Ninety minutes into the Minneapolis Public Schools board of education meeting on Tuesday, the board began hearing updates from district leadership on the district’s budget for the upcoming school year, which includes “intervention triads.” Board Chair Sharon El-Amin, and Directors Lori Norvell, Collin Beachy, Sonya Emerick and Abdul Abdi all pushed back on the district’s plan to add these new positions to the district’s schools next year. Eventually, Director Ira Jourdain used a procedural move to end discussion of the topic.
Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox opened discussion of the district’s finances by noting the additional money being allocated to schools next year to fund the intervention triads and half-time media specialists at every school.
She said, “With these two items, we’re putting funding most directly where it will impact student learning– in schools and in direct services to our students.”
According to Senior Finance Officer Ibrahima Diop the district is using a portion of its ESSERIII funds, one-time federal pandemic relief grants, for the intervention triads. Specifically, the district is using the 20% of that funding that the federal government required school districts to utilize for “learning loss.”
The results of the district’s winter assessments of K-8 students indicated significant learning loss. The proportion of students meeting grade-level proficiency declined in both reading and math compared to last year. The proportion of students meeting the growth targets on the assessments also decreased compared to last year. The growth targets are independent of proficiency level, so a student could be below grade level proficiency but exceed the growth target if they are making enough progress.
Cox said the intervention triads are a response to the winter assessment data. Designed in conjunction with her cabinet and the budget committee, Cox said they wanted the proposal to send a message to schools about how much the district supports them.
She noted, “The horrific extent of this unfinished learning calls for bold action, and that’s what we’re proposing.”
Allocations of intervention triads to schools were based on how many students had not met grade level proficiency targets in reading and math for two consecutive assessments, and who had also not met the growth targets for two consecutive assessments. The district uses the Fastbridge assessments in reading and math for all K-8 students, three times per year, to track both proficiency and growth.
Noting the significance of two consecutive assessments without meeting grade level or growth targets on assessments, Cox said, “That’s serious to me. That is a crisis. And when we look at what we are doing for those students, and the fact that we need so many intervention triads to actually meet that need.”
“I feel like the message to teachers is we see you. We see you having to differentiate for students in your classroom that have a very wide range,” Cox said. “We have an extreme amount of students that need a tier two intervention.”
Here, tier two refers to small group instruction that supplements whole class instruction for students who are below grade level. Under the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support model that the district uses, the standard is to have no more than 15% of students in need of an intervention. Cox said the hope is that the proposed intervention triads are successful and in subsequent years, the need for interventionists decreases. The triads will consist of one licensed educator and two unlicensed associate educators.
As Minneapolis Schools Voices previously reported, several principals have pushed back on the triad model, particularly in high schools. They have asked for flexibility to hire social workers instead of teachers, or provide support for social studies and science classes, instead of math and literacy, for example.
Director Lori Norvell asked about potential changes to the intervention triads strategy, such as “strengthening our co-teaching models so that those students aren’t being pulled out [of classrooms]” and how that might impact the budget allocations to schools.
Cox replied, “For us to be able to evaluate whether this is working… we have to have some standardization.” She noted principals will have flexibility within their schools about how to implement this model, but that the particular staffing allocation must remain consistent across schools.
Senior Academic Officer Aimee Fearing responded, “When I look at co-teaching models, those are really used to strengthen the core.” Here core refers to the general education classroom instruction that all students receive. “We have students in Minneapolis Public Schools that need interventions.”
Fearing added that these students need something beyond stronger core instruction because they are consistently behind grade-level learning. The purpose of the intervention is for these students to catch up to grade level, and then be able to keep up with grade-level work going forward.
Chair Sharon El-Amin, Director Sonya Emerick and Director Colin Beachy also asked additional questions about why the interventions needed to be delivered separately, or in so-called “segregated settings.”
Fearing responded, “If we don’t intervene with these students, we are segregating them out, perhaps for life.”
Fearing described how students will often develop coping strategies to cover for not knowing how to read. As they progress to higher grade levels, these strategies don’t work as well, and students fall farther behind. She noted the social and emotional toll this can take on students. In her opinion, schools can mitigate any stigma from an out of class intervention by carefully designing student schedules.
The district will continue its investments in improving general education classroom instruction, particularly literacy in early elementary grades, according to Fearing. The district will continue to support LETRS literacy professional development, the Groves Literacy Partnership and the Functional Phonics curriculum partnership with the University of Minnesota. The hope is that students receiving improved early elementary literacy instruction will not need intervention support in future years.
Chair El-Amin also asked about the district’s plan to fill so many new positions. Some of her concerns were echoed by Director Abdul Abdi, who also voiced worry about educators leaving classroom positions to take intervention positions, then going back to those classroom positions when the funding for interventionists runs out after one year.
“I will be up front. There will be challenges in hiring and sustaining funding long term for these necessary supports. I also know that we’re currently asking our teachers to differentiate instruction for a classroom of students who have just experienced years of interrupted learning, the impact of which will be felt for years to come unless we take bold steps,” Cox told the board.
Senior Human Resources Officer Candra Bennett said, “It is not lost on us that the new positions in the current market will pose an issue for us to staff for.” She added that the Associate Educator positions will be forty hours per week, which she believes will be attractive to some current ESPs looking for additional hours of work. Current classroom teachers may also view the intervention positions positively if “they need a break from the traditional classroom.”
Bennett said negotiations are ongoing with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers to create a separate hiring process for the intervention teacher positions before the regular process schools go through to fill vacancies for the upcoming year. The purpose of this process would be to give schools a better chance to fill vacancies in classroom positions through the regular hiring process.
Diop told the board that if the intervention triads work, under priority-based budgeting next year, the district would have to find something that wasn’t working as well, stop funding that, and fund the interventionists instead. “We cannot do everything,” Diop said.