Alberto Monserrate: Response to Achievement Gap questions


1.      The Minneapolis Public Schools have struggled for some time to raise the achievement of low-income students and students of color. 

a.      What in your opinion are the most important factors in raising student achievement?

b.      What measures should the school board take to improve student outcomes?

One factor in improving learning and reducing the gap is having the right environment for students to learn. This requires zero tolerance of disruptive behavior from our students. We may need to move to uniforms in some of our schools with the biggest problems with gangs or discipline to avoid gang colors and to improve student behavior and an environment conducive to learning. 


We need to improve student achievement by freeing up teachers from at least of some of the mandates they often see as ineffective. We need to have new teachers and teachers that are having a hard time teaching our most challenging kids, spend more time trained directly by other teachers that have been determined by the teachers union and MPS administration to be effective, and spending less time learning theory in classrooms. We need to set up teachers evaluations that are developed in conjunction with the teachers union, so that we know how our kids and teachers are doing. We need to creatively increase learning time for kids that are behind, by creating separate teaching shifts that will provide the learning that kids need, but keep teaching a sustainable profession that allows teachers to have personal lives. We also need to encourage innovations that will make higher-order thinking skills available to all students and teach our kids critical thinking above short term learning to pass tests.


Having teachers that are well trained and are experienced in effectively teaching kids and that have a culture and leadership that supports them are a very significant factor in reducing the learning gap. Teachers must be allowed to have as much control as possible in the classroom, and have class sizes that are manageable. Setting high expectations for all students is also very important. We also need a more cooperative environment with other government and nonprofit agencies to help our students with many of the social problems that get on the way of effective learning. We also need to invest more in effective early childhood education.

c.       If the school board follows your suggestions, how soon would you expect to see significant results?

I expect some measurable results within a year, but it might take at least 5 years to see dramatic results.


2.      Some people are concerned that focusing on academic achievement for low-income students may lead to insufficient attention being paid to the needs of average and higher performing students. How do you respond to that concern?

      Both my children were in gifted and talented classes in elementary school and pre AP and AP classes in middle and high school. I was once a student lost in the boredom of not being challenged enough. I will fight to keep higher and average students in MPS and make sure that our policy allows them to be challenged. Increasing achievement of our most vulnerable kids doesn’t need to come at the expense of our kids that do well. We need to improve achievement of all kids, not just some.

3.      It has been suggested that certain provisions of the teachers’ contract make more difficult the staffing of schools adequate to meet the needs of all students.  What is your view?

Seniority has a very important role in schools and in Universities. Both my parents were teachers and benefited from seniority and tenure. My dad and other members of my family were able to use this to protect their jobs when they were threatened for their political activities. Seniority and tenure protect our teachers from arbitrary firings from ineffective leaders. They also allows us to keep the most experienced teachers teaching our kids and protect them from management trying to replace them with cheaper labor.


These protections need to remain. At the same time I’m concerned that efforts in MPS to increase the ethnic diversity of teachers has been hurt by the staff reductions in the past few years related to enrollment reductions. I’m also concerned by the perception by many MPS parents that they have lost some of their favorite teachers because of layoffs and that bilingual and NLL and Spanish emersion teachers have lost their jobs and been replaced by teachers that are not bilingual.


Management and MPS and the MFT need to work together in their contracts for a way to retain seniority and tenure, while at the same time ensuring that teacher diversity, bilingual teachers and NLL and Spanish Emersion teachers are also protected.


4.      One idea to improve student outcomes is to have a longer school day or a longer school year.  Do you favor increasing learning time for students, and if so, how would you like to see that happen?

I believe there is strong evidence that students that are behind in learning benefit greatly by longer school days and school years. We need to creatively increase learning time for kids that are behind, by creating separate teaching shifts that will provide the learning that kids need, but keep teaching a sustainable profession that allows teachers to have personal lives. We also need to figure how to compensate extra days for teachers that agree to work longer school years. I don’t believe every student needs increased learning time. Only those that are behind.

5.      Early childhood education is often offered as an important strategy for addressing the achievement gap.

 a.      What are your views on investing in early childhood education?

I believe this is one of the most important things we can invest in in order to reduce the learning gap. Ideally I would see a school system in MPS that starts with full funding for 3-4 year olds before kindergarten,.

b.      How can there be better alignment between pre-k programs and the K-12 system?

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6.      Some people suggest we need more flexible or innovative models of delivering education.

a.      Do you favor or oppose charter schools?

I neither support or oppose charter schools. I support good schools and want to improve not so good schools. I believe there are a few very good charter schools that need to be fully supported and an environment that will allow more to succeed. I believe most charter schools perform as well or worse than district schools. As a group I don’t feel they perform that much worse or that much better. Some district schools perform much better than charters as a group and some charters perform much better than district schools as a group. I supported recent changes in law that demand more accountability for charters from sponsors and make approval more thorough. I believe this new law will have a good impact.


b.      What should the relationship be between the charter schools and MPS?

I agree with the current relationship described in the MPS strategic plan. I agree with the district sponsoring a few charter schools that have a proven plan of success and that will allow for collaboration between the district and charters that are doing well. I support changes in state law that would allow charter school test scores in schools sponsored by MPS, to be counted towards district test scores.  

c.       Do you favor or oppose self-governed (teacher-led) schools? 

I fully support teacher lead self governed schools and believe they have a track record of success in other parts of the country. I believe that teachers should be allowed to decide what schools to open as self governed schools.

 7.      A group of Northside residents have formed a Northside Achievement Zone, aiming to replicate some of the outcomes experienced by the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York.

a.      How should the School Board respond?

I believe Harlem Children’s Zone in New York has been a great success in improving student achievement and that NAZ efforts to replicate this success should be supported.

b.      Is it appropriate for the School Board to make special efforts or investments in a particular portion of the city?

If a part of the city has special challenges and problems with achievement, safety or discipline, it should be allowed to make special investments or efforts. Student failure or dramatic drops in enrollment in parts of the city, affect everyone eventually in the entire city.

8.      With 65% students of color, the Minneapolis Public Schools face significant challenges with regard to integration. Some people prioritize integration efforts, while others argue that that it is more important to improve the quality of schools in low income neighborhoods. What is your opinion on this? Do you favor efforts to increase integration in the city schools?   If yes, what steps would you take to make that happen?

I agree that increased integration is a good goal to have for the district. I would however prioritize to improve the quality of schools in low income neighborhoods than on forced integration. I would ideally like to see students be able to go to their neighborhood school and to know that that school will be as good as any other school. As long as people are racially segregated where they live, this may lead to some segregation. I believe that if we focus on making every MPS school a great school, that integration will come naturally. Forced integration often brings resentment and racial tension. Volunteer integration brings better understanding and better relationships among people from different ethnicities and races.

9.      Improving governance of our public schools is a big topic of discussion.

a.      What in your opinion are the main governance challenges for public education?

I don’t  believe that improving achievement and bringing more stability to the district is really a governance issue. I believe student learning is improved in the class room not the board room.

b.      Are there different governance models that you believe are worth exploring?

I feel comfortable with MPS current governance and with its efforts to expand self governed schools and sponsored charters. Boards must lead, set clear goals, set budgets and policy, and leave the day to day management of the district to staff.

c.       The Governor has recommended that the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts be managed by the cities’ mayors. What is your opinion of this recommendation?

I disagree with having school districts be managed by the cities mayors. I believe that not even St Paul and Minneapolis mayors agree with this proposal. I have no reason to believe that mayors would hire superintendents, set policy and improve student learning any better than school boards.

10.  Your role in the school board

a.      How do you define the role of a school board member?

The School Board sets policy and budgets for the Minneapolis School district. It also hires the superintendent. A School Board should set a strategic plan for the district and approve an overall budget. Once it hires a superintendent and the district leadership is in place, a board must then monitor the strategic plan implementation and make sure that budgets are being implemented as they’re supposed to. It must also set clear goals and expectations for the superintendent and evaluate the superintendents’ performance against those goals.


A board must set policy but not be involved on operational or implementation of the districts goals. If the superintendent is not performing or if budgets are not being followed then the board must step in.


Boards also must approve contracts with its employees and make sure that those contracts are enforced within the stipulated deadlines.


b.      How much time each week do you expect to spend on school related matters?  

I expect to spend 20-25 hours a week on average on school board business.  


11.  Finally, what does success in the Minneapolis Public Schools look like to you.

My long term vision Success in Minneapolis schools would be a system in which every kid, no matter what their families economic situation, their race or ethnicity and their families personal situations, will fulfill their full potential. A system in which every kid that wants to graduate and go to college, can do so. A system that will also support students that don’t want to go to college, and prepare them for a life where they can fulfill their full potential. A system in which every student will be prepared to succeed in IB or AP programs if they choose to. A system that will teach students skills that will help them succeed in a global economy, and that will also value local community service and involvement. A system in which every student will graduate fluent in a second language, arts and music, and have been taught critical and higher order thinking and where students graduate with values that stress the public good over personal gain.

Alberto Monserrate
Candidate for Minneapolis School Board
District 5