Minneapolis school board: Revitalizing parent and community involvement


Question #3 – As a Board Director, how do you see your role in understanding enrollment trends, attracting  Minneapolis families with children to our schools, and revitalizing parent and community involvement in our schools and district?

The MPS Parents Forum has posed a number of questions to all school board candidates and then published their responses on the forum. Thanks to the MPS Parents Forum for agreeing that the TC Daily Planet may republish these responses.

At Large, City-Wide (2 seats open)

Chanda Baker

 Chanda Smith Baker
 At Large Candidate MPS

David DeGrio

 One thing that each Board Director must keep in mind is the role of the Board.  We are the governing body in the District and are responsible for determining the direction we want our Administration to take the district.

When dealing with the issues addressed in this question, we are responsible for oversight of the Administration’s efforts on these fronts.  We must understand what our district is doing as well as what other districts may be doing so we can learn from them, work with administration to make sure they are making the right decisions and ensure that the priorities of the Community are being addressed by the Administration.  The Administration should be following the agenda of the Board, rather than creating its own agenda.   

In order to provide proper oversight, Board Directors ought to be able to look at data and interpret the trends in said data.  As a biotech research chemist, I am well accustomed to working with large volumes of complex data.  It is important that a Director know how to independently interpret data because oftentimes we will be provided with an interpretation of data by someone in Administration.  Unless a Director understands how to interpret data, she or he will not be able to properly assess the interpretations by other individuals.   

David DeGrio

Rebecca Gagnon

 From a fiscal perspective, enrollment equals dollars. As a Board member, I should be aware of not only enrollment trends, but data that reveals factors involved in declining (or increasing) enrollment in MPS. With declining student enrollment, MPS has less state funds to support a District which served over 50,000 students in the not so distant past. On a positive note, the District has seen some of their recent marketing efforts pay off as elementary enrollment has stabilized and even increased in some grade levels.  

As a Board Director, I would encourage the District to broaden their campaign to reach out to all Minneapolis families to “sell” parents on the idea of a quality public school education. With a national economy that is still struggling and a recent overhaul of MPS with CSO, the time is right to sell MPS as the right fit to educate all children in Minneapolis. MPS has also committed to less but higher quality magnate school programs, IB high school & middle school programs, and a New Schools program that looks at self-governed, contract & charter school options. These are GREAT ideas that need to be communicated to the public. However, even with the best campaign and best future plans for MPS, the district must commit to focusing their efforts on every child college ready and quality, rigorous, DISTRICT-WIDE academic programs that would achieve this goal.  

The most important factor in this conversation is parent and community involvement! A vibrant community requires quality public schools. Parents want their children to go to school close to home, which was one of the goals of the CSO. However, requiring families to choose a school closer to home doesn’t fix the academic and social problems at that school. The District must not only reach out to parents and communities for their involvement, input, and feedback, but the District MUST work to earn trust amongst all MPS communities again. Reality is perception in the public’s eye, and perception is millions of dollars on a new admin. building, closing schools, and negativity surround teacher contract negotiations, a few of the current public issues involving MPS. Whether the information communicated to the public via blogs, articles, public forums, etc. are based solely upon fact or not, the perception is there and trust has eroded. The Board and the District must work hard to gain back the communities’ trust and confidence in order to work together to reach our lofty but attainable District goals.

Rebecca Gagnon
 Citywide Candidate

Richard Mammen

 Richard Mammen
 Candidate for Minneapolis School Board At-large

Doug Mann

 I have analysed enrollment data going back to the early 1990s. We have seen a juge MPS enrollment decline, both absolutely and as a share of the student population residing in Minneapolis. Only about 25 to 30% of K-12 students on the Near Northside currently attend regular Minneapolis Public Schools. A steep decline in enrollment of students in grades K-1 was happening before total enrollment peaked in 1998, and much of this reflected parents with school age children moving out of the district, as well as the enrollment of students in suburban public schools and charter schools (options that became available in the early 1990s). A large proportion of Near Northside students are also being pushed into the district’s alternative and contract alternative schools.

In 2002 the district improvement plan called for bringing teacher turnover rates to low levels in all of the district’s schools. Yet the district administration, with board approval, persisted in its practice of firing and replacing most new teachers before they completed their 3 year probationary period. In a 3 year period ending in 2004, average annual teacher turnover rates were in the range of 30 to 40% and higher in nearly all of the district’s schools that are classified as racially identifiable (Students of color represent more than 90% of a schools enrollment, or more than 20% above the district average for grade levels served.)

