Local View Column: School boundary changes can bring balance, rebuff biases
In the Duluth school district, some elementary schools and high school classes are overcrowded, mostly in eastern Duluth, while others are underutilized, mostly in western Duluth. As in many U.S. cities, socioeconomic and racial achievement disparities have a geographic correlation. Minnesota, the Duluth district included, has one of the nation’s highest education achievement gaps.
The way we draw school boundaries can either mitigate or exacerbate segregation and correlative achievement disparities, as American Educational Research Journal reporting reinforced.
As Duluth Superintendent Bill Gronseth said of the work being done now regarding school boundaries. “Some are saying we should just fix the areas that need fixing, and others are saying this is an opportunity to completely change the playing field.”
If I understand correctly, short-term goals (fix the areas that need fixing) include reducing overcrowding in several east-side schools, achieving an 85% live-in utilization goal, and ensuring room for three sections of K-5 Spanish immersion and one section of K-5 Ojibwe immersion.
And ultimate goals (completely change the playing field) are integrating Myers-Wilkins Elementary, our district’s only racially identifiable school, where the population of students of color is at least 20% higher than the district elementary average; balancing enrollments across the district; closing our achievement gap; helping all students reach state academic goals so they graduate career- or college-ready; and restoring confidence, investment, and trust in the Duluth district.
The ultimate goals are immediate goals.
Days ago we honored the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work for human rights. Our nation has gotten it brutally wrong in the past for indigenous, African-American, and other peoples; all children have not received an equal education. We are all connected. We will all do better when we all do better.
The benefits of socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms and schools are myriad; data from the Century Foundation and elsewhere show that low achievement, especially among the poorest, improves quicker in integrated schools.
So let’s balance our enrollments, integrate Myers-Wilkins, and foster a healthier community. As Dr. King said, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
Let’s mind our biases and privilege. (Ed Maxwell’s “Mind your Bias” on YouTube helped me consider mine.) If you feel wary of your child attending a new school, try to find the origin of your fear, and if it is justified. Visit the school, meet the principal, talk with enrolled families. I am confident my children would receive an excellent education going to Lincoln Park/Denfeld or Ordean/East; and the more diverse their schools (by class, race, ethnicity, and more), the better their education.
The Duluth public schools’ consultant will use survey comments to propose a boundary plan, working with the School Board, which will vote on it in the end. We can still think outside the box.
I believe we should do the following:
** Keep Ojibwe Immersion Misaabekong in the city center at Lowell. Misaabekong deserves our greatest support and furthers our deepest goals in education and human rights. Principal Jen Larva maintains there is capacity for Spanish K-5, Misaabekong, and English classes.
** Widen Lakewood’s and Stowe’s boundaries; achieve every elementary live-in utilization goal of 85%.
** Collaborate with the Duluth Transit Authority, the city of Duluth, and Voyageur Bus for innovative, cost-effective, and time-efficient fast-track transportation plans to help Woodland families attend Lincoln/Denfeld and participate in after-school activities.
** And extend the Myers-Wilkins’ boundary east to 21st or 24th Avenue East and north, to finally integrate Myers-Wilkins and relieve overcrowding at Congdon. Both schools would benefit in all regards. Myers-Wilkins has funding as a racially identifiable school through 2023, regardless of a new boundary, and we can continue to creatively support it through Title 1 funding, grants, the Congdon Foundation, etc.
I pray we see our connection to all our neighbors, mind our biases, and work together for creative solutions that serve all our children. Boundary changes can balance enrollments, foster higher achievement for all, and improve multicultural education that results in citizens capable of tackling the challenges of their lifetime. They will need broad and deep academic and social skills from a well-rounded education.
Sally Goodman has a masters of science degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth; has been a Watson Fellow and National Science Foundation graduate and K-12 STEM Fellow; and has taught at the preschool, elementary, bilingual middle school, high school, and college levels. She and her husband have been foster parents and have three children at Homecroft Elementary School.