Monthly Archives: January 2016

School Choice? Less Reagan, More Humphrey, Please

January 28, 2016

What passes for acceptable school choice rhetoric, behind closed doors, is frightening.

school choice panel 1

All white panel, under a photo of an integrated classroom

On Tuesday, January 26, I attended a National School Choice Week forum at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. I went expecting a pro-school choice event, obviously, but, since the Humphrey School is one of the nation’s premier public policy graduate schools, I also expected a reasonable look at the choice movement in education.

What I found instead was appalling. The Humphrey School’s event was billed as “bipartisan,” but I quickly realized how thoroughly that word has become cover for groupthink. If both Democrats and Republicans support the dismantling of our public institutions, then shouldn’t you, too?

Let me explain. The Humphrey School event was moderated by former MinnPost education writer, Beth Hawkins. Hawkins was joined onstage–for an “informative discussion”–by former Democratic state senator and charter school pioneer Ember Reichgott Junge, current Republican state legislator and education finance committee chair, Jennifer Loon, and Richard Komer, of the Virginia-based right-wing group, the Institute for Justice.

One Democrat+one right-leaning Republican+one far-right lawyer (Komer) does not add up to a “bipartisan” panel, in my opinion.  Humphrey School event

The panel ended up being all white, too, when invited African-American guest, George Parker, who works for the education reform group, Students First, was not able to make it. But that’s not all. The whole room was white, as far as I could see. 

The audience gathered was formally dressed and appeared representative of the kind of people who have the freedom to attend mid-morning forums. It also seemed to include many state legislators. David Hann, a Republican from suburban Eden Prairie, was acknowledged, as were others.

The morning’s panel began with a quick dismissal of the desegregation lawsuit filed in Minnesota last fall, which, if successful, could require the state’s charter schools to develop and implement integration plans. All of the panelists, and moderator Hawkins, seemed to agree that the resegregation happening across the country now is simply due to “parental choice.” Reichgott Junge–the Democrat–declared herself “not neutral” on this topic, and told the audience not to worry because “this is not the civil rights era.” What she meant, I guess, was that we solved all of that bad racism stuff back in the ’60’s. Case closed. 

Can I mention how very odd all of this was? We were sitting in the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Humphrey! He was one of Minnesota’s leading advocates–and most eloquent agitators–for civil rights, back when such views posed a direct threat to the Democratic party, which had grown quite comfortable with the racist “states’ rights” rhetoric of its Southern Segregationist members.

Is our current “bipartisan” political world growing quite comfortable with racist “school choice” rhetoric? Is any attempt to regulate charter schools a “frontal attack on choice,” as Hawkins said? Really? Is there no room on the school choice bandwagon for critical thinking?

Wilkins 2

Humphrey School features Roy Wilkins, too

Is there any safe place to express concern that the rapid resegregation of our public school system is not a happy accident, brought on by the heavenly solution of school choice? 

Apparently not at the Humphrey School’s National School Choice Week forum. 

As I left the forum, I could not stop thinking about Humphrey and his legacy. Back in front of my computer, I found a 2011 New York Times opinion piece about him, written by Rick Perlstein. Both Humphrey and Ronald Reagan would have turned 100 in 2011, and this connection, and contrast, framed Perlstein’s piece.

Here are the first two paragraphs:

JANUARY was the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, and the planet nearly stopped turning on its axis to recognize the occasion. Today is the 100th anniversary of Hubert H. Humphrey’s birth, and no one besides me seems to have noticed.

That such a central figure in American history is largely ignored today is sad. But his diminution is also, more importantly, an impediment to understanding our current malaise as a nation, and how much better things might have been had today’s America turned out less Reaganite and more Humphreyish.

That’s it. This is the framework I have been looking for. What would our education policy discussions be like today, if America had turned out “less Reagnite” and “more Humphreyish”? The hammering narrative of failure, applied with force to our nation’s public school system, found fertile ground in the Reagan era, of course, through the overhyped “Nation at Risk” report. That report helped propel America away from further investment in public schools, and towards school choice schemes (hint: privatization).

