New law weds efforts to help students excel

/ 2 May 2012 / jennifer

Bernadeia Johnson and Al Fan, Star Tribune, May 2, 2012 –

Under it, districts and charter schools can collaborate more easily.

COLLABORATING FOR ACHIEVEMENT

Supporters include the Minneapolis public schools’ Office of New Schools; Charter School Partners; MinnCAN; the Minneapolis Foundation; charter leaders Eric Mahmoud of Harvest Prep and Eli Kramer of Hiawatha Academies, as well as state business groups.

This week, Gov. Mark Dayton signed an omnibus education bill with a provision creating a powerful incentive for school districts and charter schools to work more closely to boost student achievement.

With the support of a broad coalition of education advocates, this no-cost, voluntary collaboration signals the beginning of a much larger paradigm shift.

It is a shift from districts and charters remaining silos, competing with one another, to the viewing of a city’s schools as a “portfolio” of excellent schools — district, charter, self-governing and contract alternative schools — that deliver high-performing, gap-closing results for the children and families of the district.

Under the new state statute, a charter school that wishes to be a collaborative charter school may have access to district facilities, transportation and other services that have been obstacles for charters in the past, in exchange for sharing best practices across district schools.

The academic performance of collaborative charters will be included in the district’s academic reporting. A portfolio focus is a results-focused strategy that is agnostic of the type of governance model of the school.

For Minneapolis, this collaboration builds upon the district’s strategic plan, which focuses on two areas: “schools of focused instruction,” an improvement plan for all district schools that creates a tighter alignment of common standards, curriculum, assessments and professional development; and “autonomous schools,” encouraging new charter and other innovative site-based models to dramatically improve student achievement through focused and sustained district-charter collaboration.

The commitment of the Minneapolis public schools to providing high-achieving autonomous schools was evidenced recently by the school board’s approval of four new “mastery” schools, proposed by Harvest Prep’s/Best Academy’s founder and director, Eric Mahmoud.

Mahmoud’s current schools are the highest-performing public schools serving a high percentage of minority students in Minnesota. Its students outperform all state students in reading proficiency (77 percent to 75 percent) and the state’s white students in math proficiency (82 percent to 65 percent).

The first mastery school is slated to open in 2012 in north Minneapolis, pending approval from the Minnesota Department of Education. The school board’s message to the families of Minneapolis is that the district is committed to delivering high-quality instruction to every child in Minneapolis.

The new district-charter collaboration will expand even further the possibilities of districts working together with high-performing charters, using assets from both sectors to improve student achievement.

We also envision the collaboration taking many different forms, depending on the district.

For instance, with the new legislation, the Forest Lake School District and the Lakes International Language Academy charter school will be able to build upon and take greater advantage of a remarkable collaboration to deliver a nationally recognized language immersion program to all Forest Lake students.

We appreciate the bipartisan state leadership to support this new collaborative. It will be a critical component in our work to provide high-performing, high-achieving public schools for every Minneapolis child.

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Bernadeia Johnson is superintendent of the Minneapolis public schools. Al Fan is executive director of Charter School Partners.

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