Community members encouraged to participate and be heard
By Charles Hallman
Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) officials have announced that all future district policies, practices, programs and procedures, as well as the allocation of resources “that have a significant impact on student learning,” will be assessed for equity and diversity “so that no community is disproportionately impacted.”
A new Equity and Diversity Assessment policy is now in place, said Equality and Diversity Executive Director James Burroughs in a recent MSR interview at the school’s Davis Center headquarters. “It basically says that all of our practices, policies and procedures as we go forward will undergo an Equity Impact Assessment,” he explained.
“It’s about a four- or five-page document [applied to] any decision that we make, how are they impacting our families, especially our families of color who traditionally have been underserved by us. But now we are making a conscious and intentional effort to make sure that they are served better.”
The assessment also will help evaluate how MPS decisions “are impacting our communities,” Burroughs pointed out. “Who’s at the table when we are making decisions on Black boys? Do we have the right people to make that decision? When we are making decisions about hiring, do we have the right people as well?”
“We as an organization do have institutional racism,” added MPS CEO Michael Goar. He predicts that the district equity policy will show more “intentionality” in all aspects of what is going on throughout the district.
“It’s about making sure that we have teaching staff and educational staff that reflect our student body,” continued Burroughs on the district’s “employment equity” goals. Part of this is the “Grow Your Own” program in which MPS will look at current educational assistants, who the equality and diversity director says are 30-35 percent people of color, “and grow them into teaching.
“We are going to partner with [area colleges] and making sure they get the education and licensure that they need. It’s easier to recruit people who are already here, have been in the system, and already know our kids and families to come into our system and be teachers,” said Burroughs, who added that the district also plans to recruit from Historically Black Colleges and Universities for staff.
The MPS equity policy covers five areas:
Eliminating institutional racism, including “cultural and racial predictability” of Black students and other students of color “in those systems that create those barriers.”
Achieving employment equity “to diversify our workforce.”
Eliminating disproportional Black male student suspensions.
Providing “cultural proficiency training” for all MPS staff.
Developing “Responsive Teaching strategies” for teachers.
“When we are talking about equity,” said Burroughs, “it is real important that we are delivering what each student needs to be successful. Our teachers have to know our families. Our families have to feel comfortable [with staff and teachers].”
Furthermore, Burroughs points out, “We want to make sure the community is involved in the [equity assessment] process. We want to invite them to the table to be a part of that assessment as well. This is not just something the district is going to look at. We want to make sure that the community gets involved and have their voices heard.”
He also says that the equity policy “will not sit on the shelf. The superintendent each year will report to the [school] board on how we are doing. We are going to report out each assessment and how we are doing against the policy, and what steps we are making to make it more equitable across the district.”
The initiative also fits the OUR MPLS agenda introduced earlier this year by a coalition of local community organizations that have been meeting with City officials and business leaders, Burroughs said. As a result, this summer MPS will be involved in the “Urban Scholars” program, Burroughs announced.
“Last year, 20-25 [college] students of color who are from Minneapolis were intentionally invited for [City] internships during the summer,” he recalled. “This year we will have about five or six of those interns of color to come work with our students. They are paid internships and they are from this city.”
Finally, Goar noted that the new district equity plan is designed to better serve MPS students, and that with key district officials such as he, Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadia Johnson, and Burroughs, who are Black, the CEO fully believes the equity policy will be given even more credence and attention.
“I’m a product of the [Minneapolis] public school system,” admitted the Washburn graduate. “We all are part of public education. How do we create a system where the kids are receiving services? A way to do that is having systemic policies and procedures that are in place that will outlive us and any program that exists [for] whoever comes on board.
“What we want to create is a system of change [that is] sustainable. That is what we are creating.”
Next week: MPS district starts a student achievement office to address the achievement gap.
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