Deregulation, Perlstein calls it. And that was the flavor of the day at the Humphrey School’s event. Deregulation in the education “marketplace” will solve our problems. In fact, according to the “bipartisan” panel, there is nothing a deregulated, choice-based education system cannot solve. Universal preschool? Great idea, said Reichgott Junge, but too expensive. Let’s charterize the preschool market, instead, and throw some scholarships, otherwise known as vouchers, on top of it.  

And while we are at it, perhaps we should follow panelist Richard Komer’s line of thinking, regarding the Constitution. Komer waxed enthusiastic about all of the wonderful things a deregulated, voucher-filled education landscape could offer–including more discipline, more uniforms, more religion, and more racist, elitist assumptions about what “poor minorities” want. Public schools could do this, too, he said, if only the Constitution was not standing in the way.

And no one in the room, no one gathered in the Humphrey School (except for one clear outsider who was swiftly dismissed), stood up or spoke up to challenge the frightening threads so visible in Komer’s–and, frankly, the panel’s–ideas. 

The new groups are not concerned
With what there is to be learned
They got Burton suits, ha you think it’s funny
Turning rebellion into money

—The Clash, “White Man in Hammersmith Palais

No grant, no guru, no outside funding source. My work is entirely funded by my very kind and generous readers. Thank you to those who have already donated!

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McKinsey & Co. in Minneapolis: Strategery Sinks In

January 27, 2016

Background: As the Minneapolis Public Schools moves through a difficult superintendent search, I am taking a look back at how we got to this moment. Here is part one: McKinsey & Co. Mind Meld.

In 2007, McKinsey & Co. consultants–through the local Itasca Project–wrote a strategic plan for the Minneapolis Public Schools, at the invitation of the district and the city’s school board. The plan received an enthusiastic introduction from Minneapolis’s then-superintendent, Bill Green, who stated the plan was “…grounded in the best practices of school districts around the country.” (Green was steering Minneapolis through another moment of crisis, after the short, painful tenure of Broad-trained superintendent Thandiwe Peebles.)

Green’s intro to the plan declared that these “best practices”–said to be the product of months of community input–represented “an unwavering commitment to bold ideals and bold ideas.”

Why did it sell so well in Minneapolis? For one thing, it was 2007, and the broader global education reform movement was not well understood. And, true to the “McKinsey Way,” it was marketed well. A Minneapolis parent, recalling the plan’s rollout, remembers this: “It was neat, orderly, and presented well, with nice bullet points.”

The nine-point plan was bold–and contained the roots of today’s increasingly problematic free-market, top down, numbers based approach to rapidly raising student “achievement” (which can only be defined through something easily measured: standardized test scores). It promised all Minneapolis kids would be college-ready in just five years, in a “Field of Dreams” sort of way. If you say it, it will happen.

Here are some highlights of the McKinsey/Minneapolis strategy:

One – Restart and/or bring in other high quality schools to replace the bottom 25 percent; unleash high-performing schools. 

  • Translation: competition and choice will fix what ails Minneapolis schools. Missing from this equation: as long as schools continue to be sorted and ranked according to standardized test scores, there will always be a “bottom 25 percent.” What then?
  • This pairs well with recommendation number eight: Commit to supporting a network of great schools for all Minneapolis kids. A 2007 article about the plan made this point: “The report recommends that MPS ‘adopt a new mindset’ towards competition (such as charter and private schools).”
  • The first casualties (which happened just months before board approval of the McKinsey plan): Five schools in historically underserved north Minneapolis, and one elementary school near the University of Minnesota.
  • The push to embrace competition as a key school improvement strategy is still defining local education policy. First, Minneapolis officials signed the “District-Charter Collaboration Compact,” which has sputtered along meekly. Today, we have the district’s Community Partnership Schools plan, which will require all schools to adhere to district-created test score guidelines, but will allow for more “autonomy” in governance. Looming in the background is MN Comeback–a well-funded group that would like to see 30,000 “rigorous and relevant seats” in Minneapolis by 2025.

Two – Raise expectations and academic rigor for all students, aligning pre-K-12 programs to college readiness goal.

