Hussein Samatar : Response to Achievement Gap questions

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Hussein Samatar

MPS Board Candidate – District 3     Web: www.samatarforschoolboard.org

 

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?

The most important in raising achievement are:

Parental involvement and parental care

High expectations for all of our students specially student of color in the district

Highly motivated and highly trained teachers

High quality curriculum across board

Believing all our children can achieve their potential.

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

The school board has one employee and that is the superintendent. The measures that the board can set for the superintendents to improve students’ outcomes are:

Following and building upon the Changing School Options plan

Developing techniques that promise to improve ELL instruction

Developing stronger data reporting systems — academic and business

Building strong, honest relationships with stakeholders

Monitoring and improving learning (not just test scores) of students of color

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

I think it is dangerous every two years to select board members who are expected to reject all that is in place and apply their silver-bullet strategies. I want to work with the “Changing School Options” plan to promote a process of continuous improvements in our schools.

I will bring the ability to apply sound business principles and engage effectively the new American community in the process.

 

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?

Solutions for closing the achievement gap cannot be an either or decision.

Policies that are provide universal assistance across schools are also effective in closing the achievement gap for low-income students such as homework help, college counseling and smaller classes.

 

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?

For long time it seems to me the opportunity gap that does exist in the district is being blamed on teachers and the contract that they have with the district. Before I can comment on the provisions of the teachers’ contract that make difficult to staff our school adequately. I will need to learn and study those provisions.

However, your committee seems to assume that the problem is “how do we force teachers to carry out our plan?”

Our teachers have worked hard with our students and they have seen many utopian plans come ad go. They are rightly skeptical. We need to listen more carefully to teachers about what will work and engage in honest conversation with them.

 

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?

Yes, I would favor to having a longer school day. I am not sure we need to cut in Minnesota our summer break. Students that need specific help during the summer should be provided for them the opportunity to attend high quality summer programs.

Currently standards focus on the “core” of education i.e. reading, math and science. Strong technological, engineering and artistic components are important to the learning process and address different ways students learn. Robotics teams, debate clubs etc could be incorporated into extended learning periods.

 

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?

Closing the opportunity gap that is created before kindergarten will be one of the most effective ways to create equity within our school system. I am aware and support the work of Art Rolnick.

We can offer comprehensive early education opportunities, but we do not have the funding for public support to offer universal preschool. We must look beyond the school board to our legislature and to our parents.

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

One way to secure a better alignment is the district to collaborate effectively with Head Start program and organizations such Way to Grow.

I do believe there are efforts at alignment going on now with some success. Head Start affirms its worth by vilifying the Minneapolis School District. It must be pushed to collaborate.

 

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

a. Do you favor or oppose charter schools?

Minneapolis should strive to meet the needs that charter schools are providing. Over time charters have often created segregation in districts. Charter schools are not doing any better than the district for the most part in Minnesota.

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

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

Teachers are professionals that often have the best understanding of what is needed in a school/classroom.

 

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?

The School Board should be as supportive as possible. One of the key elements to closing the achievement gap is to ensure students and their parent’s value education and have support. Teacher and school alone will not be as successful in closing the achievement gap without the aid of the whole community.

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

Public education works just fine in some parts of the city and not in other parts. The damage done to the children is too great for the public schools alone to overcome. We should not look at the Northside as ‘special effort” but as an effort to find what will work in an area where nothing has worked so far. If we see failure anywhere in the city, then we should be ready to work on specific solutions to that area.

A cookie cutter model of education has been ineffective in meeting the diverse needs of students. Testing ideas and programs that could provide innovative solutions is important especially if those initiatives can give us insights on how to scale successful idea.

 

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?

We are seeing authentic cross-race relationship developing in some schools, and we should honor them. I would need to listen and think a great deal before taking a position on expanding the use of our limited resources for bussing. We can do more with creating cross-cultural opportunities in working with out of school time.

 

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?

Extreme democracy – everyone is and expert. It is difficult to govern when so much attention is given to critics. Sometimes the critics are right, and we need to listen them. But the well is so frequently poisoned by people with personal agendas that make governance very difficult. We need to work on a model that better incorporates those on the outside who want in to make sustainable changes.

The most important decisions are make by state and federal authorities. Local school boards have limited leeway to make decisions that help our children. We need to discuss a better balance.

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

Formalizing regular discussions between the board and various constituent groups. Including students and teachers.

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?

A member of the board should be focused on using the board to do the best possible for our children. I would need to learn of any benefits of and unanticipated consequences of the consolidation.

 

10. Your role in the school board

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

A school board member is elected to use his or her best judgment on issues of policy affecting the schools. A school board member should also maintain strong community relationships and bring what he or she learns to board decisions.

A board member should not attempt to manage the day to day working of the district.

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

I expect to spend between 15- 20 hours a week.

 

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

Success for me is when every child can learn and achieve his or her potential in life. When our students can read and write fluently more than one language, and are ready to compete in the market place after high school graduation. When our students do not need remedial work if and when they reach college. When all of students 100% can have the choice to go to college or make career choice that makes them responsible adults while making our community a better place.