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Board looks at equality, achievement gap

How can Red Wing School District be more inclusive, accepting and help serve all students better?

That was the topic of a special work study portion of the School Board's regular meeting Tuesday evening.

Craig Morris — who works for the University of Wisconsin System and helps the district with its harassment and racial policies — began the session with background on the district's achievement gap, racial issues and bullying.

"This is a really great district with some really great resources," he said. "I believe in the people that are here in this community, but we have a number of challenges."

"Can we get to the point that regardless of what that students' background might be, they can walk into the classroom and feel like any other student?" he asked the board.

Morris briefly discussed the two U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights complaints filed against the district. The first, filed on behalf of Quera Pruitt in 2009, is in its final stages. However, the second was filed just last March, and the district is continuing to work with OCR.

"You don't want to keep having OCR complaints," Morris told the board. "We need to take a lesson and make sure we don't have repeats."

He also discussed significant disproportionality. For the second year in a row, Goodhue County Education District — which counts Red Wing School District as its largest member — has been flagged by the state for its relatively high number of minority students who are identified as having a disability.

"This one stings," Morris said, adding Red Wing's referral rate for special services for African-American students is five times greater than the state's. "It's time to get real and there are some things we have to do."

The second half of the session was devoted to explaining a plan that the district would like to set in motion in the coming weeks. They hope it will begin to address inclusion and achievement issues.

Kathleen Olson, retired University of Minnesota Extension educator, presented a program called Partnering for School Success, which focuses on getting parents more involved with student outcomes.

"Research shows there's better school adjustment if there is parent involvement," she said, adding that students have better social skills, fewer absences, increased involvement and more.

The program would help to set up targeted meetings at each of the schools for parents who represent cultural groups throughout the district. That will help strengthen interaction between families and the district, support parents and give parents tools they need to support their students, Olson said.

"We need to know what we're doing right and we need to know what we can do better," Community Education Director Dawn Wettern said of the meetings. "What we're hoping to do is have a dialogue at every school that involves families and school personnel."

From there, action plans will be developed for each school building that will help address racial and student achievement issues.

"This is one piece," Olson told the board. "We aren't promising this is going to solve all the issues that we have. It's a start. It's getting people talking, getting school staff and parents together."

Director of Teaching and Learning Joe Jezkierski said the district intends to conduct these meetings beginning in late fall.

That program will work help shape the district's Equality, Achievement and Inclusion Action Plan, which was presented to the board in draft form Tuesday. That document calls for the creation of a one-year plan and a five-year plan that will address the district's issues.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.