  • Rigor and expectation-raising, in the wrong hands (people who are not trained in education and/or child development), has come to mean the pushing down of narrow, standardized academic work–even into preschool. We have seen this in Minneapolis, through the McKinsey-led implementation of “focused” instruction (FI). Here is a 2013 article I wrote about FI’s insertion into Minneapolis’s early childhood classrooms: “Playtime or focused instruction for three year-olds?”
  • Minneapolis reporter Steve Brandt described FI this way in 2014: “Focused instruction comes from a national movement to create common standards for what should be taught in each subject. That movement has been supported by some politicians, education advocacy groups and often by business interests.” (Conspiracy theory or flow chart? Check out this visual of how McKinsey & Co. and other for-profit companies connect to the standards and testing movement in the U.S.)
  • Focused Instruction is also part of a McKinsey-style move to exert greater control (management) over what teachers and students are doing, through the use of benchmark or interim tests, and the data collection that comes from that. 
  • In 2014, a Star Tribune article reported that focused instruction was not working (that is, it was not miraculously leading to a rise in test scores).

Five – Set clear expectations for all staff at all levels; reward successes and develop or remove low performers.

  • Successes should be rewarded in education, and “low performers” should be handled. But, again, who gets to define either the criteria or the consequences in these cases? And what do people–like McKinsey consultants–without experience or expertise in education know about what success looks like, in education? 
  • McKinsey & Co. consultants are notorious for using layoffs as a path to corporate profits (or district savings?). So, if McKinsey & Co. was sent in to guide the “strategic redirection” of the Minneapolis Public Schools, on behalf of the business-minded Itasca Project…then a recommendation to “remove low performers” was probably a given. Low performers–according to student test scores–are chaff, ripe for the sorting. 
  • McKinsey & Co. is a management consultant firm, not a labor consultant firm. Their trademark approach to reform is to cut costs, pursue efficiency and focus on all that can be “measured and managed.” Or, as a 2007 article about the McKinsey strategic plan noted: “Like schools and principals, underperforming teachers could be replaced.”

There are some benign aspects of the 2007 McKinsey plan, such as the reminder to “transform relationships and partner with families.” This is important, but everybody says this, all the time. What would real transformation look like, and would it be outlined in a McKinsey & Co. strategic plan? What if the community had been asked to write a plan for the Minneapolis schools instead?

But the community wasn’t asked to lead. Instead, McKinsey/Itasca placed one of their own–consultant Jill Stever-Zeitlin–at the helm of the Minneapolis Public Schools, to try to force, or ensure, a business-like “redirection” of the district.

This is how Stever-Zeitlin’s 2008 jump from McKinsey/Itasca to Minneapolis was explained to me by the district:

Prior to being hired as an employee, Ms. Stever-Zeitlin was an employee of Itasca, and was loaned by Itasca to MPS.  This began in 2008 and lasted through June 30, 2012.  There is no written contract with Itasca for this period.  This was an agreement between then Superintendent Bill Green and the Itasca organization.  Itasca paid Ms. Stever-Zeitlin’s salary during 2008 – 2010, and 58% of her salary from January 1 – June 30, 2011.  

The position she held was created for her, since it was this special arrangement made by Itasca to support the district.

I am stuck on what it means to “loan” a human being to someone or something else, but I will move on.

Stever-Zeitlin began working directly in the Minneapolis schools in 2008, but was not an official district employee until 2011. There was no contract. No public oversight. Just an ambitious attempt to be sure the McKinsey-esque redesign of Minneapolis would go forward as planned.

McKinsey and Co. did not pay Stever-Zeitlin’s salary, however. The local Robins, Kaplan, Miller,  and Ciresi (RKMC) Foundation for Children did, through a grant to the Itasca Project. 

The McKinsey plan, and Stever-Zeitlin’s undocumented administrative position, were just the beginning for the RKMC. Their philanthropic support swung the door to education reform wide open in Minneapolis.

Up next: The ties that bind Minneapolis to the market-based education reform movement.

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Superintendent search? Nah. McKinsey & Co. Mind Meld

January 25, 2016

Minneapolis, we need to talk about McKinsey & Co., the Itasca Project and their influence on the Minneapolis Public Schools. Consider this post part one of our conversation.

