Monthly Archives: November 2015

Michael Goar: Heir Apparent in Minneapolis?

November 23, 2015

I am not one to get between Michael Goar and his dream job, but maybe the Minneapolis school board should.

Since being ushered in as Interim superintendent in February, 2015, Goar has spoken in lofty terms of his desire to be the real deal superintendent for the Minneapolis Public Schools. Example: In a February interview with StarTribune education reporter Alejandra Matos, Goar had this to say:

“My career path has led up to a superintendency…It’s a calling, and I love this school district because I know what is possible.”

Pause. It is odd to think that someone who has never been a teacher or principal in any capacity would say that his “career path” has led to becoming superintendent. Is this about being the boss, or leading a school district?

Still, the school board did undertake a months-long search for a new superintendent, perhaps to show that Goar was not the shoo in he has probably been set up to be. 

Mini History Lesson:

  • Goar returned to Minneapolis from Boston in 2012. A short time later, he became head of Generation Next, which is funded by the United Way and organized around closing the “achievement gap.”  (Generation Next had just come to Minneapolis then.)
  • After seven months with Generation Next, Goar left to become CEO of the Minneapolis Public Schools. Why? How? At whose request? So many questions! Was this CEO position ever posted? Or was it handed to Goar?
  • Fortunately for Generation Next, Goar’s departure to MPS in July, 2013, didn’t leave the group with a troubling leadership “gap,” as former Minneapolis mayor RT Rybak was ready and willing to take over for him. At the time, Rybak  was in need of some legitimacy, after stating he wished he had “done more” about education during his twelve years as mayor. Today, he is still leading Generation Next, and getting paid close to $200, 000 to do it, which is as much as Minneapolis’ superintendent makes.
  • Therefore, Goar was in a good position in MPS when former Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson announced her resignation in late 2014. Of course, Goar was there to step in as interim, which he did in February, 2015. Rybak approved, and told Minnesota Public Radio in January, 2015 that he wanted Goar to get the job, permanently.

And, now he is one of three finalists for the job, after skating through a mostly weak pool of candidates gathered by search firm Hazard, Young, and Associates (HYA). Bonus: he is also the preferred candidate of five of the nine Minneapolis board members: Siad Ali, Jenny Arneson, Carla Bates, Josh Reimnitz, and Don Samuels.

But Tracine Asberry, Kim Ellison, Rebecca Gagnon, and Nelson Inz did not select Goar as their top candidate. 

And that’s telling.

Goar undoubtedly has his strengths as a candidate. He’s local, he’s a graduate of the Minneapolis Public Schools, and he has a compelling backstory as an orphan and non-native English speaker. He has clearly done well for himself and there’s much to admire in that. 

But is this enough to recommend him for the role as leader of the Minneapolis schools? In a recent blog post, I pointed out some of Goar’s record as an administrator in Memphis and Boston, where he seemed to hone an ability to land on his feet, no matter what.

More than this, we have his current record as interim superintendent to examine closely. Here are some concerns regarding Goar, his current legacy, and how it stacks up with the “Summary of Desired Characteristics” created for MPS as part of the superintendent search process.

  1. “Lead with a depth of pedagogical knowledge.” Goar has never been a teacher, not even for a year or two. Sure, non-teachers can have a “depth” of pedagogical knowledge, but does Goar? His leadership during the Reading Horizons debacle–when he, or his office, continued to insist that this flawed company’s products were to be used in all K-2 MPS classrooms–should raise questions about how profound his understanding of teaching and learning is. Also, the push for more “autonomy and accountability” for some schools within MPS–and not others–seems more about free market reform (competition, choice) than about an equity-based plan for lifting up all MPS students.
  2. “Nurture and maintain an organization in an environment of mutual trust.” Multiple sources have said that MPS, under Goar, has become a tougher place to work, with numerous long-time, top-level employees walked out of the district’s central offices for thinking too, ah, independently. Destabilization, mysterious restructurings, jobs seemingly handed to people–all of these things should be closely investigated by the publicly elected school board members that Goar is supposed to answer to. (And, there is still no publicly available org chart for MPS.)
  3. “Listen and discern information from a multitude of sources.”  There have been a slew of Goar-led changes dropped on the staff and families of the Minneapolis Public Schools. Examples include the secretive changes to the district’s citywide autism program, the immediate adoption of a required seven period day for all high schools and middle schools, along with mandated changes in school start times. Under Goar, the district has also canceled the Area meetings where parents came together to more closely address district-level staff, and altered the District Parent Council. Particularly disturbing: Goar has been allowed to preempt the public speaking portion of school board meetings by addressing issues from the district’s perspective before parents, staff, and community members are permitted to express their own concerns. This has had a stifling effect on community involvement, which was chillingly paired with a misbegotten attempt to silence anyone who had a negative comment at the November 10 school board meeting. These trends are worth further examination.
  4. “Possess business acumen and is knowledgeable of sound financial management.” The latest MPS budget, which was finalized in June, 2015, was over budget, despite Goar’s frequently cited cuts to central office staff (someone should insist on seeing a list of who was cut, and which jobs were then reposted at a lower salary). The district had to borrow from its own reserves to even things out, thereby jeopardizing its good bond rating. Additionally, Goar has paid out big dollars for consultants’ contracts, including one that advised MPS to adopt a “student-based” funding model, which district staff then struggled to explain to families during a series of budget info sessions in 2015. Goar’s administration was also implicated in a misuse of district-issued credit cards. The employee who reported this left the district, after twenty years of service.

