looking at the issue. "We have ways already of holding portions
of the school accountable," he said. "There are ways to hold
teachers accountable and even greater capacity for holding
students accountable. We say parents are an integral part of
that, but we're less able to develop accountability for them.
And when it comes to the community, we have no way of developing
accountability models there."
Williams drafted the proposal for the
consideration of the Kellogg Foundation 1997 and discussed the
possibility of Minneapolis Public Schools becoming a partner in
a demonstration project to implement the proposal. Carol Johnson
was the incoming superintendent. Minneapolis liked the proposal,
he said, and was willing to commit $10,000 toward the effort.
At first, Williams said, he was
talking about the whole school district. "We then decided it was
crazy to try to get the district as a whole to do this," he
said. So, the decision was made to concentrate on one school.
"The idea was to identify what could
count as the community related to that school," he said. "A
school and its community needed to learn something about each
other. The school needed to have some knowledge of the assets of
the community and the community needed to learn about the
capacity of the school. Then they would come together and
identify some goals and a willingness to hold one another
Williams said what we see from schools
annually is performance on standardized tests. "Then we get
upset about the distance in achievement between students of
color and white students and identify it as the achievement gap.
We're organized around how we get all students to achieve at
"My concern is that we're looking at
this in the wrong way," he continued. "I'm not that concerned
whether kids of color, especially African Americans, ever close
that gap." He said what he's concerned about is seeing
continuous progress every year, because students can be
successful without ever closing the achievement gap.
Assets to take care of many student
needs are in the community, not the schools. "What are other
things besides academic performance that we need to be concerned
about that help with the overall growth and development of
students?" Williams asked. Students have to show up at class,
they need to have eaten, and they need to have their health
problems and their homelessness addressed. "Can we find a way to
get the kids to school 90-plus percent of the time ready to
learn?" he asked. "The schools can't do that. Those assets are
in the community."
Only when the community can organize
itself so that kids are ready to be taught can we hold schools
accountable for outcomes, he said. The community can say it
delivered the kids ready to learn and if they're not successful,
maybe the school is doing things wrong. "Then we can define what
kinds of changes need to take place, Williams said.
It's critical that there's a reporting
out of progress being made by all partners. "The only
reporting we see now is reporting on students' performance on
standardized tests," he said. "There's no reporting on how well
teachers, parents and the community have performed. We need to
have some way of holding all these partners accountable."
Williams stated that the only way that might have impact in the
community is by publishing the outcomes: What did the community
promise to deliver and to what extent did it deliver? "Then it's
up to the rest of us to work on that and make sure there's
progress in that arena," he said.
Williams took the proposal to the
Minneapolis, St. Louis Park and St. Paul school districts. "Then
I found myself on the Minneapolis School Board (2007 to 2011)
and I thought I could make it happen," he said. "I never could
have been more wrong."
He said every superintendent who's
been in the Minneapolis School District since he presented the
proposal, most of the assistant superintendents and several of
the department heads have seen it. "Everybody thinks this stuff
makes a lot of sense," he said. "Part of what is probably
happening is that I get the courtesy of being heard by being on
the school board. When I go away, then that's it."
The Northside Achievement Zone in
North Minneapolis is a wrap-around program to meet all of the
needs of children in the area. "They're having some
successes," Williams said. "The challenge is being able to
sustain that over time." The key part in that, he said, is the
stability of the relationship between the parent or guardian and
"What we have in our schools,
particularly in North Minneapolis, is high mobility," he
continued. Families move frequently across the metro area or out
of state. He said they take their kids out of school when they
leave and the kids may or may not be in school in their new
location. If they come back, there's no record of what kind of
schooling they've had. "The gap is not so much in education as
in the overall socioeconomic conditions of the kids who come to
school," he said. "If we could close those gaps, we could see
The main thing to deal with is what's
happening in the family. An interviewer asserted that
learning is the product of five things: (1) what's going on in
the family, (2) what's going on with the teachers; (3) what's
going on in the community to support learning; (4) what's going
on with the students themselves and (5) what's going on at the
school: is it a bureaucracy or a teacher-run school? He said if
any one of these things is zero, the learning outcome will be
The interviewer stated that we must
deal with what's happening in the family. Williams said the
interviewer was on the right track. "The school can do its job
if good things are happening in the family," he said.
There are four kinds of gaps affecting
kids' learning. Williams was part of a group (African
American Leadership Forum) that looked at this issue and
identified four kinds of gaps:
- A preparation gap
, which is the difference in how
well prepared kids are when they enter school. He said their
level of preparation goes back to how stable their family
situation is. Kids spend most of their time outside of school
and learning takes place everywhere. "We don't always like the
type of learning that takes place in some of these places,
but, nonetheless, it's happening," he said.
- A belief gap.
"We have to believe these young
people can learn," he said. Many times if kids are from a
difficult environment, we think these poor kids can't learn.
Teachers might take on the attitude that they have more
sympathy than interest in helping these kids learn. "The child
has to believe that he or she can learn, too."
- A teaching gap.
That involves matching the teaching
with the kids in the classroom.
- A leadership gap. We need leadership that helps us
pull together those community assets mentioned earlier,
leadership in the schools that knows how to use those
community assets and leadership within the school and the
Evaluation is critical. Williams
said he saw a lot of great ideas from Minneapolis teachers, who
would find resources to implement them for a short time. "But it
was not connected and not sustainable and it didn't go
anywhere," he said. He said few proposals for new efforts had
evaluation plans. "I learned during my years at Rainbow Research
the value of an evaluation plan."
"One of the most frustrating things
when I was on the school board," he continued, "was that on many
proposals that had been funded, there was no evaluation. We
seldom saw any reporting back on what difference a program made.
No evaluation plan was identified and there was no good
reporting back to the public. Are we any better off? We
shouldn't wait till $2 million to $3 million has been spent
before evaluating things."
Community leadership is more
challenging when kids in a community attend schools scattered
across the city. An interviewer commented that ever since
the mid-1970s, "kids have been going to school all over town.
Parents don't know other parents; kids don't even know the kid
across the street who goes to another school."
"That makes it extremely challenging,"
Williams said. "It makes it difficult to identify what we mean
by 'community.' When I'm talking about it, I'm looking at a
number of identifiable community institutions: the family,
faith-based organizations, community centers. A tremendous
challenge is placed on the community leadership when kids are
scattered across the whole city. The focus has to be more on
working with families and helping them connect to the schools,
especially if their kids are in three different schools."
Even for people serving on a school
board, it's difficult to get things done. "I learned very
quickly that my expectations of what I could do when I was on
the Minneapolis School Board were unrealistic," Williams said.
"I was only one out of seven members and now in Minneapolis,
it's one of nine."
He said it depends more on the
leadership of the district, the superintendent. "If the
superintendent has no vision for the district, then the school
board is not going to have one that can be implemented."
Student performance reports focus on
how poorly many students did, rather than on the kids' assets.
An interviewer brought up former Minneapolis Superintendent
Carole Johnson's concept of asset-based education. Kids who have
challenges also have assets, the interviewer said. "They know
how to survive. We don't find out what these kids can do. What
kind of progress have they made over the years? We don't measure
their progress after they've come into school behind."
Williams responded that we focus on
the kids who are not performing. He said there are lessons to be
learned from kids who entered school behind, but have succeeded.
"What are the lessons to be learned from them? There is a small
group of kids at Bethune School who did as well as some of the
kids at Kenwood School," he said. "Can't we learn more about
this group? I didn't find any real interest in looking at how we
can capture those assets and build on them."
We could measure community outcomes by
looking at how things change over time for kids who come to
school facing challenges like homelessness or health problems.
Williams said we could identify those challenges affecting
students that schools can't take care of. For example, he said,
if 300 students starting school had significant health issues,
we should look at how that's changed over time, say, over three
to five years.
Steve Mayer, formerly with Rainbow
Research, said the group proposed looking at the ways
communities, community organizations and parents stepped up to
fill their role as partners. "We wanted to flesh out what that
partnership could look like," he said. "We weren't looking so
much at quantitative measures, but at nominative ones. In what
ways did community organizations step up and in what ways did
parents step up? Those styles could get more light shone on
them, so they could get emulated and strengthened."
"We don't always have a plan to deal
with something like a high poverty rate in an area," Williams
added. "The schools can't deal with it. They're getting kids at
the end of the line with problems the schools can't deal with.
We need a plan within the community. If there were a plan, some
of the funds invested in schools could be better invested in
other institutions or organizations in the community."