As the city’s school board sweats through an agonizing superintendent search, it may be useful to step back and think about how we got to this seemingly chaotic place. The nine-member board has struggled to effectively move forward, and they have been scolded mightily for it, often by people in high places (see RT Rybak’s comments in this recent Star Tribune article).

Here’s an alternative point of view. While it seems the board could use some more decisive leadership, I also think this democratically elected body is doing just what it is supposed to be doing. It is standing between the citizens of Minneapolis and some of the most powerful political forces in this city and state, who keep trying to remake the Minneapolis Public Schools into a competition-saturated, neoliberal playground. 

Enter McKinsey & Co., and the Itasca Project.

Background:

McKinsey & Co. is a global (capitalism) consulting firm that sells spreadsheets and market-driven advice to both the private and the public sector, often through a shroud-covered alliance of the two. McKinsey is a great place to work if you are a bright, young Ivy League grad who knows his or her way around a data dive and a six-figure salary. 

And McKinsey–otherwise known as “The Firm”–is a big player in today’s free market-based global education reform movement, or “GERM.” Why does McKinsey dabble in education? Here’s a clue, from the front page of the “Education” section of its website:

As education transforms, the traditional and highly limited openings for private companies are growing wider. Investors should take note.

Image result for michael barber pearson

Michael Barber

Transformation in education could mean anything. For McKinsey, it means the opportunity to open the K-12 public education “market”–estimated to be worth $700 billion–to outside interests and private investors. It also means putting pressure on public school systems to adhere to a standardized test-driven bottom line. After all, McKinsey assumes that “test scores are the best available measure of educational achievement.” 

That is the mind–and skill–set McKinsey brings to their global education efforts, and their reach is deep. Curriculum and standardized testing giant Pearson, for example, has former McKinseyite Michael Barber on staff as its chief education advisor. And, according to British newspaper The Guardian, Barber and McKinsey share an unofficial motto:

“Everything can be measured, and what is measured can be managed.”

That includes students and teachers, of course. Measuring, managing, standardizing, systemizing, controlling, observing, checking, evaluating–all of these very McKinsey-like activities are being applied with full force to our public education classrooms. The whiter and more affluent the classroom, the lesser the effect of this top down, crisis-driven approach to teaching and learning (essential read: “An Open Letter to Teachers and Staff at No Excuses Charter Schools”).

McKinsey has had an office in the Twin Cities since 1988, and has been wielding a quiet but “highly touted” influence on our civic affairs ever since. But I’ll skip to its role in education.

McKinsey works hand in hand with the Minneapolis-based Itasca Project. Itasca operates as a slice of Minnesota exceptionalism, where local civic, business and government leaders come together to break bread and grapple with vexing infrastructure issues. The Itasca Project is full of successful people doing good things, or trying to (and we are inclined to believe that they are, of course).

Don’t take my word for it. The New York Times profiled Itasca in December of 2015, in a revealing yet flattering article titled, “In the Twin Cities, Local Leaders Wield Influence Behind the Scenes.” (Behind the scenes influencing is much more dignified than disrupting a school board meeting, no?)

Here is what Itasca does, according to New York Times reporter Nelson D. Schwartz:

Every Friday morning, 14 men and women who oversee some of the biggest companies, philanthropies and other institutions in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding area gather here over breakfast to quietly shape the region’s economic agenda.

They form the so-called Working Team of the Itasca Project, a private civic initiative by 60 or so local leaders to further growth and development in the Twin Cities. Even more challenging, they also take on thorny issues that executives elsewhere tend to avoid, like economic disparities and racial discrimination.

And Itasca is run by McKinsey & Co. No, really. It is. McKinsey provides staffers who organize and manage the Itasca Project by crunching numbers, whipping up spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, and providing overall guidance and direction (or, as a McKinsey employee told me in 2014, “They let Itasca stand up and lead the work, but it is McKinsey who carries it out”). 

