Schools Notebook: MPS combines middle and high school athletics

Updated: August 26, 2015 - 10:10 am

Parents find out late about a significant shift in the district's athletics program. Plus: Math and reading tutors pledge service and a community building art project for LGBTQ teens

A policy tweak approved unanimously by the Minneapolis Board of Education at an Aug. 25 special meeting was the ripple on the surface indicating much deeper changes to district athletics programs.

The board granted a one-year waiver to a district policy allowing middle school athletes to compete in sports at either their own school or on a team at their attendance-area high school. The temporary change — which could be made permanent next year — also allows middle school students to play for sports teams at a pathway high school, even if it’s outside of their attendance area.

The change is required because the district is consolidating its middle- and high-school athletics programs. It’s a significant shift, and one Director of Athletics Trent Tucker said was happening about a year earlier than anticipated.

It means seventh- and eighth-grade students will have access to the full roster of 32 activities offered at the high school level, instead of just six sports previously offered in middle schools. Tucker described the realignment of district athletics programs as “a great opportunity to expand athletics for students across the district.”

He also acknowledged his department was “late” in notifying middle school families of the change, which prompted a flurry of parent emails to School Board members at the start of the new school year. Some families didn’t learn of the change until after tryouts for fall sports teams, although Tucker said the signup period would run through Sept. 4. His department also did not complete an equity and diversity impact assessment before making the shift, but Assistant Athletics Director Dave Wicker said they planned to collect and report participation data after one year.

Parents like Colleen Simmons, the mother of freshman triplets who previously played volleyball at Anwatin Middle School, questioned whether high schools had the capacity to absorb the younger players and whether middle schools will loose an opportunity to build school spirit around sports. Tucker said some high schools with high rates of athletic participation, like Washburn and Southwest, would be adding teams this year, including C- and D-squads and other “feeder” teams.

Asked about the impact on his department’s budget, Tucker said, “I’m not cleared to talk about the financial end of it at this time.”

The district eliminated all of its middle school athletics director positions. High school athletics directors will decide whether to rehire coaches and other adults who worked with middle school teams.

Sixth graders are not allowed to compete in Minnesota State High School League programs, but Tucker said the district planned to introduce a district-wide soccer program for middle school students this year. Games will be played at the National Sports Center in Blaine.

Wicker noted seventh- and eight-grade students always had the opportunity to “play up” and join high school teams, but parents had to provide transportation. The shift means the district will bus middle school students to games and practices at high schools, he said.

 

Math and reading tutors prepare for school year

This year’s class of Minnesota Math Corps and Minnesota Reading Corps tutors pledged to fulfill a year of service in an Aug. 18 ceremony at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius took part in the event, which was attended by about 2,000 math and literacy tutors in-training. The AmeriCorps members will serve in about 1,000 elementary schools and pre-kindergarten programs across the state this coming school year.

The event kicked-off a three-day training session for the tutors meant to prepare them for their work with students. Literacy tutors work with students from age 3 to third grade who may not be reading at grade level, while math tutors help students in grades 4–8 hone their math skills.

Tutors from both programs work in Minneapolis Public Schools. To learn more about the programs, go to minnesotareadingcorps.org or minnesotamathcorps.org.

 

A community-building art project

Photo by Donner Humenberger

A week before the start of school in Minneapolis, a group of teens worked collaboratively on an artwork reflecting on the meaning of community for LGBTQ youth. Washburn High School senior Robyn Siebers organized the Lyndale Park Gardens gathering and said they planned to donate the finished piece to Quatrefoil Library.

Siebers said the event was inspired by a service trip to Ecuador she took in June.

“Part of the project is you want to bring something back to your community,” she said.