At their first retreat with new Superintendent Ed Graff, board members tore into their plans to improve graduation rates, test scores and other measures of academic achievement.
By Alejandra Matos
Original post: Star Tribune AUGUST 2, 2016
Minneapolis school board members tore into their plans to improve graduation rates, test scores and other measures of academic achievement at their first retreat with new superintendent Ed Graff.
It was an opportunity of the board to refocus on student achievement and district operations after it spent more than a year in a tumultuous superintendent search.
“This is the first time in about a year and a half that there is the prospect for normalcy in this school district,” said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, who facilitated the retreat.
Graff began the meeting with a team-building exercise where board members told one another how their backgrounds shaped their views on education. Board member Carla Bates said her mother’s mental health issues and home life led her to seek refuge in schools. Others said that racism they experienced in schools led them to focus on social justice issues.
But the majority of the conversation involved the district’s strategic plan, which sets goals for everything from test scores and graduation rates to how many parents feel welcome at their child’s school. The plan was approved in 2014 under then-Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, and so far the district has failed to meet most of its goals.
The board and Graff discussed reducing the number of goals aimed at ensuring that students are college- and career-ready. A particular challenge is measuring whether students are meeting math and reading standards now that hundreds of high school students are opting out of state standardized exams.
By the October board meeting, Graff said he would be make recommendations to the board for how to update the strategic plan. The board is supposed to evaluate Graff’s performance based on his success in meeting the plan’s goals.
Casserly was intensely critical of the board’s guiding principle for its strategic plan, which holds that schools are the “unit of change” and that schools should be allowed to make major budgeting and curriculum decisions, while the district in turn should hold the school leaders accountable for their results.
Casserly said that was “not a strategy.”
“It’s laziness on the part of the board and senior administrative leadership,” he said.
Casserly said he has never seen the “unit of change” strategy improve student outcomes in a district that has low performance like Minneapolis. Instead schools are left without proper support and are driven to “chaos.”
The harsh assessment left the board members, many of whom approved the plan, speechless.