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Superintendent Speaks
Thursday, May 17 2012
 
Written by by Bernadeia Johnson,
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On Tuesday, April 17, the Minneapolis Board of Education approved a new two-year labor contract with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) that supports and advances student achievement. The teachers' union and MPS reached agreement on key issues such as providing students with more time to learn, allowing teachers more time to effectively prepare for classes each day and establishing a more collaborative and focused professional development plan.
This contract is only one cornerstone of our reform efforts to turn around underperforming schools and improve academic outcomes for all students. We take the challenge of educational improvement seriously and are launching some substantial revisions to our structure and practice to build momentum for increasing success in our most struggling schools. This work includes focused instruction - what we teach, how we teach and how we measure student progress; teacher evaluation that is both supportive and meaningful; partnering with successful charter schools like Harvest Preparatory; and utilizing instructional time, including summer school, more effectively.
While the labor contract is not the only way for us to achieve improvements in these schools, it is a vital part of the overall equation. We must continue to align contracts to support school district reform efforts. This contract is not an end in itself; it is a foundation to help build future success. This contract continues to change the way we do business.
Teacher contract negotiations might get most of the public's attention this week, but it is important to continue pointing out that many factors can prevent a child from getting the best possible education. Some we cannot fix alone as a school district; tearing down the insidious walls of poverty, racial inequality and economic inequities requires community effort. But there are things we can and must do as school leaders to turn around and accelerate student achievement in our lower performing schools.
We must galvanize teachers, parents, staff, students and the community behind a vision of success.
We must break the mold of one-size, one-style fits all. We must organize our instruction and staffing to meet student needs.
We must learn from other school districts like New Haven, among others, that have successful negotiated contracts that support aggressive academic reform and student achievement.
We must have the collective courage to abandon failed ways and move in a new direction, implementing research-based approaches to teaching and organization behind a creative and innovative plan for school improvement.
We are creating that vision, plan and attitude. Many teachers share our common view that students in difficult circumstances require different solutions. The achievement gap is very real and it will take real collaboration and conviction to close it. Business as usual is unacceptable because we will lose another generation of students if we fail to act decisively, driven by a healthy sense of urgency.
Reaching this agreement with MFT is not the end of a process; rather, it is the beginning of a continuing dialogue about how best to realign resources and reexamine restrictions that delay real change and improvement.
We cannot allow anything to cloud our vision of what really matters. I challenge all who want radical change in our schools to continue being engaged in the process. None of us who truly believe in doing what is best for our children can afford to rest until we achieve better results. Everyone must have a sense of urgency. We must all hold each other accountable in setting higher standards for ourselves, our schools and our communities. People should not be complacent. I want all of our stakeholders to expect more. I know that I do.
In a few short months, I look forward to seeing the next labor agreement that will move us even further down the difficult road to true reform in our schools.
I have confidence that we will continue to improve working conditions for teachers while getting great results for all of our students. The approval of this new contract continues to move the school district in the right direction. In the end, we all should be committed to what is best for our more than 33,000 students.

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