December 22nd, 2011

Community Tackles Racism and Achievement Gaps

In St. Paul, Minnesota, nine teams of parents, educators, community leaders, and local business people are tackling the issues of racism, white privelege, and achievement gaps, as covered in this Twin Cities Daily Planet article: Action teams tackle St. Paul achievement gap, recommend other big changes at SPPS — Dec 20, 2011. Here’s an excerpt:

Saint Paul Public Schools must “commit to dismantling the effects of racism and White privilege on district and school culture, curriculum, and instruction,” recommended the Achievement Gap Team, one of nine Districtwide Action Teams, on December 19. As part of the effort, the Integration/Choice team recommended that SPPS identify low poverty schools in the district and reserve 20 percent of the seats at these low poverty schools for students from high need neighborhoods.

The nine action teams, part of the Strong Schools, Strong Communities initiative, have spent the last seven months tackling issues of budget and finance, shared accountability, partnerships, site governance, aligned learning, specialized academic programming, transition to middle grades, integration-choice and the achievement gap. They presented their report to the district and the school board on December 19 at St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) headquarters. (See attached pdf for full report.)

Each team was made up of parents, community leaders, people from the business community and educators. According to Michelle Walker, the Chief Accountability Officer for SPPS, 241 people applied to be a part of the effort, 149 of whom were placed on teams, along with educators appointed to each team.

<snip>

The theme of bridging the achievement gap permeated the recommendations of all nine action teams. The budget and finance team recommended the district look at how the budgeting decisions affect the achievement gap first, and then at how those decisions will fit into the overall budget second, said team member Alec Timmerman.

The Specialized Academic Programming team, which focused on language immersion, Montessori, and gifted and talented programs, also addressed the achievement gap by stating the district needed to work harder to recruit students from low income and underrepresented communities for these programs.

The school board approved the Strong Schools, Strong Communities plan last March, according to board member Keith Hardy. According to the SPPS website, the Strong Schools, Strong Communities is “our strategy for improving education for all students – without exception or excuse.”

Hardy said the major successes that came out of the action teams’ work was that they “moved the district out of a vacuum.” The teams showed the “rich conversations you have when you get the spokes of the wheels involved,” he said.

The complete article is here.

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