Schools Notebook: Viva City goes to the Guthrie

Kenny Community School fifth-graders and glee club members perform March 27 at Minneapolis Public Schools' 23rd-annual Viva City Fine Arts Festival. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
Kenny Community School fifth-graders and glee club members perform March 27 at Minneapolis Public Schools' 23rd-annual Viva City Fine Arts Festival. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Nearly 1,000 Minneapolis Public Schools students took to the Guthrie Theater stages March 27 as part of the district’s annual celebration of performing arts.

The 23rd-annual Viva City Fine Arts Festival featured choirs, bands, dance teams, orchestras and theater troupes from about 25 Minneapolis schools. This year was the first time the district held the event at the Guthrie.

Nora Schull, district program facilitator for the MPS Arts team, said the event was possible because of the work of the teachers who organized the students. She said her department works to ensure every student has a chance to access the arts.

“Until you have that experience or that opportunity, you might not know that’s what you’re passionate about,” Schull said.

MPS guarantees every student a professional arts experience at every grade level, though the content may vary from school to school. Visit mpsarts.org to learn more about the district’s arts program.

District nearing selection on literacy curriculum

Minneapolis Public Schools is nearing decision time on a new district-wide pre-K–5 literacy curriculum.

A steering committee will make a recommendation on a new curriculum this month to Superintendent Ed Graff and Chief of Schools Michael Thomas, and district leaders will bring the recommendation to the School Board on May 9.

School Board approval would wrap up the yearlong selection process. The district would implement the curriculum in the fall.

Literacy curriculums typically last eight to 10 years, according to Carey Seeley, director of elementary education for the district’s Department of Teaching & Learning. She said the district is looking at a cost of $10 million–$12 million for the curriculum over the time the district uses it.

As part of the selection process, the district has hosted two literacy curriculum fairs and has field-tested three finalists at 12 schools. The steering committee is planning on gathering feedback from literacy experts at an April 10 event and will also be gathering feedback from teachers who were part of the field-testing.

MPS currently uses Pearson Education’s “Good Habits Great Readers” as its literacy curriculum, but that curriculum does not meet Minnesota’s English language arts standards. The curriculum does not have the required 50-50 split of fiction and nonfiction, and the text complexity is “far below” what’s required in the standards, according to the district’s request for proposal for a new curriculum.

The district attempted to partially update its literacy curriculum in 2015, culminating in a contract with Utah-based Reading Horizons for K–3 materials. The School Board rescinded that contract, however, because some community members felt some of the books reinforced racist and sexist stereotypes.

Ten vendors responded to the district’s RFP this past year, Seeley said. The steering committee narrowed the list down to four and selected three to pilot: Benchmark Education, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt.

The last day of field-testing was March 24.

District to host third-annual Junior Iron Chef

Middle schoolers, grab your aprons.

Minneapolis Public Schools is hosting its third-annual Junior Iron Chef Competition on May 8. The event will feature four teams, each comprised of two middle schoolers and one local chef, who will cook a meal for a panel of judges. The winning dish could find itself on the MPS lunch menu during the 2017–2018 school year.

The event aims to promote the district’s commitment to scratch cooking and to engage students and families in the fun of cooking, said Kate Seybold, Farm to School Coordinator for MPS.

MPS is going through the process of reinstalling full kitchens in all of its schools, Seybold said. Schools previously received packaged food from the district’s central kitchen. Now, 33 schools have kitchens where they can do their own scratch cooking.

The district is integrating more fresh and local fruits and vegetables into schools through the Farm to School program, Seybold said. It no longer serves foods with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring dyes and trans fats.

“We look for really clean labels with no additives in them,” Seybold said.

Every month, the district serves an entirely locally sourced meal, typically on the first Thursday. In April, the district will serve the winning recipe from last year’s Junior Iron Chef Competition — barbeque chicken drumsticks with a dirty grain blend and gingered radish salad.

At the competition, students and chefs will have one hour to plan and cook a culinary creation. They will have access to a pantry, and the district will announce a few required ingredients the day of the competition.

“The hope is that it’s a well-rounded meal that we can then serve in our lunchrooms,” Seybold said.

The event is open to MPS students in sixth through eighth grades. Visit nutritionservices.mpls.k12.mn.us/junior_iron_chef_competition for more information and to apply to participate. Applications are due April 14.

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