The McKinsey office in Minneapolis is the Itasca Project’s office–literally. They share the same address, according to Itasca’s website:

Itasca Project
c/o McKinsey & Company
3800 IDS Center
Minneapolis, MN 55402

In 2007, at the invitation of the Minneapolis Public Schools and its school board, McKinsey consultants wrote up–for free–a new strategic plan for the district. “Our vision–to make every child college ready by 2012– is ambitious,” read the plan. “The strategies and action steps outlined in this plan make it doable.” The plan was enthusiastically adopted by the city, and by a prominent batch of progressive leaders, such as Rybak and then-school board member Pam Costain.

The Itasca Project, through local philanthropists, then paid for McKinsey employee Jill Stever-Zeitlin to have a high level position in the Minneapolis Public Schools, thereby blurring the lines between public and private interests, and accountability. 

And what was Itasca’s aim? The “strategic redirection of the Minneapolis Public Schools.”

Up next: what that “strategic redirection” has meant for the district.

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Michael Goar is gone, baby, gone

January 23, 2016

The news is burning through Minneapolis like electricity flying along a high wire:

MICHAEL GOAR WITHDRAWS FROM
MINNEAPOLIS SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH

From the Minneapolis Public Schools’s communications department:

Today Interim Superintendent Michael Goar sent a letter to Minneapolis Public Schools Board Chair Jenny Arneson requesting that his name be withdrawn immediately from consideration for the position of Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools. Arneson, in response to Goar’s request, has respectfully removed Goar from consideration for the post.

In his letter Goar indicated that his decision to withdraw was solely based upon his own observation and belief that his candidacy has, unfortunately, become a distraction to the ultimate goal of educating Minneapolis children in a spirit of excellence  – and that withdrawing would be the best way to allow the work to move forward toward achieving that goal.

Image result for michael goar

Michael Goar

From Goar’s point of view, I am sure it is accurate to say that the sole reason he is withdrawing is because his candidacy has become a distraction. And I agree that Goar’s withdrawal is the “best way to allow the work to move forward” in Minneapolis.

But when I think of why Goar’s candidacy may have failed, I think of this. In the last couple of years, Goar helped direct at least $1 million in district money to the District Management Council–a group of Boston-based consultants whose expensive advice justified the upheaval in Minneapolis’s special education department, but otherwise amounted to nothing.

Meanwhile, Goar cut bus monitors from this year’s budget, meaning more than twenty high needs bus routes in Minneapolis were left without an additional support person. The amount saved? Around $200,000.

Perhaps, then, Goar’s priorities are catching up with him.

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Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

January 14, 2016

On January 12 the Minneapolis school board met to resolve the vexing “who will be our next superintendent” question that has hovered over the district for months now. As the board’s nine members moved to rush through a vote that would, in essence, hand the job to interim superintendent candidate Michael Goar, a chant rose up from the back of the packed board room.

“Say no to Goar, restart the search!”

It was an electric moment, and more powerful than the boos, the interruptions, the angry glares (between board members) and the painfully personal dismissal of Dr. Sergio Paez of Massachusetts that also shook the meeting. Paez had been named superintendent in December, of course, only to see a ring of fire shoot up around his reputation, and burn away any chance he would take charge of the Minneapolis Public Schools.

But switching out Paez–whose potential for the job was said to have been destroyed by clouds of mistrust and community unrest–for runner-up Goar did not sit well with many people at the meeting.

On some level, fretting over who occupies the top of the Minneapolis schools’s org chart feels silly. Most city school district superintendents have a short shelf life, which would assumedly be hastened by the kind of bad press Goar has induced and waded through since taking the job for a test run as interim superintendent.

And, obviously, a certain portion of the fractious and discordant school board wants Goar to end up with the job, and they may just prevail (with support from outside political pressure and the air of manufactured crises). Some people I know and trust also want Goar to get the job because they just want the Minneapolis Public Schools to work. “We don’t have time to wait,” is what I often hear.

Still, questions about Goar’s fitness for the job are hard to gloss over. 

Determined protestors shut down the Minneapolis school board meeting

First, if Paez had to go because community unrest was killing his ability to lead well, how could Goar succeed under similar circumstances? The outpouring of dissatisfaction at the January 12 board meeting was not limited to one group of people–it encompassed parents, teachers, community members, Minneapolis NAACP folks, Black Lives Matter activists, and even a young student.

