Schools notebook

Principal named Area C assistant superintendent

Marianne Norris, principal of Bethune Community School in North Minneapolis since 2002, was named assistant superintendent for Southwest-area public schools Oct. 3.

Norris will oversee the 24 schools in Area C, which includes all of Southwest and parts of South Minneapolis. During her first few days on the job, Norris was meeting with school principals and leadership teams across Area C.

"We want to bring all the resources that we can to each individual school … and support them to increase student achievement," she said.

Norris said she was examining the data from each site with school leaders so they could target district resources where they are most needed. That might mean providing extra support to a particular group of students or trying to raise all student scores in an area where a school is struggling, like math or reading, she said.

"We’re going to start with the highest-needs schools," she added.

Norris, who earned her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, was the third new associate superintendent hired by the district this year. New leaders were named in the district’s two other areas, A and B, over the summer.

The district also redefined the role of the assistant superintendents for each area just before the start of the school year.

Assistant superintendents now directly supervise the principals of their area schools. This year, they also will attend area council meetings with parents as a way to strengthen communication between district administration and families.

"It’s going to be really important to keep talking to parents, keep those lines of communication open," Norris said.

Norris noted that a recent survey indicated parents in Area C are more slightly more satisfied with the education their children receive in Minneapolis Public Schools than district parents as a whole. Seventy-five percent of Area C parents reported they were "very" or "extremely" satisfied, compared with 71 percent of parents overall.

Norris said she hoped to learn from those parents what the district was doing well and should continue doing. She also wanted to hear from the other 25 percent of parents on where the district could improve.

Craig Vana, the former associate superintendent for Area C, was named associate superintendent of emergency response and crisis management this summer. That position was created after the Interstate 35W bridge
collapse.

Fun walk and dinner at Armatage

ARMATAGE — Armatage Community and Montessori School will host its first-ever Armatage Family Fun Walk 9 a.m.–noon Saturday, Oct. 27.

Students will collect pledges to walk around Armatage Park. The event replaces the school’s former fundraiser, an annual gift catalogue sale.

A spaghetti kick-off dinner is 6 p.m.–9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, the night before the walk. Tickets $6 for adults and $5 for children in advance, or $7 for adults and $6 for children at the door.

Lake Harriet Pizza, Café Maude and Lunds will provide food for the dinner. To purchase tickets in advance, contact Toni Locke at 920-2156 or toni.locke@gmail.com.

Book sales benefiting Southwest HS music department

LINDEN HILLS — A portion of book sales on Tuesday, Nov. 13, at the Barnes & Noble location in the Galleria in Edina will go to the Southwest High School music department.

A percentage of the total sales of books, CDs, coffee, and other purchases between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. will go to the school. Purchases of gift cards and club memberships will not be
counted.

Customers must present a voucher, available in the store, for the purchase to benefit
Southwest High School.

Southwest musicians will perform in the store from 4:30–8 p.m.

Free tutoring available at some Minneapolis schools

Students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals may also be eligible for free tutoring under the federal No Child Left Behind act.

The free tutoring is only offered at certain Minneapolis schools. In Southwest, they include: Anwatin Middle School, Jefferson Community School, and Windom Spanish Dual Immersion and Open School.

Students from the Uptown Academy Alternative High School and Wellstone International High School may also qualify for free tutoring.

Eligible families will be notified by mail. Parents can also call 668-0483 for more information.

Deadline for enrollment is Nov. 20.

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

Schools notebook

Warned of ‘crisis,’ Board plans bold action

A school district faced with a widening achievement gap, growing financial shortfalls and enrollment declines must take “bold” action to reverse those trends.

That was the message from consulting firm McKinsey & Company when it presented its findings to the Minneapolis School Board Sept. 25. The firm spent the summer collecting parent, community and educator opinions to guide the district’s long-term strategic planning process.

The district “needs to act immediately or the crisis will worsen,” the firm stated in its report.

The School Board plans to use McKinsey’s findings when it sets several long-term strategic goals later this year. (McKinsey’s presentation to the School Board is available online at: www.mpls.k12.mn.us)

The report highlighted several other key findings:

• Despite “pockets of high achievement,” the achievement gap between students of color and white students is closing too slowly. That gap is widest in math scores.

• Minneapolis schools are losing students to charter, suburban, and private schools because parents are looking for better academics, fewer behavior issues, and smaller classes.

• The district’s financial crisis will worsen, with declining enrollment and increasing costs contributing to an estimated $96 million shortfall over the next four years. This is despite the district cutting about $140 million from its budget over the last six years.

• The district’s “downward spiral” must be addressed with “substantial changes.”

• Teachers identified class size and student behavior as the most important factors in improving student achievement, while principals prioritized a rigorous curriculum and teacher quality.

McKinsey mailed about 40,000 surveys to parents of school-age children. Close to 10 percent were returned.

Survey respondents included a number of parents who pulled their children out of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). Those parents reported they were “worried about the future of MPS” — both the quality of the education the district offers and the possibility that their children’s schools would close.

Still, about 71 percent of MPS parents said they were very or extremely satisfied with the quality of their child’s education. The rate was higher in Southwest, where about 75 percent of parents said they were satisfied.

Those parents responded that teacher quality, school expectations and a challenging curriculum were the most important factors in their satisfaction.

A strategic advisory team made up of parents, students, teachers and community members will develop specific recommendations based on the McKinsey findings and present those to the School Board in November.

First, though, the School Board planned to discuss three questions that will define the scope of recommendations it expected from the strategic advisory team. Those questions included:

• What can be done to turn around the lowest-performing schools most quickly?

• Given the lack of resources, which grade levels should get the most attention?

• How much consideration should be given to alternative school models, such as teacher-led schools or charters?

In an interview prior to the School Board meeting, Chairwoman Pam Costain said she and her fellow board members probably were open to “more innovation” than any School Board in recent years.

“If we need to look at different models of organizing schools to get the outcome we need, we need to talk about that,” Costain said.

Several ideas were briefly discussed at the board meeting.

Board Member Chris Stewart said the current public schools model was “defunct.”

Stewart suggested the board consider an education model that brings in students and their parents before kindergarten.

Board Member Sharon Henry-Blythe agreed with that approach, but said middle schools can’t be ignored when the board decides where to focus its resources.
Henry-Blythe said middle school performance was “very clearly linked” to high school graduation rates.

She and fellow board member Tom Madden said the disturbing trends highlighted in the McKinsey report seemed to be slowing. But Madden suggested things may only be improving because the district already had reached “rock bottom.”

Already, School Board members were steeling themselves for the tough decisions that lay ahead.

“As a board member, I realize that we have huge responsibilities coming down the pike,” Costain said. “That being said, I think that the board has really developed over the last several months a resolve to be bold and take risks and do things differently. What we know is that incremental change alone is not going to do it, and we have tolerated the achievement gap way too long.”

Area C parents meeting set

FULTON — The next Area C parent meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11 at Lake Harriet Community School’s upper campus, 4912 Vincent Ave. S.

The agenda includes election of representatives to the District Parent Advisory Council and a discussion of changes to high school small learning communities.

All parents of students who attend Minneapolis Public Schools in Area C are invited to attend. Area C includes all of Southwest.

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