Renewed District-Charter Collaboration in Minneapolis

Minneapolis was one of only eight cities to sign a District-Charter Collaboration Compact in 2010. In their agreement, Minneapolis Public Schools MPS, six charter schools, seven community organizations, and two former mayors all signed on to support the development of a leadership incubator, accelerate student achievement, and promote the growth of high-performing charter schools. By spring 2014, collaboration between the sectors had largely dissolved.

This past September, MPS announced the advent of a second Compact: a one-on-one partnership between the district and Hiawatha Academies. Though this second agreement lacks the robust list of signatories and ambitious tone of the first compact, it demonstrates a simple and targeted strategy of exchanges. MPS offers Hiawatha inclusion in their enrollment process and access to MPS facilities. In return, Hiawatha offers MPS access to their professional development programs and permits the district to absorb Hiawatha’s test scores. Minneapolis is not the first compact city to retire their original compact in favor of more circumscribed collaboration initiatives, but it is the first city to formalize such an agreement.

Betsy Ohrn is the director of the Office of New Schools for the district and oversees the Minneapolis compact work. Ohrn notes that the new compact is “a huge mind-shift and allows the district and charter to discuss aligned interests.” Eli Kramer, executive director of Hiawatha Academies, applauds the agreement for “shifting how the district thinks about quality.” While the agreement certainly indicates a resuscitation of some collaborative work, it is unclear whether MPS will expand their relationship with Hiawatha over time or initiate agreements with other high-performing charter organizations. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s resignation earlier this month has added yet more uncertainty for charter leaders waiting to see how the district will move on autonomy, facilities, and transportation issues. And while anti-charter sentiment makes some in the district hesitant to engage in further charter negotiations, sharply declining district enrollment has forced both the school board and district officials to accept the necessity for some change.

For the time being, MPS is narrowly focused on their Acceleration 2020 initiative. The plan promotes school autonomy, student-based budgeting, minority achievement, and improved test scores. Though the plan makes no mention of the potential for charter school involvement, Acceleration 2020 and the second compact were approved within a week of each other, and it is easy to see how they are intimately connected. Professional development and the inclusion of test scores from Hiawatha pushes the district toward their achievement goals; providing Hiawatha with access to facilities and enrollment processes perpetuates success for both charter and district.

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