The Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education met on October 10. The board spent the majority of its discussion time focused on the inconsistent implementation of intervention triads, which has left several schools, primarily in North and Northeast Minneapolis, without the promised new staff meant to help students recover academically in math and reading. Fourteen teachers hired to fill the intervention roles have been moved into classrooms to fill vacancies.  Some triad positions are still vacant, leaving students without intervention services or with a modified type of intervention.

Sarah Hunter, executive director of strategic initiatives, told the board that the intervention vacancies are not uniform across the district.

“The places where we most need students to be served, both with amazing educators in the classroom and be provided with tier two interventions, are the very places where we are struggling to do so,” Hunter said.

Hunter told the board there are nine schools where either no intervention teachers were hired, or where intervention teachers have been moved into classroom teaching positions to fill vacancies at the schools. At six of the schools, the staff have developed work-arounds to utilize the non-licensed associate educators interventionists to deliver interventions. But at three schools, Bethune Elementary, Jenny Lind Elementary, and Northeast Middle Schools students are not receiving any of the promised intervention services.

In a March school board meeting with Hunter, Senior Academic Officer Aimee Fearing and Senior Officer of Schools Shawn Harris-Berry present, multiple district principals warned that staffing challenges, particularly in Northside and Title I schools, were likely to leave these schools without classroom teachers, predicting current classroom staff would take intervention roles.

Board Director Joyner Emerick described the intervention triads as “amazing” after visiting Bryn Mawr Elementary, Emerson Elementary, Lake Harriet Lower Elementary, Burroughs Community, and Dowling Elementary Schools to observe the students and staff in action. But, they said it was  “heartbreaking” that some schools still do not have interventions up and running, on top of not having enough licensed teachers to deliver core classroom instruction.

“I know we have put this program together to try to mitigate the negative impact of disinvestment on some of our students,” Emerick said. “But we didn’t. In fact, what we did is we used $30 million to fund continued disinvestment in the students in our district who have already historically and contemporarily experienced the most of it.”

Emerick called on the MPS administration to develop an actionable plan by the end of the week to engage community partners and allocate additional funds to schools where the intervention triads have not been implemented as intended.

“Let’s figure out how to move forward together in a way that’s concrete. I cannot hear again ‘we are looking at the possibility of this or this’” Emerick said.

Hunter told the board she was meeting with associate superintendents and principals on October 12 to develop a plan specifically for Bethune Arts Elementary School.

Emerick said the lack of services is part of “the continued disinvestment in some of these sites, particularly on the Northside” and that it “has a cumulative effect” on the students and staff.

Funding for intervention triads was allocated to schools during the spring budget process. Each school was allocated at least one triad, which includes a licensed teacher and two non-licensed associate educators, regardless of the number of students the district believed needed academic recovery services. Additional positions were added to schools that had more than 75 students who were both below grade-level proficiency in reading or math, and had not made typical academic progress over two assessments.

The district did not seek any modification to its usual hiring and reassignment practices when adding the intervention teachers. Cox said the district knew in July that some schools were having difficulty filling open positions, and at that point began to focus on staffing specific schools.

Cox reported that the current vacancy rate for licensed teaching positions is 6.9%, above the typical vacancy rate of 5%. For non-licensed positions, the vacancy rate is 14%. Within the intervention triad positions, the licensed vacancy rate is 8.3% for elementary school positions, 21.4% for secondary math license positions, and 3.3% for secondary reading license positions. The associate education intervention positions currently have a 19.8% vacancy rate, but the district expects that to decline in the coming week because of ongoing hiring.

“What can we do differently so that this doesn’t happen again because our kids are suffering from it? We can’t keep making these mistakes,”  Director Lori Norvel said at the meeting, in response to the triad staffing report.

Cox said the current hiring and reassignment process for licensed teachers, covered under the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement, limits the ability of the district to assign staff to schools where they are most needed. Current teachers voluntarily choose to apply for open positions. A hiring committee made up of the school principal and teachers interviews applicants and selects a candidate to fill the open position. Positions are not open to external candidates during this process.