Goar’s competition for the top spot includes Charles Foust, who is a “School Support Officer” for the Houston schools–a district with a neoliberal education reform rap sheet a mile long. From Teach for America recruits to “no excuses” charter schools, the Houston schools seem to have never met a top down, quick fix that they didn’t like. Foust is all about school transformation, but from what vantage point? And, would he stick around Minneapolis when the transforming got tough?

Then, there is Sergio Paez, who lost his job as superintendent of the Holyoke, Massachusetts schools when the state took over the district this past summer. Paez is strong on the ELL side, which is good, but has yet to explain his “data wall” policy, where he required Holyoke elementary school teachers to publicly display children’s progress–supposedly anonymously–on assignments and tests. Here is Paez’s perspective on this, according to a 2014 New England Public Radio report:

Holyoke Superintendent Sergio Paez says the charts are used throughout the school district, and says they keep students anonymous.

“Obviously [we are] preserving the privacy, and ensuring that it is productive, and is progressive, and is helpful to our students,” Paez says. “If it is not following those conditions, then it is not being implemented correctly.”

Paez says data walls are a common practice in public schools around the country. Paez is in his first year in Holyoke, and has stressed the use of data to help turn around the struggling district.

Of course, Paez has one advantage: Holyoke, MA is one of the District Management Council’s “Member Districts,” just like Minneapolis, so, if he comes here, he will be familiar with the Council’s attempts to accomplish a businessy rejiggering  of the Minneapolis Public Schools.

So, what’s next? The school board has a few options:

  1. Give Goar the job, which makes sense in some ways. He’s familiar and several MPS board members seem to appreciate that he has experience in large school districts.
  2. Hire either Paez or Foust, which seems less likely. Does either one of them have enough experience or insight to rise above Goar? 
  3. Restart the search process, and perhaps find some more candidates from within.

In this climate of upheaval, when the niceties surrounding our “progressive” city are falling away, Minneapolis citizens are understandably otherwise engaged. The Fourth Precinct protest in north Minneapolis is persistent, and about much more than one man’s story. It is about systemic oppression, racial and economic segregation (historically and currently), and lack of equal access to the “good life” many of us take for granted in Minnesota. 

It is about the people pushing back against the powers that be and the promises they use to maintain their status. Will Minneapolis’ superintendent search be about the same thing? Or will Goar be given his dream job?

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Holy Data Wall! Minneapolis Superintendent Candidates Are on Display

November 18, 2015

Tonight’s the night, everyone. The long process to find a Superintendent for the Minneapolis Public Schools will take a step forward, as school board members will cut the field of six semi-finalists down to three top contenders.

But as the candidates work to differentiate themselves, there are so many more questions than answers floating in the education stratosphere, such as:

  1. Have Minnesota’s Open Meeting laws significantly impaired who applied for the job? The law has required the district to publicly name candidates, have open interviews, and, tonight, hold a public discussion about the candidates among the board members. It seems there are advantages to this, but perhaps it has had a chilling effect as well.
  2. Does the fact that Interim Superintendent Michael Goar is himself a candidate mean fewer people were willing to put their own names on the line? Are there some strong internal candidates, for example, who may have held back because of this? 
  3. Like it or not, the average salary for urban superintendents hovers around the $250, 000 mark. Minneapolis pays less than this. Is this a factor, in terms of who has been attracted to the position?

And, perhaps most importantly, what information is search firm Hazard, Young, and Associates (HYA) giving to school board members about each candidate?  HYA has been affiliated with the billionaire-funded Superintendent factory known as the Broad Academy. Broad promotes a fast-track program so that those outside of education can become CEOs, er, Superintendents, of public school districts, in the name of no-nonsense, data-drenched reform rescue ops.

I won’t waste space here detailing the trail of disaster this has created (and, yes, not every Broad-trained Superintendent has been awful), but it something to be considered. HYA does not seem to have put forth any Broad candidates this time around, probably because the community listening sessions HYA held carried a strong message from the public: Do not send us any Broadies!

So…who have they sent to us? I’ll offer a quick look at the candidates who are thought to still be in the running, after the first round of interviews took place this week:

Sergio Paez, formerly of the Holyoke, MA school district. Paez is said to be strong on ELL issues, which the district clearly could use, since a growing percentage of students are not native English speakers. But, Paez’s claims to fame, during his brief Holyoke tenure, are disturbing. First, perhaps getting a little carried away by the allure of data, Paez instituted a “data wall” policy in elementary schools.

According to a Massachusetts news report, this didn’t go over well with the community: “‘Under Dr. Paez’ direction, teachers are currently required to post student data including test scores, reading levels and other academic scores and information in their classrooms and other public areas of schools,’ said Paula Burke, of Lawler Street, parent of a third-grader at Donahue School. ‘Not only is this a form of public humiliation, but it interferes with positive student learning …,’ she said during the public comment period.”