The district demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Minnesota Department of Education that it could provide students of color equal educational opportunities within the context of a racially segregated district based on experiment in the late 1990s that involved the reduction in disparities in educational inputs between schools that are not racially identifiable and two racially identifiable schools, North Star and Hall elementary schools. The district allowed probationary teachers at North Star and Hall to complete their probationary periods and become permanent employees of the district. More than 90% of students enrolled in these schools where non-white, and about 90% qualified for free or reduced priced lunches. Test scores for both of these schools went from being among the lowest in the district to being better than average. Attendence rates increased, disciplinary actions against students decreased.

The district has also done studies evaluating the correlation between teacher turnover and average teaching experience, which showed a strong positive correlation between stability of teaching staff and positive outcomes for students, including test scores, attendence, and student behavior in school. The district has demonstrated that lowering teacher turnover rates improves student outcomes. Since high teacher turnover is generally high in schools and school programs in which students of color are heavily concentrated, eliminating this disparity is called for by the MN Desegregation Rule. The Minneapolis School District is not in compliance with anti-discrimination provisions of the Desegregation Rule. The district is engaged in intentional racial discrimination as defined by the MN Desegregation Rule.

The district administration has also permitted, promoted, and even mandated ability-grouping practices that result in the establishment of watered-down curriculum tracks. I have reviewed student achievement data disaggregated by race and poverty that indicated that students of color and low income whites are heavily over-represented in watered-down tracks. Outcomes for students of color, including test scores and on-time graduation rates has given the Minneapolis School District the distinction of being among the five worst school districts in the US for students of color. The test score gap between white and non- white students is huge.

Anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires evaluation of ability- grouping practice, including disaggregation of student achievement data by track placement, race, and eligibility for free and reduced price lunch. I have called, and will continue to call on the Minneapolis School Board to fully comply with this law.  

For a dozen years now, district schools have been assigning K-1 students to classes for reading instruction according to ability. Students placed in low ability classrooms do not recieve effective reading instruction, generally fail to thrive in other subject areas, and do not have successful school carreers.  

I also advocate the elimination of watered-down curriculum tracks. A program designed for this purpose, Arts for Academic Achievement, has been used by some of the district’s schools with impressive results, including average reading scores being boosted by half a grade level per year. However Arts for Academic Achievement has not been used to its full potential as a means to eliminate watered-down curriculum.

By stabilizing the teaching staff accross the district, and by using Arts for Academic Achievement to eliminate the watered down curriculum, the Minneapolis School District can make a quality public education accessible to all on an equal basis.  

-Doug Mann, Minneapolis School Board candidate

Mohamud Noor

 In the last decade, the enrollment of students in the district has declined by more than 25%. This trend is projected to continue in the coming years. As a School Board Director I believe this is the most critical issue for the stability of our school system. I will relentlessly engage parents, teachers and communities to advocate for Minneapolis Public Schools. Parental and community involvement in education is important for student achievement. Research indicates when schools, parents and communities work together to support learning, students become successful in learning. It is not the responsibility of one entity; all of us have a responsibility to bear, and all of us have a stake in the outcome. We must demand excellence from ourselves and academic achievement from our children. To address these issues we must have:

Board Leadership

  • Ensuring school board and district accountability, transparency and integrity.


  • Ensuring the board is accountable and open to the public interest and the public trust.

• Engaging community members and parents by seeking divergent perspectives in decision making process to enrich the quality of education.  

• Promoting collaborative environments with a commitment to equity and quality learning and achievement outcomes for all students.  

• Adopting a fiscally responsible budget that allocates resources based on the district’s vision, goals and priorities for student learning.  

Responsive Schools

  • Ensuring students, parents and other members of the school community are welcomed and valued.


  • Ensuring students are supported and inspired to succeed in academic achievements.


  • Providing high quality educational experiences, including rigorous curriculum, technology and high quality facilities.


  • Providing and maintain a safe and secure environment for all students and staff.

• Recruiting, retaining and supporting quality teachers, administrators and other staff and providing for their professional development.

  • Providing more individualized, personalized program and strive for manageable class size.


  • Providing quality early childhood education programming.


  • Adjusting to demographic changes.

Parent and Community Engagement

• Promoting and expanding outreach efforts, to engage a cross-section of diverse students, parents, staff, community members and various organizations.  

• Collaborating with families and community members, responding to diverse interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources.

  • Promoting parental and family support in early learning.


  • Expanding Connecting Parents to Educational Opportunities (CPEO) and District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC)


  • Engaging all levels of government and community based organization to emphasize a holistic approach to education.

Thank you.
 Mohamud Noor

Marika Pfefferkorn

 Community Engagement: When I think about community engagement, I think about the many roles I have held, the many families, students and staff I have worked with and the multiple approaches I have taken in working towards engaging communities; communities within our schools and in our neighborhoods. I bring a wealth of experience, research, insight and practice to the discussion on community engagement, lessons I would like to see implemented at an institutional level through policy on the Minneapolis School Board.

My first job in education was Title I Parent and Community Involvement Coordinator position in St. Paul Public Schools; I took my role seriously, I attended in-depth trainings to learn about cultural models for working with communities of color and connected directly with our community of parents. By the end of my time at Hayden Heights, I was recognized at the district level for our successful parent involvement program, we boasted the highest parent participation levels in the district. We had in place strong parent recruitment and support systems for getting parents active. Participation numbers represent part of the work I do in engaging communities.  

Connecting with families at the level of equal partner is essential vs. extending our hand to ask parents, guardians and caregivers to work with us on our terms, in our space and in our time frame. I walked away from that role knowing community engagement is core to working with families and improving student outcomes. I have highlighted my approach to working in community engagement below:    Community Engagement is an ongoing process, evaluate the success and impact, adjust as necessary.  Acknowledge that participation numbers alone do not equate success or fulfill the districts community engagement commitments (mandated accountability is not a true commitment to community engagement).  Community engagement is everyone¡¦s role.  Allocate adequate resources to support community engagement efforts  Community engagement must be modeled by leadership at district and building levels.  Engagement should start between the teacher, student and family at the point of service  We must build the capacity and leadership within communities to equal the playing field when gathering together around a table.  We cannot assume because parents are not involved ¡§visibly¡¨ they do not want to be or are not engaged in their students learning.  Encourage partnerships with community agencies who are all responsible for community engagement to work together collectively, rather than over asking our families to participate in multiple community engagement efforts.

Enrollment Trends: Understanding Enrollment trends is an important component of the role for school board members. By examining enrollment trends we can align our budget accordingly, evaluate exit and entrance patterns through data and interview reporting, build awareness of cultural needs, barriers and challenges. Better understand the needs of all of our stakeholders and communicate to the public what is happening as it is happening versus when we are dealing with the fallout.

Attracting MPS Families: How do we attract families to the MPS? Our students, staff, families and community partners should be our ambassadors and primary advocates, they are our best chance at spreading the message about all the good things happening in our schools; by focusing on them we can increase our impact and credibility, in addition we have an extensive alumni network that we need to re- engage and increase the amount of legacy attendance not because they have to have children attend our schools but they want to have their children attend our schools. Finally by creating spaces for community to grow amidst the bricks and mortar of our district and building upon a collective sense of ownership, responsibility and pride-are all proven strategies for success.

Marika Pfefferkorn Citywide Candidate for School Board

Dick Velner

 People may get sick of my talk about the Russian School of Mathematics but it is the embodiment of my thinking to make Minneapolis Public Schools a world class learning institution. There is a saying; one must get busy growing or get busy dying. A school system is no different than any other life experience we may have; be it the cultivation of a garden, raising a family, running a business or teaching a classroom of students. A constant regeneration of thought and practice is necessary to stay abreast of ever present change.

MPS is currently dying, hemorrhaging dollars and on a death and dying path. I must be able to recruit students to the RSM concept of a school within a school. Using technology as a cutting edge, exacting a system with discipline, learning a second language and introducing a leadership model second to none. It’s about my selling and marketing a different possibility for their students, giving them a choice for an education concerned about the future while learning from the past. As the success is measured, the District can begin to grow again.

The Board made an excellent choice in declaring a policy of autonomy for quality schools. It is about the ideas not worked rather than the “same-old same-old”. Teachers are a creative group if they are given the freedom to create.

Dick Velner – Parent, Teacher, Curriculum Principal and School Board Candidate www.curriculumprincipal.com

T Williams

 Responsible and responsive governance require the governing board to to understand all trends that can impact the operation of the organization. MPS’ main business is educating children. We need good information on how many children we can expect in our schools. Student attendance is a major factor in determining how much revenue will be allocated for operating the schools. As a school board member I want to know as much as I can about what’s influencing the trends. For example, if we’re loosing students to other schools, I want to know why and to what schools. In order to be effective in attracting families to our schools, we need to know what are the barriers to selecting Minneapolis schools and what kind of changes are needed to attract families back to our schools. My role in this process would be to determine what policies and/or resources are needed to promote Minneapolis Public Schools as the schools of choice for educating children in Minneapolis. In addition, I think school board directors are ambassadors for the District in the broader community. As a school board member I have to feel good about our schools if I’m going to be effective in getting families to send their children to Minneapolis schools. It become incumbent upon me and my school board colleages to work with the District leadership, teachers, staff, parents and community leaders to have the kind of schools where families can feel good about enrolling their children.

