Washburn IB not to be

Plans on hold during long-term strategic planning

The Minneapolis Public Schools high school transformation process was chugging along until late April, when it suddenly came to a grinding halt.

There was a long-term strategic planning process on the tracks.

On April 30, Superintendent Bill Green and Chief Academic Officer Bernadeia Johnson released a memo stating an effort to expand the highly regarded International Baccalaureate (IB) program to Washburn High School would stop. The programs proposed addition was a plan that frustrated and confused a vocal group of area parents.

Before making specific changes to high schools, district leaders will spend the summer mapping out their goals for the next three to five years. The long-term strategic planning process is expected to continue into next fall, producing three to six major recommendations by November.

The decision to halt high school transformation was, in part, a reaction to a letter from concerned Southwest parents like Steve Kotvis.

We didnt say, Dont do it, Kotvis said. We just said, Time out.

A chorus of parent voices joined him. Many expressed their frustration through an online discussion group and at meetings with Assistant Superintendent Craig Vana, who oversees Southwest schools.

Kotvis said there were too many unanswered questions swirling around the plan.

Why expand IB in Southwest, where the program is already offered? Who made the decision? When?

I dont like it when the district either actively or passively allows decisions to be made without public discourse, he said.

School Board Member Tom Madden said he and several of his colleagues agreed with the


In my mind, a lot of parents a lot of very engaged and smart and thoughtful parents said, Hey, this isnt right, Madden said. And we heard them.

Gears in motion

Vana is the districts point man on high school transformation. A family emergency took him out of the office as this story was being reported, but interviews with others in the administration illuminated the events leading to the April 30 memo.

School Board Chairwoman Pam Costain said Vana and others were acting in good faith to carry out the wishes of a previous School Board.

The decision (to expand IB to Washburn) was made, I think, for two reasons, Costain said. One is the tremendous demand for IB, and the second is the difficulty Washburn had in attracting


Each year, 200 open seats in the Southwest High School IB program fill up quickly. Southwest IB is widely considered correctly or not the most rigorous program offered by the citys public schools.

Johnson said the gears were in motion to expand IB when the new School Board took office in January.

Back in the fall, the direction and advice we got from the board was that we should look at increasing IB and moving it to Washburn, Johnson said. In the meantime, we shift[ed] to a new board thats interested in really framing all of our work around the strategic planning process.

Costain said any specific changes to high schools must be considered in the context of a district facing serious challenges. Foremost among those challenges are declining enrollment, a growing achievement gap and a ballooning budget deficit.

Costain also said a piecemeal approach to high school reform was not the answer.

What does it mean to put International Baccalaureate in one high school if were not looking at all the high schools as a whole? she asked.

One high school change will take effect as planned in the 20082009 school year. The district will remove the entrance requirements that limited admission to programs like IB.

Those entrance requirements are blamed for causing racial disparities in the programs. The district stands to lose millions in grant dollars from the federal government and the McKnight Foundation if it does not make the change.

The big picture

Costain said high school transformation poses several important questions about the direction of the district:

How do we have more consistently rigorous high schools in every part of the city? How should high schools be organized to meet the needs of kids in the 21st century?

Those type of big-picture questions are exactly what the long-term strategic planning process is designed to address, she said.

Although the strategic plan agenda has not been set, both Costain and Madden said they hoped to see high school transformation on the list.

Royce Holladay, director of strategic planning, said the process was still in the information-gathering stage in May. Through the summer and into the fall, the district will work with consulting firm McKinsey and Co. to engage parents and community members in planning, Holladay said.

She said a 10- to 15-member group will work with McKinsey to develop proposals for the long-term district strategy.

A larger group, with 3040 members, will communicate those proposals to the public and seek feedback.

By November, three to six long-term goals will be sent to the superintendent and School Board for approval.

These recommendations will be 40,000 feet, Holladay said. Large.

Once the School Board approves them, department heads will refine and implement the recommendations, she said.

Costain said the district has gone more than 20 years without a comprehensive strategic plan.

We are a district that has tremendous challenges right now, so business as usual will not suffice, she said. Its past time for us to step back and think about where were heading.