Guest Post: In Minneapolis the teacher union is driving change

July 9, 2010 •

Editor’s note: Each Friday we feature guest bloggers that are involved in rethinking what is possible with schooling and the education system.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has led in the development of a new law that allows districts to form independent, autonomous schools. And they have used the law to create a teacher-run school.

Lynn Nordgren, President of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, is a guest contributor this week to Education Innovating.

It was 7 years ago that a group of teachers were sitting at the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) talking casually about how the union (teachers) could stop the downward spiral of enrollment and student performance. The concept of teachers running schools and getting out from under the district bureaucracy rose to the top of the brainstorming efforts.

Knowing collaboration would be essential, the union invited union-friendly district administrators to be a part of the conversation as well as the Minneapolis Business Partnership and Education|Evolving. We ended up creating a group that formally became the Site-Governed School (SGS) Committee in 2005.

In 2007, leaders of the District Parent Advisory Committee were also invited to be on the committee. Monthly meetings ensued. With all these voices at the table, it took the SGS Committee a bit of time to bond over what a SGS should be—but it finally happened!

Now all we needed were teachers who wanted to be a part of this revolution.

In 2005, the SGS Committee worked to get an initial version of Site-Governed Schools legislation passed that simply said teachers could go forward and if 60% of the staff wanted to transition to become SGS, they could go forward and apply to the state.

A $50,000 planning grant was available the first five Minneapolis Public Schools that applied. Only one school did it. The problem was that people were hesitant to invest their time in the effort. Even if teachers applied, there was no guarantee that the district would allow it to happen.

To improve the potential for take-up, in 2009 the SGS Committee helped draft the bill referenced on Monday to give much more depth and breadth to the concept of Site-Governed Schools. The union lobbied heavily and successfully alongside Education|Evolving. The new legislation provides support and confidence for all to move forward and push to make SGS a reality.

In March 2010 the Minneapolis school board unanimously approved the first school, a French language Immersion elementary school that will open in the north of the city in 2011. It will be designed, and run, by teachers. This is a big moment for the teachers of the state, as we are showing that we are willing to be part of the solution, if given the authority.