BY Paul Groessel
Sun POST Newspapers
In a boardroom full of supporters, the District 279 School Board approved a three-year Achievement and Integration Plan that aims to help close the achievement gap between students of color and white students, and improve racial equity.
The three-year, $4 million plan includes magnet school opportunities, staff development, additional support for the district’s equity department, youth services for college and career readiness, and two summer literacy programs, according to Tony Hudson, the district’s director of educational equity, and a staff memo.
In Osseo Area Schools, 49.7 percent of students are students of color, according to a background document from the Northwest Suburban Integration School District. Osseo is one of eight school districts that comprise the integration school district.
They will collaborate for magnet school options in the integration and achievement plan. Magnet schools provide curriculum based on one of three themes: arts, International Baccalaureate, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (also known as STEM or STEAM, when art is included), according to a program summary.
The 2014-2017 Achievement and Integration plan will also provide staffing and teachers to promote integration, help with standardized test preparation and provide other equity and educational approaches, according to a program budget worksheet prepared for the Minnesota Department of Education.
The plan will also include a summer literacy program that “focuses on empowering love for literacy amongst lower-income students and students of color,” according to the budget descriptions.
Hudson said the plan will provide an opportunity to discuss and address racial inequities that are a statewide issue, but show up in the Osseo school district.
Some examples that Hudson mentioned: Students of color are disproportionately suspended from schools. They are disproportionately enrolled in special education programs, and people of color are underrepresented among school staff.
“So there are some conversations about race to be had there,” Hudson said. “… We just have a mismatch between tool and problem,” he said.
Hudson said that with this plan, the district is taking a collaborative approach to discussing and addressing the various viewpoints and disparities, and the cooperative atmosphere among those who attended an April 15 school board meeting showed him that people are ready to have difficult conversations.
Some who filled the school board meeting room carried signs and spoke in favor of the plan’s approach.
Rev. Paul Slack of New Creation Church in Minneapolis said the plan furthers the district’s mission statement, which he helped forge.
“I stand to encourage you, as do many of the people who are here today who have signs that are saying we’re supporting racial equity,” he said. “We’re supporting Osseo continuing the course.”
Boardmembers Linda Etim and Dean Henke noted that it was the first time they had seen such a diverse representation of the community in the board room to show support for an issue. Henke said that with all of the individual philosophies and perspectives, he was confident that the district could implement the equity work in a respectful manner.
The school board approved the plan 5-1. Chairperson Teresa Lunt described her personal commitments to helping close the achievement gap, including her family’s mentoring of students and their other volunteer efforts. She said the gap is unacceptable, and she supports the district’s goals to eliminate it. She said she agreed with 93 percent of the plan, but asked that the selected consultant, Pacific Educational Group, be reconsidered before the plan was approved. Since the board could not make line-item votes, she said she would have to vote against the plan, she said.
After the plan was approved, Supt. Kate Maguire said she does not believe any one thing is the “silver bullet,” but she brought the plan forward because she believes it is the right step at the right time.
“I promise you that I’m committed to doing it in a way that’s going to move us forward positively and effectively together and not make people feel marginalized when they have different perspectives around this work, regardless of what that perspective is,” she said to the room full of people. “And that’s my commitment to moving it forward, and I’m going to need all of your help.”
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