Tag Archives: Teach for America

Minneapolis’s Previous School Board Can’t Vote on Proposed Policy Manual

January 10, 2017

Tonight, the new Minneapolis school board members will be seated. Just before that meeting, last year’s board will hold a ceremonial event to welcome the new members and conduct the oath of office.

What will not happen is a previously expected vote by the departing board on two key issues: 1) the revised policy manual largely orchestrated by outgoing member Josh Reimnitz, and 2) the make-up of the district’s Workforce 2020 advisory committee. In a December post, I spelled out the concerns with the revised policy manual, which is based on a somewhat obscure model called Carver Policy Governance

After months of work in 2016, it seemed as though the board’s policy committee, led by Reimnitz, would be able to get the policy manual passed at the December board meeting, despite concerns that the proposed revisions (intended to guide the school board’s work) had yet to be thoroughly vetted by the public. Adding to this concern was the seemingly sudden realization that no Equity and Diversity Impact Assessment had been completed for the new policy manual, although such an assessment is a district requirement for any new, notable “future policies, practices, programs and procedures.”

This realization–that no such assessment had been done–killed chances for a December vote. Rumors then circulated that the 2016 school board would get one more chance to push a vote through on the revised manual. That’s because the first meeting of the new year includes a nod to the outgoing members, as noted above, and a suspected (planned upon, really) opportunity for the exiting board members to squeak in a couple of votes before the new board is officially seated.

Not true. Statute dictates that the departing board members’ voting rights were valid until December 31, 2016, and not a day after. Reimnitz (along with the other two outgoing members, Tracine Asberry and Carla Bates) will therefore not be able to weigh in on whether or not the board should adopt the trimmed down policy manual he helped craft. (Many close observers say the manual is simply not ready for prime time, either. and in need of further hashing out.)

The policy manual vote is nowhere to be found on tonight’s agenda. Neither is any further discussion of who should be on the district’s Workforce 2020 committee. This committee is a state-mandated advisory group, and it must include community members who will attend monthly meetings and advise the school board on “rigorous academic standards and student achievement goals and measures.” All board members were allowed to suggest two names for this committee; those names were then slated for approval at December’s board meeting.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, the board came to an awkward pause that night, when it appeared not all board members were prepared to sign off on the Workforce committee–as the suggested names had not been previously given to the board for review. Should the board vote in one fell swoop on something they hadn’t seen until just then? Questions like this caused citywide representative, Rebecca Gagnon, to stop the process. Three hours and ten minutes into the four-hour long meeting, Gagnon told board chair Jenny Arneson that she “didn’t know we were voting on this tonight.” 

“We’re not, unless we approve it,” Arneson quickly replied. But, unless Gagnon had spoken up, it seems clear that the vote on the committee’s make-up would have sailed forward, with no public discussion on the proposed names on the list. Does it matter? Maybe not. But at least two names on the list–Al Fan and Kyrra Rankine–stand out as worthy of further scrutiny.

To be eligible to serve on the district’s Workforce committee, participants are supposed to be “teachers, parents, staff, students, and other community residents invested in the success of Minneapolis Public School students.” But Kyrra Rankine has been a longstanding Teach for America–Twin Cities employee, and Al Fan is the executive director of Minnesota Comeback, a moneyed education reform group with a declared goal of creating “30,000 rigorous and relevant seats” (?) in Minneapolis, by 2025–in “sector neutral” settings. 

Sector neutral means any school setting–charter, private, public–is fine, so long as it “beats the odds” for kids in poverty. This may be one (arguably unsuccessful) way to fund education, but it is certainly not the same thing as being “invested in the success of Minneapolis Public School students.” The public doesn’t “own” Minnesota Comeback the way it owns a public school district. There are no meetings posted on the Minnesota Comeback website, and no elected officials sit on its policy and “talent” committees. Minnesota Comeback is wielding influence with minimal public oversight. There are no four-hour long videos of any Minnesota Comeback gatherings to pour over and report on. 

Democracy!

The Minneapolis Public Schools might be a bureaucratic mess in the eyes of many, but it also must answer to the public through open meetings, a democratically elected school board and public data requests. Minnesota Comeback must, presumably, only answer to its funders, such as the Minneapolis Foundation, which described the group this way in a December, 2015 newsletter:

  • Minnesota Comeback (formerly the Education Transformation Initiative) will develop a portfolio of strategic initiatives and school investments to ensure that all Minneapolis students attend high-quality schools by 2025.