The angst was real, and it was directed towards a stiff refusal of Goar, because of Reading Horizons. Because of the destruction of the IT department. Because of lingering, pervasive and unanswered questions about the district’s finances. Because of a sense that Goar’s restructured rise to the top of the candidate list was manufactured behind closed doors. Because of the money-sucking influence of high priced, out of state business consultants.

And, because, according to the state department of education’s website, Goar has no superintendent’s license, and his waiver expired on December 31, 2015 (perhaps he assumed he really would not get the job, and did not renew it?). This, coupled with his lack of teaching experience, remains a sore spot for many. 

Another sticking point? Many within the Davis Center—who must live with, carry out and answer for Goar’s directives–want a change at the top.

Whatever happens, let’s just hope we don’t get fooled again

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

–Pete Townsend

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Who’s Your Daddy? A superintendent or the District Management Council?

January 12, 2016

What a long, strange trip it’s been…and it’s not even over yet.

The Minneapolis Public Schools’s communications department received flak back in November for shooting out a press release that seemed to compare the district’s ongoing superintendent search to a reality TV show:

Super Search! For 30 days, it’ll be the district’s hottest show. Six candidates vying for one position: Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). Watch as the Directors of the Board of Education decide who gets the passing grade.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. Who has the skills and experience to lead MPS into a future of growth and prosperity? The answer will be revealed through a series of interviews, school tours, and community meetings.

30 days?! What shockingly low expectations. This super search has gone on for months now, and is supposed to end tonight, with the board finally choosing someone to lead the district. Or, perhaps, choosing to call the whole thing off and start over (as a community-driven petition asked them to do, back in December).

Will it be the board-approved candidate, Dr. Sergio Paez, who came to town last week to immerse himself in some Minnesota (N)ice? Or will it be Michael Goar, the interim candidate that could just be waiting in the shadows for another shot at his dream job? Or someone whose name has yet to even cross our lips?

Either way, Michael Goar is said to be heading to New York City on January 13, for an exclusive strategy session with the District Management Council (DMC), according to a report by local news outlet Alpha News (Goar’s name is also listed on the “participant” list on DMC’s website). Remember DMC? They are the Boston-based education consultants behind MPS’s special ed shake up and the flawed and mysterious super special new budget formula that Goar and his executive team could never quite seem to explain. This cost of this advice? A $1 million contract with the Minneapolis schools. 

Will a relaxing cruise be next for DMC and their “members”?

But MPS’s connection with DMC goes much deeper than this big dollar contract. MPS administrators have also attended DMC executive John J-H Kim’s Harvard summer camp for school district leaders, the Public Education Leadership Program, and MPS is one of DMC’s “member districts.” 

Districts across the country pay upwards of $25,000 per year to wine and dine with Kim and his DMC staffers, far from the maddening world of classroom teaching. This week, in New York, DMC’s list shows that Goar will be joined by 19 other Minnesota superintendents, as well as district leaders from several other states. Eighty-seven districts, total, will be there, and 20 of them are from Minnesota. Nice showing from the Gopher state!

If you want to get a look inside the minds of DMC, who clearly know how to separate public school districts from their precious and always scarce funds, take a look at the titles of the 2016 Superintendents’ Strategy Summit being held in New York. Here’s a couple of great-sounding ones (the subtitles are my own, and not officially endorsed by DMC):

  • Top Opportunities for Freeing Up Funds (and sending them to DMC)
  • Winning Support for Shifting Resources (to DMC)
  • Persuasive Communications Strategies (or, How to Convince the Public that DMC is Great)

So, as the public and the Minneapolis school board engage in extensive hand-wringing over who will be the district’s next leader, business goes on as usual.

Perhaps question number one for any potential, permanent superintendent should be this:

Will you, or will you not, cut all ties with the District Management Council?

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Adults R Bullies, Too

January 7, 2016

Today, my morning didn’t go the way I thought it would. I had to cancel a meeting I was looking forward to, and ended up having to drive my oldest to school. On the way back, I decided to stop in at my neighborhood Y, which has become a gleaming, metal, glass and sweat sanctuary for me. 

