Two weeks ago, the MinnCAN team—including board member Lee-Ann Stephens, communications/social equity guru Kate Sattler and our high school intern Laura Baker—visited Community of Peace Academy, or CPA. Situated on the eastside of St. Paul, CPA serves over 800 kids, 90 percent of whom are students of color. During our visit, we met with Executive Director Cara Quinn, Elementary Director Bao Vang and Literacy Coach Melissa Jackson, as well as a handful of pre-K through grade 3 teachers.

CPA began as a K-5 charter school, and because of interest among parents to reach kids across the continuum, CPA is preK-12. Also, the school decided to expand into pre-K in 2007 when teachers noticed that kindergartners were coming in unprepared—academically and socially. With the creation of the pre-K, recent changes in school leadership and support from The McKnight Foundation, CPA is now placing tremendous focus on preK-3 alignment.

In order to better track, understand and improve preK-3 students’ literacy progress, CPA uses STEP, an assessment, training and data management system that comes out of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute. During our time at CPA, Melissa praised STEP for the immediate and rich data it provides teachers. “You’re not waiting until mid- or end-year to see where your students are at,” she said. “Teachers get very excited about the data.”

CPA staff have celebrated the transition to STEP because the timely, useful data they receive not only informs their instruction, but also helps them connect better with parents. At CPA’s parent nights, for example, teachers share data with families to keep them informed of their student progress.

Although CPA is placing greater emphasis on data, the school’s culture remains balanced, positive and student-centered. While other schools might only focus on academic achievement or character development, Cara believes that education is not an “either-or” scenario. CPA promotes educating the whole child, which might be why the school recently received a 2014 ‘National School of Character’ award. “When we say the whole child, we really mean the whole child,” Bao explained.

A move to STEP and data-driven instruction can’t happen overnight, and CPA educators readily admit that they have a lot of work left to do. But it seems that CPA staff are truly on board with this new approach. “We know that we still have a lot of work to do,” said Bao. “We haven’t had pushback, because it’s time.”

CPA school leaders said something else during our visit that really struck me. When the greater focus on data began, teachers were anxious about the additional requirements and training—and rightfully so. But Bao encouraged them that STEP and data-driven instruction wouldn’t force them to work harder—they already work hard enough—but instead would allow them to work smarter.

Here’s to CPA’s smart work!


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