Interim Senior Officer of Human Resources Alicia Miller said that the district’s internal hiring process ends later than any school district in the metro area. When the district opens hiring to external candidates, typically in June, there is a limited pool of external applicants for district positions.

“Those highly sought after teachers have already likely been hired elsewhere once we are able to contractually post externally,” Miller said.

Director Adriana Cerrillo pushed for an explanation of why the district isn’t moving staff to the schools with the highest needs.

Cox said the district is unable “to move staff across the district in an equitable way.” The current staffing adjustment process is designed to only address situations where enrollment is above or below expected at schools. The process isn’t designed to be used to fill vacancies.

Chair Sharon El-Amin asked Cox, “How do we get staffing adjustment to move away from enrollment to the academic [needs of students]?”

Cox said the district is looking into options, which include reaching out to community partners, and asking schools with fewer students needing intervention if they will voluntarily allow their intervention staff to be reassigned to schools in need part-time. She is also exploring ways that central office staff could be deployed to schools to assist with interventions.

Cox said that modifying the internal interviewing  process will be a priority for the district during the current bargaining with the teacher chapter of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. The 2021-23 collective bargaining agreement, which came out of the March 2022 strike, expired on June 20, 2023, but remains in effect until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

Director Abdul Abdi asked that the district pay more to fill positions in schools or fields that have been historically difficult to staff. But Cox pushed back on that suggestion.

“Do we need to pay people more to work with our Black and Brown children? And what message does that send to our community?” Cox said. “We have come up with some ideas for financial assistance, and we’re currently working with the unions- because any time that we do that we have to work with our union to come up with a [memorandum of agreement].”  

Emerick countered Cox’s assertion that paying more to fill positions in difficult-to-staff schools or positions could send a negative message. They noted that special education funding and Title I funding direct additional resources to schools for students who have additional needs, and that the district recently signed a memorandum of agreement with the education support professionals union to pay bus aides bonuses in order to fill vacant positions and meet students' needs.

“Only when we talk about our Black and Brown students on the Northside do we call into question our established practice of directing financial resources to meet a need,” Emerick said.

Directors Kim Ellision and Ira Jourdain, who have the longest tenures on the board of the current members, shared that the district has previously attempted to improve the hiring and reassignment process, but with limited success.

Ellison said that a previous World’s Best Workforce committee discussed the idea of general placement, where teachers would apply to the district, and the district would assign teachers based on their skills and student needs. Jourdain said that this was a topic of collective bargaining in both 2016 and 2018, but the district and union could not reach agreement on changes.

Jourdain also noted that teacher preferences over school sites play a significant role in the current system.

“Call it good old fashioned racism,” Jourdain said. “But for whatever reason people just do not want to work at some of these schools.”

The existing interview and select process for internal candidates, delayed start to external hiring, and preferences of educators lead to a teacher assignment system that has a disproportionate negative impact on students in Northside schools. Students in Northside schools are more likely to be students of color, face housing instability, qualify for special education services, and come from lower income households, compared to district averages.

“If our Northside schools are what’s showing up as the lowest in academic achievement, then what do we have to do to put priority to that?” El-Amin asked.

Additional updates during the meeting include:

  • Principals are working on recruiting parents and caregivers to join school site councils who will reflect the identities of the students at each school. This work came out of the site council Equity Diversity Impact Assessment completed in May 2022. Currently just 20 schools have site councils that reflect student identities.
  • Starting in January, the district will pilot vape detectors in five middle and high school buildings as part of its ongoing work to improve student safety and wellbeing.
  • The district is continuing to have issues with the implementation of its new student management system called Infinite Campus. There was no update on when those issues may be resolved.
  • The board approved a resolution to authorize the district to have racial covenants removed from the deeds at Lake Harriet Lower Elementary School campus.
  • All board members were present except Fathia Ferrayarre who was traveling.
  • The meeting began with public comments dominated by the district’s bus drivers calling for higher pay for experienced bus drivers. Commenters said new hires are being paid more than experienced bus drivers.

The school board meets again on November 14. The meeting is open to the public and will be broadcast online.