Minnesota Comeback and Teach for America are frequent darlings of the local philanthropic community, as evidenced by the Minneapolis Foundation’s 2017 grant cycle. Should their representatives have a seat on a Minneapolis Public Schools Workforce 2020 committee?

Perhaps, but it seems that is a conversation the school board should have in public. And, with the rush to vote stopped, it looks like that’s what citizens just might get in 2017–for the proposed policy revision and for the Workforce 2020 committee.

Also up tonight: a shuffling of school board officers. Jenny Arneson will no longer be board chair. Instead, Don Samuels, Nelson Inz and Rebecca Gagnon are vying to fill her spot. Vice Chair is expected to go to Kim Ellison, while Arneson has put her name in for Treasurer. New board members Bob Walser and Ira Jourdain are said to be interested in taking over Reimnitz’s seat as Clerk, who oversees the board’s policy committee. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at Davis Center headquarters and is broadcast live online here.

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Minnesota Comeback: Nexus of Influence for School Board Race?

July 5, 2016

Will Minnesota Comeback play a starring role in Minneapolis’s 2016 school board race?

In Nashville and Indianapolis, Minnesota Comeback’s brothers-in-arms, known as “Nashville RISE” and “The Mind Trust,” have attempted to do just that, in their own cities’ elections. On June 16, education policy analyst, Andy Spears, wrote about this for his blog, Tennessee Education Report. In his posts, Spears tries to devise just who and what Nashville RISE is, and why they have jumped into the Metro Nashville School Board (MNSB) race. In so doing, he cites Minnesota Comeback and The Mind Trust as reference points. 

Must-read: “Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools”

Quick overview: Nashville RISE, Minnesota Comeback and The Mind Trust are three of the twenty-four splinter groups–or “harbormasters“–under the wing of the Memphis-based reform outfit, Education CitiesEducation Cities is funded by the usual billionaire suspects, yet its overlord-like connection to all of these offshoots is not exactly well-known. Instead, each group–Minnesota Comeback included–maintains an image of homespun helpmate for their city’s ever-struggling public school systems. (Background on Minnesota Comeback can be found here.)

Nashville RISE has landed in some hot water lately, by trying to insert itself–in a less than transparent way–into Nashville’s school board race, according to Spears:

The involvement of Project Renaissance/Nashville RISE in this year’s MNPS school board races has been the source of a bit of controversy, from promoting (then deleting) an event with Stand for Children to a Phil Williams story raising questions about the source of funding and lack of disclosure.

As the Phil Williams story points out, Nashville RISE is incredibly well-funded, backed by money from philanthropic interests and by supporters of the charter school movement. Also backed by some donors who don’t want their identities revealed.

Nashville RISE has, among other things, produced slick video ads for its own forum on the Nashville school board race, with a promise that the group is all about building a “network of engaged parents” who will help advocate for high quality schools for all. Sounds great, as does Nashville RISE’s further mission of working to help schools “care for students and families holistically,” and so on.

But, as Spears’s blog posts point out, the group is aligned with Education Cities and its politically savvy funders, who must know that describing one’s mission as “holistic,” and “parent-driven” provides safe cover for other, more nefarious goals. Also, Nashville RISE is directly connected to Stand for Children–an organization whose transformation from legitimate advocacy group to mostly corrupted outlet for ALEC and Teach for America, et al, should serve as a warning for anyone tempted to fall for Nashville RISE’s flowery, pro-family rhetoric.

But why is Nashville RISE involved in that city’s school board race? And why might Minnesota Comeback attempt to wield influence in the 2016 Minneapolis race? 

Whitney Tilson

For answers, look no further than The Mind Trust. This Indianapolis-based group was featured in a May, 2016 American Prospect article called, “Hedging Education: How Hedge Funders Spurred the Pro-Charter Political Network.” In the article, writer Justin Miller describes how TFA alum and hedge fund success story, Whitney Tilson, started the pro-charter political action committee, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER):

Straight out of Harvard, Tilson deferred a consulting job in Boston to become one of Teach For America’s first employees in 1989. Ten years later, he started his own hedge fund in New York. Soon after that, Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp took him on a visit to a charter school in the South Bronx. It was an electrifying experience for him. “It was so clearly different and so impactful,” Tilson says. “Such a place of joy, but also rigor.”