Then, when the head of the Holyoke Teachers Union spoke out against such practices, it appears Paez  tried to illegally silence him. 

Image result for jinger gustafson

Jinger Gustafson

Jinger Gustafson is an administrator in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, which is the Minnesota’s largest. She comes with positive reviews from Anoka–former Anoka teachers union president Julie Blaha says Gustafson is a collaborative admin that district teachers would be “disappointed to lose–and has the advantage of being a local candidate. 

Anoka seems blissfully untainted by reform, which might make it a challenge for Gustafson to step into the hotbed of outsider influence in Minneapolis, where the “public schools are failing!” mantra has taken root. 

Kenneth Spells, current Superintendent of the Alton, Illinois school district, just outside of Ferguson, Missouri. Spells has an almost quaint background for today’s education climate, having risen through the ranks as a teacher with nary a “transformational talent pipeline” fast track in sight. That should be appealing. But, while the Alton schools appear to match Minneapolis’ in terms of large average class sizes (29) and a high percentage of special education students (19 percent in Alton; around 18 in Minneapolis), the Alton schools are 82 percent White, with very few–if any–ELL students. Minneapolis is a radically more diverse district.

Spells also talked about creating a “kindergarten boot camp,” which is a hopelessly unfortunate title, however well intended, but he also talked about the benefits of the co-teaching model.

Michael Goar is Minneapolis’ Interim Superintendent, so, if he doesn’t make it into the top 3, things might get even more awkward around the Davis Center. Although Goar is the only candidate in the top six without a shred of teaching experience, he also has presumable strengths to bring to the table, such as his experience as a MPS student, his previous experience in the district–as an HR manager and then as “CEO.” He’s got ties to Minneapolis and some known supporters on the board, and is said to have interviewed well during Round 1, on November 17.

Image result for michael goar

Michael Goar

But…Goar followed former Minneapolis Superintendent Carol Johnson to Memphis and then Boston. And what followed him from those cities is not exactly flattering. First, in Memphis, Goar abruptly resigned in 2007, amid a scandal over fraud and waste in the Memphis schools’ food service department. Good luck trying to find a news report about this from the time, though. As of August and September of this year, all of the articles about the Memphis controversy have been removed from Memphis’ Commercial Appeal newspaper (individuals can submit requests, through Google, to have certain things removed from the Internet; reputation restoration companies can also be hired to do this, I am told–but these are just two possible explanations).

The controversy in Memphis centers around James Jordan, who was hired by Michael Goar–then Memphis’ Chief Operating Officer. I do have access to some articles from the time, and here is a brief overview of the problem:

A preliminary audit of the Central Nutrition Center at Memphis City Schools shows myriad waste, deception and evasions of state bidding laws led to a loss of more than $3.6 million since July 2006.

“My gut reaction was, ‘Oh no.’ I was horrified,” said school board member Jeff Warren.

Among the most egregious failures: The district ordered so much frozen food that 42 truckloads – or 243 tons – spoiled.

The 21-page draft, which was released to board members this week, reports that losses coincided with the arrival of James Jordan, director of nutrition services, who resigned Oct. 11.

Though revenue for 2006-07 was up by more than $2.5 million, expenses increased in excess of $6.2 million.

Some blog posts that detail this situation still exist, too, and they seem to indicate that Memphis residents were struggling, back in 2007, to get a handle on what was going on with their district-which was suddenly immersed in crisis. One blog reader posted this item, written by then-Memphis education reporter Dakarai Aarons:

COO Goar resigns from schools post
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Michael Goar, chief operating officer of Memphis City Schools, resigned abruptly Monday. Interim Supt. Dan Ward told board members Monday night he had received Goar’s resignation earlier in the day.

Goar previously had announced that he would leave in December to join former Superintendent Carol Johnson in Boston, but was expected to remain in Memphis through November.

Goar came to Memphis in 2003 with Johnson from Minneapolis, where she was previously superintendent.

Goar had been criticized recently for numerous problems exposed in an audit of the district’s nutrition services center, which lost nearly $3.7 million since July 2006. The director of nutrition services had been hired by and reported to Goar.

–Dakarai I. Aarons

The scandal followed Goar and Carol Johnson to Boston, but seems to have really centered on Goar, according to an audit of the Memphis schools that was completed in the wake of the “Food Fiasco,” as it was called:

The Chief Operating Officer (COO) hired the director in July 2006. From the start, the director was treated as if he was a long-time employee. He was accorded several benefits not normally given at his level of employment. The prospective employee was flown to Memphis at the CNC’s (Central Nutrition Center) expense to meet with Board members. The CNC paid $600 for his flight, to rent him a car, and for one night’s lodging. At the direction of the COO, he was placed on the top step of his salary grade. The practiced protocol has been that when a MCS employee moves into a higher position he is placed on Step 0. A new employee would be placed on Step Two if his work experience warranted it. This means this director started at $17, 195 a year more than a MCS employee would and $12, 238 a year more than a typical new employee in the same position would. There is not documented evidence that Human Resources verified employment or references that would justify this salary step.

