School notebook

High school choice plan unveiled

A new plan to determine which students are admitted to high-demand high school programs was presented to the Minneapolis School Board June 12.

The list of eight priorities will be used to select students for small learning communities (SLCs) when applications exceed the number of open seats. If adopted by the school board, it will be used this fall when 8th-grade students apply to SLCs for the 2008-2009 school year.

Associate Superintendent Craig Vana, who helped develop the new placement process, told the School Board only six of the 23 SLCs typically fill each year. Vana said there are plans to expand the most popular programs.

When a program does fill, students will be admitted based on the following priorities, in this order: students with siblings in the school of choice; students in middle-school programs that lead directly to high school programs, such as International Baccalaureate; students living in the high school’s attendance area; students choosing a career-tech program offered at only one school; students from an underrepresented demographic group; children of district employees who live in the district; children of district employees who live outside the district; and, finally, other students who live outside the district.

"We believe that this new entrance policy … will be a more equitable process for all our students," Vana said. "It will be a much clearer process than the previous one that has been in place, and it will be more transparent for all our families."

A new choice plan was needed after the district eliminated the selection criteria used to place students in some SLCs. Those criteria evaluated students on grade-point average, attendance, standardized test scores and other factors.

Those selection criteria were blamed for causing racial disparities in some programs. The district would have lost millions in grant dollars from both the federal government and the McKnight Foundation if it did not drop the old selection criteria.

Parent input on long-term planning sought

Parents of Minneapolis Public Schools students are being asked for their input on the district’s ongoing long-term strategic planning process.

Royce Holladay, the district’s director of strategic planning, said a survey would be mailed to parents sometime around the beginning of July. The survey will ask parents to identify the major issues they feel must be addressed by district leaders.

In May, the Minneapolis School Board began a long-term strategic planning process that was meant to map out goals for the next three to five years. It is intended to produce three to six major recommendations by November.

Holladay said district families would have other opportunities to impact the process. The district plans to seek additional parent input in early August, after the first surveys have been collected and analyzed.

The district, working with strategic consulting firm McKinsey and Co., plans to engage other community members in the planning process, as well.

More information on long-term strategic planning can be found on the public schools’ website (www.mpls.k12.mn.us/Strategic_Planning.html).

That page also has a link to a "10-second survey" on attitudes about the district. About 100 people had taken the survey as of mid-June, Holladay said.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com or 436-4391.