Another principal on leave in Minneapolis: New focus of racial tensions at Green Central Park school

Principal Catalina Salas, left, and Area C Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle, right, are at the center of the Green Central Park Elementary controversy. 

Principal Catalina Salas, of Richard R. Green Central Park School, is taking a leave of absence starting April 25 before being transferred from the school for the next school year, according to a Minneapolis Public School announcement issued late on April 24. This comes after a flurry of controversy over the implementation of the school’s Developmental Dual Language program this year and over Salas’s leadership style. Parents and staff are deeply divided over issues of race, culture and equity.

Salas, who became principal at Green Central at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, is revered by many Latino parents at the school. She has been denounced by some in the African American community for the DDL program, which they characterize as causing segregation. Latino parents feel that Salas has been unfairly attacked and that they, as well as Salas, have been the targets of racist comments. 

Developmental Dual Language programs are similar to traditional Dual Language programs in offering an immersion experience for students, with instruction in English and another language. Unlike Dual Language programs, such as those at Windom and Emerson, students in DDL are divided into classes depending on whether English or Spanish is their home language. The 2012-13 year is the first year of the DDL program at Green Central.

A year ago, Salas described some of the difficulties of DDL programs in a TCDP article by Alleen Brown:  

Dividing Spanish-speaking from non-Spanish-speaking students has been one of the most challenging side effects for teachers and parents to stomach. Green Central principal Catalina Salas said it’s one of the concerns she’s hearing now from parents. ...

Green Central is much smaller than Andersen — only one-third of the kindergarten through fourth grade classes next year will be offered in English. Salas said administrators will have to work hard to avoid creating a school within a school. She said students will mix during subjects beyond just specialist classes, and the school will also offer Spanish instruction for English-speaking students.

African American parents, MABSE 

The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder published an article about the DDL program in September, which was republished in the Daily Planet. In the article, Mel Reeves described parents and teachers criticizing the program, saying that it would cause further segregation. In January, MSR published a letter to the editor by Ashley Lauren, also saying it was causing segregation. 

Francine Chakolis, president of the Minnesota Alliance for Black School Educators, said she was contacted around Thanksgiving by three teachers who had complaints about Green Central. All three were together when they called her, but she only talked to two of them, she said. Chakolis declined to say their names. She said these teachers told her that Salas was acting “like Hitler,” in punishing teachers who disagreed with her methods. Chakolis has also spoken to parents who feel that African American students at the school were being shortchanged.

Chakolis said that a colleague from Augsburg, where Chakolis was a professor (she is now nearly 70), encouraged her to take action, saying, “What are you going to do about the kids?” MABSE’s mission, she said, is to “make sure children are being treated equally.” MABSE was founded by Richard Green, after whom the school was named, and the issues facing the school “are exactly the kind of stuff he fought against,” she said.

Who are the students at Green Central Park elementary school?

(from MPS website)

Green Central has 617 students enrolled. 

 

 

 

Chakolis called Theresa Battle, who, Chakolis said, “was pretty upset about the alleged things going on." Members of MABSE visited the school on December 14 for a meeting, but Salas was not there. Apparently there had been a mix up about the scheduling of the meeting.  Chakolis called Battle, who arrived a half hour later, and they met with her to discuss how MABSE might engage with the school.

Around the first of the year, Chakolis received a call from the Office of Engagement, saying that MABSE’s services would no longer be needed. “The Superintendent was pissed at me,” she said. Previously, she said, she and Bernadeia Johnson had had a good relationship.

According to Ruben Vazquez, the Family and Community Engagement Director from MPS, the district had worked with MABSE, but they are no longer in communication. The site council decided "they were not the appropriate organization" for dealing with the issues at the school, he said.

On January 14, on the same evening  that Washburn High School’s auditorium was packed for a community meeting about the hanging black baby doll incident, there was a parent meeting at Green Central, about communication, Chakolis said. It was at that meeting that she related what the teacher had told her about Salas being “like Hitler”.

Latino parents

Chakolis’s comments, and other criticisms of Salas from an African American parent at the January 14 meeting, sparked outrage by some of the Latino parents at the school. 

