Community comes together to Reimagine Minnesota

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

Spurred by an ongoing lawsuit claiming the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts are segregated by race and socioeconomic status, more than 40 Minnesota superintendents have come together to ask their communities to “Reimagine Minnesota.”

Paula Forbes leads a Reimagine Minnesota community meeting in Mounds View March 9. (Photo by Olivia Alveshere)
Paula Forbes leads a Reimagine Minnesota community meeting in Mounds View March 9. (Photo by Olivia Alveshere)

“The superintendents said if any parent is not happy with the school that they attend, the last thing we should do is fight that movement,” Anoka-Hennepin Supt. David Law said. “We should get together and pull those parents in and see how they want us to change, and then try to make that change in our school system.”

Superintendents have started that process by hosting 10 community meetings in February and March, each facilitated by attorney Paula Forbes, founder and chief executive officer of Forbes Solutions LLC.

The final planned meeting was held in Mounds View March 9 and involved Anoka-Hennepin, Spring Lake Park, Fridley and Columbia Heights school districts.

More than 200 students, parents, school employees, community members and elected officials gathered at the Mounds View Community Center to discuss what equity looks like and how schools can better reflect that concept.

After grabbing a boxed dinner, participants were seated at round tables and asked to engage in meaningful, nonjudgmental conversation.

“It’s an important conversation … and it’s one that is long overdue,” Forbes said. “Equity, integration, excellence is really hard, and that’s why we’re asking you to grapple with it tonight.”

Language interpreters were on hand to allow non-English speaking families to weigh in on these important matters, too.

Andover High School junior Anne Omer, background, facilitates a discussion about equity in education at her table. Omer was one of many student leaders present at the last of 10 Reimagine Minnesota community meetings. (Photo by Olivia Alveshere)
Andover High School junior Anne Omer, background, facilitates a discussion about equity in education at her table. Omer was one of many student leaders present at the last of 10 Reimagine Minnesota community meetings. (Photo by Olivia Alveshere)

Andover High School junior Anne Omer served as a student leader at her table.

“The school I go to isn’t a diverse school,” Omer said. “I grew up feeling like I was an outsider, and I don’t want other students to feel like that.”

So she’s using her voice to share what she believes are pieces of the equity puzzle: understanding and acceptance.
“We live in a changing America, and the face of America’s got to become more diverse,” Omer said.

Riley Fletcher, also a junior at Andover High School would like to see learning made more “three dimensional, rather than two dimensional.”

Fletcher uses the horrors of the Holocaust as an example: He learned about the persecution of the Jewish people at a relatively young age, but it wasn’t until this year that he saw a more complete picture of the torture that also touched the disabled, homosexuals and many other groups.

Parents Toni Edwards and Athelgra Williams came to tackle the tough questions.

Participants took notes on table posters, which will provide superintendents with data points as they put together a report on how to provide more equitable educational experiences moving forward. (Photo by Olivia Alveshere)
Participants took notes on table posters, which will provide superintendents with data points as they put together a report on how to provide more equitable educational experiences moving forward. (Photo by Olivia Alveshere)

Edwards, a Champlin Park High School parent, knows conversation about equity in education is an important first step, but she wants to see educators follow through with ideas generated at these community conversations.

For Williams, a Monroe Elementary parent, one action step is hiring teachers of color and supporting those individuals in their important work.

“Minnesota has already been reimagined,” she said.

All in attendance were encouraged to take notes on table posters, which will serve as data points for superintendents as they work to create an education plan in the coming months.

Spring Lake Park Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg was encouraged to see so many parents and community members engaged with a topic the district is thinking about daily, he said.

“(Equity) is always at the forefront of our design planning,” Ronneberg said. “This is something that we work on each and every day.”

Contact Olivia Alveshere at [email protected]