Rebecca Gagnon: From birth to college, MPS must provide quality every step of the way

Print

One morning a week for the past 5 years I’ve volunteered at a pre-K program in North Minneapolis sponsored by my church. For 2 ½ hours, myself, another volunteer and a teacher work with 10 to 15 four and five year olds to prepare them for kindergarten and provide them a solid footing to graduate from high school. Quality early childhood programs are a proven best practice to closing the achievement gap. MPS’s High Five pre-K program has expanded significantly since its inception almost a decade ago, and 82% of our students entering kindergarten with a High 5 experience are meeting or exceeding the standard benchmark for literacy. It is unconscionable that we continue to have a wait list of over 500 students and inadequate funding and space to meet the need.

This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.

To address this growing need, Director Arneson and I have been pushing since 2011 to use an existing building as an early childhood center to expand access. This year MPS signed an agreement with the U of M to form a partnership and use the Gordon/Willard schools as an early childhood and parent education center. This will dramatically increase our capacity and expand our services beyond High Five and Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) to providing birth to five programs for children and parents.

Even with quality early childhood interventions, every child needs excellent classroom experiences K-12.

A child ready to learn entering kindergarten must receive effective individualized instruction every year, in every class, with every teacher. I have supported our teacher evaluation work, our current push to broaden our curriculum to reflect our diverse student body, and lowering class sizes. I support our movement to standards based instruction that better supports our student mobility and is meant to increase instructional effectiveness and flexibility in the classroom.

To create a positive school climate, we first had to address the racial disparities in our discipline practices and the over-identification of students of color for special education services, especially EBD (emotional behavior disorder). I commend our move to push in models providing special education and ELL support services within the regular classroom, and advocate strongly to integrate healthy social/emotional skills in to our curriculum while providing supports to serve the whole child, stressing interventions and not punitive measures.

Why does stability on the board matter to convince families that MPS is a high quality pathway to college readiness?

Because the aforementioned work has just begun and complete implementation is key. For instance, we are entering our second year of full teacher evaluation, our first year of standards based instruction at every grade level, and our first year implementing our new Behavior Standards Policy. All of this work is critical to our end goal of raising achievement for every child while closing the gap.

Most importantly, we are at a critical juncture because even though the work is rolled out it needs significant improvements. Our top down initiatives now need feedback and fixes from the ground up, listening to educators executing the work as well as honoring our students’ voices, perspectives and opinions. It is time to use their expertise to revise, adjust and continuously improve upon the work so that it supports great teaching and doesn’t hinder or quash a teacher’s creativity and experience.

I advocated for and supported this work the past four years and believe I can hold the district accountable to fully implement with integrity and stay focused and not distracted by the latest “shiny reforms”. I am committed to this work another four years to not just correct the system, but transform it so we de-institutionalize structural racism, undo policies and practices that perpetuate disparate outcomes, and equitably serve every child. This represents my strong equity agenda so all students can succeed.

Rebecca Gagnon

At-Large School Board Director