The (audit) is focused on the CNC but it’s clear that Goar had an indulgent and lavish hand with salaries and expenses for upper administration. His actions outlined here call for a serious audit and review of his actions with others.

The (audit) doesn’t make clear how Goar came to learn of Jordan and then hire him so extraordinarily. A Google search didn’t turn up anything. Did they work together previously? Was Jordan recommended; by whom?

This all went down in the middle of a budgetary crisis for the Memphis schools, with school board members calling the district “cash-starved,” and requesting that then-Superintendent Johnson “cancel” 2 percent pay raises for “all school systems employees,” according to a Commercial Appeal article from March, 2005. (In recent years, “failing” Memphis schools have been subject to state takeover.)

Goar, of course, moved on quickly to Boston, where he worked under Johnson’s wing until 2012. At the time, Johnson was unrolling a plan to turn the Boston district into “small networks,” while simultaneously handling an exodus of staffers like Goar:

The organizational proposal comes at a time when Johnson is faced with replacing a number of high-level staff members after several who have worked with her most closely departed over the past several months. Among the most notable was the departure of Deputy Superintendent Michael Goar, who had been working with Johnson since her time heading up school districts in Memphis and Minneapolis.

Johnson announced in July that she would be shaking up her administrative team, after a series of incidents came to light that raised questions about a possible breakdown in communication and oversight up and down the ranks. But Johnson said today she had been looking to overhaul the executive team months before the July announcement and had surveyed principals in the spring, which revealed a high-level of frustration among principals toward the central office on Court Street.

Boston, during the Johnson/Goar years, also operated under a fiscal “crisis” model, which included threats of job losses for the district’s custodians and bus drivers, for example, as well as the charter-driven pressure to remake the city’s schools. 

Of course, Goar’s ties to Boston remain strong, with millions of dollars in contracts (bid? no bid?) awarded to the Boston-based District Management Council (DMC), and thousands spent on the Harvard and DMC-connected “Public Education Leadership Program” training for school administrators.

Whether or not Goar’s actions are just part of the difficulty of running urban districts in the era of high stakes political pressure, or perhaps indicative of something more troubling, will be up to Minneapolis school board members.

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Minneapolis Administrator Forced Out For…Being Successful?

November 8, 2015

Irony can be cruel.

This weekend, in a Bloomington, MN hotel, the state conference for English as a Second Language teachers was held. At the conference, I am told, several of the breakout sessions highlighted the work of Jana Hilleren.Jana Hilleren


Hilleren, until very recently, was the director of the Minneapolis Public Schools Multilingual Department. She became head of the department five years ago, and was tasked with managing both the World Languages division, for foreign language teachers, and the ELL side, which provides English language programming to district students.

Those familiar with Hilleren’s work say it has brought about measurable, worthwhile structure and progress to MPS’s once floundering ELL department.

But just two weeks ago, Minneapolis’ Interim Superintendent, Michael Goar, announced to Davis Center staff that Hilleren was being removed from her position. Sources say she has also been pushed out of the district altogether Why? To make room for a new “Global Education” department, and a new boss: Elia Bruggeman.

After almost two weeks, a message about this was finally sent to staff, on behalf of Bruggeman:

To staff:

In order to gain efficiency and better align programs for students, Interim Superintendent Michael Goar is moving the Multilingual Department of Minneapolis Public Schools under the Office of the Deputy Education Officer. This move includes the elimination of the position of Multilingual Department executive director.

The email goes on to list “some exciting initiatives and events,” and states that the “mission of the Multilingual Department is to empower educators and leaders to develop language-rich learning environments that raise the achievement of English Learners, making it a natural fit for the Office of the Deputy Education Officer.” That would be Bruggeman, of course.

But frustration on the ground is boiling over, with district EL staff expressing dismay and anger over Hilleren’s ouster. Why? Because they say that Hilleren is the one who should be credited for turning the Multilingual Department from chaos to the “language-rich learning environment” it is becoming.

To avoid participating in unnecessary hagiography, I have asked for specifics regarding Hilleren’s work. In response, I received a deluge of detailed answers. Here, an experienced MPS teacher, who asked not to be named, expounds on Hilleren’s legacy:

Before Jana became director, ELs were nearly invisible to district leadership (and most administrators). Jana came into the district to respond to an Office of Civil Rights complaint. We weren’t exiting students who were ready to be exited. We weren’t providing service to dual eligible (special ed students are also ELs) students). There were other compliance issues as well. Jana developed systems to bring us into compliance.

Student placement for ELs still isn’t perfect, but in recent years, many of the issues have been ironed out, such as assessing students so the school knows what type of service they need. There are now around 215 ESL teachers in MPS. Over half were hired in the past 5 years since Jana took leadership. She’s made a huge investment to ensure there is programming at nearly every school and much more adequate staffing to ensure all ELs are getting service.

In the area of EL service, under Jana’s leadership the district developed a program framework, defining what service students at each grade level, at each level of proficiency, receives. She worked with HR to ensure that each school was adequately staffed to provide service to each and every EL.Many schools such as Green Central have seen steady gains in test scores due to investment in the co-teaching model, which benefits all students. And, the co-teaching model has been implemented as a way to develop academic language for students who aren’t new-to country but still have gaps. 

