Minneapolis schools flexing their muscles

Superintendent Ed Graff may be the new kid at Minneapolis Public Schools, but he’s already leading the in-crowd.

At the first State of the Schools event since 2014, Graff on Aug. 26 brought the crowd at Orchestra Hall to its feet with a new narrative: MPS strong.

“We’re here today to talk about the state of our schools. And the state of Minneapolis Public Schools is strong,” he said. “Being strong doesn’t mean we’re perfect. We know we have plenty of opportunity to improve.”

Graff emphasized supporting students, investing in staff and engaging the community. His address featured inspirational stories of students’ successes, including the 5-percent increase in graduation rates over the past two years.

Most notable was the story of Daniela Martinez, a 2016 graduate of Longfellow Alternative High School, a school for pregnant and parenting teens.

“Can you imagine trying to balance bottles, bosses and books at the same time? At the age of 15 or 16?” Graff said. “Daniela did. … She said she walked across the stage this spring so she could set an example for her daughter.”

Tracine Asberry, a member of the school board, said these are important stories to tell.

“It was so emotional to hear the stories of our students and know that our students are being seen,” Asberry said. “We have students that are doing it every day: being brilliant.”

Graff focused on initiatives such as the Grow Your Own Residency Program, a way for district employees who work closely with students in schools to become elementary school teachers. Two-thirds of the program’s graduates are employees of color.

“Keeping MPS’s story strong means making sure students see people at the front of their classrooms who look like them, who build relationships with them and who make education relevant in their lives,” Graff said.

Mayor Betsy Hodges spoke to reaffirm her dedication to the relationship between the community and Minneapolis schools.

“Your fate is our fate, and our fate is your fate,” Hodges said. “My pledge to you is to not only continue the partnership we have, but to make it even stronger.”

Edison High School’s “green campus” and the district’s partnership with the Park Board to give students the opportunity to learn to swim were presented as examples of this alliance.

“We’re moving in the right direction, and it feels good,” Asberry said. “It’s what our students deserve.”

Graff closed by singing Prince’s “Purple Rain” with a group of students, parents and teachers representing more than 20 schools from the district. Everyone in Orchestra Hall was singing along and ended in a standing ovation.

“We’re going to be brilliant everyday for our students,” Graff said. “I’m here to move us forward.”