Interim Superintendent Bill Green of the Minneapolis Public Schools held a town hall meeting at Barton Open School in south Minneapolis Monday night to update parents on the state of the district three months after his predecessor, Thandiwe Peebles, acrimoniously "resigned" her post after an extended soap opera with the current MPS board.
A pretty straight shooter during his tenure on the school board during the 90s, Green was more cautious and more reliant on bureaucratic generalities in the course of the hour-long discussion at Barton. For example, he said he has determined his time as superintendent should be focused around three priorities: 1) healing and rebuilding trust; 2) refocusing on student achievement; and 3) laying the groundwork for strategic planning by the district--and that he had come to realize that all three things were interrelated.
There are a couple of obvious reasons for this bland approach. First, as reflected in his first priority, Green is on board to be a balm, and to try and calm the turbulance from the flap over Peebles that has significantly wounded this district. Second, as Green noted, four of the seven school board positions are up for a vote in November. With two of the four incumbents already choosing not to face reelection and the other two facing a public unhappy over the Peebles fiasco, there could be a significant overhaul of the board. Furthermore, Green may not enjoy the support of a reconstituted board, or, conversely, may decide he can't support their philosophy. That's why "It's not the best time to begin a new planning process," he said, adding that he and the community "can begin laying the groundwork."
Even with all the caution and cavaets, however, Green included enough clues between the lines to indicate that he believes huge changes need to occur within the district. At one point he said the district, "Desperately needs to reorganize the whole financial picture," and "redefine community--not passively but aggressively learning what the community is about." And he called these changes "scary as hell...with no precedent."
Later, responding to a question about transparency in the strategic planning process, Green said "We are talking about defining a completely different system [for] what the Minneapolis Public Schools will look like," adding that "it will take a profound commitment on the part of the community" to make that happen. He talked about organizing meaningful parent advisory committees and pointedly said, "Sharing of power is the heart of the challenge we face in the future. Not all the parents who need to be at the table are at the table. I'm specifically talking about parents of color." He added that their input was crucial and if it had to be solicited in more segregated settings where the parents were more comfortable providing feedback, that was a concession he was willing to make.
In an address long on generalities, Green did make one firm pronouncement. Despite the upcoming elections and the fragmented nature of the district along race, class, and geographical lines, he said that "there has to be an educated community willing to sit down and talk about strategic planning by next spring."