This week, I had the honor to join several hundred educators, school board members and advocates at the 2014 Minnesota Rural Educators Association Annual Conference on Gull Lake. And despite my typical alliteration aversion, I was especially excited for the theme of the day, “College and Career Readiness: Reform, Results and Real Life.”
I was excited, too, because, having visited dozens of schools in Greater Minnesota, I know just how much we can learn from changing-the-odds teachers and school leaders in all corners of the state. The MREA conference gave me an opportunity to present themes from three major MinnCAN reports from the last year (‘Starting Strong,’ ‘Native American Student Achievement in Minnesota’ and ‘Road to Success’), and to learn even more from our MREA friends and partners.
In our session on these three reports, former MinnCAN Deputy Director Nicholas Banovetz and I shared early learning best practices from teachers in Winona, Pelican Rapids, Deer River and Proctor, as well as strategies Cloquet and Detroit Lakes educators are using to increase Native American student achievement. We also reported back on teachers’ successes in Ashby, Marshall, Waubun, Bemidji and many other communities, where educators are working together in bold, new ways to increase achievement for all kids, regardless of their background.
We shared, for example, how Laporte Secondary Elementary School is ramping up teachers’ professional development and peer evaluations, giving educators more support to better meet individual student needs. And we told stories from Churchill Elementary School in Cloquet, where meaningful assessments, data retreats and differentiated instruction have completely transformed the school’s culture for the better.
Above all else, in presenting at the MREA conference and also chatting with dozens of its attendees, I was reminded that we must include even more voices and success stories from Greater Minnesota schools in education policy discussions at the Capitol. Why? Because many Greater Minnesota towns are launching—and seeing results from—community-wide efforts to increase access to and quality of academic opportunities for all children. Why wouldn’t we want to learn from these initiatives and scale them up statewide?
The conference also reminded me that in celebrating what’s working well in Greater Minnesota schools, we can’t forget that there are some real challenges, too, from budget constraints to a lack of broadband access. One consistent theme I heard at the conference was the need to make it easier for educators initially licensed in other states to receive their licenses to teach here in Minnesota. Removing barriers for out-of-state teachers would make a real difference in Greater Minnesota, where many communities have teacher and talent shortages.
I’m grateful to have had a chance to share some of MinnCAN’s findings and ideas with the MREA community, and I’m looking forward to increasing the focus on Greater Minnesota schools, their successes, challenges and ideas at the Capitol!