Unified office, more instruction, more teachers planned
This story concludes our report on new MPS initiatives to address disparities that began with last week’s story, “Mpls Public Schools to assess impact of all policies, procedures on race equity.”
Second in a two-part story
By Charles Hallman
A new Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) department “aimed at accelerating academic strategies and reducing the achievement gap” has been established. The primary reason for the office is that there are multiple programs within MPS Central Office “that are doing similar work and as long as these [five] departments are in a silo and not connected together, we are not going to have a comprehensive, unified vision on how we allocate and be more thoughtful [on a] strategic way to deliver services,” explains CEO Michael Goar, who adds that a search for someone to head the new office is currently underway.
“We want to make sure that all of our students of color will be just as successful as our White students,” pledges James Burroughs, MPS equality and diversity director.
MPS serves approximately 36,000-plus students “and we’re growing,” reiterates Goar. “When you look at our student population, you are talking about the majority of our kids are kids of color. The biggest subgroup is
African American kids.”
Unfortunately, the district’s Black students, especially its Black male population, has lagged well behind their student counterparts. As a result, the Washburn graduate firmly notes that the district must look to change “perspectives and expectations for African American students. I think that there are broader issues that we are struggling with as a system, which is along with the [equity] policies and what is actually happening in the classrooms.”
“We talk a lot of years about our African American boys,” adds Burroughs. “We don’t focus enough on our African American males.” He also points to other school districts, such as Oakland, Calif. that are doing similar things to address the low academic achievement among Black males. “How do you extend that academic achievement of Black males to a social and
emotional piece — how to become a father, how to [be a] success in the community, how to invest in the future,” asks the director.
Burroughs also responded to those who ask, ‘Why aren’t you focusing on other boys as well?’ “When you look at the data, Black boys are at the bottom of the data in academic achievement. That’s why we are starting there. It doesn’t prevent us in the future from identifying other groups to focus and work with as well.”
President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” program that was introduced earlier this month is something Goar says is desperately needed. “As a school district, we need to have a very separate and focused initiative for Black males,” he says.
Additionally, a Spring Break Academy has been established for the week-long spring break for students in grades 3-8 in 13 MPS schools: “The kids aren’t going to Florida for spring break; they are going to be home and looking to do something… This would be a great opportunity to capture our students, get them instruction as well as enrichment activities.
“Rather than have students stay home for five days and engage in… unproductive time and activities, let’s bring some of these kids back,” says Goar, who adds that additional staff is expected to be hired “to teach our kids and to provide them with enrichment.”
A “Saturday School” also has been established, he says. “We want our kids to have additional time, especially our kids who are in high school” to seek and get additional assistance in their studies, no matter what achievement level they are at.
The two programs are part of the district’s “short-term intervention strategies.” MPS also is instituting a “mid-year shift” at 12-13 district schools, which includes hiring at least 14 more teachers and providing additional resources for these identified schools “so that they can provide a rigorous instruction and lower class size,” says Goar. “We want to be more focused and conscious in what we are doing.”
Finally, Goar admits that more teachers of color are needed at MPS – “85 percent of our teachers are White and 15 percent are non-White. If you break that down even further, there are about seven percent African American teachers. We have to do a better job as a system to get a lot more teachers who look like our kids.”
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