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Another Minneapolis School District Controversy

Admit it.  Many of us who reside in Minneapolis feel that the Minneapolis Public School District (MPSD) has been in disarray for years.  With over 35,000 students in 76 schools, MPSD is the third largest in the state.  It is a decentralized juggernaut that appears to lack consistency from school to school.   As one Minneapolis teacher once told me, “They (administrators) can tell us what to do, but once the classroom door is closed, we are free to do as we wish.”  That attitude is reinforced by a powerful teachers’ union whose primary consideration appears to be its teacher members, not its students.  Unions like this hold great power and can ensure mediocrity instead of excellence.

In the four short months of the current school year, there have been at least two significant controversies involving the district.  I wrote about the first, “Lazy Lucy,” in this blog a few months ago.

The optics of the second controversy, the school board’s selection of a  new district superintendent, is no better.  On December 7 with the school board’s 6 to 3 vote, Dr. Sergio Paez was chosen over two other candidates, including Michael Goar, the interim superintendent who garnered the other three votes.

Paez was the superintendent of the Holyoke School District in Holyoke, Massachusetts.   The Holyoke School District is approximately a seventh the size of Minneapolis and reportedly has a three million dollar deficit and a similarly poor graduation rate (60%).  In addition, the state has taken over the district and Paez no longer serves as the superintendent but is employed as a consultant.

In some people’s minds, these were reasons enough not to offer Paez a contract, but there is more.  There was an allegation of student abuse by teacher(s) in one of the Holyoke schools.  Reportedly, Paez looked into the allegation and didn’t find any evidence to dismiss anyone or change the people that were contracting the services for that particular program.  The allegation is now being investigated by the Hampden County District Attorney.  In conducting an internet search, I quickly found the complaint which was dated April 15, 2015.  It’s difficult to fathom why the school board or the search committee couldn’t do the same.

Although contract negotiations with Paez have stopped pending further investigation into the allegations, the district’s decision-making process  is again called into question.  For critical decisions–like choosing a superintendent or books for young readers (Lazy Lucy), it would be a benefit to all to make the correct decision the first time.

If this hiring decision by the MPSD school board concerns you as it does me, you may contact the district at www.mpls.k12.mn.us/provide_feedback.html or call 612.668.0000.

John Alexander, Head of School

 

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Preschool Funding: Should We or Shouldn’t We?

The Minnesota state coffers will soon be filled with almost two billion dollars of excess revenue, and, undoubtedly, there will be conversations between Democrats and Republicans about how to spend, or not spend, this surplus.  Governor Dayton is certain to push for funding preschool for all Minnesota youngsters as this has been an education priority for his administration.

Many feel that an investment in preschool for all Minnesota four year olds is prudent because there may be a high return on investment (ROI).  In fact, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the Chamber of Commerce, calculated that “for every dollar invested today, savings range from $2.50 to as much as $17.00 in the years ahead.”  Similarly, James Heckman, a University of Chicago economist and Nobel Laureate, states that there is a seven to ten percent annual return on investment in high-quality preschool.

Given the reading programs found in our state’s kindergarten through third grade programs, I question whether investing tens of millions of dollars in a Minnesota preschool program is a good idea.  If our schools are not going to use evidence-based approaches to teach reading and instead promote a sight word reading approach, one that depends on rote memorization of words, the preparation of four year olds will all be for naught.  We will be throwing money down the proverbial drain.

Let’s first fix our emerging and struggling reading programs.  Then a preschool program’s seeds could really take root and flourish.  Without a strong, evidence-based literacy program in the early elementary years, the students’ literacy development will wither like a flower without its nutrients.

Our state’s students deserve better.

John Alexander, Head of School