News to celebrate from Minneapolis schools

We constantly strive to do all that we can to continue connecting with our communities and families. Everyone is busier than ever, which is why we work hard to develop innovative and creative ways to provide our families and the community with information and support that they need to ensure that our students are successful in school. As summer break is well underway, we encourage families and community members to follow us and provide feedback through the various communications tools we utilize all year round:
— Visit our website at mpls.k12.mn.us.
— Listen to live MPS news segments each Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. on the MPS radio station, Jazz 88.5 FM.
— Follow Minneapolis Public Schools on Facebook or Twitter. (I am also on Twitter!) We update our pages frequently and our fans are some of the first to receive new information about MPS.

The 2010-2011 school year is complete, and once again, our staff and students have distinguished themselves in ways that make us proud. For the second straight year, Southwest High School has been named “best public school in Minnesota,” a distinction coming from The Washington Post’s High School Challenge.

Principal Joan Franks, Armatage Montessori, received the Minnesota National Distinguished Principal award from the U.S. Department of Education. The Washburn robotics team competed in the international FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Championship. Lake Harriet students placed sixth in the global Destination ImagiNation competition, and another student from the school placed first in the national history competition. Washburn High School ninth-grader Mike Meyer was awarded an honorable mention in the C-SPAN 2011 StudentCam video documentary competition. Southwest High School graduate, Alex Glaze, received a Beat the Odds scholarship award and plans to attend Stanford University in the fall. Five students were named Gates Millennium Scholars and two were named National Merit Scholars, with one more Merit Scholarship announcement anticipated in July.

Even though we experienced several challenges — ranging from a tornado’s destruction to the ongoing debate at the Legislature, which prolongs our financial uncertainty — I believe there are several reasons to celebrate and be hopeful.

This year, the Minneapolis Public Schools’ top priority continues to be to support good teaching. Ultimately, it will deliver the results we want for our students. We have begun implementing focused instruction, a long-term goal scheduled for completion in May 2014, and a newly designed and tested formal observation protocol for teacher evaluations. Our evaluation system will help everyone have a common understanding of what good teaching looks like and will provide every teacher with a fair and annual review.

This clarity of purpose has garnered tremendous support. In ways both big and small, leaders across the region are sending us a message: we believe in you.
With the help of AchieveMpls, we received a significant investment of more than $13 million from Target, Cargill, General Mills and Medtronic to drive student achievement in the areas of early literacy, science, technology, engineering and math; to expand college readiness; and to strengthen our leadership and human capital development. An investment from the Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi Foundation for Children will support teacher evaluation. Additionally, the McKnight Foundation has given us a planning grant to develop comprehensive strategies to improve PreK-3 literacy.

Like our external partners, families are also giving us another look. Enrollment continues to stabilize and even grow. Stable enrollment means stable revenue, which directly translates to greater stability in the classroom.

Reflecting on my first year as superintendent, I experienced several high points. I started the year off with a dedication to our 3,100 college-bound kindergarten students and an aggressive goal: all kindergarteners would be reading at “Level B” in our reading curriculum by winter break. The goal startled some, energized others and galvanized everyone. Teachers, parents, principals and even our kindergarteners knew “Level B by Break”!

Sixty percent of our students reached the mid-year mark. Now, with the results from our spring assessments in, we have bested that number: 76 percent of students tested are at or above the goal.

MPS is indeed fortunate to have city and state leaders who clearly understand the challenges and needs of urban education and who are unequivocally committed to closing the achievement gap. I am grateful for the ongoing efforts of Mayor Rybak, the Minneapolis legislative delegation, Education Commissioner Cassellius and Governor Dayton on behalf of our students. They, like me, understand the impact that public debates have on public education. We can have a positive, constructive conversation about improving outcomes for all students. I believe each of us should do whatever we can to lead a more respectful public discourse about our collective challenges, be they around finances, education or any other major issue confronting our society. The next generation will take its cues from the leaders around it.

As superintendent, I want everyone working and supporting MPS to understand the vision, Every Child College Ready. Everyone has a role in helping future generations succeed.

We value the dedication that the community has to our schools and our students. Thank you for your commitment to education. It has been a privilege and honor to serve you as superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools. Thank you for supporting and believing in us.

Bernadeia Johnson is superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools.