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Litchfield Supports The Transmission Control Regional Magnet School

The Litchfield School Board approved said on Tuesday, January 20th, provides guidance for a fundamental change to organizational justice area task.

The inter-district West Metro Education Program, to which Richfield belongs, has two prongs to its mission – to aid districts in developing initiatives regarding diversity and equity, and to educate students at two magnet schools, one in downtown Minneapolis and one in Crystal. The schools are called Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resource schools.

The program’s Joint Powers Board, which includes Richfield Boardmember Todd Nollenberger and Richfield Supt. Steve Unowsky, is considering a conveyance that would hand management of those school over to the Minneapolis and Robbinsdale school districts, respectively. The WMEP board has voiced near-unanimous approval for the plan, Nollenberger said.

The Richfield School Board followed suit by unanimously voting to support the plan after the WMEP board asked member districts to make non-binding votes on the resolution.

Since the state created the schools, it takes approval at the legislative level for the conveyance to go forward. The WMEP board is yet to take a formal vote on the resolution.

However, the WMEP board has named preferences regarding how the FAIR schools will be run in the future. The board is stipulating that the schools retain their status as inter-district magnet schools and that busing remains open to students attending the 11 districts that are part of WMEP. Fewer than 30 students from Richfield attend the schools, which have a total enrollment of 943, according to Nollenberger.

Parents raised concerns earlier this month that the new possible arrangement would fundamentally downgrade their students’ experience. They lined up during a listening session this month to defend the schools’ value.

“What I took away from the listening session,” Nollenberger said, “was a great deal of consternation on the part of parents and students, a significant amount of fear of change, and what I heard was a conviction that the schools will not be the same when they’re being operated by Robbinsdale and Minneapolis.”

Nollenberger added, though, that superintendents from Minneapolis and Robbinsdale districts have clearly stated the schools would be run the same as they are now.

Benefit to Richfield?

The district devotes a disproportionate amount of its resources to WMEP, Unowsky said. Both he and Nollenberger attend at least one WMEP board meeting a month, if not two, he said, even though so few students from Richfield attend the FAIR schools. Proportionally, that schedule would be the same as attending 300 meetings per month in support of 1,000 students, Unowsky illustrated.

In addition to freeing up that time to focus on home districts, some in WMEP believe dispossessing the two schools in question could improve WMEP’s ability to fulfill its mission of providing professional equity training to districts. Unowsky said this is where Richfield gets the most value from WMEP.

The role of program as an educator of the educators is not in question, Unowsky said. What member districts have doubted is whether the FAIR schools themselves are fulfilling their mission as an incubator for new approaches in education that can benefit standalone districts.

“The WMEP board has come to the conclusion that WMEP should be out of the school business,” Nollenberger said.

But that is not, he said, a reflection of the students’ individual experiences at the schools. Nollenberger was not questioning whether individual students at the FAIR schools are having positive experiences.

As for the disproportionate amount of time Unowsky and Nollenberger are spending on WMEP, the only way to alleviate that is for WMEP to convey the FAIR schools or for Richfield to vote to leave WMEP. That, however, means Richfield would lose the equity services of the program, which Unowsky called a “significant part of our vision.”

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