Every child who enters our school doors is an individual with a unique set of life experiences, talents, skills and challenges. I strongly believe that every child deserves our fullest and most intentional support in helping him or her achieve success in school, as well as in life.
To do this, our schools must be places where all children feel and believe their surroundings are safe, welcoming and supportive.
Ensuring that our families feel included, welcomed and respected when they enter our buildings is equally as important. Minneapolis Public Schools is committed to providing excellent service to our students, families and visitors through every interaction. A friendly voice on the phone, a warm welcome in the school office and a hospitable environment help individuals continue to have positive connections with our schools. This commitment to inclusion of the diverse families that we serve must permeate every level of our organization.
MPS has a more diverse, more mobile, more complex body of students than most school districts in Minnesota. Our student body is 68 percent students of color. Sixty-six percent of our students qualify to receive free or reduced price meals. English Language Learner (ELL) services are provided to 23 percent of MPS students and nearly 20 percent of our students receive special education services. We consider this diversity to be one of our greatest strengths. Our urban educational experience gives young people a competitive edge in a multi-ethnic global economy.
In the last six years, MPS graduation rates are up from 76 percent to 85 percent in the seven comprehensive Minneapolis high schools and the percentage of our students enrolling in college immediately after high school has risen from 45 percent to 62 percent. High school participation in courses of academic rigor like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate among students of color has increased from 19 percent in 2007 to 35 percent in 2010; while white students still have a disproportionately higher rate of participation (66 percent vs. 35 percent respectively), the gain for students of color over that four-year period was higher (11 percent for white students compared to 16 percent for students of color).
We are seeing progress, but it is not enough. We must accelerate efforts and intensely focus on core strategies that will deliver the results we desire for every student. This means that our building leaders, instructional staff and others who interact with students must be prepared to meet the diverse needs of each and every student who enters our classrooms. We must also ensure that our administrative services closely align with our mission in order to provide optimal support to our schools and students.
The MPS Office of Equity and Diversity works to integrate equity and diversity into all aspects of our school district, whether by building an inclusive culture and environment where our staff, students and families are supported or working to achieve better resolution of harassment and discrimination complaints. Equity and Diversity staff focus on building partnerships with businesses and diverse community organizations and increasing business opportunities for Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) and other diverse business enterprises.
Commitment to equity and diversity is one of our core values and is essential to our goal of keeping children first and shaping them to be college-ready. Our schools must be places of inclusion and respect, where we strive to enhance the education, development and growth of our students. Thank you for your support of this goal in the Minneapolis Public Schools.
Bernadeia H. Johnson is superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools.