David DeGrio: Response to Achievement Gap questions

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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?

I.                 Intervening in the early years to make sure a child is learning, rather than playing catch-up in Middle or High School.

II.              Focusing instruction to the specific needs of a child.

III.            Supportive family and community members who take an active role in a child’s learning.

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

I.                 Maintain a low student to teacher ratio.

II.              Allow schools more freedom to adapt curriculum and instruction to the specific needs of their student populations.

III.            Create safe, quiet spaces for students to work/study before and after school.

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

Significant results could be achieved before my first term has expired (four years.)

 

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

This is a false dichotomy.    We needn’t sacrifice academic rigor in the name of increasing student success.  As a curriculum standards developer at the Minnesota Department of Education I studied alternate, data-driven curriculum models that increase academic rigor, specifically in science and math that are shown to shrink the disparity of learning amongst all children. 

 

3.      It has been suggested that certain provisions of the teacher’s contract prevent the administration from staffing the schools adequately to meet the needs of students. Please comment on your opinion of the current teacher’s contract.

Poor fiscal management and budgeting at the State level is the biggest impediment to meeting the needs of students.  Right now many teachers are spending 8-10 hours a day working at the school followed by several more hours of work once they return home at night (or are at home on weekends.)  Teachers are not given enough time, during the school day, to work on collaborative professional development, development of lesson plans and developing curriculum to meet the needs of specific students needs?

4.      One idea to improve student outcomes is to spend more time on task. That might mean 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 support an elongated school day and school year.  Initially it should probably be implemented in the High Schools.  I think we should start there because High School students need to be prepared for the adult world.  In the adult world, we work year round and don’t take a three month break over the summer.  We can then look to expanding the school year in the other grades. 

 

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 an important part of our public school system.  Right now I divide our students into two groups.  The first group consists of students in grades 7 – 12.  These students are oftentimes several years behind in comprehension and skills.  We need to focus upon helping these students get up to speed quickly. 

The second group consists of PK – 6th grade.  We must focus upon early intervention.  If we make sure that students are staying on track in the early years, we will put our district in a position where students in 7 – 12 will need less resources to get caught up and the money can then be reinvested in early intervention.  We will have to go thru a transition period, that may last up to 10 years.

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

If a PK program is in place, we can look to use those PK programs as a feeder into specific elementary schools.  By doing this, we can develop curriculum that implements State Curriculum standards earlier than originally anticipated.  We can deliberately choose certain State standards to teach in the PK classes.  This will allow us, overtime, to increase the academic rigor in the schools because students will have been learning from an earlier age.  If we can show a successful model, it will only serve to improve the image of MPS and will help us attract new families or families who may have left the district.

 

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

a.      Do you favor or oppose charter schools?

I only support charter schools if they are high-quality schools with demonstrable improved outcomes.  Charter schools are a reality in our public education system; however, I look forward to a day where the Minneapolis Public Schools are able to eliminate the need for charter schools.

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

It should be a cooperative relationship where we can openly share best practices for district and school operations.  There are several charter schools that have shown an interest in contracting with MPS for some basic services.  I believe that we could find additional revenue streams by contracting some district services.

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

Favor.

 

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?

These are the types of Community Partners we should be utilizing to tackle some of the area-specific problems in our City.

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

Yes it is appropriate to help particular portions of the City to develop the social/community capital that is integral to student success.

 

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?

It is important that students go to school with a diverse student population.  Ideally it shouldn’t matter where a child lives or goes to school, because all of our schools should be serving students equally. 

Integration is important, but it doesn’t guarantee that student achievement will increase. 

 

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?

When making decisions that are in the long-term best interest of our district, we oftentimes find ourselves in conflict with the short-term emotions of students and parents.  The hardest part is making a good decision versus a political decision.

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

One model that might be worth exploring is replacing the role of the Superintendent with a personnel manager and expanding the role of the School Board.  Other states have had success with similar models.  I am not saying that I fully support this move, but it might be worth exploring what our district would look like under that model.

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

I do not support this recommendation.  It will only lead to increased politicization of our schools.  We need less politics in the schools, not more.

 

10.  Your role in the school board

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

The role of a school board member is to co-govern the district.  We are there to develop a vision for our schools and work with the Superintendent to implement that vision. 

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

A minimum of 20 hours per week, but at times it could push upwards of 40 hours a week depending upon what additional commitments I make to the Board.

c.       If elected, how many terms do you plan to serve?

I will serve at least two terms, if the voters allow.  I don’t know what my life will look like in 8 years, but right now I am not opposed to serving more than two terms.

 

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

Success in the Minneapolis Public Schools will have been achieved when every student is equipped with the knowledge and skills that will allow them to succeed in any post-graduation endeavor they choose.  This, of course, requires that every child that starts school finishes school.  It will also require that regardless of location in the city or school attended, students are receiving an education that meets their specific needs.