Why we stay in the Minneapolis public schools

Opinion

Minneapolis residents seem to know the dark side of the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) by heart. What you may not know so well is why so many of us deliberately choose public schools in Minneapolis as the best option for our children’s learning.

In part, we stay because we want to give our children a social advantage in our flat and more globally dependent world. According to statistics from the MPS for the 2006–2007 school year, our children learn in a district where 72 percent of our students are children of color. The social growth this engenders is profound: not only are my children invested in their peers’ progress; they are enriched daily by the cultural perspectives of their diverse friends. (My daughter, who is learning Spanish, attends school alongside Latino students with whom she can practice the language.) This intercultural exchange is an asset in our metro area where our foreign-born population has risen 127 percent (according to The Itasca Project in a recent study on regional disparities).

The cosmopolitan backdrop against which children attending Minneapolis’ public schools build their education has many facets. I have watched children write and act in their own plays; perform folk dances (including a Chinese lion dance); compete in double-Dutch competitions; visit and write with neighborhood seniors; and even visit the Minnesota State Capitol to talk to legislators about education funding.

Each school year, our district’s schools achieve the impossible, and under a microscope: with reduced revenue and ever-increasing, unfunded mandates, they educate a population wherein 67 percent of our students receive assistance in the form of free or reduced-price lunch; wherein 25 percent are homeless or “highly mobile”; and wherein ever-increasing numbers of students require language and special education support. They honor a social contract with our state — yet another mandate — to serve and educate every child who comes to them.

Amazingly, our test scores hold their own with those of districts without inner-city challenges. Southwest and Patrick Henry were two of three Minnesota schools (including Edina) to make the cut for Newsweek’s annual top-performing public high schools.

Our Minneapolis Public School teachers are National Board Certified and have credentials often not required for private and charter school teaching. They have been carefully trained to accommodate learners with highly varied backgrounds. They bring to the classroom a depth of experience and a range of tools (including a large network of other district and community professionals) they can draw upon to serve our urban children. One can only imagine what they could do if our state education funding kept up with the costs of inflation.

We stay because it is an honor to work with other citizens, parents, educators, and MPS staff who stretch themselves heroically to serve and celebrate our city’s children. We know what we’re up against, but we also know our gift: a vibrant and increasingly savvy network of folks who are speaking up and taking action to influence MPS for the better. We want to invest in quality neighborhood schools that bring out the best in all our community’s children, including young friends learning English as they heal from memories of their war-torn countries. We have come to understand and honor a truth about community life: we stay because we choose and embrace the city of Minneapolis as our home — and because the fate of our children is never very far from the fate of each child in our city.

Kate Towle is a writer, community activist and mother of two students attending Minneapolis Public Schools. She lives in the Prospect Park/East River Road neighborhood.

last revised: April 24, 2007