Why is Race so Important?

August 28, 2013

From the Sun Post;

At the its last meeting before the 2013-14 school year, the Robbinsdale Area School Board heard a report from Executive Director of Student Services Mike Favor, who broke down the student participation rates in extra-curricular activities – from basketball to choir – at Plymouth and Robbinsdale middle schools.

The focus of his presentation was the racial makeup of each activity in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years and how those makeups compared to the racial demographics in the schools as a whole. Favor’s presentation also included data for free and reduced-fee school lunches.

Who cares how many kids from free and reduced lunch participate in after school activities?

Some activities, according to the report, had higher rates of participation from some demographics than rates of enrollment. Boys basketball at Plymouth, for instance, was made up of 49 pecent black students, 35 percent white students, 6 percent Asian students, 5 percetn Hispanic students and 4 percent American Indian students in the 2011-12 school year.

Oh, look at that diversity!

The overall enrollment demographics at the school were noticeably different: 59 percent white, 23 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian and 1 percent American Indian. Other activities, such as girls swimming and drama, showed similar discrepancies, but with a higher degree of participation from white students than might be expected from enrollment data.

“There’s so many categories where there’s such a  huge discrepancy, what can we do as a board to help with your goal of having a lot of these activities represent and reflect the demographics of the district?” asked Boardmember Mike Bomchill.

What should we do Mr. Bomchill? Have racial quotas?

Favor answered first by mentioning that participation in extra-curricular activities can be subject to several factors.

“I think we have to take into consideration that many of our students have – even at the middle school – they may not have a job, but they’re often involved in activities at home and things that have to take place in their home and supporting their families,” he said.

“So I think that’s a piece that we need to look at,” he added, before answering in full. “But also getting the word out that the more you participate and the correlation between participating in activities and student achievement.” “I think it’s something that we need to get out and be intentionally engaging students…to be a part of some of the district activities.”

Boardmember Tom Walsh added his impression of the data Favor presented, saying that he felt a handful of sports may be skewing the overall picture of Robbinsdale Middle School.

“Robbinsdale overall had an improvement over this last year, the demographics overall more closely reflect the overall school population,” he said. “But it looks like that was done by, in many sports, creating bigger imbalances, such as in football and in boys soccer and in boys track.” Walsh referred to a 9 percent increase in the number of black students in boys track between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

“Many newer sports there (at Robbinsdale middle school) are pretty monochromatic … I think we still have a long way to go,” he said, adding that “If this is one of our goals then we keep our eye on that – the individual sports and activities.”

“I don’t know what there is that we can do to help direct the students, but it’s something that we do need to think about.”

Favor agreed, saying, “I think awareness around the goal is important, and, again, aligning the goal to the mission of what we’re doing with the unified district mission and aligning the goal to really support students, will impact them academically. I think identifying students to get involved … is central to improving the data across the board.”

In a follow-up e-mail, Superintendent Aldo Sicoli explained that Favor’s report is part of “something we’ve been monitoring for several years.” “We continually look for ways to make more progress,” he wrote, “it is part of our ongoing emphasis on education equity in our district.”

Bruce Beidelman, principal at Plymouth Middle School, had a chance to read Favor’s report.

“I’m very happy that, when you look at Plymouth Middle School, that the students participating at Plymouth, demographically, are almost identical to our demographics during the day,” he said.

Beidelman also noted that some school activities, such as swimming and football, have similar programs offered elsewhere in the community. “There’s so many community activities now. Kids may be participating in other community activities, but not at Plymouth,” he said.

“Some kids participate in both,” he added.

Robbinsdale Middle School Principal John Cook, responding via email, wrote that he had not seen the report, but mentioned that “the key for us is to get more RMS kids involved. I would rather focus on increasing the numbers of kids who participate in activities rather than the percentage of certain racial groups who participate in certain activities.”

If we want a color blind society, shouldn’t we stop judging everything based on race?

Sun Post dribble

281 Not Too Happy With DFL Legislature

April 19, 2013

The Sun Post has an interesting article written by the district’s finance director Jeff Priess.

Robbinsdale Area Schools has worked hard over the past several years under difficult economic and state funding conditions to ensure students receive an excellent education. We are proud of our student and staff accomplishments at local, state and national levels.

yes we already know 281 is the best at everything.

