Reports from wide-ranging sources of information about a recent incident at Burroughs Community School in the Minneapolis Public School District and an outcry from community members of all different backgrounds with varying beliefs and conflicting opinions have brought deep-seated tensions and evidence of racial polarization in our community into front and center view. This is a painful picture to witness and we must not ignore it.
The divisive turn of discussions about race, at a time when we are focused on making difficult and necessary changes to our school district, is especially disturbing. In more than 20 meetings around the city in recent months we have engaged our parents and community members in understanding the process of decision making as we look at “Changing School Options.” We have listened to and experienced the pain and passion our families are feeling as we face a $28 million dollar budget shortfall in 2009–2010 and try to right-size the district for the future. In this context it is not surprising that people’s motives can be misunderstood, nerves are frayed and tempers explode. The recent episode at Burroughs has compounded the tension in our community. But we must stay focused on doing what is right for our students.
The changes the Minneapolis Public School administration will soon be recommending to the Board of Education are designed to enable us to spend less on buildings and transportation and more on high quality classroom experiences and academic achievement for all students. This is a necessary foundation for, but only part of, the work we are doing to create a superior quality education for all of our students and long-term sustainability for the district.
We do not condone attacks by any member of the Minneapolis Public School community against any other member of our family. We must find ways to discuss issues of racial sensitivity openly and constructively. In spite of the sometimes degrading and accusatory tone of comments we are hearing between one race and another or one economic “class” and another, we are sensing a hunger among many community members for progress, reform and unity. We don’t believe most of the white people in Southwest Minneapolis hate the black or brown people living in North Minneapolis and we don’t believe most of the black, brown, yellow or red skin-toned people in our district hate the white people. I have personally experienced people of all colors reaching across barriers and stereotypes to hold the hands of people of different skin colors and economic backgrounds to move forward in the work of supporting our students, raising achievement and closing the achievement gap.
Now is the time for us to listen attentively, address and eliminate rancor, heal demoralized spirits and work toward reconciliation. Now is the time for us to demonstrate to our children that we value diversity and welcome students from all backgrounds into each and every one of our classrooms.
The diversity of students in the Minneapolis Public Schools is one of our greatest strengths and our greatest challenges. In many ways, we are more like the rest of the globe than many other school districts in Minnesota and the United States. The prospect of opening our hearts and minds to the opportunities embedded in great diversity is the reason we began our series of community gatherings on Race and Equity across the school district. It is why we have looked at every possible option for changes to our schools through a lens that considered racial integration, poverty and equity of programming.
I expect all people in the district to treat our students and families fairly and equitably. We ask the Minneapolis community to join us in refocusing on the work of our district — ensuring that all children in Minneapolis Public Schools are prepared for the challenges of adulthood when they graduate from high school. As adults, our willingness to address issues of race and equity with honor and respect sets the tone for our children, so they can create a world defined by civility for their generation and the generations to come.
William D. Green is superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools.