools as part of the program, surpassing the district’s goal of 1,000. In comparison, he estimated the district hosted about 405 families at last year’s school showcase, the old recruitment event that Visit Our Schools Month replaced.

The program is part of MPS’ push to begin the 2017-18 school-placement process earlier than in past years. The district in the past didn’t host its schools showcase until January or February. In addition, it didn’t open its online schools-request portal until mid-December for high school students and until January for elementary and middle school students, Fleming said.

The district on Nov. 15 opened the portal for the 2017-18 school year.

Fleming said the earlier timeframe allows the district to be more thoughtful about its budgeting process and transportation, among other areas.

He said it’s a little early to tell how MPS is doing in recapturing families who live in the district but enroll their kids in other schools. However, he said he is most concerned about enrollment on the city’s North Side, particularly in pre-K, kindergarten and first grade.

“That’s our biggest orchard that we need to be cultivating for our families,” he said.

Fleming said the district saved $15,000 by replacing the schools showcase with Visit Our Schools Month. The district spent $25,000 on the showcase last year, compared to the $10,000 it spent on this year’s program.

The district received “overwhelmingly positive” feedback about the program, he said, noting that families appreciated the opportunity to visit in the schools in person.

Lake Harriet Lower Campus Principal Merry Tilleson said she thought the program was really successful, adding that families requested tours outside of the designated tour days. She said 140 people visited the school as part of the program.

Davis Kranz, the Webster principal, said the program brought families into the school earlier than usual. The first tours felt slower, she said, but word is getting out about the school, which reopened last year.

Northeast resident Anna King was one of those who toured the school as part of the program. King has a daughter who will be a kindergartener next school year and said she loved the building’s modern feel, its openness, the free breakfast for every child and the family-style dining.

Visit schoolrequest.mpls.k12.mn.us or highschoolrequest.mpls.k12.mn.us for more information on the school-request process.

MPS students learn about Native American history and culture

Native American flutist Aaron Erdrich answers questions from a fifth-grade class at Kenwood Elementary School after playing a song. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
Native American flutist Aaron Erdrich answers questions from a fifth-grade class at Kenwood Elementary School after playing a song. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Aaron Erdrich said he didn’t learn much about Native American history while growing up on Indian reservations in Minnesota and South Dakota. This past month, Erdrich helped to ensure Minneapolis Public Schools students are learning about his culture and traditions.

Erdrich spent a morning teaching students at Kenwood Elementary School about the Native American flute, playing them songs and telling them the flute’s Dakota origin story. He also explained to them how craftsmen make the flutes and answered questions about Native American history.

“I’m just glad that I can share the history,” said Erdrich, who is of Dakota and Ojibwe descent.

Erdrich’s visit to Kenwood was one of dozens of events the district held in celebration of Native American Family Involvement Day on Nov. 17. Schools served a traditional Native American wild rice dish and hosted performances by Native American dancers and rappers in celebrations throughout the week.

Erdrich learned to play flute from his uncle, Bryan Akipa, a Dakota flute maker and player and recipient of a lifetime honor from the National Endowment for the Arts. Akipa has been playing and making flutes for more than 20 years, specializing in the ancestral five-hole flute that Erdrich says is a modern-day rarity.

Shawnii Legarde, 15, of the Niiwo Giizhik Dance Troupe performs a traditional Native American dance during an assembly at Lake Harriet Upper School. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
Shawnii Legarde, 15, of the Niiwo Giizhik Dance Troupe performs a traditional Native American dance during an assembly at Lake Harriet Upper School. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Erdrich’s visit coincided with the opening of a Native American art curriculum at Kenwood. Students learned from Dakota and Ojibwe artists about topics such as beadwork patterns, different Native painting styles and native Minnesota species.

About 1,250 Native American students are enrolled in MPS, or about 3.6 of the total student population. The district has an Indian education department that works to develop curriculum, connects families to schools and works with Native students on college planning.

MPS students see Guthrie play “The Parchman Hour”

Minneapolis Public Schools students participate in a post-play discussion with the cast of "The Parchman Hour," a play about the Civil Rights Movement, in November at the Guthrie Theater. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
Minneapolis Public Schools students participate in a post-play discussion with the cast of “The Parchman Hour,” a play about the Civil Rights Movement, in November at the Guthrie Theater. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

About 100 Minneapolis middle school students attended a play about the civil rights movement in November through an MPS college-readiness program.

Students from Franklin, Anwatin, and Northeast middle schools’ GEAR UP program were in attendance at the Guthrie Theater play “The Parchman Hour.” About 50 participated in a post-show question-and-answer session with the actors.

The play tells the story of the Freedom Riders who were imprisoned in Mississippi’s Parchman Farm Penitentiary during the 1960s. The young men and women created a variety show called “The Parchman Hour” in an effort to keep up their spirits.

The actors noted that while a lot has changed since the ’60s, society has plenty of work remaining to secure racial equality.

“We need people of all ages to fight for what’s right,” actor Zonya Love said.

The students in attendance appeared to take the message to heart. A Northeast student named Kasey said she found the play inspirational, noting that the Freedom Riders sacrificed a lot to make a difference. A student named Illyssa said she found the play intriguing, adding that she liked the ending, when the actors called out the names of people in present day who have been victims of police brutality.

“The Parchman Hour” ran through Nov. 6 at the Guthrie.

Graff reaffirms place of all students in MPS

Superintendent Ed Graff reminded the Minneapolis Public Schools community after Election Day that all students are welcome in the district regardless of who holds political power.

Graff wrote in a letter to families that the district supports all students and families no matter their political beliefs. He wrote that all students and their families have a place in the community and that the district’s strength lies in the uniqueness of every child.

“Our district will continue to be a place of respect,” he wrote. “We welcome all students and families in our schools and celebrate the diversity of their race, gender, religion, culture, disability and sexual orientation.”

Graff reiterated that message at the Nov. 15 School Board meeting. He said MPS would continue to be a place of inclusion, stay true to its values and lead by example.

He shared a song produced by Roosevelt High School music teacher Adrian Davis called “I Can’t Do it Alone” that encapsulates those themes.

Hopeful messages and drawings, such as this one, lined 47th Street up to Southwest High School earlier this month, thanks to a group of Linden Hills residents. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
Hopeful messages and drawings, such as this one, lined 47th Street up to Southwest High School earlier this month, thanks to a group of Linden Hills residents. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

School communities across the district have been posting and projecting similar messages through signs, social media messages and more. A group of neighbors in Linden Hills, for example, drew inspirational slogans and pictures on the sidewalk leading up to Southwest High School one weekend.

“Although it was a really small gesture, it absolutely felt like something that would change somebody’s day for the better,” said resident Erin Farrell, who led the group.

Edison seniors win scholarships for overcoming adversity

Two Edison High School seniors have won college scholarships geared toward high-achieving students who have overcome adversity in life.

The non-profit Minnesota Children’s Defense Fund awarded Kayla Cross and Kenneth Walton two of its five $5,000 “Beat the Odds” scholarships. The two were among nearly 200 who applied from the Twin Cities area.

School Board seeking student rep

The Minneapolis Board of Education is looking for its next student board representative. All Minneapolis 10th and 11th graders are eligible.

Applications are due Dec. 8. Contact Student Engagement Program Coordinator Janae Krantz-Odendahl at 612-668-1202 with any questions.