With the EL staff often doubling at most schools in recent years, a Lead Teacher structure has also been established, so there can be a point person at each site to handle the Title III compliance, and to ensure that all ELs are getting the proper level of service. The Lead Teachers also sit on the Instructional Leadership Team at their school, and keep their principal up to speed about EL issues.

Jana worked with the communications department to get Language Line into the district. Now any staff at any school can communicate with parents in any language (no need for an interpreter).

There has been a lot of work of the past 5 years,and it’s been exciting to be part of the change and implementation. Meaningful change does not happen overnight. We still have a long way to go. ELs are still invisible at most of the high schools. Goar thinks it is politically prudent to act with impatience over MCA scores being lower for ELs….but people don’t get that if they were proficient on the MCA, they would not be ELs!

Take a look at the district Multilingual website. None of this was in place before Jana took over.

…Speaking of outcomes, our English learners exceed the state target for progress in academic language and proficiency rates each and every year the ACCESS results come out. 

Another point this teacher wanted to make: EL graduation rates were up 8% last year.

Perhaps these are the points of success and progress that were discussed at this weekend’s state ESL conference. How long will it be until another district snaps Hilleren up?

Ongoing end note: With reader input, here is a list of MPS departments that have been shut down, reformed, or destroyed–depending upon one’s point of view–in recent memory:

  • Student Support Services
  • Special Education
  • Office of Equity and Diversity
  • IT
  • Human Resources
  • Communications
  • Curriculum and Instruction

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The Road to Rigor for Minneapolis’ Multilingual Department

November 5, 2015

Background: The Minneapolis Public Schools’ Multilingual Department is unraveling and becoming part of a new Global Education Department. On Monday, November 2, I wrote a blog post exploring this unfolding situation. I will get to what some MPS teachers are saying about now-departed Multilingual Department director, Jana Hilleren. But before I do, a little more context….

This much we know for sure: Jana Hilleren is gone, and so is the Minneapolis Public Schools’ Multilingual Department.

Starting in 2010, and ending very recently, Hilleren was the Executive Director of MPS’s Multilingual Department, which housed both a World Languages division for foreign language programming, and the district’s ELL staff and services.

Multilingual is now the Global Education Department, and all staff will now be answering to Elia Bruggeman, a former rural school principal and state education official. Bruggeman was hired by MPS in 2014 to manage a sudden budgetary allocation of $5 million that was destined for MPS’s EL programming, but not for the EL staff.

Instead, Bruggeman was charged with spending the one-time $5 million windfall. The money arose after a strongly worded letter was sent to then-MPS Superintendent, Bernadeia Johnson, in late May, 2014. The letter was signed by a group of Latino political and civic leaders, including legislators Patricia Torres Ray, Carlos Mariani, and Melisa Franzen, and outlined a list of new and longstanding concerns regarding how MPS allocates its state ELL dollars, and how it treats ELL students, staff, and families.

The letter cites “consistently poor test results and low graduation rates” for MPS’s ELL students, and questions where the money these students generate–from the state’s education budget–goes. It states that MPS allocates $2, 000, 000 to the Multilingual Department, to be spent on ELL programming, and calls this amount “grossly inadequate.” 

The letter pushes for an “urgent meeting”–before the 2014-2015 budget was to be finalized–with Johnson, then-CEO Michael Goar, and Chief Academic Officer Suzanne Griffin-Ziebart.

Enter the $5 million budget drop, and Elia Bruggeman, who is said to be an associate of Torres Ray.

Bruggeman became a “Deputy Education Officer” within MPS, and was given a six figure salary, along with seemingly sole authority over the new EL funds. In fact, sources within MPS say that Hilleren and the rest of the EL staff were shut out of any discussions for how the money should be spent. 

Instead, a separate EL Task Force was set up beside the Multilingual department, and a narrative of crisis, failure, and the need for drastic change seems to have taken root.

By the summer of 2015, Bruggeman and Torres Ray were off on a $25, 000 MPS-funded (except for Torres Ray, whose trip was paid for by AchieveMPLS) trip to Boston, along with Goar, MPS administrator Steve Flisk, and a handful of Multilingual staffers, including Hilleren.

Their destination was the Public Education Leadership Program, or PELP–put on every summer through Harvard. The MPS contingent was there to get schooled in business-like strategies for the district’s ELL department, per PELP’s “business-driven” model of school reform.

Pause: PELP is co-chaired by John J-H Kim. Kim is also CEO of Boston-based District Management Council (DMC), a for-profit education reform consultants group that has its hands in MPS’s cookie jar, in the form of special ed and budget department audits.

Kim is, or was, also part of a group calling itself “Leaders for Education,” which promoted the usual grab bag of top down, market-based reforms, including: more “rigor,” more charter schools, more use of standardized test scores, targets, timetables, metrics, “differentiated compensation” for teachers, etc.

While at the PELP summer excursion, a framework for Minneapolis’ ELL department was crafted:

Problem of Practice. The EL Blueprint addresses a significant MPS “problem of practice.” The problem is summarized in the English Learner Blueprint as follows:

Minneapolis is increasingly rich with diverse students, however:

  1. EL students feel invisible, with few exceptions
  2. EL students’ language and cultural experiences are not viewed and developed as assets, with few exceptions
  3. EL students are not being challenged and engaged with high expectations, again with few exceptions.