T. Williams
 At-Large Candidate  

District 1 (1 seat open)

Jenny Arneson

 I have taken an active role in successfully attracting families to our schools for years. As a parent, enrollment numbers are more than a trend to me. Enrollment predictions represent my neighbors, my community and my friends making school choices that directly impact our community. As a school board director, it is important to take a long view of demographic changes and recognize the difference between enrollment trends and population shifts that require significant changes such as closing schools and/or selling unused school buildings. While it is important to be good stewards of public funds and save money through consolidation when appropriate, it is short-sighted to make decisions based on demographic predictions alone. Enrollment trends ebb and flow, and it is wise to consider the wisdom of those from inside the school community, as well as that of external sources such as demographers and other public policy-makers.

Enrollment trends and parent involvement are connected. I believe that increased parent and community involvement will lead to increased enrollment.  

*Engaging parents has been at the heart of my professional work as a social worker and parent leader within the schools.  

*In my experience, parents’ relationships within their community are key components in school choice. When asked why they chose a particular school, parents often respond that their neighbors recommended or dissuaded them from considering a school. Impressions are made based on emotional reactions that are often not based in fact or logical assessment, but on subtle, often subconscious emotional reactions. While curriculum is an important factor in choosing a school, I almost never hear families say they chose a school based on programming alone. In order to more effectively attract families, I believe our district, and more importantly, individual schools, must effectively build relationships with their intended communities.  

Our school board can foster this relationship by engaging in community-driven policy. By looking to the school’s stakeholders – administrators, teachers and parents – when making policy decisions rather than placing greater importance on feedback from the district’s central administration, the board can more effectively encourage MPS schools as a choice for more Minneapolis parents. Our policies should be supportive of parent engagement, and encourage grass-root connections between schools and their communities.  

The job of the district-wide administration and the school board, is to maintain stability so that Minneapolis families can effectively promote their schools to their neighbors. When our district invests in programming or school buildings, our school board must hold others accountable to ensure that promises are kept. The school board must be familiar enough with communities to know that logical pathways exist and equitable programming is available for every neighborhood.  

Jenny Arneson, Candidate for District 1
 Cell: 612-201-2685

Marcia Thomas

 I believe as a board director it is necessary to be aware of enrollment trends while also acknowledging that they do not tell the whole story. Although enrollment trends can help predict fluctuations in our school populations, many factors must be taken into account as we plan for the future of our schools. Birth rates, immigration, housing patterns and the economy are additional factors that can influence enrollment. As a board director it will be my responsibility to use this information to ensure that our schools meet the needs of all families.

Strong connections between our communities, families and schools are critical to the success of Minneapolis Public Schools. Establishing trust through open communication and inclusive parent and community engagement is fundamental to increasing involvement. As a Board Director it will be my role to help administration understand the needs of both families and the community and to advocate for greater access to accurate information. This includes making sure all school information is available in multiple languages, promoting our schools by inviting families and community to participate in school activities, fostering connections with families of preschool children, and holding Board meetings in a community setting. I am excited by work being done by the Office of Family Engagement bringing together families and schools with the CPEO (Connecting Parents to Educational Opportunities) program. I will actively seek feedback and encourage administration to create avenues for feedback about what is working and not working in our schools. Additionally as a Board Director, I will pursue opportunities to co-locate community programs in our schools, bringing community resources closer to our students.  

Marcia Thomas
 Candidate District #1

District 3 (1 seat open)

Hussein Samatar

 The Minneapolis Public Schools has been losing students to suburban schools, private schools and charter schools year after year for a long period of time. Not long ago the Minneapolis Public Schools had more than 50,000 students, and now the enrollment stands at about 34,000. If this trend is not reversed it will have a huge impact on the district’s budget and the programs that the district can offer.  

There are many of reasons why parents leave. The one that I am hearing and again and again as I campaign for the board is the lack of respect felt by the parents of the English Language Learners. I have also heard concern about district’s minimal understanding of how to educate effectively English Language Learners.  

Many ELL parents have opted to go charter schools believing that they will be treated better and get more rounded education there.

What can I do? If elected, I will

  • Assure ELL parents that that the district will do whatever it can to make sure their children thrive within the district.

