Proposed Mpls public school plans inspire more doubt than faith

MSR A packed house at the March 10 MPS board meeting

As Minneapolis Public Schools barrel toward a final Comprehensive District Design (CDD) plan presentation to the school board on March 24,parents, teachers and community members have expressed skepticism on many fronts. At a school board meeting on March 10 where more than 150 people packed the large room, skepticism boiled over into protest and anger.

The CDD is a redistricting plan meant to help address the glaring racial achievement gap between Students of Color and White students, particularly in Minneapolis’ North and Northeast districts where public schools historically lack resources and, in turn, enrollment. MPS’ plans seek to equitably redistribute resources by centrally relocating magnet schools and other programs, as well as redrawing attendance boundaries.

According to MPS, 80% of students who leave the district each year are Students of Color whose needs are presumably not being met in the schools they currently attend. For example, in 2018 the MCA reading proficiency of White students was 80%, while for African American students it was only 22%.

David Boehnke, a teacher at Plymouth Youth Center who had attended several listening sessions and community meetings prior to the March 10 school board meeting, had several issues with the plan’s efficacy.

“My main concern is the lack of community input, and also a lack of actually addressing the changes that are needed in the schools that would make schools better for students,” Boehnke said. “I think it’s really important to move money. [I’m] not sure we need to move as many students as this.”

He added that all of the presented CDD plans have been “non-plans” or essentially works in progress that are not clearly defined to the communities they will directly impact. The final reiterated plan presented to the school board on March 24 would then be voted for on April 14.

“They [the plans] have been intentionally obscured from the community,” he said. “They’re putting forth an actual plan on March 24 and they’re expecting that to pass in three weeks, and they don’t have a community engagement process in between.”

However, the district organized listening sessions earlier this year which were held at Bethune Community School, Roosevelt High School and Northeast Middle School designed to hear from parents in different parts of Minneapolis.

Many would like to know exactly where the funds for these proposed changes would come from and exactly which schools would change their magnet status and dual immersion programs. The five proposed CDD plans all vary in outcomes, and several groups have proposed other versions tailored to their specific needs.

Despite an apparent lack of details, many of those representing Black students on the North Side, and even several White parents with children attending schools on the South Side, feel that Northside students cannot afford to wait any longer for change.

“We need the CDD to go through right now,” said Khulia Pringle, a family advocate who works mostly with families from the North Side. “I think it’s a first step. I don’t think it’s the silver bullet.” She would also like to see more culturally competent teachers with culturally responsible curriculum addressing the historic whitewashing of classroom content.

Longtime Northside resident Tyren McGruder is dismayed at the historic neglect of Northside schools and the lack of input from Black parents in the district. He was the only Black parent present at a much smaller community meeting of 15 held several weeks before the more visible March 10 school board meeting. He has two children who attend MPS schools.

“I come at this having gone to these schools myself, and watched the deterioration of the North Side purposely done by the district,” McGruder lamented. “Then they wonder what’s happening with these so-called achievement gaps with kids not graduating.”

He is disturbed by the lack of People of Color he sees occupying well-paying jobs considering the ratio of Minneapolis’ diverse population. He wants to see STEM and trade programs brought back to the Northside schools that were present when he attended.

“We know all of our kids aren’t going to college. They should have avenues [such as the trades] to good careers…through the full techs, through the community colleges,” he said. “The pathways to good-paying jobs should be there.”

Although MPS’ CDD claims to address the educational disparities between White students and the underserved populations of Students of Color and low-income families, District 2 School Board Director Kerry Jo Felder still believes the current plan iterations fall short of the resources needed to equitably support Northside schools and students.

“We are starting out with less than any other district. It’s been underserved, and then we’re just getting the same thing that other districts are getting,” Felder said. “That’s not equality or equity.”

Like several others, she has proposed an entirely new “CDD model 6,” which would further allocate resources to the North Side.

There are concerns that more affluent White parents will simply pull their children from the districts entirely if the CDD reallocates resources, redraws attendance boundaries, and moves or closes magnet schools on the South Side.

Felder replied “Too bad” to those who would choose not to invest in the North Side to balance what she considers inexcusable inequities and years of structural racism within the education system. “We are small but powerful. If all of our children chose Northside schools, we would be an educational empire.”

Parents gave more than three hours of powerful testimony to the school board that night, and although the battle lines seemed drawn between the North Side and the South Side, most claimed to simply want what was best for their children. To balance the educational scales, the resources are going to have to come from somewhere, and the shift is certain not to please all parties.

“I hope, and I know it’s a long hope, that White families would just sit back, chill out, and let this take place even if it hurts a little bit,” Pringle sighed. “We all know that throughout the history of this country, when it comes to White Supremacy, the only way it crumbles is when the oppressed rise up.”