Protesters force Minneapolis School Board to rehire people of color

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A recent school board meeting in Minneapolis was the scene of a large protest against a series of firings that affected people of color disproportionately. The Superintendent, Ed Graff, says the firings are the result of a $28 million hole in the district’s budget – the result of overspending for five years straight. Protesters rejected that explanation. Their direct action forced board members to make an on-the-spot decision, over-ruling their superintendent, about rehiring fired staff. Below is a post about the issues driving the public outcry, written by Iris Altamirano, a community organizer and former candidate for Minneapolis School Board.


Firings Ring out at Minneapolis School District

by Iris Altamirano

In a family outing recently, I had to explain the sound of gunshots to my son. He is 5. We were about 100 miles north of our home in Northeast Minneapolis and we heard many shots fired. Not one, or two, but a lot. Enough that we retreated into the camper to muffle out the sound. The shots did not last long, but long enough to make an impact. I want to put out another talk that needs to be had. This talk is in regards to the Minneapolis Public School’s latest firings.

Two Fridays before spring break, shots were fired into the Office of Student, Family and Community Engagement (OSFE), Global Education, and Educational Support Professionals (ESPs), or paraprofessionals. The vast majority of personnel in these departments are a reflection of the people of color and indigenous (poci) communities they serve. In Minneapolis, 66 percent of students are of color. The same cannot be said of the city’s teacher workforce. Only 16 percent of the district’s teacher workforce are teachers of color. By contrast, the district’s paraprofessionals are a comparatively diverse group: 48 percent are people of color and 11 percent are bilingual. In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff of color. In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff that speak Spanish, or Somali, or Hmong, that are communicating with families.

Taking aim at those departments and their personnel was Superintendent Ed Graff, in what can be considered his biggest decision since being hired by the Minneapolis Board of Education last July. The same Ed Graff that was widely praised for his positions or racial equity when he was hired. Communications Director Tanya Tennessen said during a budget discussion that cuts were made “to get ahead” of Minneapolis Public Schools’ 5 year streak of operating $28-30 Million over budget. The “getting ahead” resolution is to cut 25% of the district budget and 10% of each school sites budget. At a recent District Parent Advisory Committee, I asked Superintendent Ed Graff how race is playing out in recent cuts, regardless of talent, qualifications, or effectiveness? Graff’s answer was disappointing: “Institutional racism has been around long before [him],” he stated.

Today, this is how institutional racism is playing out in Minneapolis Public Schools.

Shots Fired at the District level

– All women of color in Director or Executive Director positions have been cut, including the highest-ranking Latina & Deputy Education Officer, Elia Bruggeman, Director of Family & Partnerships, Lynnea Altas-Ingebreston, and Director of Teaching & Learning, Macarre Taynham.

-The Title I department has been dismantled, which included many people of color.

– The Integration Director, Dr. Lanise Block has been dismissed.

– Many of the teachers of color that were just hired by Macarre Traynham, Director of Teaching & Learning (who was also cut), have been let go.

– All Cultural Liaisons in the Office of Student, Family and Community Engagement (OSFE) and the only known survivor of the OSFE is a white male.

– Seven candidates from the Aspiring Principals pool were invited to interview for three positions as Principal or Assistant Principal. The four candidates who were put back into the pool were all people of color, and the three who received positions were all white.

Shots Fired at the School Site Level

– Schools cannot cut the math teacher, so across the board the vast majority of schools have cut their ESPs (Educational Support Professionals). In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff of color. In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff that speak Spanish, or Somali, or Hmong, that are communicating with families.

– Parents have been reporting that in at least one school, Pillsbury, the Spanish language programing is being greatly reduced.

-Educators like Eduardo Salgado Diaz, an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Andersen United Community School, and Lor Vang, a Social Worker at Hmong International Academy, and countless others, who will no longer be serving Minneapolis kids.

The many, many shots fired not only have several local Latinx leaders very concerned, but they ring out in familiar ways for those of us who come from humble backgrounds, and are echoes of the societal inequalities that affect us every day. These are echoes of the forms of overt, subtle, and implicit bias that plague our society and our school district.

There are so many different things that can be done. It is hard to pick one thing. There is no magic bullet solution, but these are systemic problems that have to be addressed on so many levels because there will be negative impacts.

To begin the generations-long conversation, we want an explanation as to why such a disproportionate number of staff of color are being fired, “forced to resign,” or “not being recommended for rehire,” even when the total number of jobs in public education are growing?