When Tilson observed pushback on the growth of KIPP, a charter school chain often linked with the “no excuses” model, he rallied a cadre of like-minded hedge funders, and started DFER:

,,,Basically, if you were anybody who was anybody in hedge funds, you probably chipped in. Tilson called the group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), and set it with a mission “to break the teacher unions’ stranglehold over the Democratic Party.”

Early on, DFER identified then-Senator Barack Obama and then–Newark Mayor Cory Booker as promising politicians willing to break with teachers unions. DFER was instrumental in convincing Obama to appoint charter-friendly Chicago Superintendent Arne Duncan as secretary of education, and it spent a lot of time and money lobbying the administration to pursue reformist education policies like Race to the Top and Common Core. Tied to Obama’s coattails, DFER was now one of the most influential political players in the ascendant education-reform movement.

It’s not hard to believe that Tilson’s group, DFER, has had tremendous success shaping federal education policy. It has. But that’s not enough. Hedge funders don’t rest with one victory, or one successful fund. They want more. And so, Miller writes, DFER expanded:

As it found tremendous success at the federal level, DFER tried to maximize its newfound influence to leverage reform in local politics.

Here’s where Indianapolis comes in. Beginning in 2010-2011, as Miller notes, The Mind Trust used grant money to bring in “DFER, the advocacy group Stand For Children, and the network of political money that came with them.” With new political and hedge fund-fueled financial muscle, The Mind Trust helped flip the 2012 and 2014 Indianapolis school board races, stacking the board with hand-picked reform advocates, such as DFER national board member, Mary Ann Sullivan. Under the influence of DFER and its acolytes, the Indianapolis school board brought on a “friendly” superintendent, Lewis Ferebee, who has overseen the expansion of neoliberal education reform strategies. (Important note: Indianapolis, like Nashville and Minneapolis, is under the policy influence of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, or “CRPE.”) 

Outgoing Minneapolis Foundation head, Sandra Vargas, is the board chair of 50CAN

In 2011, the reform landscape shifted in Minneapolis, too, when the local RKMC Foundation, started by attorney Mike Ciresi, provided seed money to outside education reform outfits, such as Teach for America, Educators for Excellence, MinnCAN and SFER (Students for Education Reform). The RKMC Foundation, which is closely aligned with the Minneapolis Foundation and its market-based reform priorities, is also a strong supporter of Minnesota Comeback. (Amy Hertzel, McKinsey & Co. alum and former education policy person for the Minneapolis Foundation, is now a “Partner” at Education Cities.)

In 2012, just like in Indianapolis, Minneapolis saw the most money ever spent on its once-lowly, but suddenly high stakes, school board race. Teach for America alum and new Minneapolis resident, Josh Reimnitz, won a spot on the school board with a little help from well-connected friends. Here’s a taste of that simpler time, when a five-figure race (Reimnitz raised close to $40,000 in 2012) was considered extravagant and shocking:

An example of how the TFA network helped Reimnitz was an October fundraiser that raised about 15 percent of his campaign treasury. It was held at the Edina home of Matthew Kramer, TFA’s national president, who is married to a TFA alum who works for a group that promotes high-quality charter schools.

An independent expenditure of about $6,000 for a mailing sent by the political arm of New York-based school reform group 50CAN, for which Kramer is board chair, also drew complaints. It was the first school board donation by the young group, which has focused on legislative contests in the East.

–Minneapolis Star Tribune, November, 2012: “Minneapolis school election has national implications

Fast forward to 2014. Then, outside investors such as Michael Bloomberg and California venture capitalist and TFA board member, Arthur Rock, deluged the Minneapolis school board race with an eye-popping $250,000 in campaign funds. 

What can I do for you?

That money was funneled through a pop-up PAC, the “Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund,” led by TFA alum and MinnCAN boss, Daniel Sellers. (MinnCAN is a franchise of 50CAN, also started by East Coast hedge funders.) This fund famously backed two candidates (from afar, of course, thanks to Citizens United)–Don Samuels and Iris Altamirano–and attempted to defeat incumbent Rebecca Gagnon. 