I don’t go to the Y because I want to get super fit (not that I’d object…). For me it’s about handling stress through an hour on an exercise machine instead of sitting for another hour in front of my computer, scrolling Facebook and Twitter and email and sinking myself into the drama that often accompanies my work as an education writer. And I love my local Y. It’s five minutes from my house, and every time I go there, I get a nice glimpse of the mix of people who share my little corner of Minneapolis.

Today, just inside the front door, I saw a familiar face. It was my friend Ben, whose kids go to school with my younger kids. He’s a talented photojournalist whose work I really like, and we’ve connected around education issues that are particular to our kids’ school. 

He asked what I thought of Sergio Paez, Minneapolis’s potential superintendent (see drama note above). We dabbled in that conversation briefly before veering to our own kids and what’s going on with them.

After a few minutes, he turned to go down the hall, towards a line of lockers. As he did, he looked back and said, “Sarah, I admire your work.” It was a casual statement, and really nothing more–or less–than Ben’s way of throwing out a friendly word before we parted.

He couldn’t have known that, just before bumping into him, I had been on the phone with a friend. She had texted me to let me know, as others have in the last 18 hours, that a slamming blog post has been written about me, by education writer and activist Chris Stewart. I called my friend to tell her that, yes, I knew about the blog, but no, I hadn’t read it, and I didn’t plan to. 

Stewart’s had it in for me since I first started writing about education, nearly three years ago. He’s tried to defame me, “out” me as a “white liberal,” and otherwise antagonize, silence, and embarrass me, although he did send me a congratulatory email in the middle of the whole Reading Horizons flare up. Nice, but that doesn’t make up for the bullying, misogynistic blows he has repeatedly tried to throw my way (and I am not the only one he’s targeted, by far).

He’s come at me now because I wrote a piece about desegregation for the Progressive magazine’s Public School Shakedown site. Good. He’s reading my work, and it’s obviously bothering him. That means I just might have something meaningful to say.

Again, I haven’t read Stewart’s blog post–on his coyly titled “Citizen Stewart” blog–and I won’t. But I am told he contrasts me with his compatriot, Beth Hawkins, the former MinnPost education blogger who has now joined Stewart’s ranks as a member of the 1 percent’s PR machine over at Education Post–a heavily funded neoliberal education policy pop up shop that has so far failed to attract readers. (Full disclosure: I applied for Hawkins’ old job at MinnPost, and never heard back. Yes, I am willing and eager to write for pay, but they probably guessed I’d have trouble with the “Kramer Disclaimer” tag that comes with the job.)

It looks like Hawkins is also writing for former news anchor Campbell Brown’s billionaire funded education reform site, the 74million.org, whose list of “Supporters” includes a handful of white guys and two white women.

Somehow, though, I am the white liberal enemy. My little independent blog, whose sole source of funding is the very kindhearted people who actually read it, is apparently a threat to people like “Citizen” Stewart.

I have to admit that this thought put a smile on my face as I pounded my feet up and down on the step machine, letting the words from a friend–“I admire your work”–ring in my ears,

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Careers before community? Paez comes to Minneapolis

January 5, 2016

Just when you thought the Minneapolis superintendent search could not get any weirder….

Superintendent candidate Dr. Sergio Paez is in town today and tomorrow, presumably to try to generate good will and reestablish himself as the one for the job, Currently, he has no contract with the Minneapolis Public Schools, and is not a district employee. (Now, if he was superintendent, and he was hosting open coffee hours all over town, that would be something else, all together….)

He is still perched at “potential superintendent” status, after being named, by a 6-3 margin, as the candidate of choice by the school board in December–in the wake of an $85,000 national search. He was then immediately subject to further, contract-stopping scrutiny and thus does not officially have the job yet.

Whether or not Paez is the best choice to lead Minneapolis forward is still up for debate, and will be taken into full consideration by the school board at a January 12 public meeting, as it should be.

Until then, it seems odd that, while in town, Paez is being treated to all kinds of meet and greets with Minneapolis constituents, board members and high rollers. I can’t blame him for coming here, a week ahead of the board’s reexamination of his candidacy, to try to drum up support. It would be a blow to go through this turmoil and not come out with a job on the other end of it.

And, of course, our public conversations about what he would or would not bring as superintendent of the Minneapolis schools should not become personal. Smearing Paez isn’t the goal here, finding the best leader for Minneapolis is.

