Minneapolis Superintendent Search Rushes to a Potential Close

May 11, 2016

If there is any hope for the Minneapolis Public Schools–and of course there is hope–it was represented in the bodies jammed together last night in the wood-paneled confines of the district’s Davis Center headquarters.

Multitudes of people were there for the school board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting, which included not only a farewell (complete with personalized chair as parting gift) for interim superintendent, Michael Goar, but also a cavalcade of students, parents, staff and community members–each with something to offer, ask for, or demand from the district.

I hope Minneapolis’s next superintendent, whoever he or she may be, was watching. 

On Monday, May 16, the public will get to interact with the finalist(s) for the top job at a series of specialized, daytime meet-up events, and an evening session for a broader audience. The stamina that the superintendent candidates (there will be anywhere from one to three of them; names are expected to be announced at the end of this week) will need for this day-long action will be nothing, of course, in comparison to what the job will require. Heather Pic 2

Last night, a contingent of parents and kids came to deliver the latest recess petition. It has over 2,500 names on it and makes a plaintive demand: give all MPS kids, K-8, a 30 minute, guaranteed, daily recess period, followed by a 30 minute lunch. (A main reason recess has shrunk, at many schools, to an ungodly 15 minutes or less, according to district officials, is the 90-150 minutes of reading and math instruction that some schools adhere to more literally than others.) 

Before these parents and kids could step to the mic during the public comment period, school board member Josh Reimnitz, chair of the policy committee, announced that he would be bringing this new policy up for discussion at the next committee meeting–doing what he can, it seems, to help the request become a reality. This was joyously received, but it did not deter a handful of people–including 11-year old Molly Reehl, from Barton K-8 School–from speaking up in favor of 30 minutes of recess for all kids. 

A cohort of Southwest High School students, some wearing t-shirts that read, “Scholars of Color Union,” also addressed board members on a range of topics, from their experiences as students of color in a majority white school to the need–now–for more mental health support at Southwest for staff and students. We need a room, one girl said, or a place to go, for students who are struggling with anxiety or depression. The only space available now, apparently, is a “Check and Connect” office that houses a drop-out prevention program.

This office–and the program–will be closing next year, due to budget cuts, the students said. So, if we are going to get a saner recess policy for all K-8 kids, perhaps we should start advocating for safe space in each of our high schools, where kids and staff can go to regroup, play pool, or otherwise combat the anxiety that has somehow become the price of admittance to a “better future.” Heather pic 1

There were kids being honored at the board meeting, too, for their winning History Day projects, which they will be taking all the way to a national event this summer. A couple of teachers were also recognized for their work, and some people got up to speak positively about Goar’s legacy in Minneapolis. Still more parents raised pain-stricken questions about their schools’ budgets.

One woman said her kids’ school is slated to lose its school counselor, art program, and media tech position next year. Another parent then took his turn before the board, saying that, if three six-figure jobs were cut from the Davis Center, there would be enough to pay for all of this and more.

Students and community members also pressed the board to pass a resolution in favor of the Restore the Vote legislation currently moving through the Minnesota legislature. Later, the board did just that. (Next up: board members who don’t regularly visit MPS sites might want to get out and do so, to better understand the behavior issues bubbling–hotly–just under the surface of the suspension data that was presented last night. From what I hear, student and staff safety issues have the potential to knock this district on its feet.)

This district still seems capable of so much. Maybe it just needs a good superintendent to push it forward in a recess-heavy, art-filled, student-led direction. Come check out the candidates on Monday, May 16, and see what you think.

We must understand that every child has a right to the experience of culture. We must fully understand that without stories and poems and pictures and music, children will starve.

–Author Phillip Pullman, 2012

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