New opportunities for Minnesota teachers

Mailing Date: 
July 31, 2009
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Updates and Insights from Education|Evolving
Vol. 5, No. 6July 31, 2009Jon Schroeder, Editor

Minnesota Teachers Now Have New Opportunity to Start and Run District Schools

In our newsletter last week, we heard from teachers that they will accept accountability when given the authority to manage the school. This can happen in a Teacher Professional Partnership model of school governance.

Fortunately, this legislative season the Minnesota Legislature passed legislation allowing additional opportunities for teachers.

The new legislation authorizes creation of a new type of district public school which seeks to incorporate the autonomy, flexibility and accountability of charter schools into what are called "Site-Governed District Schools." These new public schools must be approved by their district school board. Their teachers remain district employees and teachers union members. And any deviations from the district master contract must be explicitly waived through agreements between the district board and teachers union. See this brief summary of the bill, and other "NewSchools" initiatives adopted by the Minnesota Legislature in 2009.

A number of major urban districts around the country have created more autonomous district schools. But these initiatives have generally been authorized through the district collective bargaining process or initiated by a reform minded mayor or superintendent. The new Minnesota initiative is created by state law and applies statewide. It's also intended to include planning and start-up funding comparable to federal/state start-up grants provided charters. Backers of the state policy approach to new local district/union politics or city or district leadership that may not survive an election or that make sudden changes in district priorities.

The legislation authorizing Minnesota's Site-Governed Schools was developed by Education|Evolving in partnership with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. The Minneapolis School District also testified in favor of the bill, as did the Minnesota Business Partnership and a number of leading superintendents and other state education policy leaders. The bill had strong bi-partisan support in the Legislature and was authored or co-authored by several teacher-legislators, including three who have held top leadership positions in local or state teachers unions. Creation of these new, innovative district schools was also strongly supported by Governor Tim Pawlenty and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren. For the complete text of the new legislation, click here.

Minneapolis Moves Quickly to Implement New Law Authorizing Site Governed Schools

Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, district teachers and parents have already launched an initiative to design and seek approval the state's first Site-Governed Schools. E|E is providing contracted support for this initiative which is overseen by a "Bridge Committee" with representation from the district administration, teachers union and parents and community members. The District has also hired a long-time charter school advocate and charter school developer, Jon Bacal, to head its new "Office of New Schools." Bacal's Office will be responsible for creating new schools in the District both directly and using the process created under the Self-Governed Schools law. Bacal can be reached at 612-668-0209 or jon.bacal@mpls.k12.mn.us.

The Minnesota Department of Education has also awarded a $100,000 grant to the Minneapolis School District to finance an initial round of planning grants and technical assistance to help groups of MPS teachers develop detailed Site-Governed Schools proposals. Seven letters of intent seeking these grants were submitted prior to a late June deadline and four grants were approved by the Bridge Committee. Detailed proposals from prospective school developers, either receiving or not receiving planning grants, will be submitted to the Minneapolis School Board this fall. If approved, the first MPS Self-Governed Schools will open in the fall of 2010. For more information on Minneapolis' New Schools Initiative, contact Jon Bacal (email and phone above), E|E's Bob Wedl at robert_wedl@yahoo.com or 612-501-9606; or Lynn Nordgren, President, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers at lnordgren@mft59.org or 612-991-9945.

Coming Soon: A New E|E Blog Following New Schools

A new blog from Education|Evolving, to be launched in a couple of weeks, will follow and argue for a growing movement of new-schools and innovation efforts inside America's school districts.

Stay tuned; We'll be sending an announcement in a couple of weeks.

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