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Jennings Resignation: Just a tactical retreat?
Jennings will stay on as MPS superintendent, at least temporarily
by Doug Mann

The Minneapolis School Board meeting of October 14, 2003, will not be broadcast. There were some things said there which the board evidently did not want many of you to hear. The meeting was not taped for broadcast on the radio or cable TV, which is ordinarily done. There appeared to be at least 100 teachers and community members in the audience. I arrived during 'delegations' (when public input is allowed), and less than a half hour before the meeting was adjourned.

Bill English (Minneapolis Foundation and Black Leadership Summit) went way over the allotted 3 minutes in a speech to the board in which he stated quite emphatically that he speaks for a group that is not small and is certainly not 'radical.'

English went on to say that he helped get Judy Farmer, Colleen Moriarity, and Sharon-Henry Blythe elected to the board, that he supported the community schools plan in 1995, that he supported the referendums, and that he supported the appointment of Carol Johnson.  Bill English has been a good friend and partner of the school board, and so on.

English also said that his opposition to the Jennings appointment wasn't about race, it was about "qualifications, qualifications, and qualifications."

Who is going to buy that? Of course race was a factor. A lot of people who spoke out against Jennings appointment said so, usually along the following lines: "The board should have considered qualified people of color, not just an unqualified white guy." Look at recent issues of Insight News, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, The Pulse of the Twin Cities, and posts to the Mpls issues list.

English doesn't have a problem with the way the board went about hiring Jennings. The board did the same thing when they hired Carol Johnson, and English approved of that. And who is to say that Jennings is not qualified for the job?

Jennings has been Carol Johnson's full-time, right hand man for the past two years.  Jennings was tested on-the-job. Johnson and all of the board members have confidence in his ability to lead the district. And don't forget, Carol Johnson got the superintendent's job in 1997 without a search process for the very same reasons.

Ron Edwards, a long time civil rights activist, and a household name since the 1970's (at least in my household) wrote,

"...He [Doug Grow] also misses the brilliant tactic used by the “pragmatic” resignation [of David Jennings]. If the BNBers [Background Noise Brigade] can be trivialized and discredited, and then enough people with clout get angry, he can be rehired. He loses nothing by withdrawing and wins multiple options by doing so, including getting rehired. He deflected the anger off of himself and now the anger that counts is on the BNBers..." -- daily weblog entry #186, paragraph 2,

Ordinarily an assistant superintendent, who doesn't need a waiver, would take over as acting superintendent until the permanent replacement is hired. However, Jennings is the "interim" superintendent and will remain at the helm of the Minneapolis Public Schools for the time being. I figure the MPS board is going to try to quietly get a waiver for Jennings. Doesn't the board need to get a waiver for Jennings if they want him to be the interim superintendent, say for the next 6 months?

Again quoting Ron Edwards:

"...My own position was that the cart was put before the horse, that the problems of the school district, as laid out in detail in Chapter 7 of my book, The Minneapolis Story, Through My Eyes, needed to be addressed first and that given how the progress results numbers had been cooked, even by Black school leaders, we needed to know the truth and what the board saw as the solution besides the tired “its the parents fault” and the even more tired “it will take generations to fix” before selecting a superintendent. As parents and/or tax payers, we need a pledge that there will be a true change, not just more business as usual..." --, daily weblog entry #186, near the end of paragraph 3.

I think that Edward has got that right.

At the October 14 school board meeting I gave a shortened version of the speech that I prepared for the 2002 School Board Candidates forum (I made the same points) and added a description of how the district has been cooking the data on student achievement to show how the district is "closing the gap" on paper, but not in the classrooms. The district has failed to close the learning gap between blacks and whites, and between students from low and higher-income households. And the programs that failed to "close the gap" have been enormously expensive. For example, the total cost of moving toward less racially diverse K-8 schools was estimated at $283 million [October 8, 2002, Minneapolis school board meeting].  The district's multitiered curriculum tracking system is another bottomless money pit (and has the effect of widening the gap).