Pain, Anger, and Confusion at the NAACP Hearing on Quality Education in New Orleans

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The NAACP’s nation-touring ‘education task force‘ recently held their penultimate (6th of 7) hearing on quality education in New Orleans. The hearing, which took place on April 6th in the City Council Chambers, ended up serving as a venting session for a community that is clearly hurting and seemed ready to pounce on the historic civil rights organization’s education panel.

Alice Huffman on the Education Task Force

Following the NAACP’s highly divisive call for a moratorium on charter schools, the education task force was assembled to tour the country and “take a deep look at the issues facing public schools, as well as the pros and cons of charter schools”. Alice Huffman, chair of the task force, noted that following the final stop in New York, the national body would be reviewing all the information gathered and putting forth a document they hope will guide policy around charter schools.

Like previous stops in New Haven, Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, and Detroit, the city of New Orleans would provide a unique landscape for the education panel to survey, provided they were willing to analyze the history, data and facts objectively. No doubt NOLA was picked because of its one-of-a-kind system in which the entire district is nearly all charter.

The Crescent City hearing followed a similar arc as the others, with a majority of the time spent alternating between testimony of “experts” making their case for and against the NAACP’s moratorium. The “for” speakers (meaning anti-charter) included state rep Joseph Bouie, Loyola University law professor Bill Quigly, Attorney Willie Zanders, Walter Umrani of the ‘New Orleans Peacekeepers, and Adrienne Dixon who was listed as speaking for the American Federation of Teachers, but clarified that was a mistake, as she was speaking on her own behalf (oops!).

Those against the motion included charter schools leaders Niloy Gangopadhyay of Success Preparatory Academy, Jamar McKneely of Inspire Schools, and Kate Mehok of Crescent City Schools. Orleans Parish School Board member John Brown was listed as a speaker, but didn’t end up giving testimony.

The presentation portion of the hearing would go more or less the same as at all the other stops, with the “for” speakers warning of the dangers of privatization, decrying what they see as the nefarious practices of charters, and answering the same questions about “creaming”, discipline, and segregation that the task members have asked at each stop.


Like in the other cities, local charter school leaders highlighted their track records of success, and asked the board to not throw the baby out with the bath water, seeing the moratorium as generalizing, reactionary and unnecessary when some charters are finding such a high level of success with marginalized students.


But, the most important and emotional point of the forum would come when a group of students took over the floor, and in turn the meeting. The young speakers spoke passionately about the lack of resources, support, and in some cases, teachers at their school. They highlighted shoddy school conditions and the self-doubt they feel from their educators’ lack of belief in their abilities. They spoke out against arbitrary cutoffs for measuring their success and decried counselors and leaders who aren’t putting them in situations to succeed.

This stakeholder takeover of the forum, something that has been missing from some of the other stops, showcased the pain and frustration of the community. It also caused confusion, as it seemed many community members had come to air grievances with the local chapter of the NAACP, rather than the national body the task force represented.

Things got testy when parents and students called out their local chapter for not responding to calls for help and not being in their schools to see what’s really going on. The task force, seemingly unhappy to be called out, wanted the audience to know that most of the organization is made up of volunteers and that they couldn’t possibly get back to everyone.


Questioned on how she could support charter schools, by the students and heavily anti-charter audience, task force head Alice Huffman was irate. “I wrote the resolution calling for this moratorium”. Lost in the justifiable anger of the students and parents, were a few things. The taskforce was in fact calling out charter schools, and has lost most of its pretense of holding unbiased, objective hearings (“I would close them all if I could” -Alice Huffman) and the horror story shared by the students was that of a TRADITIONAL district school, one of the only five remaining in NOLA. Unfortunately, it’s not clear if the task force left understanding the distinction.

Watch a portion of the public comment period at the hearing below, or follow us @EdCitizen (and the hashtag #NAACPHearing) on Twitter for more coverage of the quality education hearing.

Rock The Schools #WomensHistoryMonth Feature: Honoring Mrs. Coretta Scott King With Dr. Bernice A King.

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“Coretta Scott King was the architect of the King legacy”

Listen to a special Women’s History Month edition of the ‘Rock the Schools” podcast, in which Dr. Bernice A. King highlights the life, legacy and work of her mother, Mrs. Coretta Scott King.

In the wide ranging discussion, Dr. Bernice King conveys a message for today’s youth of persistence through struggle and notes the importance of bringing to life examples from history to give hope to the next generation.

