James Burroughs,executive director of the Office of Equality and Diversity for Minneapolis Public Schools listens to a group of citizens discussing school integration.
A group of about 50 citizens – many education professionals – gathered to discuss integration in the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and hear what is being done to improve academic achievement.
Pam Costain, president and CEO of AchieveMpls, expressed that Minneapolis has unique challenges when attempting to achieve school diversity. She said though the city is increasingly more diverse in its population, the housing trends tend to be very segregated, making school integration more challenging.
Unlike some other cities that have faced court mandated school desegregation, students and parents in Minneapolis can choose from schools within the district, or schools in the western suburbs. And though area schools have a more diverse student population, the achievement gap for students of color versus their white counterparts is one of the largest in the nation.
Costain said many parents of color are less concerned with how diverse a school is, but how well their children are learning.
“Some parents say, ‘I don’t care about integration anymore; just educate my child successfully,’” said Costain.
Helen Bassett, a member of the Minnesota State Task Force on Integration, disagrees with the sentiment that we are beyond the need for school integration.
“Some of the things we see in the news today show us that integration does not happen naturally,” said Bassett. “The students’ well-being is at the center. We all have a story to tell and these stories are vital to the overall narrative of society.”
Bassett said school integration is as much a benefit for the white students as it is for students of other ethnicities. “I feel some (whites) are at a disadvantage when they get out into the broader world if they haven’t been exposed to other ethnic groups and cultures.”
James Burroughs, executive director of the Office of Equality and Diversity for MSP said achievement for students of color is a new priority when discussing issues of diversity.
“When the original court ruling came down, it stated schools must integrate, it didn’t deal with achievement,” said Burroughs. “Now we’re tying the dollars we spend to student achievement. If a program isn’t working (to better student achievement), we’ll discontinue funding.”
Minnesota currently receives $108 million in funding for its integration and diversity initiatives.
The meeting was a part of the AchieveMpls “Our City, Our Schools” monthly series, which is designed to help educate the community on a variety of public education issues. The next AchieveMpls forum takes place on April 26 at Anwatin Middle School, 256 Upton Ave. S in Minneapolis. The forum begins at 6 p.m.