Schools notebook // Madden and Costain out

Madden and Costain 
done after one term

Minneapolis School Board Chair Tom Madden and Board Member Pam Costain both announced in February they would not seek re-election this fall after each serving one term on the board.

The announcements ensured that when a new School Board is seated in early 2011, it would look very different from the current board.

Three members of the class of 2007, all first-time board candidates seated that year, will not run again. Board Member Chris Stewart announced earlier in the month he would step down at the end of his term to pursue other community projects.

Board Member T. Williams, who also took office in 2007, was the only one who said he planned to run for re-election. That leaves three of four seats on the board wide open.

At the same time, this fall’s election begins an expansion of the School Board from seven to nine members, a transition that will play out over two election cycles.

Following the 2012 election, the board will consist of six district representatives and three at-large members. Currently, all board members serve at-large.

Current Board Members Carla Bates, Jill Davis and Lydia Lee all serve into 2013. Bates and Davis are in their first terms, Lee her second.

After this fall’s election — the midpoint of the transition — the then eight-member School Board will have either four or five new members, depending on whether Williams wins re-election.

Noting that stability on the School Board and in the superintendent’s office were critical to district success, Costain said the potential for the next School Board to have a majority of first-time members made her decision “very difficult.”

Costain said she discussed the possibility of running again with her family for several months, but wanted to wait until after the School Board had selected a new superintendent to make a final decision. Deputy Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson was chosen in February to replace Superintendent Bill Green, who will step down after the end of the school year.

Still, Costain expected a new board would benefit from the groundwork laid in the past few years.

During the tenures of the departing board members, the School Board spent months reviewing and improving its own governance policies. The board also attempted to deal with some of the district’s enduring challenges, including declining enrollment, a stubborn achievement gap and an ongoing run of budget deficits.

In 2007, the School Board approved a five-year strategic plan that set targets for raising overall student achievement and closing the achievement gap. Two rounds of school closings were an attempt to limit spending on unused classroom space and busing.

Board members oversaw the creation of the Office of New Schools, an attempt to turn around low-performing schools by testing innovative school models.

“I think we have been transformational in that we have been willing to attack deep, enduring structural issues in the district and take the public outrage for that in order to make this district positioned for success in the future,” Costain said.

She predicted the next board would build on that foundation. The emphasis would be less on district restructuring, and more on “performance management,” she said

“In some ways, I regret I won’t be there another term because I do think that what we will begin to see is a much different agenda for the board,” she said. “It will be an agenda of monitoring the implementation of the academic plan and really seeing the results come to fruition.”

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New look for MPS website

Minneapolis Public Schools unveiled a new look for its website in late February, including a new district logo and this new slogan: “Urban education. Global citizens.”

The superficial changes come ahead of a more thorough redesign of the district’s online home. An updated website was expected to launch in fall 2010, Emily Lowther of the district’s communication office said.

The communications office received 257 responses to an online survey conducted in November that asked about perceptions of the district’s “brand” and the usability of the website. A brief summary of the responses was available at mpls.k12.mn.us/mps_branding_summary.html.

The new slogan takes over a prominent position on the district website formerly occupied by the phrase “Every child college ready,” which was meant to reflect the goal of the district’s five-year strategic plan, adopted in 2007.

Lowther said that phrase remained an accurate summation of the strategic plan goals to raise student achievement. The new slogan, however, was seen as “more reflective of how people view us, and how we view ourselves,” she said.

The changes also mean the familiar district logo — with a pencil-shaped lower-case L wedged between the last two initials of the district’s acronym — is a thing of the past. In the digital age, some survey respondents said the pencil seemed “old-fashioned,” “cliché” and “not very cutting edge.”