• Work to build awareness that our schools and teachers alone cannot educate our children. It takes a village, beginning with parents, teachers, administrators, business community, philanthropy, government and the larger community. We all have to play our role to make sure children return to the Minneapolis Public Schools healthy and with confidence.  

•Make the point that public education is neither free nor cheap. The district has to engage our community so we can live with our means. That means we will need to cut costs whenever it is appropriate and necessary. We have to show the rest of the community that we can negotiate with our teachers responsibly and manage our resources efficiently in tough economic times.  

I believe that the district can attract and retain more students and their parents only if it becomes more serious in listening and understanding and responding to the needs of our students and their parents.  

 Hussein Samatar
 MPS Board Candidate – District 3  
 web: www.samatarforschoolboard.org

District 5 (1 seat open)

Alberto Monserrate

I’ve given lots of thought to this question, so please forgive me for the length of my response. MPS has unfortunately been forced into a never ending budget cutting environment over the past ten years. One lesson I’ve learned in organizational management is that at one point you cut too much, and you start to bleed. That’s were I think we are right now. School boards are forced legally to balance budgets no matter what the circumstances are. So now we have exhausted students, teachers, staff, parents, and community members, that have only seen sacrifice in the past few years and the ones that are hurt are our kids. Our management labor relationship is very poor right now, our staff morale is low, many of our parents are burned out, and even our kids safety could now in jeopardy because of cuts.  

One reason for the budget deficits has been lack of adequate funding from the state. But the main reason has been dramatic drops in enrollment. In the fall of 2000 MPS had an enrollment of 48,689 students. By 2009 MPS enrollment had dropped to 33,424. That’s a drop of enrollment of 15,265 students or 31.35%. African American enrollment in that time dropped 42%, enrollment of White American students dropped 21.58%, enrollment of Asian American students dropped 60.5%, Native American Students dropped by 27.2% and Latino student enrollment grew 37%. Latino enrollment grew very little though from 2005 on. Between 1980 to 2000 enrollment of white students fell over 50%, enrollment of African American Students more than doubled, and Latino and Asian student enrollment exploded during that time, with Native American student enrollment staying stable in those twenty years. Overall enrollment during 1980-2000 was slightly up. So while over ten thousand White American students left Minneapolis schools and in the eighties and nineties, the 0’s we saw mostly African American and Asian students leaving. Latino and Somali student enrollment probably could’ve been substantially higher, and we still saw a substantial but not as dramatic drop in White student enrollment.  

Student enrollment wouldn’t have dropped as drastically and Latino and Somali enrollment would’ve grown more in MPS over the past 10 years if parents were satisfied with their schools. As the founder and CEO of Latino Communications Network, which publishes La Prensa de Minnesota and runs the Spanish language radio station La Invasora, and as someone who grew up in Puerto Rico and who’s native language was Spanish, I’m deeply connected to immigrant communities and communities of color. Our media has collaborated with other ethnic media over the past ten years in efforts to better understand our common issues. I feel I have a good understanding of why so many students of color left to suburban schools or charter schools. Parents feared for their children’s safety, they feared their kids being either harassed by or recruited into gangs, and they worried about the graduation rates of their kids.  

More than 25% of MPS students or some 9,200 are English Language learners. I know that many immigrant parents want programs in our district that help our English learning students become completely fluent and proficient in English, while also helping them preserve their native languages. They want their kids to be safe and they want their kids to do better in school. As a person whose life work is communications, I’d like to contribute to improving MPS communication with parents. As traditional ways of communicating become obsolete and our stakeholders become more diverse, we need to communicate effectively our successes and the great things happening in our schools, while also acknowledging and exploring how we can improve in our challenges. We can improve in effectively soliciting ideas from our stakeholders, to better capitalize on the diverse strengths and capabilities of this community.

How else do we keep the students we have and recruit back those that we’ve lost? We address the issue of safety through stressing zero tolerance of bad discipline of 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. We need to improve student achievement by freeing up teachers from 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 and with the approval of 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.

And we need to aggressively market door to door, as many charter schools do, to get kids in MPS schools. We need to stabilize the district, and allow current reforms such as teacher lead self governed schools enough time to work, and make sure we have no more changes of direction catered to the latest ed policy trend for at least five more years. I believe that if we address all these strategies, we will get many of our kids back, and avoid losing many more. And we can stop the bleeding.  

Alberto Monserrate
 Candidate for Minneapolis School Board
 District 5
 Facebook: www.facebook.com/albertomonserrateschool
 Twitter: http://twitter.com/albertolcnmedia