Minneapolis Public Schools gets specific on strategic plan

Minneapolis Public Schools unveiled its new motto — “Every child, college ready” — in December, but it wasn’t until March that district leaders mapped out in detail a course to reach that goal.

The district’s long-term strategic plan was, for the first time, fleshed-out with specific steps to improve student performance and narrow the achievement gap between white students and students of color. The plan set specific targets for student achievement in each of the next five years.

Supt. Bill Green acknowledged the district faced a steep climb to reach those milestones. But Green spoke in moral terms about improving student performance, especially for those students who face the greatest challenges outside of the classroom.

“Their lives are resting on our success,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of poor kids in our district, and, traditionally speaking, that tends to mean that they are more challenged,” Green added, “and we’re showing that the socioeconomic status (of students) not only does not have to be a problem, it’s not going to be one.”

The March 11 school board meeting was, in a way, the culmination of long-term strategic planning work that began more than nine months earlier, in the spring 2007. At the same time, it was only the beginning of an ambitious five-year plan that aims to dramatically improve student performance.

The district aims to have 80 percent of students score proficient or better on Minnesota’s standardized tests by 2012.

That will require major gains every year. Last school year, for example, less than half of district students scored proficient or better on the state’s MCA-II math and reading tests.

Also by 2012, district leaders want 80 percent of high school students to attain scores on college entrance exams that “predict success in college,” according to planning documents. Only 29 percent of 10th graders who took the ACT college exam last year reached that level.

The district’s third goal for 2012 was to narrow the achievement gap by 75 percent.

The plan elaborated on nine broad strategic recommendations adopted in December by the school board. On several points, though, board members requested an even greater level of detail.

Board Member Pam Costain welcomed the proposal to create an Office of New Schools. But Costain said it was unclear how that office would carry out its mission to restructure the district’s lowest-performing schools.

She also asked district officials to elaborate on plans to better prepare the city’s 5-year-olds for kindergarten, noting the district has little influence over students until they enter the school system.

In addition to tracking teacher performance and providing instructors with more training, the strategic plan aims to free principals to spend more time as “instructional leaders” in their schools. Again, Costain found the plan lacking detail on just how principals would find the time to work more closely with teachers.

Still, Costain and other board members praised district administrators for the overall thoroughness of the strategic plan. Board Member Chris Stewart said the level of detail exceeded his “wildest expectations.”

It was Stewart who, in December, said the board opened itself to criticism by approving nine general and “foggy” recommendations. After seeing the final document, he challenged any doubters to hold that position.

Some barriers to student performance — such as poverty, homelessness and mental health issues — may be difficult to overcome in five years. Stewart noted this, and said the district must collaborate with city and county government, as well as nonprofits and faith groups, if it hopes to succeed.

“Five years is a short amount of time, and the needs are so deep,” he said.

Green said the district would be held accountable to its plan by the targets it set for improving student performance.

“Anytime you commit to numbers, you’re throwing down the gauntlet,” Green said.

“It is unnerving,” he said. “It is. But we’re going to achieve it.”

The long-term strategic plan

Minneapolis Public Schools’ long-term strategic plan aims to raise student performance and narrow the achievement gap by 2012.

In December, the Board of Education adopted nine strategic recommendations that form the framework of that plan. Over the next several months, district administrators developed specific strategies and measures around that framework.

The detailed plan was presented to the Board in March. That plan, the presentation to the board and other planning documents are available on the district website (www.mpls.k12.mn.us/).

The strategic recommendations were developed with the help of consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which spent much of the last year seeking input from parents, teachers, district staff and community members.


Reach Dylan Thomas at 436-4391 or [email protected]