District leaders kick off 18-19 school year

Graff plays alongside members of the Gems/Gise summer drumline after his "State of the Schools" speech Monday.

Minneapolis leaders celebrated the start of the 2018-19 school year on Aug. 20, noting community partnerships and asking for community support during an event at North High School.

Local city, civic and school district leaders noted the district’s successes and efforts to improve the achievement of its 34,000-plus students. They also encouraged community involvement in the district, noting how community partners can help students access valuable programming and enrichment opportunities.

“Now more than ever, your continued support is needed,” said Michelle Walker, executive director of Generation Next, which works to close achievement and opportunity gaps in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The event came a week before most Minneapolis Public Schools students return to classes. Superintendent Ed Graff said the district is poised to become a national model, noting district initiatives to build literacy, introduce social-emotional learning and ensure 30 minutes of daily recess for all elementary students, among others.

Graff said the district’s new standardized pre-K–5 literacy curriculum has already shown positive results, adding that the district believes it will see measurable gains in elementary reading scores when the state releases data this month. He also noted efforts to increase the diversity of the district’s teaching staff, source food from local farms and a partnership with the Minnesota Twins that stresses the importance of ninth grade.

“We’ve begun to reimagine how we serve our students, families and staff,” Graff said, noting that graduation rates are up. He added that district leaders presented a balanced 2018-19 budget this past spring that does not rely on reserve funds for the first time in nearly a decade.

Graff said the district is working on the practice of cultural humility, which he said is deeper than cultural competency. He added that the district has reorganized its central office, increased community connections and begun to implement comprehensive professional development for staff.

Graff also touched on the district’s upcoming comprehensive design project, which could include structural changes to attendance zones and program pathways. The district plans on introducing the project in greater detail next month and bringing it before the School Board for a vote in December.

The project will set out a series of high academic expectations for all students, Graff said. It will lead to more opportunities for students who have mastered grade-level coursework and need greater challenges, he added. Similarly, it will help the district provide additional support to students who need more help.

Leaders at the event also noted efforts to help students experiencing homelessness and housing instability. Mayor Jacob Frey said the city will deliver $3.3 million annually to make sure that about 320 families and 640 students have housing within half a mile of their respective community school. He said that as much as 8.5 percent of the city’s school-aged population is experiencing homelessness or severe housing instability.

School Board Chair Nelson Inz also noted the district’s upcoming referendum, which would provide it with an additional $30 million annually in operating revenue. Inz noted that multiple elected officials are serving as honorary campaign co-chairs and said he’s learned as a School Board member how much teamwork is needed to lead the district.

“It’s going to take teamwork and a commitment to the wellbeing of all our students to move this district in a direction that we need,” he said.