This morning, sources say, Paez was seated at the Avenue Eatery in north Minneapolis, meeting with some NAACP and Black Lives Matter folks, to be followed up by a meeting with former Minneapolis mayor and education reform advocate RT Rybak.

Later today and tomorrow, he is hosting two “coffee hours” that are open to the public. He is reportedly meeting one-on-one with board members, too, (if they so choose), and southwest Minneapolis school board rep Tracine Asberry has scheduled two other meet and greets for him, at neighborhood establishments. (I have not yet heard of any other board members doing this.)

My head is spinning; how about you?

It seems as though the board should be meeting, together, to discuss whether or not to go ahead and offer Paez a contract–without the added influence and distraction of Paez’s PR spin thought the city. After all, Asberry and fellow board member Josh Reimnitz were tasked with a December 18 “fact-confirming” trip to Paez’s former district in Massachusetts, but have yet to turn their findings over to the board.

Are we in danger of putting the candidate before the community?

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Minneapolis superintendent update: Paez seeks coffee, input

January 4, 2016

Dr. Sergio Paez is coming to town, and he wants to have coffee with you.

In an email sent on December 31, Paez–the current candidate of choice for superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools–announced that he will be in Minneapolis for two days, starting January 4. 

Dr. Sergio Paez; Photo by Don Treager

In the email, Paez said he plans to hold “2 coffee hours” while in Minneapolis. The first will be on Tuesday, January 5 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Avenue Eatery on West Broadway Avenue. The second will be Wednesday, January 6 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Fireroast Cafe in south Minneapolis. 

Paez says he is coming to Minneapolis to “be able to talk to people about anything they have in mind and to learn more about MN in the process.” His email makes no mention of the fact that, although the Minneapolis school board chose him as the district’s next superintendent in December of 2015, he is now in the unexpected position of having to fight for the job.

Immediately after the board named Paez their top choice at a December 7 meeting, troubling reports surfaced from Paez’s days as superintendent of the Holyoke, Massachusetts schools. The reports, completed by the Massachusetts Disability Law Center, detail allegations of abuse at Holyoke’s Peck School program for special education students.

Paez was not directly implicated in these allegations, and maintains that he and his staff acted properly when informed of the reported abuse. Also, the Holyoke teachers union has questioned the law center’s report, and recently told a Massachusetts news station that “low staffing levels and limited resources” are part of the problem at Peck.

Still, it seems Paez is coming to Minneapolis–on his own dime, I am told–to salvage his chances of becoming Minneapolis’s superintendent.

Maybe it will work.

If Paez creates a lot of warm fuzzies by learning “first hand what the community believes is important to transform the district”–a goal he expressed in his recent email–then perhaps the board will be persuaded to forget their cold feet and go ahead with contract negotiations, which were suspended after the Holyoke allegations surfaced.

Meanwhile, my thoughts keep returning to a late December MinnPost piece by local writer and teacher Nicole Helget about the “leadership crisis” in our schools. It isn’t specifically about Paez, but is worth considering as Minneapolis tries to move forward.

Nicole Helget; Photo by Jason Miller

Helget’s piece starts with a bang, hitting readers between the eyes by zeroing in on the “crisis in administration from K-12 to higher education.” She continues on, calling school districts “kingdoms” where predetermined decisions are made behind closed doors, and subsequently “fobbed” upon “teachers, students, and communities.”

There are many blows that sting in Helget’s piece, including the idea that putting a woman or person of color in charge should bring about meaningful change, but often doesn’t–thanks to hidden gatekeepers who are seeking to perpetuate, and not alter, institutionalized racism and sexism.

Helget then ends with this: schools need new leadership styles, and not just new leaders. “We have to change the culture of education,” she writes, in order to achieve this:

Our goal in education includes preparing people who can work, of course, but our goal…is to prepare people to adapt to all the changing aspects of our world and to help build the next economy, not become slaves to the current one.

The Minneapolis school board is scheduled to decide Paez’s fate at a regular January 12 meeting, which will include the standard public comment period. If you’ve got time this week, you know where Paez will be.

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