Back to School Brings New Energy, New Opportunities

This year, Back to School brought a new kind of jitters for me.

For the first time in 15 years, I was not directly involved in helping schools open their doors for the new year. There is a unique mix of nerves that comes with making sure a district’s schools are staffed up for day one, that every campus is prepped for students, and that the buses are running on time. I didn’t quite know how it would feel not to be part of that energy.

But since I became Generation Next’s executive director last October, it’s become even clearer that whatever side of the work you’re on, we all have a key role in rallying around our students—in particular those who come to school with less. I watched this idea come to life during the United Way’s Action Day a few weeks ago when, with my two children, I stood alongside 3,000-plus volunteers and 24 nonprofit partners, stuffing supplies into 12,000 backpacks so that Minneapolis and Saint Paul students could go back to school with the tools they need.

Scenes from Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 2017 Action Day
(Photo credit: Greater Twin Cities United Way)

There are no do-overs
Seeing all corners of the community come together for our schools was inspiring, and left me energized about the collective impact we can have. For an education nonprofit, the start of a new school year is a time to reflect, reset, and recommit, because for all of our students, this year on their path from cradle to career is urgent. There are no do-overs, and as nonprofit partners, it’s our job to help them make this year count. Unlike a teacher, they may not see our impact up in chalk on the blackboard (or, more likely these days, marker on whiteboard), but that doesn’t make our efforts any less urgent.

At Generation Next, we’re excited to do this work shoulder to shoulder with a coalition of likeminded partners, including the leaders of both school districts and the charters in our region. In June, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff joined our leadership council as co-chair. And a few weeks back, we were honored to co-host a welcome reception for Saint Paul Public Schools’ new superintendent, Joe Gothard.

        L-R: Sarah Caruso, Mary Gothard, Superintendent Joe Gothard, Dr. Eric Jolly, and Michelle Walker

What’s next for us?
As we continue pursuing our vision of closing the achievement gap in both cities, the Generation Next team has spent the summer looking hard at how we can get better. Just as I saw Back to School differently this year, we owe it to students to look at our work in new ways and, if needed, do our work differently. We’ll have some exciting things to share in the coming months—and we’re going to be sharing more, in general. Keep an eye on your inbox, on Facebook and Twitter, and on our website, which we’ll be redesigning in early 2018.

Welcome back to school!

In partnership,
Executive Director Michelle Walker and the Generation Next Team

Generation Next Names New Co-Chairs to Leadership Council

MINNEAPOLIS – May 10, 2017 –  President of the U.S. Bank Foundation, Reba Dominski and Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent, Ed Graff were named the new co-chairs of Generation Next’s Leadership Council today. Generation Next, the coalition of education, community, government and business leaders working to identify key approaches to eliminate Minneapolis and Saint Paul’s education achievement and opportunity gaps, chooses one co-chair from the business community and one from the education community.

Reba Dominski, a founding member of the Generation Next Leadership Council, president of the US Bank Foundation, and senior vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility at U.S. Bank, will serve from 2017-2019 representing the business community.

Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff will serve from 2017-2018 representing the education community. Generation Next intends to pass the seat to a Saint Paul education leader for 2018-2019.

Dominski and Graff succeed founding Generation Next Leadership Council co-chairs, Kim Nelson, senior vice president of external relations at General Mills, and Eric Kaler, president of the University of Minnesota, who have both served since 2012.

Says new co-chair Reba Dominski, “Generation Next has made significant progress addressing the unacceptable education disparities in the Twin Cities, especially in the areas of early childhood and high school graduation. I look forward to doubling down on my commitment to provide leadership in support of the coalition’s work.”

Ms. Dominski has also served as a member of the National Advisory Board for StriveTogether, the national organization that inspired the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Generation Next coalition. StriveTogether has produced positive student results in more than 20 metropolitan areas, including Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Boston, Portland and Dallas.

This is the first time that a school superintendent has been tapped to lead Generation Next, although both Minneapolis and Saint Paul superintendents have served continuously on the Generation Next Leadership Council since the organization was created. Involving superintendents in leadership allows Generation Next to increase its partnership with the school districts, and is a best practice in similar collective impact efforts across the nation.

“In more than 25 years as an educator, I’ve seen firsthand the impact committed partners can make in improving educational outcomes for students,” said Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff. “I’m honored and excited to offer my insights and experiences to Generation Next as we work together to ensure every child in the Twin Cities has the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.”

Michelle J. Walker joined Generation Next as Executive Director in October 2016 after nearly a decade in leadership positions within Saint Paul Public Schools.

“The support of the Generation Next Leadership Council has not waivered since its inception,” said Ms. Walker, “and that is largely due to the creative and committed leadership of Kim Nelson and Eric Kaler. I am extremely confident that our new leaders will continue and accelerate the momentum we have built. I welcome Reba and Ed to their new roles and look forward to Kim and Eric’s ongoing engagement in this effort.“

In addition to identifying effective key approaches on behalf of student success, Generation Next also leverages and activates the community’s collective resources to bring those approaches to students.

The non-profit organization focuses its efforts in support of six key outcome areas: 1) kindergarten readiness; 2) 3rd grade reading; 3) 8thgrade math; 4) social-emotional learning; 5) high school graduation; and 6) post-secondary attainment.


About Generation Next: A powerful coalition of civic, business and education leaders, Generation Next aims to close the achievement and opportunity gaps for students of color in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. It uses rigorous data analysis and community engagement to identify what works to close these gaps, and replicate the most promising practices.