This is a follow up to last week’s post, MinnCAN coming to the IASC area

Nathan Bergstedt Herald Review

photo by Nathan Bergstedt

A couple schools in Itasca County received a visit on Wednesday, Sept. 18, from the state-wide educational organization MinnCAN because of their continuing efforts to close the achievement gap. King Elementary in Deer River and the Reading and Math Academy (RAMA) at Robert J. Elkington Middle School in Grand Rapids both hosted MinnCAN Executive Director Daniel Sellers, who came to Itasca County in order to meet face-to-face with some of the people who work on the ground level of public education, as opposed to just reading the testing stats.

“We decided if we’re going to go visit schools around the state, let’s go to the schools that are doing something right and learn from them,” said Sellers. “As we go back this spring to advocate to the legislature, our goal is to bring stories, lessons, and ideas back from greater Minnesota.”

MinnCAN began in 2011 with a primary focus on metro area schools. The organization’s scope has since widened to take on the entire state. This is the first year it has conducted a tour of schools throughout greater Minnesota.

MinnCAN’s “Road To Success” tour includes 11 different stops around the state, including Cloquet, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Bemidji, Detroit Lakes, Redwood Falls, Marshall, Cottage Grove, Northfield, and Mounds View/New Brighton. There are a total of 16 schools which are being recognized on the tour, which are standing out because of the work that has been done to encourage and assist the demographics of students who have historically under-performed academically, such as Native American, Latino, low-income families, and students for whom English is a second language. King Elementary made the list because of the exceptional work done with Native American students, many of whom also are low-income.

Though the tour has only just begun, with the visit to Itasca County being only the second stop after Cloquet, Sellers said that he’s already noticing some similarities between issues that metro schools and rural schools face, namely having to figure out ways to close the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income counterparts. He added that one of the reasons schools like King have managed to stand out amongst the rest is because of strong-leadership from the top down.

“At the schools that I’ve visited, I was impressed with the aligned vision, the commitment to student achievement, and the willingness to address the achievement gap head on,” said Sellers.

One thing that King Elementary Principal Amy Galatz said she hopes to see come out of this visit as far as the state legislature is concerned is more funding for early childhood education. She, in part, credits King’s success on their continued focus on early childhood programming.

“When you look at achievement gap data, one of the top pieces of research time and time again is that early childhood makes a difference in closing the achievement gap,” said Galatz.

Following the visit on Wednesday, Seller said that a couple unifying concerns amongst school districts that he’s seen is the need for the state to quit changing the standards goals when it comes to state testing, as well as there being a desire to have more local control over how resources are allocated. State and federal funding often comes with caveats in order to maintain accountability in how funds are spent, which often translates into programs which cost more than the dollars can afford. This results in concerns on the local level on how some of the needed programming can be sustained. This, said Sellers, will be one of the things MinnCAN will be bringing to the legislature in the spring.