MCGT Meeting with MPS Board Candidates, Oct 25

October 25, 9:15-11:00 am, Sumner Library, Minneapolis – Parents and citizens meet MPS Board candidates to understand their positions on MPS gifted and talented education, the Talent Development and Advanced Learner (TDAL) program.

More than twenty-five attendees met five of the eight candidates:
Jenny Arneson, District 1
Rebecca Gagnon, At Large
Jay Larson, District 5
Iris Altamirano, At Large
Ira Jourdain, At Large

Candidates who could not attend, but submitted written responses:

Nelson Inz, District 5 – Nelson Inz – MCGT Meet & Greet Questions
Don Samuels, At Large – Don Samuels – MCGT Meet & Greet Questions

The audience was comprised of approximately half with students in MPS and half who have left the district all together.

All candidates in attendance agreed that meeting the needs of Advanced Learners are an essential component of making sure all students excel in MPS. Each provided their own take on the issue:

Jenny Arneson: All kids at all levels can be addressed; the needs of all deserve to be met all the time. The current program is positive, and as a current board director, they are assessing the program all the time. She believes focusing on training is the priority. The program is not fully implemented and understands the frustration that the implementation is slow.

Rebecca Gagnon: She knows MPS loses a lot of kids to magnets because MPS doesn’t have the social and behavioral supports available to help those kids. The program is not yet diverse enough and it’s bothersome that it’s racially-biased toward white, middle-class (as evidenced by those in attendance), and that they need to get at that issue. Principals have a lot of oversight and have seen the program as optional and have not prioritized it. Serving all kids should not be optional.

Jay Larson: He sees good things happening with more kids on the younger end coming into MPS. It’s important that MPS have programs like TDAL to attract and retain families. Believes that the school can’t solve all the needs (social/behavioral) required by a student, but that wrap-around services provided by the city, county and state can support the school services. Schools can’t pay for it all  – they need to keep funding focused on educating.

Iris Altamirano: All kids within all populations need to be identified; if not, it’s the population that’s being underserved. She’s running because she wants to close the opportunity gap and the disparities. Gifted education should be provided across the district. We’re missing the mark on identifying these students and then falling short on providing on the extension-type learning to serve these students. These students also need the social and emotional supports. Educators have to work together to share best practices.

Ira Jourdain: He doesn’t want to lose kids and he doesn’t want kids to fall by the wayside. He would work to build and expand community partnership to help families. Underrepresented groups in GT education is a problem and we need to get parents engaged. However, with several groups the basic needs of living often get in the way of these kids being educated in a way that’s appropriate for their needs. We need to improve cultural competency among teachers. We need training to support the enrichment model and to learn to relate to children from all groups, from Native American and African American to Hmong and Somali.

Q & A session: Several candidates had to leave before introductions and positions were completed. Here are the questions raised by audience members and responses by candidates who were able to stay due to other schedule commitments. Any candidate not represented here is welcome to provide responses for posting.

Q: What happened to the little boy who sneaked onto the airplane and made it all the way to Las Vegas? Last I heard was that the parents didn’t know what do to to help their son. Clearly, this boy is very smart. 

Iris: Being gifted comes with a stigma that there is something wrong or they are misunderstood. We need to be mindful of the supports for children and help educators identify needs before it becomes a problem.

Ira: This is an example of a family facing challenges. We need to identify the issues, support all aspects at all levels.

Jay: This is an example of a troubled child, but who is ultimately responsible? We need to support parents with wrap-around services, but we can’t let parents off the hook.

Q: We talk about closing the gaps and meeting the needs of all kids. We represent kids who have specific needs and they are not being met. Why don’t we have self-contained classrooms – ‘school within a school‘ models – like other districts? While kids in programs like Elements in Bloomington work, MPS kids are struggling.

Jay: ‘School with a school’ is certainly an option. Classroom size will be key to helping these kids along with more professional development.

Ira: We need to try every option. Let’s try it and if it can work elsewhere we should bring it to MPS to we can keep kids here in MPLS.

Q: It’s frustrating to hear that MPS is starting from scratch for GT programming. That’s not true. GT programs have been going on for year. I’m baffled that there are no models out there that are proven for all groups that MPS could adopt. I’m increasingly frustrating about how far behind MPS is in this area, not just with the suburbs but with the rest of the country.

Jay: I share your concern. MPS has a big challenge because schools can in close proximity to one another can actually be very different. So it may look like we’re starting over when compared to other districts. We need to pull into MPS successful programs. We need to stop falling on our faces.

Q: I have worked at three different schools. Parent involvement was great and these schools soared. One example is Harvest Prep. Part of what worked with that leadership reflected to kids and families. 

Ira: Harvest is a model that is sensitive to cultures of the families who attend. This is a key point to building familiarity and engagement – cornerstones of successful schools promoting successful themes.

Q: My daughter is at Lake Harriet. We’re a middle-class white school and have no additional funding through ELL, free-lunch, etc. A lot of kids are identified as Advanced Learners. There is no “back-pack” of money in our school budget. We had to fight to keep basic services like our media teacher. We don’t have the basic funds to address fundamental operations. How come Advanced Learners do not come with extra funding?

Audience member: The new student funding model has recently been modified to include additional weighting for kids identified as Advanced Learners. However, we need to make sure it’s an equitable weighting to realistically meet the budgetary needs to support Advanced Learner kids. If it doesn’t realistically address the need, then it doesn’t matter that there is additional weighting.

Ira: Before I got involved in the race, I had heard that the schools in South MPS raise mountains of money to support programs. I thought that was unfair as it’s just building class inequality. But then I found out why: their schools don’t get extra funding and this fundraising is done to provide for basics. That’s unfair. Parents shouldn’t have to pay more to send their kids to MPS. We need to support every school fairly so they can operate.

With time out and Q&A over, there were additional audience comments:

  • It’s important to raise the bar for all. As long as the goal for the district is focused solely on closing the achievement gap, there will always be winners and losers. That’s unacceptable. The goal has to be growth for all.
  • There are best practices for making sure TDAL includes all cultures and socio-economic groups in the district. How is TDAL achieving this?
  • Who are these outside groups claiming that MPS spends more than any other district without the return?
  • What is the issue with the CSI contract and how come no one brought it up today?
  • How will the board hold superintendent and principals accountable for implementing the Advanced Learner program
  • There has been a lot of discussion of reducing or eliminating standardized tests in MPS.  Would you support continuing to administer the test that is one key part of identifying advanced learners in 2nd grade (along with parent and teacher recommendations)?
  • It was recently reported that MPS is far off from its enrollment projections for this fall.  MPS does little for homeschooling families registered through MPS.  Would you support MPS facilitating partial homeschooling, which would bring state aid to the district?

Additional notes:

  • If you have any questions for specific candidates, please contact the candidates through their website (linked to their names above).
  • Rebecca Gagnon would like to hear why parents have left the district. Please email your story to her or contact her at [email protected].

After the elections the MPLS Chapter of MCGT would like to meet with the winning candidates to talk more specifically on how they will support Advanced Learners to meet their immediate needs and for the future. If you’re interested in participating, please contact Rebecca Kane at [email protected].

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