Sometimes it's difficult to get others
to take an idea they didn't generate and become excited about it
and move forward with it. An interviewer asked whether when
a proposal hasn't been implemented, like the one developed by
Williams, it's possible that the proposal might have been
enacted if other organizations had taken some ownership and
backed it. The interviewer then asked if other organizations
took ownership of Williams's Schools/Community Accountability
Williams responded that no other
groups took ownership of the proposal, because he didn't present
it to them. He said potential partners would be critical to
success, but he was focusing first on how to get the Minneapolis
district to take ownership. "I sensed that sometimes it's
difficult to get others to take an idea they didn't generate and
become excited about it and move forward with it."
He asserted that when working with
bureaucracies, such as schools, the state and public housing
agencies, it's extremely difficult to get people in the
bureaucracy to accept an idea as theirs and "give it legs" from
The interviewer quoted another Civic
Caucus member, who says there's no end to what you can
accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit. "We should
concentrate on helping others to accomplish their goals rather
than me trying to get my idea adopted," the
There is a tremendous need for the
public and private funding community to step up to the plate.
In terms of getting an idea seriously considered, an
interviewer asked Williams what he sees as the critical area for
improving the institutions of public policy: the universities,
the foundations, the think tanks. Where is the responsibility?
Williams responded that there is no
one place. "Foundations need to be more aware of what conditions
exist and sometimes divest themselves of their narrow visions.
It's not necessary to have impact across the board or to change
policy with foundations."
"Foundations do play an interesting,
creative and not necessarily sustainable role," added Mayer.
"People leave foundations, so there is discontinuity. Only with
hindsight can we see the effects of the programs they fund. Not
on this list is people energy. Foundations need to invest in
taking the next step in support of people's assets."
The Greater Minneapolis Urban
Coalition met for the first time in 1968. Behind the
creation of the Urban Coalition was the impetus of the riots on
Plymouth Avenue on the Near North Side of Minneapolis in 1966
and again in 1967. "Plymouth Avenue was exploding," Williams
said. Forty to 60 corporate and civic leaders went to Washington
and came back "scared to death." Williams and Larry Harris then
did a three-month study about the formation of the Urban
"We decided to bring all of our assets
together around one table: the community, corporations, public
and nonprofit organizations," Williams said. "To some, this was
a nightmarish combination."
The Rev. Rolland Robinson, then
president of the board of The Way, was a founding member of the
Urban Coalition. He recalled later that the Coalition's first
board chair, Honeywell President Stephen Keating, described the
Coalition "as a means of providing a dialogue, of improving
communication and increasing understanding among all elements of
our city. We need a commitment from all segments of our
community to develop a city where every citizen is treated as a
total human being."
"Corporate executives were not used to
being challenged," Williams said. "It was an almost impossible
organization to run. A welfare mother was sitting next to
Honeywell's president. But it provided learning to corporations
and you could slowly see the difference in corporations in the
The Coalition, he said, helped put
together partnerships that were collaborations of corporations
and people in the community. That type of networking doesn't
exist now. "We need to find ways to remake those connections."
Alternative schools are the
stepchildren of the Minneapolis Public Schools. An
interviewer asked Williams for his observations about
alternative schools. Williams responded that alternative schools
have been around for a long time, serving kids who were not
making it in regular school by helping them make up credit
He named several schools as examples
of successful alternative schools: Plymouth Youth Center, Loring-Nicollet,
East Side Neighborhood, Connect, and the school that used to be
run by the Urban League. He pointed out that alternative schools
are public schools, because all their resources come from the
Minneapolis Public Schools. "These kids need a lot more help,
but the district is not allocating the same amount of funding to
alternative schools as to regular schools," he said. It's
challenging for alternative schools to get some services, like
mental health services, that the district is supposed to
provide. "These schools are the stepchildren of the Minneapolis
School districts should develop
facility plans in cooperation with other school districts and
educational institutions. Williams pointed out that now each
school district develops its facility plan independently.
"Minneapolis shouldn't move forward with a facility plan solely
on its own," he said. "It should be in partnership with other
districts and other institutions like the University of
Minnesota (U of M) and the Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities (MnSCU) system. No one is willing to push the
buttons to say, 'Let's do these things together.'"
Williams had conversations on this
issue with former U of M President Robert Bruininks and with the
Metropolitan Council. "No one is willing to take that on," he