Nicholas Banovetz is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

In just 10 years, Northfied Public Schools increased its Latino high school graduation rate from 36 to 92 percent. That’s incredible–and a good reason why team MinnCAN needed to venture down to the southern Minnesota college town.

How is the school district beating the odds, we asked?

And by way of background, demographics are shifting in Northfield much like most communities in Minnesota. Consider the high school science class we visited, where only seven of the 35 students were white. Students with Mexican, Kenyan, Chinese backgrounds–among others–contribute to a student enrollment rich in diversity.

Here are some initial takeaways from Northfield:

  • Teachers and school leaders exhibited a willingness to own the problem. Then, they development and implemented strategies to address where they wanted to improve (e.g., stronger kindergarten readiness/pre-K, stronger achievement for kids of color and low-income kids).
  • High-quality pre-K is imperative. So much so that the district is funding nearly all of the seats via district funding and grants. The early education focus includes strong work towards language proficiency.
  • For English language learners, the district leverages the co-teaching, or “Team-Up” approach, where English language (EL) teachers and content teachers have more structure to collaborate and reduce student pull-outs. The goals of Team-Up include increasing: academic achievement, teacher awareness and understanding of EL students, and the number of positive interactions that EL families have with the school.
  • Last but not least, TORCH–an unrivaled program to accelerate achievement among struggling students and kids of color in the high school. TORCH also provides these students with the access to not only explore post-secondary opportunities, but support with applications and scholarships. More than anything, the founders and coordinators of TORCH emphasized that they’ve established high expectations and aspirational goals for all students.

Road to Success officially ended today. In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll continue to synthesize all of what Minnesota teachers, school leaders and community leaders shared with us and report back on overarching themes and perhaps even some policy opportunities.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which were featured on one classroom wall at Northfield Middle School, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

(Note: In the above picture, you can see a dozen-plus ongoing college visits mapped out on the dry erase board in the TORCH study room.)


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