The Minneapolis Public Schools board of education had its fourth meeting with facilitator Betty Jo Webb on May 2. The board was joined by Executive Director Sarah Hunter and Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox for a conversation about how to prioritize the strategies within the district’s strategic plan. That plan, developed with former Superintendent Ed Graff and approved over a year ago with five members no longer serving on the school board, includes a total of twenty strategies to support four goals. The long list has made it challenging for district administration to prioritize its work to achieve the strategic plan goals.
There was no discussion at the meeting about school transformation, the phrase the board and district are using to mean a reorganization plan that would include closing or consolidating schools.
The retreat-style meeting happened in the fifth floor conference room at the Davis Center instead of the board’s usual meeting space. Board directors Sharon El-Amin, Collin Beachy, Lori Norvell, Fathia Ferrayare, Joyner Emerick, Kim Ellison, Adriana Cerrillo and Abdul Abdi were present for the meeting. Director Ira Jourdain was not in attendance. Ryan Strack, assistant to the board and superintendent, was also at the meeting.
In previous meetings with Webb on January 28 and March 7, board members discussed the strategic plan and how they would like the district to prioritize the strategies and goals within the plan. At the May 2 meeting, Hunter and Cox shared with the board a summary of how the board prioritized strategies at its March 7 meeting. Then, they shared which strategies the administration would like to prioritize.
The priority strategies will be the focus of future board meetings, help department leaders focus their work for the coming school year, and serve as the basis for performance evaluations for department leaders and the interim superintendent. While board meetings will focus on the prioritized strategies, Cox told board members that there would also be regular updates in an appendix to board presentations next school year with an update on all twenty strategies that support the strategic plan.
“Setting something as a priority doesn’t mean that other work won’t continue,” El-Amin told board members in her opening remarks. “It means that these will be the areas on which we will focus because we believe they need additional attention in some way, either closer oversight or realigning our resources or both.”
The strategic plan includes four goals: academic achievement, student wellbeing, effective staff, and school and district climate. On March 7, board members engaged in an exercise with Webb where they selected which strategies for each goal they felt the district was already doing well. Strategies that received the fewest votes in this exercise were deemed a priority.
For academic achievement, the board priorities were anti-racist curriculum and magnet pathways. The student wellbeing strategies that the board prioritized were implementing restorative practices districtwide and equitable access to mental health supports for students. Under the goal of effective staff, the board’s priority strategies were recruitment of diverse educators and effective engagement with parents and caregivers. For the school and district climate goal, the board prioritized the strategy to fully implement the district’s climate framework and the strategy for student placement practices intended to integrate, recruit and retain students.
After the March 7 meeting, Cox and Hunter reviewed which strategies the administration would like to prioritize within the strategic plan. Their objective was to select no more than five strategies to prioritize for next school year. The administration agreed with the board on the strategies to support academic achievement, selecting both of the same strategies as the board. In addition, the administration selected the strategies to recruit diverse educators and fully implement the climate framework.
But administration diverged with the board when it came to how to support student wellbeing. Alluding to recent board meetings, closed to the public, on safety issues within the district, Cox said that she wanted to prioritize the strategy of providing physically safe and welcoming schools. After some discussion, board members agreed with Cox to change their priority to this strategy.
There was additional discussion about which strategies should be prioritized for the academic achievement goal, with directors Abdi, Cerrillo, Norvell and El-Amin noting the importance of the district focusing on core reading and math instruction in light of the recently reported winter assessment results. Cox and Hunter agreed with board members that core academics should be a priority.
“We also didn’t have the audit results, yet,” Emerick said, referring to the district’s recent audit of its elementary literacy curriculum. That audit found that the curriculum is inadequate in terms of meeting student needs for evidence-based literacy instruction. Next year, the district will begin the search for a new elementary literacy curriculum.
Consensus was reached that the district would prioritize the strategy of core instruction in literacy and math, instead of magnet pathways, to support the academic achievement goal. Cox noted that this does not mean the district won’t address magnet pathways.
“For me, I think about the complexity of the work that needs to be done around [core instruction] versus the complexity of the work that needs to be done around [magnet pathways],” Norvell said. She felt the board needed the depth of information about core math and literacy instruction that would come from selecting it as a priority, but not the same depth of information about magnet pathways.
At the meeting’s conclusion, El-Amin told the board that they will vote on a resolution in June to direct the Interim Superintendent to prioritize the five strategies going forward. She also shared that she and Beachy will meet with the search firm BWP on Friday, May 5 for an update on the superintendent search process. BWP will join the board on June 6 in a meeting on the superintendent search.