Monday, April 26, 2010

Open Letter to the Minneapolis School Board

[Below is an email that I sent to all members of the Minneapolis Public School Board of Directors.  This in no way reflects the beliefs of the Minneapolis Public Schools, Cityview Performing Arts School, the leadership or teachers.  It is my thoughts as a teacher and resident of the community of my school.  I was not asked to write this by anyone.]
Dear Honored Board Members,

I feel sick.  Completely sick.  I live in and teach in North Minneapolis.  Yes, I capitalized North.  North Minneapolis pays me, takes my taxes and most of my earnings.  The recommendation coming to you tomorrow for a vote regarding Cityview's future makes me sick.

What is happening at Cityview is rigorous, engaging education and learning for Northside youth.  This has not always been the norm.  Laura Cavender, Jackie Raye and Carl Wilson have created a climate of learning and educating the young people and teachers that have crossed through the doors of Cityview.

I am better teacher and person because of them.  I have watched their example and grown.  I have seen them teach and learned.  I have seen them operate and desired to do more.  They have established a culture of learning that I want to teach in.  They are dedicated to the Minneapolis Public Schools and the Northside.  They want to be here.  They want to see the young people in my neighborhood grow to be productive citizens.  They have gone so many extra miles for Cityview that I can't possibly count them all.

Cityview is not where we should be in terms of MCA scores.  That is impossible to argue.  However, look at any other assessment and evaluation piece that has been placed upon us.  The State of Minnesota has been blown away by us.  The Cambridge organization has had glowing remarks.  The AVID program is close to being a demonstration site in only our second year.

In terms of testing, our MAP data shows that we are making gains that are double the national norms almost across all grade levels and subject areas.  This is a direct reflection on the strategies put in place this year, by this leadership, and accurately reflects our current students.

Even the fire department had great things to say about us after the unannounced fire drill today.

There is something great happening at Cityview.  Our leadership has had this impact.  They have done everything they can to get Cityview where it is.

What is the solution then if it isn't leadership and administration?  Part of the solution is continuing to refine the staff that we have in our building.  There are some teachers who have demonstrated that they are not effective with Northside youth.  I am not saying that they can't be effective teachers, they just aren't effective with our Northside youth.  Our youth don't have time to be educated by teachers who aren't effective with them.  I think that, as a Instructional Leadership Team, this problem can be addressed.

Another part of the solution is continued refinement of curriculum.  This is currently happening with our leadership.  They are analyzing the data, crunching numbers and seeing what is effective.  Those changes are happening on weekly, if not daily, basis.

Lastly, the third part of the solution is parental involvement and student willingness.  We have students that aren't at Cityview to learn.  Thankfully, it is a very small percentage of students.  There are also parents who aren't involved with their child's education.  As a resident of North Minneapolis and as a Northside educator, this breaks my heart.  More needs to be done to instill in parents and students that if they aren't here to learn, then they need to change that around.

I'll be getting an email tonight or tomorrow saying that the administration at Cityview will be changing.  My stomach will turn.  It will turn because, professionally, I'll be losing tremendous mentors, our Northside students will lose stable and dedicated principals, and the community will lose relationships.  Personally, my stomach will turn because I have a decision to make: Stay in North Minneapolis and Cityview and take a chance on principals that may or may not want to be working with my Northside Young people, move to another school hoping to stay with the leadership that has taught me so much, or give up on the Minneapolis Public Schools that have been home through my K-12 education (the old Jenny Lind, Loring, Putnam, Sheridan, Franklin, and Henry) and, now, adult teaching career.  I also have to decide if a North Minneapolis Public School is the right home for my 5 year old and 18 month old.

The decision to change the leadership at Cityview is a horrible one.  Successes are happening everyday for just about every student in their own way.  Losing Laura Cavender, Jackie Raye and Carl Wilson will set Cityview back for years to come and the good things done in the past 4 years will come to a startling halt.  Please take this into consideration when you vote on the proposal tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Ben Knaus
AVID Elective Teacher/Coordinator
Cityview Performing Arts Magnet

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