“struggle is a neverending process, freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation”

The conversation also focuses on rethinking the education system and how ‘The King Center‘ continues to promote her father’s philosophy of non-violence to future generations. Listen to the full podcast below:

Reclaiming the conversation: new rules for the ed reform debate

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The narrative of people who oppose ‘school choice’ is well documented. The same talking points are brought up again and again and usually dominate the conversation.  It’s time to re-frame the narrative, get real about the misinformation being spread and lead these conversations with a children-first line of thought. Here are Citizen Stewart‘s 26 new rules for the education reform debate:

1. If you’ve never agonized about selecting a school for your kid, don’t oppose choice.

2. If you aren’t currently responsible for closing the achievement gap, shut up about those who are – you are not an expert. Just listen.

3. If you don’t believe that poor children and children of color can learn at high levels, don’t teach in their schools.

4. If you benefited from a private school education, don’t come up with fancy reasons to deny others the same.

5. If your only experience in teaching low-income students is bad experience, don’t write a book about education.

6. Do not oppose School Reform until you are willing to put your child in the worst performing school in your city.

7. On Twitter, don’t start none, won’t be none.

8. If your public school is so exclusive that it might as well be private, don’t rail about privatization in education.

9. If you’ve never raised a black child, don’t argue with black parents about what’s best for black children.

10. There are no experts on teaching black students in America. At best you are all students of teaching black students.

11. Don’t exchange studies written by people who have failed schools in their past.

12. If your doctorate is in Amazonian trees with an focus on intersectionality, don’t argue with economists about education statistics.

13. Union funding is as suspicious as any funding. You are not pure and neither is your agenda. Don’t be a tool.

14. Great instruction, great teachers, and great schools make a difference. All children can learn.

15. There is nothing liberal about demanding historically oppressed people to turn their children over to the state to be educated.

16. Only a damn fool looks to their enemy for ideas about educating their own children.

17. Public education and public schooling are two different concepts

18. There is nothing Democratic about selecting education leaders through low-turnout elections overwhelmed by public worker money.

19. Any meeting of education professionals that doesn’t touch on student outcomes is the wrong meeting.

20. An employee occupies a classroom. To call your self an “educator,” you must have observable results.

21. Stop hoping for one-best-system to educate “all kids.” It sounds like a compassionate goal, but given the unique needs of kids it’s not

22. Yes, poverty matters, which is why you should teach your ass off, or quit.

23. The revolution will be literate and numerate. Test scores matter.

24. Black achievement is not dependent on proximity to whiteness. Integration is not a panacea, and sometimes it’s social suicide.

25. America has thousands of half-empty urban schools. Let’s not “talk” about integration or evil school closures. Solve both, enroll now.

26. Concerned about schools “choosing their students”? Call your​ Congress members and ask for a ban on using addresses to enroll students.

What say you? Tweet us your favorite @EdCitizen

Congress Passes Bill Scrapping Teacher Preparation and Accountability Regulations, Ignores Civil Rights Concerns

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A bill aiming to dismantle Obama-era regulations on accountability and teacher preparation has squeaked through Congress and been presented to President Trump.

The joint resolution targets two rules in the Every Student Succeeds Act that define how States must implement the provisions that “require them to have an accountability system based on multiple measures, including school quality or student success, to ensure that States and districts focus on improving outcomes and measuring student progress”.

A press release for the bill, H.J. Res. 57,  argues that the ESSA regulations “dictate prescriptive accountability requirements and violate prohibitions on the Secretary of Education’s authority.”

Before the bill passed senate by the slimmest of margins (50-49, along party lines), The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent an advocacy letter to U.S. Senators asking them to continue the implementation of the ESSA regulations and reject H.J. Res. 57.

“These regulations will help states, districts, and schools to faithfully implement the law and meet their legal obligations to historically marginalized groups of students including students of color, students with disabilities, and students who are English learners, immigrants, girls, Native American, LGBTQ or low-income.”

Instead of fully implementing the ESSA regulations around accountability, the Betsy DeVos led Department of Education has already released new, watered-down “guidelines”. EdWeek notes that the biggest difference between the templates is around the requirement of outreach. In the Obama template, the language dictated states must engage in “meaningful consultation” with stakeholders who “reflect the geographic diversity of the state”. The Trump template: “if you feel like it, go for it”.

While comments from the Trump administration line up with the Republican talking point of “federal overreach”, the Leadership Conference and the 45 co-signing Civil Rights and education organizations note that the regulations came about as a result of the bipartisan crafting of ESSA and that federal oversight is necessary for state cooperation in advancing equity.

But, in the new administration, one thing is clear: ‘state rights’ Trump civil rights.