At the PELP Summer Institute, a six-prong plan was developed to address the problem and to work towards a system in which English Learners are recognized and see themselves as powerful contributors to the MPS learning environment who bring powerful cognitive and cultural assets to the educational environment.

Six Strategies of the EL Blueprint

1.        Human Capital

2.       Improve Customer Service

3.       Develop Tomorrow’s Global Leaders


4.      Mind Shift to a Growth Mindset

5.       Flip the Script to an Assets-Based Narrative

6.      Rigor & Relevance

This plan was referenced at a contentious September 25, 2015 meeting of Bruggeman’s EL Advisory Task Force. The meeting was convened so that task force members–including Torres Ray–could hear an update from Bruggeman regarding how the $5 million was being spent.

Bruggeman began the meeting on a hopeful note, outlining an upcoming trip to Harvard and Boston for some MPS ELL students that she was co-hosting with Project Success, a Minneapolis non-profit focused on helping students get to college.

But very quickly, Torres Ray expressed frustration with the meeting, and instead insisted on hearing an update on the academic progress of MPS’ ELL students.

Bruggeman could not give her one, and she eventually had to admit that she had not asked Hilleren to prepare one. 

Hilleren was not at the meeting, and could not be reached for input. Bruggeman instead sent a staffer to go look for Goar, who eventually made an appearance at the meeting, looking equal parts exasperated and resigned.

This is where, it seems, Hilleren’s fate was sealed.

As Goar defended MPS and recalled his own beginning as an ELL student, Torres Ray and others continued to express frustration with the outcomes and progress of MPS’s ELL department. At one point, Torres Ray made the following demand:

We want to know who is in charge and what is going to happen when those individuals that are in charge of increasing academic outcomes for…children don’t do it.

On October 7, Torres Ray sent a follow up email to Goar.  Members of the EL Task Force and the Minneapolis school board were copied on the message, which continues to seek clarification on where the Multilingual Department is headed:

Dear Superintendent Goar,

Thank you again for your time during the ELL Taskforce meeting last Friday. I wanted to follow up on the possibility for a meeting to review the outcomes for ELL students that go beyond the 5 million plan. This is an important conversation that we need to have in order to discuss the future of the Multilingual Department and most importantly the future of our ELL Children. Please let us know when you would like to meet so that we can prepare the community and submit questions prior to the meeting.

Thank you in advance and I look forward to hearing from you.

Warm regards,


Senator Patricia Torres Ray

State & Local Government Committee

Capitol Building

A few weeks later, on October 26, it was announced to Multilingual Department staff that Hilleren was gone, to be replaced by Bruggeman.

Stay tuned: Testimony from teachers and others familiar with how the EL Department has operated under Hilleren

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Teach for America Makes a Play for Suburban Minneapolis School Board Seats

November 2, 2015


Image result for arthur rock

Has Arthur Rock ever been to Richfield?

That’s one word to describe the campaign finance report for Teach for America–Twin Cities employee Crystal Brakke. Brakke is one of nine candidates gunning for three open seats on the Richfield, Minnesota school board, and if she wins, she will have heavy hitters like venture capitalist and TFA board member Arthur Rock to thank. 

The last time Minnesotans heard from Rock, it was 2014, when the California billionaire threw his monetary weight into the Minneapolis school board race. In that race, Rock gave $90,000 to the so-called “Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund,” which was headed up by Brakke’s fellow TFA alum, Daniel Sellers

Sellers’ Fund fell under the weight of some bad press, thanks to a bout of very negative ads the Fund spewed out, mostly to attack then-incumbent candidate Rebecca Gagnon. The Fund, along with Rock’s money, was part of a gigantic pot of money–over $250,000–from out-of-state education reform players.

In 2014, the free-flowing money from the likes of Rock, Michael Bloomberg, and charter school champion and Oxycontin heir Jonathan Sackler was not enough to tip Minneapolis’ board into a solidly pro-reform camp. One candidate whose campaign benefited from the money, Don Samuels, won, while the other candidate, Iris Altamirano, did not.

Now, the big money is back, for a very local school board race, and TFA is the tie that binds all of this together.

TFA’s rise as a “political powerhouse” is no secret, nationally, but the group’s investment in a suburban Minneapolis school board race might come as a shock to Richfield residents.

Richfield, with a population just over 36, 000, is an aging first-ring suburb on the southern tip of Minneapolis. The city’s public schools serve just over 4,000 students, and a slight majority of those students are Latino (white students are the other majority group). Over two-thirds of Richfield students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch status, indicating they are low-income, and over one-third are identified as English Language Learners. And, 17 percent qualify for special ed services. In other words, Richfield is probably the perfect place to push some crisis-fueled “reform” strategies.

For comparison purposes, the suburb just west of Richfield is Edina. Edina serves twice as many students, at just over 8,000, and almost 80 percent of those students are white. Asian students make up 10 percent of Edina’s student population, while just 4 percent are Latinos. The poverty rate for Edina is 8 percent, the number of ELL kids is 4 percent, and 9 percent of the students require special ed services. (Just under 50, 000 people live in Edina.)