"On January 14, 2013, an association in defense of African Americans called MABSE presented itself at the school: with the objectives to threaten, offend and slander Catalina Salas in an absurd manner," wrote Dulce Maria de la Rosa, mother of a Green Central student, in a letter provided to TCDP. [Letters were written in Spanish and have been translated for this article.]

 

Academic performance at Green Central Park

Academically, the school has struggled, achieving far below the city and state averages in math and reading scores.

In 2008, only 26.3 percent of the students were proficient in math, compared to 41.5 percent of MPS students as a whole, and in 2012, only 12.4 percent of students were proficient in math, compared to 39.3 percent of MPS students.

In reading, 31.4 percent of students were proficient in 2008 (compared to 49.9 percent city wide). In 2012, that number had fallen to 27.9 percent proficient in reading (compared to 56.9 percent city wide). 

African American students in the school fare slightly worse than the overall school average in math and better in reading proficiency. In 2012, 9.1 percent of African American students were proficient in math in 2012 (compared to 20.1 percent of African American students city wide), and 34.8 percent proficient in reading (compared 41.6 percent of African American students city wide). 

Achievement for EL (English Learner) students has also fallen. In 2008, 20.4 percent of EL students were proficient in math, about even with the district. That fell to 10.3 percent in 2012, compared to 19.1 percent city wide.

In reading, EL students have dropped just slightly, from 22.2 percent in 2008 to 19.1 percent in 2012 (compared to 28.4 percent for the district.)

In a letter to Area C Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle delivered on January 31, Mayela de la Rosa Cardenas, a parent at the school, wrote that at a meeting on January 14, which was attended by MABSE, “This group demonstrated aggression, racism and made threats and insults to Principal Catalina Salas to the point to saying that they could remove her from the school; moreover, there were insults towards Latinos.” The Latino parents were insulted and offended, Cardenas wrote. “We are here, we are a part of this school, we are a part of this community, we are a part of this country.”

Cardenas said that Battle herself told Latino parents that Salas had been improving the school. "She told us that grades and achievement had improved under Principal Salas. She herself said it, which is why we as parents are so confused and frustrated about the situation."

“Academic standards have gone up,” Cardenas said. “She works closely with parents and children, and is very involved with the community.”

Latino parents were even more fired up upon learning, via an automated phone call from MPS on March 29, that Salas was to be re-assigned from the school. On April 8, a group of 45 Latino parents signed another letter to Battle, disagreeing with the change of assignment of Salas. “We consider this an unnecessary change since to this day we have only received unconditional support from Principal Catalina Salas in the education of our children, and she has gone through great lengths to elevate educational statistics,” the letter stated.

Multiple Latino parents wrote letters (given to TC Daily Planet) in support of Salas. These letters describe what they call the racist comments they feel were spoken by Chakolis as well as an African American parent at the school, whom they do not name. They also allege a lack of communication and due process from the district, and particularly from Area C Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle, in the entire process that ended up with removing Salas. 

"They have gone to the extreme of ousting the principal, Mrs. Catalina Salas, without valid reason aside that she is Hispanic," wrote parent José Sandoval. "Since Catalina joined the school, everything was improving: the organization and particiaption of parents and academic standards. She implemented programs to better students' learning. We have talked many times with Theresa Battle about the insults from an African American parent. She has ignored us and lied to us. We are discouraged and indignant by the discriminatory treatment we have received from the school district." 

MPS official statements

Rachel Hicks, Director of Media Relations and Public Affairs, says that Karen Pederson, former Director of the Multi-Lingual Department (formerly the EL department) will be taking over as interim principal beginning April 24, and she has made a commitment to stay at the school until the new principal’s position has been filled or until December 30 of this year.

 

 

Parents contradict the official story

According to Mayela de la Rosa Cardenas, the official story is not correct. In answers to questions from the Daily Planet on April 24, she said: 

"The District is conducting itself in an unprofessional manner. Theresa Battle has contradicted herself. She said she wasn't sure when principal Salas was leaving. Then she said she would finish the school year. She has lied to us repeatedly. It's very clear. Today we got a call from the District about her [Salas'] absence starting tomorrow. We will take up the issue tomorrow at a parents' meeting at the school at 6 pm."

Salas will still be employed by the district, but that is “pending on leave,” she said. Whatever the outcome is of her leave, Hicks said, Salas will be re-assigned. 

