Under the title of “Systems and Structures,” Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox’s new cabinet debuted a new committee of the whole meeting format. The Aug. 23 meeting included presentations from six principals and an associate superintendent. The presentations were focused on professional development, the structures schools are using to reach their School Improvement Plan goals, and the new school climate support team that will assist schools in setting and meeting their goals for creating “welcoming, responsive and connected” schools.
Board members universally approved of the new meeting format, expressing excitement for hearing more from principals, and several asking to hear from students, families and educators at future meetings. Cox shared with the board that every building principal will present to the board at some point during the school year.
Director Ira Jourdain summarized the general mood of the meeting, saying, “It’s been a long time since I have been excited for the beginning of the school year… We’ve had some trying times the last several years and this is a bright spot.”
In her presentation, Senior Academic Office Aimee Fearing shared the four priorities for the Academics Department this school year: 1. Core content knowledge 2. Strong core instruction 3. Effective team collaboration and 4. Intervention and acceleration. For each priority, her team will use three strategies: professional development for educators, learning walks, which she described as Davis Center staff being out in the school buildings to connect with principals and educators, and family and community engagement.
Professional development for educators has already started, according to Deputy Senior Academic Officer Maria Rollinger, and will continue throughout the school year because of the changes to the school calendar the board approved last spring. Previously, professional development was front loaded at the beginning of the school year. This year there will be multiple days of professional development during the school year. For elementary teachers, the new format will facilitate training and support to use the new math curriculum throughout the school year. Next week, each principal will facilitate professional development related to school climate and equity for their building staff.
On Aug. 3, principals participated in the LETRS for administrators professional development. They were joined by four associate superintendents, as well as the executive directors in the academic department. This fall the executive director of early childhood education, Stacey Joyner, and her team members will be taking the LETRS training for early childhood. This training is part of the district’s work to make the change from “balanced literacy” to “science of reading” instructional practices for elementary literacy.
Last year, through a Minnesota Department of Education grant, 89 teachers in the district began the two-year LETRS training course, according to Rollinger. This year, the district has funding to support LETRS training for every K-2 literacy TOSA and 80 additional K-2 literacy teachers. Using the spring Fastbridge literacy assessments, the district is prioritizing K-2 literacy teachers at eight schools for the LETRS training: Folwell, Whittier, Hmong International Academy, Jenny Lind, Bethune, Nellie Stone Johnson, Hall and Anishinabe Academy. If teachers at these schools do not fill all 80 spaces, the district will open up the training to teachers at other schools.
“LETRS was one of the things that I was glad to hear that we picked up and that we are using that within our school system to make sure that teachers are getting the professional development that they need,” Board of Education Director Sharon El-Amin said.
Rollinger said that while many principals are enthusiastic about the LETRS training, the district is limited in how many educators it can support to take the training because of both budget limitations and capacity for coaching.
School Board Director Kimberly Caprini said, “It would be great to collaborate with some of these philanthropic organizations that have zeroed in on MPS in terms of literacy and math, if there’s a way for some of these folks to be able to collaborate in terms of funding” to support teachers.
Rollinger noted that she is currently working to develop an estimate of the cost to provide LETRS training to every K-2 literacy teacher for each school. She will share this information with the board.
In addition to LETRS, there will be additional elementary educator professional development on PRESS, a tool from the University of Minnesota that helps teachers determine the appropriate interventions for students who are reading below grade level standard.
Secondary educators will also have literacy professional development this year that will focus on content knowledge across subject areas.
The district is also developing a “K-2 Literacy Caregiver University.” This will include information for MPS families about strategies to support literacy at home to acknowledge the important role families play in student learning.
Elementary educators will have required professional development on the new math curriculum throughout the school year.
As previously reported, elementary schools will begin implementing a new K-5 math curriculum this year, Bridges/Numbers Corner. The professional development will be structured so that educators receive the training close in time to when they are planning instruction. This is in contrast to previous years where all of the training would have happened at the beginning of the school year.
Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives Sarah Hunter said that the professional development for the new math curriculum will be evaluated close in time to the training. This will enable the academics department to make changes based on that evaluation throughout the year.
Hunter said that she expects to hear some initial feedback from families about the new math curriculum at fall conferences. She noted that because this is an elementary curriculum, the district will need to engage primarily with families, rather than students, to understand their experiences with the new curriculum.
In addition to professional development for educators, MPS schools will use dedicated groups within each school to focus on student learning and school-level goals in School Improvement Plans.
Hunter described the structures schools will use this year to develop and implement plans to improve students and school outcomes. Each grade level will have a Professional Learning Community that will utilize student assessment data to target the appropriate interventions to students who have not yet met grade level standards.
A member of each Professional Learning Community will be part of the school’s Instructional Leadership Team which is responsible for setting the goals in the School Improvement Plan, selecting strategies to reach the goals and monitoring progress throughout the year. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the district will notify schools of their status, and schools will be responsible for communicating that status to families. Every school within the district will have a three-year improvement plan that should be communicated to the school community.
Executive Director of Equity and Climate Derek Francis shared that as part of the school climate work the district is doing this year each school will include school climate goals as part of its School Improvement Plans. Each school will have a person from the equity and school climate team assigned to support their work in improving school climate this year.
Principals from seven schools shared with the board the work they are undertaking at their schools related to systems and structures.
The principals from Anderson Middle School, Edison High School, Green Central Elementary, Loring Elementary, Nellie Stone Johnson, Sanford Middle School and Seward Montessori all presented to the board about the work they are undertaking this school year. The presentations start around 29 minutes into the board meeting, and show the ways school communities are responding to their individual needs.
Cox summarized the principal presentations saying, “What this shows for me, this has really started our year in a way of interdependence between central office and schools. We really want to continue that.”
Tara Fitzgerald, the principal at Anderson, talked about her school’s use of “support squads” to meet the needs of students. Edison High School principal Eryn Warne shared her school’s efforts to support teachers in applying the ideas from Gholdy Muhammad’s “Cultivating Genius” in their instructional plans. Matt Arnold, the principal at Green Central, described his school’s use of Professional Learning Communities and Instructional Leadership Teams to support the goals in the School Improvement Plan. Ryan Gibbs, the principal at Loring, shared about his school’s focus on its culture. He shared an energetic video of students engaged in the school’s call and response. He also shared that Loring will become a Groves Literacy Partnership school this year, and implemented the PRESS literacy intervention tool last year.
On behalf of Nellie Stone Johnson, Associate Superintendent Laura Cavender shared how the school is using the Amaze Works curriculum to support its goals around equity and school climate. Ahmed Amin, the principal at Sanford Middle School, presented on his school’s use of student survey data to address the goals in the School Improvement Plan Last year, survey results showed that the school is doing well at affirming identity, but needs to improve how it incorporates student voice and meaningful work for students. He said he and his staff are willing to have difficult conversations around the changes they need to make.
Assistant Principal at Seward Montessori Claire Folley Peters shared extensively about the importance of observing students as part of Montessori education.
The board will meet again on Sept.13 at 5:30 p.m. This will be a regular business meeting, so there will be public comments at the beginning of the meeting.