Plan would change high school paths

Superintendent Ed Graff
Superintendent Ed Graff speaks at a community forum at Justice Page Middle School. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

A plan to remake Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) could reshuffle high school attendance zones, changing where students from Uptown, Whittier and the neighborhoods around Lake of the Isles attend for grades 9-12. 

Four models presented to the School Board on Jan. 28 call for students from Uptown and Lake of the Isles to attend North High School instead of Southwest High School and students from Whittier to attend South instead of Southwest.

A fifth model would leave the overall structure of the district largely unchanged, but district leaders have said it would force them to make “drastic changes,” including potentially closing schools, to maintain a balanced budget. (Any closures would happen following a board vote on the models).

Under all five models, students would still be able to enroll at schools around the city, according to a district spokeswoman, but their enrollment would be dependent on space being available in those buildings.

In December, the district first outlined a tentative set of plans to remap elementary and middle school busing zones, reduce the number of magnet schools and cluster remaining ones in the city’s geographic center. 

The latest models hew closely to those plans, though Jefferson Community School in Lowry Hill East would now become a middle school Spanish-immersion magnet. In December, the district modeled Jefferson, now a K-8 neighborhood school, as a middle school science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) magnet.

The district’s proposed changes are part of a project MPS leaders are calling the “Comprehensive District Design,” or the CDD. They have said the aim of the project is to increase racial and economic integration and provide all students, particularly those of color — who comprise about two-thirds of all district pupils — with a well-rounded education.

District leaders also hope to create long-term financial stability, as they continue grappling with chronic budget gaps, including a projected $19 million gap for the 2020-21 school year.

There are stark differences in graduation rates, disciplinary actions and standardized test scores between the district’s white students and students of color. Fourth-year Superintendent Ed Graff said it’s likely MPS students of color are not getting the “education, support, experiences and opportunities they need to be successful.”

Changes to Southwest

The new high school attendance zones are based on modeled elementary and middle school busing zones presented to the School Board in December.

The busing zones were drawn with the goals of maintaining neighborhood schools, reducing costs and decreasing the number of buildings with high levels of racial and socioeconomic segregation.

Specifically, district leaders aimed to reduce the number of schools in which over 80% of the students receive free or reduced-price lunch and the number of schools with populations above 86% students of color or white.

The model has students who attend Kenwood Elementary School matriculating to Anwatin Middle School in Bryn Mawr, instead of Anthony Middle School in Kenny. Anwatin is the pathway middle school to North.

Similarly, students who live in the Whittier neighborhood would attend Andersen Community School in Phillips for grades 6-8, instead of either Anthony or Jefferson Community School, before attending South.

Schools in Linden Hills and south of Lake Harriet would continue to have similar busing zones, though their programming may change. Those students would continue to attend either Washburn or Southwest for high school.

The models would likely make minimal impact on the demographic makeup of Washburn, which would continue to receive students from Justice Page Middle School next door. Justice Page would have a busing zone similar to the one it has now, which includes the neighborhoods east of Lake Harriet. Over 85% of Washburn students come from that zone.

But Southwest, which would have its attendance zone reduced by about half its geographic size, could see significant changes, though the district has not yet presented any enrollment projections and district leaders have said they expect the boundaries to change.

“We know we have more work to do,” chief operations officer Karen DeVet said.

Community and board feedback

Throughout January, attention on the plan in Southwest Minneapolis continued to focus on its impact at K-8 schools.

Families at the K-5 Windom Spanish Dual Immersion, which would become a neighborhood school, questioned why the district would move a popular and successful magnet program. Parents of students at Clara Barton, a K-8 magnet with an “Open” educational philosophy, asked why the district would want to restructure their integrated school and pressed for research showing the benefits of a 6-8 configuration.

Other parents said they’re skeptical the plan would create meaningful integration, asked how it would improve academic achievement and questioned how the district would transition potentially thousands of students into new schools in coming years.

Many also said they wished the district had started these conversations earlier.

“It seems like it’s all kind of being thrown at us in the 11th hour,” Barton parent Chris Jones said.

At Kenwood, parents disavowed a sign placed on the school gates that said the pathway to North would “destroy our community.”

“Everyone in the Kenwood community has expressed disgust about that sign and [said] that it’s so far from OK,” said ECCO resident Meredith Fox, who has a kindergartner at the school and said the new pathway could be an “exciting opportunity” for Kenwood and the city.