In a 2014 interview, Sellers downplayed the mountain of outside money shadowing the race, saying the contributions from people like Bloomberg were nothing more than an “indication that they care about Minneapolis.” (Sellers is now the policy chair for Minnesota Comeback’s “coalition.”) 

The money helped land Samuels on the school board, but Gagnon made it anyway, while Altamirano did not. Perhaps that is why this year’s school board race has, thus far, been relatively quiet. Will investors squander more hard-earned, hedge fund dollars on the 2016 Minneapolis race, if their estimated ROI is minimal?

Enter Minnesota Comeback. This group, like its counterparts in Nashville and Indianapolis, has the bank account and political connections to make a big splash in this year’s race, albeit from a dignified, Citizens United distance (for a primer on how this is done, look to 2014). While no candidate forums appear to have been scheduled, yet, (unlike August 2014, when, for example, the dubious “People’s Forum” was held in Minneapolis), the first round of campaign finance reports for school board candidates is due on August 6.

Those reports should reveal which Minneapolis school board candidates are getting what money–asked for or not–from the cabal of DFER-like reformers in Minnesota and beyond.

Thus far, there is no real contest for the one citywide spot, which is likely to go to incumbent, Kim Ellison. Seats in districts 2, 4 and 6 are being contested, with incumbents Josh Reimnitz (4) and Tracine Asberry (6) running despite failing to secure the endorsement of Minneapolis’s Democratic party (both had said they would not run without this endorsement, but later entered the race at the last minute).

School board seats secured with reform resources could help Minnesota Comeback achieve its goal of bringing “30,000 rigorous and relevant seats” to Minneapolis by 2025. (The focus on “high quality seats” rather than students or schools is a popular Education Cities marketing pitch, perhaps meant for venture capitalist ears.) In an era of low funding and high expectations for public ed, anything seems possible. 

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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Star Power: R.T. Rybak to Lead Minneapolis Foundation

May 2, 2016

The stars sure seem to be aligning for former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak’s lately. Recently, he got an actual star on the hallowed outside wall of First Avenue (perhaps because of the “Prince Permit” he helped secure for the club, while mayor, or because of his super-cool-guy mayor stage dives). 

Now, he has vaulted to the top of the local philanthropist world. Many have suspected that Rybak would be first in line to take over at the Minneapolis Foundation when current president, Sandra Vargas, retires this summer, and today, these rumors were confirmed. 

Mpls Fdn RybakAround noon, a smiling photo of Rybak graced email inboxes across the Twin Cities, as the formal announcement came through:

“After a long and robust national search, the Board of Trustees of the Minneapolis Foundation has selected R. T. Rybak to become the seventh CEO/President in the Foundation’s history.”

A long and robust search? That seems odd, since most people assumed Rybak would be the one to fill Vargas’s reform-built shoes at the Foundation. Vargas has been busy while head of the Minneapolis Foundation, by serving as the board chair of the national 50CAN ed reform group (parent to local offshoot, MinnCAN).

Under her leadership, the Foundation has directed incredible resources towards bringing the market-based education reform movement home to roost in MInneapolis. Here are some examples of that:

  • Teach for America
  • 2013’s RESET campaign, which was a festival of sorts for half-baked, top down reform plans
  • MN Comeback, the latest iteration of sure-fire solutions for the ever-failing Minneapolis Public Schools

Will Rybak follow Vargas down the yellow brick road of ed reform? The Minneapolis Foundation seems to think so. Today’s announcement assured email recipients that Rybak has been “very supportive” of the foundation’s work in education, among other initiatives. This support will allow Rybak to “hit the ground running” when he takes over on July 1, according to the email’s author, John Sullivan.

Rybak’s own past suggests that he will have no problem following Vargas’s lead. Aside from his reputation as a stage diving, bike riding groovy mayor, he has embraced not only Teach for America, but also the rap about how certain charter schools “outperform” district schools. These two concepts–the “transformational” powers of Teach for America and charter schools that “beat” out regular old public schools–are ripped right out of the neoliberal playbook on how to “fix” our schools. 

Rybak will have to leave behind his position at Generation Next, which creates an opening for some other bright star. Departing interim superintendent Michael Goar’s name has been mentioned, but he is more likely to end up taking over for Pam Costain at Achieve Mpls, the school district’s official “nonprofit partner” (as opposed to the unofficial ones, such as MN Comeback and the Minneapolis Foundation).

