Last week, Gov. Dayton announced his plans to regain “our state’s position as a national and global leader in educational excellence” because “a good education is the key to our success.” As a lifelong educator and current school principal, I believe the following five big ideas highlight what works in schools and would help Minnesota reclaim that position:
- We must surround the whole child with services to meet their individualized needs. The school is one part of this web of support and too often we are expected to change circumstances that are beyond our scope. Teachers are not mental health experts, so we need more social workers and counselors in our schools. At Valley View Middle School, for example, we’ve brought this kind of support to our students by creating partnerships with the Washburn Center for Children and other community-based resources. We need to build upon these partnerships and surround children with the support they need to reach their full potential.
- We must recruit and support excellent educators and recognize that teaching is hard, important work! As demonstrated by MinnCAN’s new ‘State of Minnesota Public Education’ report, we do not have enough teachers of color in the state, and I also see our immersion schools struggle to hire and retain linguistically diverse educators. When teachers from other states struggle to meet the obtuse requirements for Minnesota licensure, we lose them to other states and professions. We are scaring away masterful teachers with advanced degrees, experience and passion for teaching. We must shift our licensing practices to meet the needs of our current system and attract great teachers, without lowering the bar of the profession.
- For a good education, we also need good food. We need to provide more, better food to our children so that their brains can grow and develop. Our students need good food when they’re not in school, too. We should expand summer food programs and partnerships with non-profits such as VEAP and The Sheridan Story to provide sustenance to our children.
- We need fewer, better standardized tests. This year, our eighth-graders will take six standardized tests that take about 3-4 hours each to complete. This also happens at the other grades, making "testing season" the worst part of education in Minnesota. We do need to measure student growth and proficiency, but I believe that fewer, smarter, and more balanced assessments can help us do this.
- Finally, as Gov. Dayton agrees, we should implement year-round schooling. A shift to year-round education in our state would be a major investment, but would save time and money we currently waste on re-teaching from the summer slide. Plus, year-round education has proven to lower drop-out rates and increase gains in math and reading for students, especially for low-income students. Finally, year-round education just makes sense; I would work in and send my children to a year-round school right now if I could.
What would good education for Minnesota look like to me? I would see children play, invent, experience, collaborate, think, work hard and be challenged within their personal zone of proximal development towards mastery of relevant, rigorous content. These students would have a strong sense of community, would know that we value and love them, and expect great things from them. Our students are Minnesota’s key to success and shifting our current systems to support them will allow Minnesota to regain the position of national and global leader in educational excellence.
Naida Grussing-Neitzel is in her fifth year as an assistant principal at Valley View Middle School in Bloomington, and previously, taught Spanish at Patrick Henry and Robbinsdale Cooper High Schools. She lives with her family (including her former-teacher husband!) in Robbinsdale, and spends her time focusing on educational equity, excellence and achievement for all learners. Naida’s looking forward to sharing ideas on how schools can foster strong relationships—which she believes are the foundation to everything.
The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows' views and opinions are solely their own.