Hicks said that the school will undergo some modifications to the DDL program. “The school has faced challenges with the implementation of the DDL program,” she said. “Clearly we believe it’s a good model for students, but there’s going to be adjustments to the program. 

Part of the reason for Salas being re-assigned is because, “When there’s a lot of attention on specific individuals in leadership of school, that can be a distraction to what is most important, and that’s the learning in the classroom,” Hicks said. “We understand that leaders of schools are in positions to make tough decisions and sometimes they are unpopular.  That is a challenge for communities too.”

Currently, Area C Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle is looking for “the right type of leadership at Green Central,” said Hicks, which will include having bilingual language skills, experience working with diverse families, and being “a good fit for the community.” 

Neither Salas nor Battle could be reached for an interview. 

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Sheila Regan's picture
Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.

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Minneapolis School Principal

Thanks to the Daily Planet the truth is being told about the bias that is shown in the MPS and directed by the Superintendent.

This sort of poor leadership within the MPS system is lowering the quality of the education within the Minneapolis Public School system as a whole, to promote only the black culture with mostly Black Principals across the system.

It is a clear sign the promoting black staff instead of offering the best education that the TAX PAYERS deserve for OUR STUDENTS.

A system out of touch and out of control

Facts contradict your conclusions

Yes - we do care about telling the truth, and the truth is that MPS does NOT "promote only the black culture with mostly Black Principals across the system." You are completely mistaken on both counts. A quick look at a random sample of 26 MPS schools shows that about one-third have African American principals, and that most of the principals are white. 

So the question is: what motivates your inaccurate comment? 

Latino parents being left out of negotiations

While there might be tension between immigrant and African American parents, it is clear that the school district is picking to only listen to the four parents who complained. The school is mostly Latino and has a good program now that reflects the needs of the students. But the district is now going to reduce the number of language literacy for kids who speak Spanish at home and are in early years of schooling. Four parents seem more important to the district than the education of 70+ percent of students and all the parents who've asked to be engaged.

Cutting the program and making teachers pick which ones should stay in program and which ones have to be in English only is undermining why te program was implemented in the first place. Kids who are removed are going to lose.

Battle is a terrible manager for this situation.

Another huge issue here is the lack of well prepared teachers who actually speak another language and teaching in another language. Kids at green are being taught Spanish by barely Spanish speakers. The union has to support the needs of the students and not the their seniority.

The black educators and other teachers who accuse the principal of behaving like Hitler must not know who Gitler was. Shame on the black educators group and green teachers who made this outrageous accusations.

Green Central Schol

When looking at this issue, it is important to consider the history of Green Central regarding Latino students and their families. For many years, the school has done a very poor job of addressing the needs of the Latino community. The advent of Ms. Salas was a positive move on the part of the District, in order to better serve the community and promote equality among all students. However, Ms. Salas has a reputation of being a very difficult principal to work with and many teachers (now and in the past) have complained bitterly about her abrasive leadership style. Some have complained that she favors Latino students over the rest of the student population. These, of course, are opinions and not necessarily facts. What is clear is that this school desperately needs a principal who has positive leadership qualities - one who can reach across all cultural barriers and bring people together for one common cause, and that is to better educate all of the students at Green Central, regardless of race, culture, native language or economic status. The one good thing I see in all of this is that Latino parents are finally speaking out and letting their voices be heard.

What is going on in MPLS Public Schools?

What aren't principal's being supported by the district leadership?  Washburn was a mess that Carol Markum-Cousin's arrived 7 years ago and she made into a cultural respectfuly center for secondary learning.  She is a remarkable leader. She respects diversity and promotes equity, yet not one told that story!

Now another principal who has been giving the directions to run a Dual Immersion School and is successful, and she is put out in the media with little district support or clarification.

The media has painted the story in a necessary fashion that ruins the stellar reputations of such leaders.  Mpls Public Schools where are you?  WHo else is leaving or being thrown under the bus, or taking the fall for larger district handeled mistakes?

Where is the Principal's Union?  Do they have a voice in MPLS, clearly the teachers union speaks and yet we never hear of the Principal's Union.  Does one exist?

MPS=WMD

MPS=WMD

This type of politics inside

This type of politics inside the education institute is truly harmful for all of us. Student will be the utmost victims. Pls take a nod on this

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