Minneapolis Chief Thinks Locally in Reorganization

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The new superintendent of the Minneapolis schools has announced a district reorganization she says will help "weave schools into the fabric of our community."

Superintendent Carol Johnson carved out five "school communities" from the 48,000-student district last month. In the next few months, Ms. Johnson said, local offices will take over much of the planning and day-to-day operations for the 14 to 23 schools in each subdistrict.

But many functions will remain at the central office, including curriculum development, budget, physical plant, data management, transportation, and personnel, she said.

The new offices will be charged with using local resources, such as those provided by businesses and nonprofit agencies, to help meet the needs of students and their families.

"An area could get a mentoring program or help with athletics," depending on its needs and the partnerships it forms, Ms. Johnson said.

In addition to an assistant superintendent, the local offices will include a principal on special assignment, a community-outreach worker, and perhaps two or three others. There should be no increase in cost, Ms. Johnson said, because people and resources will be shifted from the central office.

A Better Fit

The new organization is a better fit for the district's recent partial return to neighborhood schools after years of busing for racial integration, said Ms. Johnson, who was hired as superintendent this summer after the district ended its management contract with the private Public Strategies Group of St. Paul. ("HEADLINE," July 9, 1997.)

Ms. Johnson worked in the Minneapolis schools for 20 years before she left to head the nearby St. Louis Park district.

Experts in school administration, meanwhile, say there are conflicting trends in district organization. The practice of subdividing districts for administrative purposes is in decline, especially in large districts. But encouraging clusters of schools--elementary, middle, and high schools serving the same neighborhoods--to work together is gaining in popularity.

These experts warn, though, that any new level of organization runs the risk of creating a self-serving bureaucracy.

In a medium-sized district like Minneapolis, the best organization is "really an unknown," said Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education at Stanford University. "It's a case-by-case call; you have to know the community."

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