Superintendents hope to develop statewide vision for public schools

WILLMAR -- Minnesota needs a unified vision and common goals across its public school system, according to its school superintendents. A group of 24 superintendents from across the state recently unveiled a list of eight traits schools should hav...

WILLMAR -- Minnesota needs a unified vision and common goals across its public school system, according to its school superintendents.

A group of 24 superintendents from across the state recently unveiled a list of eight traits schools should have in common.

Willmar Superintendent Kathy Leedom, a member of that group, presented the list and discussed them with the School Board at its meeting Tuesday.

The discussion was a condensed version of Leedom's presentation at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs last week.

The final report stems from two years of discussions about Minnesota's public schools.


"There is not a strategic long-term plan for education in Minnesota," Leedom said, but the superintendents hope to spur a broader discussion of the subject.

The report, called "Minnesota's Promise: World-class Schools, World-class State," urges the developing of a shared vision across the state. The effort was sponsored by the Minneapolis Foundation and the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP Foundation.

The group hopes to see a shared vision for education from the State Capitol to the state's classrooms, Leedom said.

"It's all about making sure those educational disparities which exist throughout the state of Minnesota are eliminated, so our children have a chance to succeed," she said.

She spent some time talking about each of the eight traits of successful schools:

- There are many academic roads, but all are rigorous and all lead to higher education. Low-skilled jobs that require only a high school diploma are disappearing, she said. All students should take challenging courses that meet their needs and set them on a path toward some type of post-secondary education.

- Education investment starts early. The report calls for universal access to high-quality pre-kindergarten education and seeks all-day, everyday kindergarten for all students across the state. According to Art Rolnick of the Federal Reserve, early investments in education yield a 16 percent rate of return, she said.

- Learning takes as much time as it takes. The superintendents want to expand and restructure the school year to move beyond the agrarian calendar. The urge an education system that provides after school programs to meet students learning needs and to remove transportation barriers to improve access to those programs.


- Great educators have great support. "The quality of a teacher has a great effect on a great effect on student learning," Leedom said. She talked about the importance of teacher mentoring and professional development and the need to support educators in their professional development efforts.

- Data and research inform teaching and improve learning every day. School districts can use testing data to show student growth over time and to develop strategies that produce results, Leedom said. "If we have a student for one year, uninterrupted, ... we can guarantee a year's worth of growth," Leedom said. "That's quite a commitment; we really feel that's the ticket."

- Funding is predictable and sufficient to produce world-class performance. Minnesota has the fifth highest funding gap in revenue available per students between the highest poverty and lowest poverty districts, she said. Schools now operate year to year and wait to see if state funding will change. "We're talking about a sustainable vision and sustainable revenue for a reasonable period of time," she said.

- Services for students with special needs should emphasize desired outcomes, not processes. Minnesota has good programs to serve students with special needs, including those with disabilities and those who have limited English proficiency, she said. The superintendents suggest that mandates be adjusted to allow professionals to choose the best methods in their classroom.

- Global citizenship is a core academic subject. More people are studying English in China than speak English in the United States, she said. More Americans need to learn a language other than English, Leedom said. Learning a second language is common in some countries, and should become that way in this one, she added.

"We invite everyone to focus on a long-term vision or strategic plan for education," Leedom said as she concluded her presentation.

"It's important for us to develop a promise to our children that we can keep," she said.

After the Nov. 7 election, the group plans to bring legislative leaders into the discussion, she said. "It will be key, because our funding stream is from the state."


More information about the program is available at: .

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