Teach for America does not appear to be moving in to Edina.

Instead, in an off-year for Minneapolis, where the next school board election will take place in 2016, Richfield has suddenly become the new showcase for TFA’s political and financial muscle. 

Here’s how TFA is helping Brakke, whose campaign had over $5, 000 on hand as of October 23, 2015:

  • Arthur Rock gave $577.48 to Brakke’s campaign on October 15, 2015, perhaps for a last-minute push.
  • New Yorker Michael Buman also gave Brakke’s campaign just under $580.00 in October. Buman is the Executive Director of Leadership for Educational Equity, or LEE. LEE is TFA’s policy arm, started in 2007 to provide resources and support to TFAers willing and able to run for office. From a 2012 American Prospect article about LEE: “If all goes as planned, LEE could shift control over American education reform to a specific group of spritely college grads-turned-politicians with a very specific politics.”
  • TFA’s “Vice President for Individual Giving,” Jennifer Mayer-Sandoval, from California, gave money. Is that what led TFA associates from Georgia, Indiana, and Washington to also lend their support? 
  • TFA off-shoot Educators for Excellence also appears on the report, as does Alvin Abraham, Executive Director of “KIPP Minnesota” and fellow TFA alum.
  • Fellow TFA alum and one-time Minneapolis school board candidate Andrew Minck is Brakke’s campaign manager. Minck, who is still employed by Teach for America as some sort of recruiter, also donated $300 to Brakke’s campaign.
  • Only two of the forty-six contributors list Richfield as their home address.

To Brakke’s credit, she has been a Richfield resident for years. And, she’s not in this alone. Another fellow TFA alum, Paula Cole, is also running for a spot on Richfield’s school board.

Cole, who is also a member of Educators for Excellence in Minnesota, is still a classroom teacher in Minneapolis. Her campaign finance report is not nearly as long as Brakke’s, but it does show that both Arthur Rock and Michael Buman donated $600 each to her campaign war chest.

Alex Johnston

Alex Johnston

Cole and Brakke also received financial help from one innocuous sounding guy, Alex Johnston, of Connecticut.

Turns out Johnston is a big player in the tightly knit education reform support network. As a board member of “PIE,” or the Policy Innovations in Education group, “Alex…develops and implements strategies for philanthropists on education reform advocacy and political initiatives.” Johnston also was the CEO of ConnCAN, which is part of the hedge fund driven 50CAN network.

What is a nice guy like Johnston doing throwing money at a little suburban Minneapolis school board race, anyway?

And, what will Richfield voters be agreeing to by voting for Brakke or Cole, or both of them?

Campaign finance reports for both candidates can be found on the Richfield Public Schools website.

Election day is Tuesday, November 3.

Extra! Extra! Readers’ Guide:

  • “Silence of the Teachers:” Educators for Excellence (E4E) explained
  • NPR report: “2 Teach for America Alums Say TFA Has Big Problems When it Comes to Race”
  • For old time’s sake: A 2012 report from the Minneapolis StarTribune, about TFA alum Josh Reimnitz’s sudden school board race–the first to bring in tons of outside money. Reimnitz won. He’s also given money to Brakke’s campaign, as have many other local education reform advocates, such as Pam Costain, CEO of AchieveMPLS, “non-profit partner” of the Minneapolis Public Schools
  • Background reading: Dr. Lois Weiner on Neoliberal Education Reform

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Transformation or Takeover? Minneapolis’ Multilingual Department Goes Down

November 2, 2015

At a Monday, October 26 Davis Center meeting–announced at noon and held at 2 p.m.–Minneapolis Public Schools’ Multilingual department staff (district level, not classroom teachers) finally got the unsettling news they had been expecting for months:

  1. Their department has been reorganized, and shuffled into a new “Global Education” department.
  2. Their Executive Director of the last five or six years, Jana Hilleren, has been removed not only from her position, but from the district.
  3. All Multilingual staff will now be reporting to Elia Bruggeman. 

The Multilingual department has housed both the World Languages department, overseeing foreign language teachers, and the English Language Learners (EL) department. The EL department’s mission has been to provide English language services–including literacy and academic English instruction–for students whose first language is not English.

The EL department, however, has been targeted for a restructuring since at least May of 2014, when a handful of high-profile Latino leaders sent a letter to then Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, outlining their concerns about how MPS was handling the needs of “Latino/Hispanic ELL” students.

The letter, signed by such people as Edina legislator Melisa Franzen, simultaneously points out that the Multilingual department’s budget is “grossly inadequate,” and then details a list of failings and shortcomings within the department. (The state determines how much money Minneapolis gets for its EL students; by most estimates, that amount is inadequate, and $240 must be taken from every district student’s general education fund just to cover the cost of providing EL services).

The letter indicates that members of the Latino, Hmong, and Somali communities–which represent the three largest portions of MPS’s EL population–had previously met (in 2011) with MPS staff to try to impact the direction of the district’s EL department. The frustration is evident.

