Meet the Minneapolis School Board: Alberto Monserrate on engaging the community

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Five years ago, Alberto Monserrate was one of the most vocal critics of the Minneapolis School Board.  As co-founder and chief executive officer of the Latino Communications Network, he was outspoken about the district’s shortcomings, both publicly and through meetings with school board meetings.  Now, five years later, Monserrate sits on the Minneapolis Public School Board, and has prioritized community engagement so that community members have a feeling that they are having a real say on issues – a priority that he says the new board members heard loud and clearing during the election.  Here’s an interview with Monserrate, where he speaks about bringing credibility and community engagement to the district. 

This is one of a series of short interviews, introducing members of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education. To see all the interviews published to date, click here.

TWIN CITIES DAILY PLANET: How can the school board bring credibility to the district?

ALBERTO MONSERRATE … We’re seeing if we can take a more collaborative approach than in the past with the internal stakeholders.  How do we do a better job in administration getting enough input from employees and from teachers in a more collaborative way?  There is a perception by some that it’s too top down.  I already see steps in making the process more inclusive. 

The district is going through a way to come up with teacher evaluations that seems to me a collaborative effort that is a step in right direction… How do we increase trust between employees and the leadership?

We want the process to be more streamlined, more efficient. Part of the problem is that we are still in the process of assessing and getting feedback from people.  It’s really important for board members coming in to be able to really measure those things.  We need to know exactly where we are at, when we see data that is objective, not so subjective, then we are able to address the issues. I’ve had a career that has been about implementation.  You can never really make process until you have a real assessment that is backed by data.  We have a feeling about certain things but I want to see the data that shows that so we can see where improvements need to be made.

TCDP:  How can the School Board improve community engagement? 

AM: …  I think that we have a group of capable people that are making a good effort of community involvement, but we need to have more one on one conversations…. We need to actually survey people directly, and see how we can engage better…. Things are more clarified when people feel that they have more input.  In my particular case, being involved in media and with Latino community, it’s really an opportunity to bring some expertise that might not have been there before. 

TCDP: Do you have a sense of the Latino community’s priorities? 

AM: I know that as far as parents are concerned, I’ve heard directly from the community that student safety is a priority, especially when students are walking or going to and from school.  Also, discipline – parents want to make sure there is an environment in school where there is low or no tolerance for disruptive behavior.  They’d like more rigor in academics.  There’s also concern about graduation rates.

TCDP:  How do you engage the Latino community better? 

AM: It’s part of the learning opportunity –  how do we call for meetings within the Latino community, how to reach folks and get them to go to meetings. I’ve been talking to Patricia Torres Ray.  We’re planning at least one forum on February 2 at Roosevelt High School with facilitators from the community.  It’ll be a two-way conversation.  We’ll gather information from Latino parents and give information.  Parent involvement is important for kids’ success.  What are the different things that parents can do? It’s an example of something that before would have been hard for a school board member that doesn’t know Spanish.

When people hear from the district, they need to trust that the input will be taken into account. Traditional media is not enough.  We need to use email lists, Twitter, Facebook – these are tools that the district is using.  But really there is nothing like a good relationship and a one-on-one meeting. That was the way I was engaged.  A lot of people know five years ago I was a very strong critic of the district, but because board members engaged me, I became an advocate for the district.  When I talk to the superintendent, and people in district, I bring that as an example of what worked for me, so we can replicate that. 

I know there has been a lot of negativity heard about the district.  I’ve never shied away from criticism, but I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been.  I have a very positive sense of urgency and getting things done.