District leaders touted the potential benefits of the plan and answered parent questions at a series of community forums in late January and early February.

They said the models would allow more students to participate in magnet schools, 

because of their central locations and that they would be able to reinvest several million dollars used to transport kids to magnet schools in educational programming.

Eric Moore, the district’s research and equity chief, said there is “significant benefit” for kids who attend schools in integrated environments. He cited a paper from The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, that said students in integrated schools are more likely to have higher test scores, develop better thinking and problem-solving skills and enroll in college.

Moore also said the district is limited in its ability to both create integrated schools and keep kids in their neighborhood schools, as it wants to do, because the city is so segregated by race.

The nine-member School Board has appeared split between those against the plan and those supportive of the district’s aims but seeking changes or more detailed information before making a final decision.

Three School Board members said they have serious doubts or are against the models. Board member KerryJo Felder, who represents North Minneapolis, said she wants a Spanish immersion program in her district. Currently and under the model, the closest one would be in Northeast.

She also said she is against moving the engineering and robotics program out of Patrick Henry High School. The district has proposed shifting all of its high school career and technical education programming to two “tech centers.” One would be at North and the other at Roosevelt High School.

Bob Walser, who represents the part of Southwest Minneapolis around Lake of the Isles and near Downtown, said he thinks it’s counterproductive to reduce the number of immersion school seats, a claim district leaders disputed.

He said the CDD process has damaged trust between the community and MPS.

Ira Jourdain, who represents the remainder of Southwest Minneapolis, said there is no guarantee district leaders will get community buy-in for the plan.

Meanwhile, several board members said they had concerns but were eager to learn more about the models without dismissing the plan altogether. At-large board member Josh Pauly said he’s interested in learning more about how the models support students, while Siad Ali, who represents Cedar-Riverside, Longfellow and surrounding communities, said the focus of any plan should be entirely on raising the achievement level of students of color.

At-large board member Kimberly Caprini, who has been involved with schools across North Minneapolis, has been vocal in defending the district’s goals. She said she’s tired of MPS failing to make meaningful change because of protests from one group of parents.

Next steps

The district has been presenting the models to families and schools across the city over the past few weeks and plans to continue doing so.

Much about the CDD has yet to be determined. The district has said it will develop policies for students whose schools have new boundaries after a vote in April. It also plans to work with the teachers union on any staff changes.

No changes would occur until at least the 2021-22 school year.


Programming and Grade Configurations

District efforts to provide a well-rounded education to all students while decreasing the number of racially isolated schools and permanently cutting costs have resulted in a tentative plan that would bring dramatic changes to schools in Southwest Minneapolis.

Here’s a snapshot of the outlined changes to programming and grade configurations. Potential boundary changes are outlined on the maps below.

Anthony

Currently: Community middle school with the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme.

Proposed: Community middle school

Anwatin*

Currently: Community middle school with the IB Middle Years Programme
and a citywide Spanish-immersion program for both native and non-native Spanish speakers.

Proposed: Community middle school

Armatage

Currently: Magnet elementary school with a Montessori program.

Proposed: Community elementary school

Barton

Currently: Magnet elementary and middle school (grades K-8) with an
Open program.

Proposed: Community elementary school (grades K-5).

Bryn Mawr*

No proposed changes.

Burroughs

No proposed changes.

Jefferson

Currently: Community elementary and middle school (grades pre-K-8) with a dual-language program for native Spanish speakers.

Proposed: Magnet middle school (grades 6-8) with a citywide Spanish-immersion program for native and non-native Spanish speakers.

Justice Page

No proposed changes.

Kenny

No proposed changes.

Kenwood

No proposed changes.

Lake Harriet Lower

Currently: Community elementary school (grades K-3)

Proposed: Community elementary school (grades K-2)

Lake Harriet Upper

Currently: Community elementary and middle school (grades 4-8)

Proposed: Community elementary school (grades 3-5)

Lyndale

No proposed changes.

Southwest

No proposed changes.

Washburn

No proposed changes.

Whittier

Currently: Magnet elementary school with the IB Primary Years Programme.

Proposed: Community elementary school

Windom

Currently: Magnet elementary school with a Spanish-immersion program for native and non-native Spanish speakers.

Proposed: Community elementary school

*Not pictured on map below.

Proposed school district changes