In three weeks, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff will unveil his final proposal to remake the district, and emotions are running high — with recent studies pointing to major changes.
District magnet schools could be centrally located and fewer in number, and community school boundaries redrawn so extensively that nearly two-thirds of students move to new schools under scenarios district leaders are weighing now.
The goal is a strategic plan that opens new opportunities to students of color. But specific elements, such as the elimination of magnet schools in the city's southwest corner — a proposal contained in a recent study presented to school board members — are triggering concerns and stirring passions.
Families at Windom Dual Immersion School have begun to explore options outside the district.
"We don't want it to seem that we're placing those emotions on the shelf," Dirk Tedmon, a district spokesman, said Friday. "We understand them and we care. But we also want to make sure every student in Minneapolis Public Schools receives a well-rounded education."
In its most recent update on the planning process, the district states that many families — white, middle- to upper-income families, in particular — have access to great school options inside and outside the district. Some families, however, "start with access to very few good school options," the website posting states. For those families, access to effective teachers is limited; the school's climate and culture may need improvement; and the programming is at a lower level, the district says.
A two-part boundary study presented to board members suggested lines could be redrawn and magnet schools reconfigured in such ways as to cut in half the number of racially isolated and high-poverty schools. With greater integration, student performance increases, too, the theory goes.
As for the potential of two-thirds of community school students switching schools, Tedmon said an asterisk should be attached. Magnet school changes could have an impact, he said, as would potential changes in how families choose schools and how the district places students. For example, sibling preference, which gives some children greater weight in lotteries for seats in high-demand schools, could be re-examined.
No big structural changes would be in place until the 2021-22 school year.
First, there will be community pressure to overcome, with a case in point being the fate of Windom Dual Immersion School.
Nicole and Andrew Falk are parents at Windom and sent their two children to the school partly because of Nicole's experience as a high schooler in Milwaukee.
"I had friends that graduated from the French, German, and Spanish [programs] and I was just honestly very envious of them," she said. "Their language classes were super easy because they were fluent by then. I said, 'When I have kids, I want them to be in an immersion program.' "
In the recent boundary study, Windom and other nearby magnets — Clara Barton Open School, Armatage Montessori and Anwatin Spanish Dual Immersion — were recast as traditional community schools. Now, as students return from holiday break, Windom parents are consumed with uncertainty.
Some families already have begun looking into open enrollment to districts like Richfield and Minnetonka. Nicole Falk said she also can see families leaving Minneapolis Public Schools for an immersion charter school if one were to open elsewhere in south Minneapolis.
The elimination of Windom as a Spanish language magnet also could have negative effects on the couple's children, she said. Windom students read and write almost entirely in Spanish until third grade; then, both English and Spanish instruction kicks in. If the couple's children are forced to move to other schools, they won't be prepared, Falk said.
"We want this program expanded, not contracted, so more families have this opportunity," she said.
In the coming weeks, the district plans to survey families online and through targeted phone calls to minority group members to ensure they are represented, Tedmon said.
Listening sessions are planned for this month and February. People also can provide public comment at the Jan. 14 school board meeting.
On Jan. 28, the public can expect to see a model of school boundaries, magnets and school configurations, with a final board vote anticipated in April.
During the past two weeks, members of the district's leadership team exchanged e-mails on the plan, prompting the question: Have any of the major changes presented in the boundary study made the cut?
Said Tedmon, "I think it's too early to say."