Upset? Reading Horizons wants to meet with you

September 21, 2015

Reading Horizons redux: What’s happening now with the Minneapolis Public Schools’ controversial dealings with Utah-based Reading Horizons?

Read on. If you would like to start at the beginning of this story, here is a link to the first blog post I wrote about it: Phonics or indoctrination? Minneapolis teacher training takes a step backwards

Shaun Walsh was the first person to speak out at the September 8 Minneapolis school board meeting. Walsh used her three minutes of public comment time–which the district does not record–to assail the Minneapolis Public Schools’ problematic $1.2 million deal with the Reading Horizons company.Image result for can we just be friends

Now, Reading Horizons would like to meet with her, to clear the air.

At the board meeting, which Reading Horizons officials apparently wanted to attend, until Minneapolis interim superintendent Michael Goar’s office told them not to, the school board voted to sternly chastise Reading Horizons, but also to continue working with the company (perhaps because the district will lose the $1.2 million it has already spent on this).

That night, the degree of forgiveness some board members and district officials were willing to grant Reading Horizons led one parent in attendance to ask–in frustration–whether Reading Horizons was being treated like a person and not a for-profit company. Also, board member Tracine Asberry wondered aloud why the same level of forgiveness and consideration was not being shown to district staff and families who were upset over the Reading Horizons deal.

The forgiveness has continued since then, with Minneapolis officials busily trying to arrange meetings with disgruntled community members, on Reading Horizons’ behalf.

Here is the email Walsh received from school board administrator Jesse Winkler, on September 17:

Dear Community Member,

Reading Horizons has requested to speak individually with community members who spoke at our last Board of Education Meeting.  They would like to offer you the opportunity to hear directly from someone on the Reading Horizons team.  Please let us know by 5:00 p.m. Monday, September 21st if you would like us to share your contact information with a member of the Reading Horizons team.

Interim superintendent Michael Goar; photo from StarTribune

Jesse Winkler |

Administrator to the Board of Education 

Walsh responded to district officials and board members on September 18, letting them know that a meeting with a Reading Horizons team member is not what she is looking for. Here is her email, which I have edited for length:

Jesse, Superintendent Goar, and members of the Board, 

While I appreciate that Reading Horizons has made a commitment to improving their curriculum, my central issue is not with Reading Horizons and I have no interest in taking time from my family or my job to meet with them.

…my issue is not with Reading Horizons – my issue is with Minneapolis Public Schools and the Board.  Not only did MPS invest 1.2 million dollars without adequately vetting the material or company, but MPS spent tax payer dollars without a contract to protect those dollars.  MPS administration are the ones who did not stop or interrupt a training when offensive things were being implied about MPS students.  MPS administration did not disrupt when the books were initially passed out.  The Superintendent’s initial response was the books are only a small part of the whole.  A significant number of Board members expressed that either this was the right company to keep working with or that now MPS is in a position to help heal this company and improve resources for other districts.  MPS administration sent the email to teachers informing them that you will be moving forward with Reading Horizons.  And now, MPS is using more resources to have various staff meet with Reading Horizons.

…My issue is with MPS because you are ignoring community members, a portion of your board, your student representative to the Board, and I believe your own ethical compass….

As I said in my comment at the Board meeting–I am asking you to walk away from this contract. Not doing so is clearly telling the community that you will give our money to a company that produces racist materials. Now, you are wasting even more of our money by spending staff hours working with this company to improve their work. Like only having a purchase agreement, this is horrible business practice, they owe us money and should be paying us to consult with them.

I would like to close my long-winded email with two main points:

1) You put a student representative on the Board for a reason. You should be listening to him.

2) You should not be contacting us on behalf of Reading Horizons. You have missed the message. You should be contacting us because you, MPS, wants to meet with concerned citizens/educators/business owners/parents who are taking their time and energy and would like to help you do better. Please review the letter written by Shana Dickson, Chaun Webster, and David Boehnke and signed by many, many community members for the full message.

Shaun Walsh

Image result for noah branch

Noah Branch; photo from Kare 11

Parent, community member, youth worker

In her email, Walsh sings the praises of student board representative Noah Branch, who clearly asks why the district would even consider keeping Reading Horizons around. A video of the September 8 board meeting can be found here. 

A further, lingering issue here is that there is no publicly available copy of a current organizational chart for the Minneapolis Public Schools. For months, a notice on the district’s website has said the org chart is “currently being revised.” The problem? Who is responsible for what in the district? Who initially pushed the Reading Horizons contract through?

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