Nearly seven months in the making, a list of nine strategic recommendations meant to guide Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) for the next few years was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Board of Education.
The reforms aim to close the achievement gap for minority students, increase performance across the district and prepare all students for higher education.
But the work didn’t end Tuesday. Over the next few months, district administrators are expected to return to the board with a roadmap for achieving the long-term strategic goals.
Highlights of the recommendations include a call to “restructure” schools performing in the bottom 25 percent of the district. Another recommendation — added late in the process — urges the district to confront institutional racism head-on.
Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said she and Gov. Tim Pawlenty would support the district’s reform efforts.
“These recommendations are vital to the future success of the Minneapolis school district,” Seagren said.
After Seagren had left the meeting, Board Member Peggy Flanagan welcomed their support, but asked the officials to “put their money where their mouth is.”
“Unless we fully fund public education in the state of Minnesota, these goals will not be achievable,” Flanagan said to applause from a jam-packed meeting room at district headquarters.
District officials set several measures for success. By 2012, they hope to have 80 percent of MPS students score proficient on state standardized math and reading tests and the same percentage reach “threshold score” on college entrance exams like the ACT. They also hope to close the achievement gap by 75 percent in that time.
Still, the district has received some criticism for including too few specific goals and measures in the strategic plan. After the list was delivered in November by consulting firm McKinsey & Company, district administrators changed the phrasing of some recommendations.
Board Member Chris Stewart said the Board deserved criticism that it “watered down” the plan.
“These [recommendations] are so general and so foggy that it allows us to do anything next year,” Stewart said.
Board Member T. Williams said the real test of the district’s resolve to change would be in the implementation of the plan.
Williams asked district administration to set a clear path for achieving the goals and benchmarks to determine success. In a time of scant resources, the district should also prioritize the goals, he added.
“We don’t have the capacity to move forward with all of this,” he said.
Board Member Sharon Henry-Blythe echoed those sentiments. Still, Henry-Blythe said, the recommendations constituted the strongest statement made by the Board in her nearly seven years of service.“We’ve put a stake in the ground,” she said. “We’ve drawn the line.”