60 years after the landmark ruling in Brown v Board of Education, a band of integration supporters are celebrating a three-year collaborative effort by families, two school districts, and Minnesota House and Senate members which has culminated in a vote enabling two successful east metro integration schools to stay open.
Since 2008 a band of families from the East Metro Integration District has been working hard to save their beloved schools: Harambee and Crosswinds. On May 16th, 2014 the schools finally received the legislative approval needed to remain open under new governance; Harambee with the Roseville School District, and Crosswinds with the Perpich Center for Arts Education. The governor then signed the bills into law. By July 18, 2014 the deeds to the buildings were in the hands of their new governance bodies. This three year journey was a tumultuous one.
The East Metro Integration District (EMID) is a collaborative partnership between the St. Paul School District and nine suburban districts that are contiguous with it. EMID began known as Tri-District in 1997 and first opened the school now called Harambee as an elementary school for the purpose of voluntary, intentional integration. Crosswinds, a middle/high school, was opened in 1999 with the same mission.
In 2011, the school board, made up of representatives from the 10 district school boards that made up EMID, were poised to close the schools. The advocacy group, which call themselves EMID Families and had come together several years prior to advocate for their schools, began a campaign called “Save Our Schools”, and spread the “EMID SOS” message at every board meeting, on social media, and to elected officials. “It was real grassroots activism”, said Eric Celeste, EMID Families member and manager of the group’s social media and website. “We established our own communication systems and each brought our unique skills and strengths to become a formidable group. It wasn’t long before stakeholders and media were looking to us to remain aware of rapidly changing circumstances”. Because of this tremendous community support for the schools, the school board eventually voted to continue the schools but alter the funding model.
Predictably, the schools were back in the spotlight the following year when funding ran dry. This time the school board looked for other entities interested in running them. Two organizations: Roseville Area School District (one of the original three members of Tri-District), and Perpich Center for Arts Education (a state agency with proven success in running an alternative school) stepped forward willing to not only take over the schools, but continue their successful programming and integration mission. Transference to these organizations required legislative approval, so the group turned their focus to the capitol.
During the 2013 state legislative session, EMID Families actively campaigned legislators to get the support they needed. They held letter-writing events, made frequent visits to legislators, and as the session came to a close held an orchestral performance on the capitol steps. Many EMID Families members could be seen in the gallery on the final night of the session, running back and forth in conversation with legislators to try to save their schools. As the clock struck midnight a deal could not be reached, and the schools did not get the legislation they needed.
Meanwhile, EMID Families remained very busy between legislative sessions. They continued to push for the legislation needed for a long-term, sustainable solution. An off-session joint House and Senate committee hearing was held at Crosswinds to discuss integration and the value the schools bring to the state of Minnesota. Additional efforts focused on recruitment, as the uncertainty of the previous years had seriously damaged enrollment. They created yard signs and bumper stickers, staffed a State Fair booth, and spread the word far and wide about the schools. Lastly, while working in support of the schools the group held a gathering with community leaders on the topic of school integration, and created a network of stakeholders for this broader mission.
As the 2014 legislative session neared, EMID Families worked with Roseville, Perpich, and legislative members to ensure this session would bring them success. Throughout the session members spoke out to legislators and watched over the process to ensure its success. “Misinformation muddied the effort last session”, said Zander Sellie, a former Crosswinds students who spent countless hours at the capitol this session. “The best way to keep it from happening again was to be there to set the record straight every time it came up”.
Finally, on the last day of the session, EMID Families attained its goal of a sustainable future for the two integration magnet schools. Several members could be seen celebrating in the House and Senate gallery at session’s close.
The group now turns its focus to supporting the sustainability of the two school programs. They also plan to continue to work with established networks to support voluntary integration efforts across the Metropolitan area.