Dear Mayor RT Rybak,
At a recent panel event hosted by Educators for Excellence, you invited us as teachers to share our wishes, “if we could wave a magic wand and instantly make changes” that would help us eliminate the achievement gap. So, here goes…
Ms. Kragthorpe’s Education Priorities:
1. Redefine “school day” and the school year.
We need to knock the traditional agrarian calendar on it’s ear and look at school options that put needs of students first, such as year-round school, staggered school days with different starting and ending times within one school, and a staggered school year with more instructional days and more frequent, smaller breaks. A staggered school day with both students and teachers working on alternate, overlapping schedules would afford smaller class sizes, more minutes of instruction, and more opportunities for student movement, activities, and enrichment.
2. Create a school structure that values teacher learning.
Teacher quality is the number one way to increase student achievement and narrow the learning gaps. A staggered school day and/or calendar year would enable teachers to have the time to effectively collaborate and learn from each other. We need a school culture where our teaching practices are made public, where we are not only supported in improving but also expected to improve. As you yourself said, RT, teacher collaboration is a “no brainer,” yet lack of time is the reason why teachers are sometimes averse to innovation and it’s also why we lose great teachers every year due to burn out. Without time for professional learning, students—not teachers—are the ones who truly get the short end of the stick.
3. We need strong teacher leadership and more career pathways for effective teachers.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate administrators, and I happen to work for a great one. However, there is no reason why we need entire teams of administrators to run schools. Administrative hierarchies are expensive, and they do more harm than good. Ramsey Middle School, where I teach, has a teacher leadership team of five teachers who each have 50 minutes of their day dedicated to various leadership roles. My principal teaches an elective class every other day and he extends his leadership capacity by working with this team of five teachers who share responsibilities. This shared leadership helps create a healthy school culture that avoids a mentality of teachers vs. administrators that is so rampant and toxic for students; and it also affords stability when an administrator is moved to a different building or position (a practice all too common in my district).
4. We need a culture that continually fights against our racist system.
Teachers and principals need to demonstrate cultural competency before they set foot in our schools. We need a plan to hire many more teachers and administrators of color. Shared standards for cultural competency across our district would help us develop strategies and practices that are system-wide. We need to hold all levels of our school system accountable for cultural competency and for supporting student outcomes, which means we need to eliminate positions that have no accountability nor proven outcomes for closing the achievement gap.
5. We need to nurture (not fight against!) emergent leadership.
Our school system needs to support bottom-up leadership, self-organizing, and networking that opens minds to innovation and yields different and better results for students. As a teacher, I will work hard and I will feel satisfaction in my work if I am allowed, encouraged, and supported in being generative and reflective. I want to be able to have a voice in co-developing meaningful and effective practices for my school rather than being limited to what the central office or union leaders will or won’t approve. A stifled system fosters the status quo. We need a wake up call on this one.
I wish you all the best at Generation Next, and I thank you for your commitment to education.
Yours in partnership,
Holly Kragthorpe teaches seventh graders at Ramsey Middle School in Minneapolis, where she is a union steward for Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, a school captain for Educators 4 Excellence, and a teacher blogging fellow for MinnCAN.