Musical chairs! What will all of this mean for the Minneapolis schools, in an era where Minnesota legislators seem to be doing the absolute minimum to support public education in this state? 

I’m not sure. But while we wait and see, here are two good reads:

  • Joanne Barkan’s recent article in the Nonprofit Quarterly, “Charitable Plutocracy,” is about education reform and the growing power of private foundations. Barkan’s article includes this gem: “…anyone hoping for a grant—which increasingly includes for-profit as well as nonprofit media—treats donors like unassailable royalty. The emperor is always fully clothed.”
  • The recent news that the sugar daddy of the privatization/charter school movement, the Walton Foundation, is taking its money and running from several U.S. cities, including Minneapolis. This might hamper MN Comeback’s plans for Minneapolis, or it might make them more dependent on the kindliness of local groups like the Minneapolis Foundation.

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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Minneapolis School Board Race Takes Shape

April 11, 2016

Anyone who doubts the power or potential of an elected school board should have been at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Sunday, April 10. There, amid an engaged and sometimes raucous crowd, the Minneapolis Democratic Farmer Labor party (DFL) held its city convention, where delegates endorsed four new school board candidates:

  • Kim Ellison, who is moving out of her District 2 seat and running for a citywide seat
  • Kerry Jo Felder, who is now vying for Ellison’s soon-to-be vacated District 2 seat in north Minneapolis
  • Bob Walser in District 4, encompassing downtown and parts of south and southwest Minneapolis
  • Ira Jourdain in District 6, in southwest Minneapolis

All four of these candidates recently earned the endorsement of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT), according to an announcement on MFT’s website. (Candidates Josh Reimnitz and Tracine Asberry declined to participate in the MFT endorsement process.)

Ellison had no contenders for the DFL citywide endorsement, making her selection the shortest one of the afternoon. In District 2, Felder, an education organizer for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, gave an impassioned speech to city delegates. She spoke of her strong preference for “full service community schools” as a grassroots, bottom-up strategy for the city’s schools, and was flanked on stage by a troop of supporters in bright yellow campaign t-shirts. 

0619b79

Kim Caprini

Her rival, Kimberly Caprini, had a smaller crew of supporters–and came away with less votes–but also gave a compelling speech about why she should represent District 2 on the school board, telling delegates that, “the northside is always told no, but I don’t take no for an answer.” Caprini also detailed the advocacy work she does on behalf of a number of District 2 schools, including Olson Middle School and Patrick Henry High School.

In District 4, incumbent candidate Josh Reimnitz conceded the endorsement to newcomer Bob Walser before vote totals were announced. Reimnitz, a Teach for America alum, was first elected to the school board in 2012. Back then, as a new Minneapolis resident, Reimnitz coasted to victory with a little help from his friends in the education reform world, who added fuel, funds and fire to Reminitz’s campaign.

This time around–just four years later–those affiliations seemed like a liability. In his five minute speech to delegates, Reimnitz said he wanted to be upfront about his connections to Teach for America and education reform, drawing a few boos and hisses from the crowd. He also acknowledged that his 2012 campaign was funded by outside sources, because, he said, he was “new to Minneapolis.” In the end, his honesty was not enough to carry him past Walser, a long-time Kenwood resident who was surrounded by ecstatic neighborhood supporters. 

ira-jourdain_185

Ira Jourdain

Incumbent Tracine Asberry also stumbled on Sunday, losing the DFL endorsement to 2014 citywide candidate, Ira Jourdain. In a coin toss, Jourdain took to the stage before Asberry, and introduced himself in Ojibwe (he is a member of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe). He then gave an electric speech, declaring his belief in collective bargaining, the opt out movement and DFL values. As he walked off stage, he was given a standing ovation by a number of District 6 enthusiasts.

This was a tough act for Asberry to follow, despite the line of supporters that followed her onto the stage. She said she had thought one of her supporters, Minneapolis teacher Tom Rademacher, would be allowed to speak on her behalf. Instead, because of Convention rules, she had to settle for repeating a quote from Rademacher about her work. Asberry, first elected in 2012, also reminded delegates about her time on the school board, saying she had abstained from voting on the district’s strategic plan, and had stayed in the room during last fall’s Reading Horizons protests, when most other board members walked out.

