District preparing to submit integration plan

by Rachel Minske
Contributing Writer
The Elk River Area School District is gearing up to submit another three-year plan for the state’s Achievement and Integration for Minnesota program.

The program aims to pursue racial and economic integration, increase student achievement, create equitable educational opportunities and reduce academic disparities in Minnesota public schools, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

There are currently 124 school districts that receive funding from the program and participation is determined by the number of protected-class students – or a group of people with a common characteristic who are legally protected from discrimination and harassment based on that characteristic – relative to the number of protected-class students in adjoining districts or schools based on enrollment.

“This isn’t just beneficial to the student, it’s beneficial to the entire country,” said Patricia Sanford, a curriculum specialist with the district. Sanford presented the plan to the Elk River Area School Board Feb. 27.

All eligible districts must submit a three-year plan to the state, Sanford said. District 728 would be eligible for more than $1 million in funding and has participated in the program for at least the last nine years, she said.

To prepare the 2018 plan, Sanford said a team of directors completed dozens of classroom visits and 36 building walk-throughs. Additionally, the team received survey responses from 513 parents and caregivers.

About the research
The results of the research were boiled down into categories like climate, environment and resources, leadership and governance and family and community partnerships.

Each category identified district strengths, but also areas of growth. For example, under the instruction and assessment category, strengths included a variety of instructional modes and the use of formative assessment and feedback within the district. However, an area of growth included a need for more student-centered instruction, as 35 percent of classrooms observed did not utilize the practice, according to Sanford’s presentation.

Under the environment and resources category, adequate buildings and facilities within the district were identified as strengths. An area of growth included a lack of positive representations of diverse people and cultures and a lack of diversity in staff. The Achievement and Integration plan team recommended the district increase how often diversity appears in schools, materials and textbooks.

The team proposed nine different interventions as part of the plan, including the continuation of magnet schools at Rogers Elementary School and Salk Middle School, partnerships within the preschool program and the possible expansion of AVID, a program dedicated to helping students attend college.

The plan also uses themes from World’s Best Workforce, a bill passed in 2013 to ensure every Minnesota school district is making strides to increase student performance.
The timeline for completing the plan is as follows:
•March 6: Final plan and budget submitted to School Board.
•March 13: Board approves plan.
•March 15: Submit plan to Minnesota Department of Education.

“For me, it sounds amazing, but I still have a lot of questions,” said School Board Vice Chair Jamie Plantenberg-Selbitschka.

Shane Steinbrecher, chair of the board, echoed her sentiments, adding he was concerned if the board would have enough time to study the plan before submitting it to the Minnesota Department of Education.
“I just want to make sure everyone is ready to make a decision and (everyone) has all the information,” he said.
School Board Director Gregg Peppin was absent from the Feb. 27 meeting.