District leaders begin brainstorming on comprehensive assessment

Dennis Cheesebrow of Teamworks International leads a meeting of district staff and School Board members on the upcoming comprehensive districtwide assessment.

Minneapolis Public Schools leaders, School Board members and several principals and union leaders met this past Friday to begin brainstorming for their upcoming districtwide comprehensive assessment, to be completed this summer and fall.

District leaders talked about a daily experience for students, staff and families that includes safety, a sense of accomplishment and positive feelings about going to school. They articulated a vision for an MPS graduate that includes foundational reading, writing and math skills, a sense of social responsibility and the ability to work as part of a team.

“We’re finding our shared values,” Eric Moore, the district’s chief of accountability, innovation and research, said at the end of the meeting. “… This gave us an opportunity to find that we have the same core beliefs.”

The meeting came as district leaders begin the second phase of the assessment, which the district plans to use to make changes to programming and pathways in the coming months. It’s part of Superintendent Ed Graff’s effort to help the district create a structurally balanced budget by 2019-20.

“My hope is that we can get to that place where aspirationally, in the 19-20 school year, we can start to build programming for our families and our students that they can count on … as opposed to wondering and questioning if it’s going to be there and who’s going to be there,” Graff said at the School Board Finance Committee meeting on Jan. 30.

Consultant Dennis Cheesebrow, founder of Teamworks International, is helping with the assessment effort for the district. Cheesebrow this past winter looked at everything from the district’s enrollment trends to its facility utilization and market share, or the percentage of Minneapolis resident students who attend MPS. He found that about 60 percent of resident students attended MPS in 2016-17, with market share higher in the southern half of the city than the northern half.

He also found that about 74 percent of seats in the district are filled, with facility utilization highest in Southwest Minneapolis and lowest in the northern half of the city.

Cheesebrow also found that transportation zone design impacts choice more than programming. He added that any redesign will change longheld assumptions, beliefs and patterns, adding that the greatest opportunities for the district to increase its market share in North Minneapolis and in the Phillips and Powderhorn communities.

At Friday’s meeting, Cheesebrow had the MPS senior leadership staff, board members and the several principals and union leaders in attendance divide into small groups. The groups started by listing the daily experiences they would like students, staff and MPS families to have.

The staff and board members in attendance then went around and shared some of their answers, which included statements such as: I trust my child’s school; I feel safe to take risks because I belong; I love my job because I feel safe and supported, have great relationships and have confidence that I have what I need; I enjoy engaged, challenging academic work; and I have strong relationships with peers and adults.

They then went through and brainstormed their vision for an MPS graduate. Answers to that included: developing strong writing and reading skills; foundational skills in areas such as math and literacy; kindergarten readiness measurements; technology skills; and understanding and demonstrating appropriate interpersonal and social behavior.

The board members and staff wrapped up by brainstorming a few metrics on how they could measure some of those skills and sketching out a rubric for how they would evaluate progress in them.

District staff are planning to bring some of these questions to the broader MPS community in the coming months. Their aim is to finalize any their plans by October.