The letter also makes these allegations:

  • There is no transparent information about how ELL dollars are being utilized by the District to properly serve the needs of these students.
  • There is no senior leadership at MPS that is Latino, Somali or Hmong. MPS has made minimal or no effort to empower Latino, Hmong or Somali staff, and to ensure that our communities have equitable representation at the leadership level.

From the outside, it is impossible to adequately assess the issues listed in the letter. Also, one certainly can’t fault outside parties for wanting to influence what goes on under the hood of the unwieldy bureaucracy that is MPS.

And, the letter worked.

In June, 2014, just as MPS was sewing up the final details of its 2015-2016 budget, a sudden allocation of $5 million for EL was thrown in. But the money was not sent to the Multilingual department, which perhaps could have begun to address some of the issues listed in the letter. Instead, it was given to a new, separate EL Task Force. (The letter itself makes no direct request for additional funds, so it is not clear how or why the money was made suddenly available.) 

This is where things get murky. The new EL Task Force was set up as a shadow organization, alongside but not directly part of the district’s Multilingual department. Former state department of education official Bruggeman–said to be a close associate of Senator Patricia Torres Ray (D-Minneapolis), who signed the 2014 letter to MPS–was hired to manage the new funds. 

Bruggeman’s position, as a “Deputy Education Officer,” came with a six figure salary, and seems to have been awarded to Bruggeman, rather than posted as an open position. Unfortunately, none of this info is especially transparent, as MPS has not had a publicly available, updated org chart in months.

Where did the $5 million come from, and where did it go? This is not easy to find out either, and sources within the district say that EL staff–including administrator Jana Hilleren–were never asked for their input into how the money should be spent.

Fast forward to the summer of 2015, when Bruggeman, Torres Ray, Hilleren, and several other MPS staff went on a $25,000 junket to Boston. The purpose of the trip was a week-long stay at the Harvard-affiliated “Public Education Leadership Program,” or PELP. (Torres Ray’s trip was paid for by MPS’s “non-profit partner,” AchieveMpls.)

Context: In early August, I wrote two blog posts that explore the Multilingual/EL department trip to PELP.  It was clear then that the MPS trip-goers were at PELP to “study the district’s English Language Learner (ELL) program, under the watchful eye of John J-H Kim.”

Kim is not only the co-chair of PELP, but is also the CEO of the District Management Council (DMC). DMC is a Boston-based group of education reform consultants who have become experts at separating public school districts from their money, in the form of million dollar contracts.

Important to note: The Boston connection to MPS is thick. The push for a new “global education” department is said to come from Interim Superintendent Goar’s affiliation with the Boston Public School’s similarly-named department.

DMC has been busy in Minneapolis as well, where it has been operating since 2013–with a mission to reform the district’s special ed department, as well its overall budget processes. (I wrote an article about this, called Cashing In On Special-Needs Kids, for the Progressive magazine’s October issue.)

What PELP and DMC seem to specialize in is promoting “business-driven,” top down change for urban school districts, which is all the rage these days, of course.

And MPS is no stranger to top down reform, as Multilingual is the latest in a string of inner-district takeovers, where whole departments have been shut down, reformed, or destroyed, depending upon one’s point of view. This list includes the following (to my knowledge):

  • Department of Curriculum and Instruction (now the Teaching and Learning Department.) In 2011, then-MPS employee Emily Puetz sent this brisk email to department staff (note the impact on employees):
    From: Communications Department
    Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2011 1:40 PM
    Subject: Memo from the Office of Academic Affairs
    Dear Colleagues,
    The Curriculum and Instruction Department is currently undergoing a restructuring. The vision will focus roles and work on serving the schools in more direct ways.  More information will be forthcoming about these changes, but in the meantime, to accomplish this purpose, the entire C&I staff were released from their current positions. In April, we will share more details about this educational vision and post new positions with corresponding job responsibilities for interested staff to apply.
    Emily Puetz
    Deputy Chief Academic Officer
  • IT Department: Considered today to be a “mess” by many MPS staff–the ones who work in the schools, anyway–the district’s IT department was once a shining example of innovation and collaboration. Between 2010-2012, IT underwent a massive overhaul, culminating, perhaps, in the brief 2013-2014 tenure of Chief Information Officer Rich Valerga, who is said to have ruthlessly walked out and/or pushed out many long-time IT employees.
  • Human Resources: This department became split in two in 2013, with the addition of a very au courant “Human Capital” division. Sources say that, prior to this, some long-term HR employees left. Today, the district’s payroll division is reportedly in similar straits, with limited staff and problems executing timely payments to employees.
  • Communications Department: Since Bernadeia Johnson resigned from her Superintendent’s post in late 2014, the district’s communications department has undergone a near-complete turn over. Today, the staff is said to be almost entirely white, with little to no bilingual communications staffers on board.

So, now, as of late October, the Multilingual department has been relieved of its name and its director in favor of Bruggeman and a new Global Education department. Staff on the ground say there has been no official notice about these changes, and that they have been left to guess about what will happen next.

The very teachers who will be tasked with improving outcomes for the district’s EL students are, therefore, being kept in the dark about the reforms rolling through their department. 

Up next: Teachers share their thoughts on MPS’s EL department under Hilleren’s leadership

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