The last two Minneapolis school board elections–in 2012 and 2014–were contentious, and, to many observers, painful. In 2014, out of state reform interests made a serious play for the two citywide seats, dumping close to $250,000 in “dark” money into the race. That amount of money–which adds up to almost a dollar for every Minneapolis resident–largely went to negative campaigning, and may have acted as a shot heard ’round the city: the profit and power hungry reform movement was barging through our collective front door.

Although the April 10 DFL Convention ended on a jubilant note for most, will it be enough to keep the persistent and incredibly deep-pocketed reformers at bay? Only the months leading up to the November election will tell.

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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John Kline in the Minneapolis Public Schools: Strange bedfellows?

Worlds are colliding–or aligning–in the Minneapolis Public Schools right now, as Republican Minnesota Congressman John Kline, chairman of the federal government’s Education and the Workforce Committee, is set to visit Nellie Stone Johnson Community School in north Minneapolis today. 

John Kline, education guru

Why would Kline–a Republican who represents a suburban and rural swath of southeastern Minnesota–be coming to Nellie Stone Johnson elementary school, today? 

It is not entirely clear who invited Kline to Minneapolis, but it seems he is coming at the request of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), an Obama administration “Promise Neighborhood in north Minneapolis. Promise Neighborhoods were launched in 2010, with funding provided by the federal government, to establish, among other things, “cradle-to-career solutions of both educational programs and family and community supports, with great schools at the center.”

NAZ became a Promise Neighborhood in late 2011, with a five-year, $28 million dollar federal grant. Sources say that, today, NAZ is running short on funds and in need of a reauthorization of their status as a Promise Neighborhood, in order to get more federal grant money. (The federal government, in turn, has been reluctant to assess whether or not Promise Neighborhoods are functioning effectively.)

Hence Kline’s visit.

An email exchange between Nellie Stone Johnson principal Amy Luehmann and NAZ employee Pa Thao shows Luehmann asking Thao for information about Kline and his visit. Thao works under NAZ Executive Director Sondra Samuels, who is married to newly elected Minneapolis school board member Don Samuels, and had this to say about Kline’s visit:

I can give you my understanding of the purpose for the visit: Rep. John Kline serves the Burnsville area and serves in the U.S. House of Representatives. He chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce so he is the biggest player in Education Policy on the national level. Rep. Kline is fiscally conservative and sees Promise Neighborhoods as too expensive. On top of that, Promise Neighborhoods is an Obama project. With partisan politics, even Republicans who do support the work that Promise Neighborhoods will not confirm that they do. Kline is one of our biggest opponents. We’ve heard from several groups and partner orgs that they have been trying for a while to get him to visit their sites. So, we are very fortunate that he has agreed to visit us as we are outside of his district. This visit is hugely important. It could have potential to lead to additional federal funding. 

Emphasis added.

What is also “hugely important” here is that NAZ is hoping to become Nellie Stone Johnson’s “partner,” under the Minneapolis Public Schools’ new “Community Partnership Schools” plan.

Becoming Nellie Stone Johnson’s partner would clearly provide NAZ with a reason to exist, and a justification for receiving more federal funding. This could be good for NAZ, but will it also be good for the students and staff at Nellie Stone Johnson?

Let’s consider some aspects of the proposed NAZ/Nellie Stone Johnson partnership that should raise questions–especially for the Minneapolis school board members who will decide at their April 14 meeting whether or not to allow the partnership to go forward. 

To ponder:

  • First, consider this: Nellie Stone Johnson was a pioneering African American labor organizer in the early to mid 20th century in Minneapolis. She was also the first black person elected to office in Minneapolis. She was so distinguished that she has a school named after her. 

