Interview with Jan Witthuhn, Associate Superintendent, Research and Development, Minneapolis Public Schools
The ultimate goal of restructuring and site-based management in the Minneapolis Public Schools is to improve student performance. Research shows that having strong family involvement correlates with increased student performance. Research also points out that if more people are involved in decision-making and planning programs, the more effective these efforts will be.
In August 1988, when Robert Ferrara became superintendent, there was a focus on analyzing student performance data in new ways. This focus contributed to the movementtoward site-based management. In 1988-89, many teachers and principals in primary grades wanted more developmentally appropriate assessment and wanted the freedom to make decisions about instruction and assessment. Their requests also added to the impetus for site-based management.
In September 1990, the Panasonic Foundation facilitated a meeting between the superintendent and the board of education that resulted in the school district's commitment to use site-based management to improve student outcomes. In July 1991, the board approved a "Statement of Direction and Goals for Comprehensive Restructuring" that solidified that commitment. In February 1992, the board accepted the district's current site-based management policy. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers was a positive force for site-based management and pushed for joint discussions with the district and the administrator's union.
By October 1992, 14 of Minneapolis' 73 schools had been designated as "site-based management schools," and 36 requests for site-based management status were pending. The remaining public schools are expected to restructure and become site-based managed schools by the end of the 1993-94 school year.
Schools ready to assume the responsibilities of site-based management must submit a governance plan and written request to the superintendent. The superintendent's council reviews the plans and makes major recommendations to the board of education. In addition to the superintendent, there are two principals, two teachers, 13 parents and community representatives, twostudents, and an associate superintendent on the council.
An external facilitator assists schools in developing their governance plans, and schools approved for site-based management can receive grants from the McKnight Foundation tosupport school restructuring. Guidelines for governance plans recommend that each plan include:
Schools that meet the governance guidelines and operate within the management parameters may select instructional strategies and materials, as long as districtwide learner outcomes are met and district guidelines are followed. Site-based managed schools also may select and evaluate personnel within the guidelines of the law, negotiated contracts, and district policies. Finally, these schools may exercise complete discretion over the use of salary and nonsalary allocations, within the guidelines of the law, negotiated contracts, and district policies.
In the transition to site-based management, district management and the organization of data have changed. All schools can now access their own attendance, student achievement, registration, budget, and demographic data. Schools also can designate subsets - such as all students scoring in the lowest quartile or all African-American students - to learn more about specific groups.
In addition, schools now have the ability to purchase goods and services from outside vendors, as well as from the district. While these policies have changed for all schools, only site-based managed schools can receive variances from administrative regulations and policies. The superintendent also advocates variances for site-based managed schools from board, state, and federal policies.
The district provides training to site-based managed schools in collaborative leadership and instructional improvement, federal and state laws, Minnesota Department of Education rules, board of education policies and regulations, employee negotiated contracts, and the process for securing variances from each of the above.
Roles and responsibilities "The movement toward site-based management has been frustrating for a lot of people in schools because there is no one recipe. We have a very clear direction for site-based management, but a vague understanding of what the parameters are for new roles and responsibilities that accompany change."
Coping with change "While time constraints and limited budgets are obstacles, there are more important hurdles to overcome. These obstacles include:
Waivers "To support site-based management, federal and state policies should hold the district accountable for student outcomes, but not control the means to meet those outcomes. There needs to be a streamlined process for waivers from state and federal regulations."
Federal support "It would also be helpful if rhetoric at the federal level supported public education. There is a movement toward abandoning public education, because some people believe that public schools have not worked and will not work for children. This does not help us make the changes needed to improve urban public education. People in our schools and communities want hope that, with change, they will be successful."
Posted on April 26, 1995