    Labor activist Nellie Stone Johnson

  • But, by agreeing to “partner” with NAZ, Nellie Stone Johnson school will be agreeing to replace (I hear pink slips have already been sent) many of its current unionized, support staff employees with NAZ’s own “scholar coaches.” Privatization alert: NAZ will be providing these “coaches” to Nellie Stone Johnson at no cost to the district. The NAZ coaches will also not be unionized employees. (Support staff employees in MPS are often the district’s greatest source of staff-level diversity). 
  • Serve Minnesota, which utilizes temporary AmeriCorps reading and math tutors, will also provide staff to Nellie Stone Johnson, in place of unionized, more permanent support staff members (AmeriCorps volunteers usually serve for one or two years). It is also not clear what expertise or background in child development and education that either Serve Minnesota or NAZ would bring to Nellie Stone Johnson students and staff members.
  • NAZ also has become the training ground for the TFA corps members who are part of the University of Minnesota’s new partnership with TFA. Will TFA recruits then be placed in Nellie Stone Johnson? This seems possible, as both Samuels and her husband, Don, have been vocal advocates for TFA in the past.
  • If NAZ does get more funding and is allowed to become Nellie Stone Johnson’s partner, why would they not use some of their funds to support MPS getting more licensed, permanent teachers of color–perhaps from the ranks of the support staff who are slated to lose their jobs should this partnership go through? Getting a teaching license can be prohibitively expensive in Minnesota.
  • Will Don Samuels recuse himself from the vote for this partnership, from which his wife and her organization stand to profit?

There is much more to the proposed Nellie Stone Johnson/NAZ partnership that should be fully considered–such as the plan’s reliance and insistence on more “data days” for staff members (versus access to excellent, developmentally appropriate resources for the school’s students and staff). Hopefully, school board members are putting serious thought into this and will not simply rubber stamp the “partnership” between NAZ and Nellie Stone Johnson. Anything less would be a serious dishonor to the legacy of the woman for whom the school is named.

And, hopefully, John Kline’s ideas for what constitutes a great school system are not the only thing that will matter. 

Senator to Minneapolis Public Schools: Hannd ’em over

Good news, job seekers! Hiawatha Leadership Academies, the Minneapolis-based charter school chain run by Eli Kramer is poised for growth and ready to hire a “Temporary Recruitment Ambassador.”*

As a TRA–not to be confused with TFA, which is a different sort of temporary employment thing, and, from one insider’s view, “closely aligned” with Hiawatha Academies–your main job will be to stop referring to children as children, and instead call them “scholars” every time you speak. As a bonus, along the way you will learn that teachers are no longer simply “teachers” (boring!), but instead have been elevated to “scholar coaches.”

Once you get this down, you will be on your way to helping fill Hiawatha’s hallways with Scholars Formerly Known as Children. Pause for a moment, if you will, and get inspired by Hiawatha’s “manifest destiny” dreams:

“Our vision is to expand our impact by growing to five schools by 2020. At scale, we will be putting five percent of all school-age scholars in Minneapolis on the path to and through college.”

But don’t worry–you won’t be alone in this mission. In fact, the path to having “scholar launching pads” throughout Minneapolis is currently being paved by the power of suggestion, thanks to some friends in high places.

David “I’ll Hanndle This” Hann; Photo by James Nord

Case in point: Republican state Senator David Hann, of the suburban happy land known as Eden Prairie, just proposed a bill to break up the Minneapolis Public Schools and, once and for all, dismantle its dysfunctional bureaucratic ways by breaking it into six smaller bureaucracies, each with its own list of administrators (I smell opportunity for all of you former “scholar coaches” out there!).

With a clear eye towards transformational change, here’s what Hann’s plan would bring to Minneapolis: “The six districts would choose a superintendent, hold school board elections, and decide whether it wants unionized or non-unionized teachers, among many issues. The districts would be free of state mandates.” And, because choice is only good for some people, in some situations, “…the bill would not give the Minneapolis school district a choice in the matter.”

I’m glad someone’s head is in the game. And, I am not surprised it is Hann, who, coincidentally, was once on the Hiawatha Academies board of directors, and is the president of something called “Parents for Accountable Schools” (which is nothing like the group Parents for Accounting Schools, I’m told.)

Of course, this bill–borne of the boredom that comes from representing a suburban district with no school-related problems–will not go anywhere. This time.

But, dear future potential scholar recruiter, it does go along with a recent Minneapolis StarTribune editorial, which warns that, when it comes to Minneapolis and St. Paul, failure to get test scores (Results©) up will give “ammunition to those who would dismantle urban public schools.”

And, it does plant a nice seed that may help Hiawatha reach its goal of capturing 5% of the market share in Minneapolis.

Maybe this firm can help?

*Job may have already been filled, as the scholar recruitment window is a narrow one.