However, this hard work is in jeopardy and could hinge on several key decisions by legislators over the next few weeks.

The work of our district is to meet each student where they are academically and provide the knowledge and skills they need to pursue whatever form of post-secondary education they choose. Over the past five years, the Minnesota legislature has made decisions that froze the funding formula for three years (2008-2011), and provided $50 increases for two years (2011-2013), not nearly enough to even cover inflationary costs.

Ahh, what did we pass in 2008?

Our school board and administration have made difficult decisions to reallocate resources to both invest in new programs and stabilize school finances.

To make investments in new programs that ensure our students are competitive in the 21st century required rigorous assessment of opportunities and choices about the level of resources to be allocated between educational and operational programs. These efforts included efforts to rein in health care costs and transportation costs, while still maintaining an excellent level of service to all.

Due to those efforts, we were able to open the School of Engineering and Arts (SEA) this past fall, and will open a STEM magnet program at Robbinsdale Middle School in the fall of 2013.

We have piloted hybrid classes that combine online and classroom learning, and integrated technology more fully into instruction and learning. We initiated extension math and reading classes at the middle schools in order to help students who needed more instruction in those areas.

Can this district do anymore chest beating?

Currently Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget provides school districts with a 1 percent funding increase for next year. The Governor’s proposal provides school districts additional funds for special education to help defray every district’s “cross subsidy” – the amount that a district has to take out of its general fund to cover costs for mandated special education.

(For our district, that’s approximately $9.5 million of regular education dollars for special education.)

However, there are two proposed legislative areas that will actually set our district back.

The first is the Public Employees Insurance Program (PEIP), which allows employees to become part of a statewide insurance program that, sometimes, helps to keep costs down. Districts can choose to enter the PEIP program even without the legislation.  While PEIP is good for some districts, for others, it is not.

If Robbinsdale Area Schools is required to participate in PEIP, we estimate that we will incur an additional $3 million in insurance premiums, it will result in a reduction of employees’ network of physician choice, and the district will be forced to close the in-house NeoPath Clinic that is saving the district more $100,000 annually.

The second concerns integration revenue, which is in jeopardy. Our district receives approximately $2 million annually, providing funds for additional teachers, tutors and help for families. Because the 30 percent integration levy was not reinstated in the Senate bill, 30 percent of the integration revenue for our district would be eliminated.

The precious DFL wants to get rid of integration aid?

Our school board has worked hard to be excellent financial stewards. The state must be a partner in these efforts. I urge you to contact your legislators and tell them to ensure the House PEIP bill (HF573) is amended to be voluntary and the 30 percent integration levy is reinstated in the Senate bill.

Sun Post Story

1% Not Enough

March 28, 2013

It’s funny seeing the Robbinsdale Legislative Action Coalition complain about the governor’s plan for education. The LAC finally elects their people and they still complain.

From the LAC;

1% 

Governor Dayton’s budget plan calls for a one percent increase in the general education formula.  That 1% equates to approximately $52. per student.  There are 170 school days – is $0.31 a day really enough?  With budget targets on the horizon, you as a constituent, can make an impact.  Email or call your legislators today and tell them that the proposed 1% increase in the general education formula isn’t enough. 

OK they what should we cut to increase that? Should we cut transit? How about Health and Human Services? LGA? It would be nice to see some ideas, rather than just complaining.

Here are some other “features” in Dayton’s budget;

Governor Dayton’s budget  

Investments in E-12 learning – an increase of 1% in the general formula for FY2014

Yippy!

Increase in special education funding -$125 million investment beginning in FY 2015 by adopting the recommendation of the Education Finance Working Group.  

Teacher Evaluations – $10 million budgeted to create and implement a system that supports teachers and will continue to benefit all our student achievement.

With Dayton and the DFL in charge, you know these won’t have much bite to them.

Early Childhood Education Scholarships to ensure more children attend high quality preschool and child care. 

Fulfilling another liberal obsession.

English Learners – ensuring longer access to language skills to fully participate classroom learning. 

Investments to provide education, training and support for the prevention of school bullying.   

Bullying should be handled at the local level, no one size fits all policies.

So LAC should we cut some of the governor’s other “features” to increase the general formula? Again, it would be nice to see some real ideas.

  

Cooper has New Principal

March 28, 2013

From the Sun Post;

On March 4 District 281 Superintendent Aldo Sicoli recommended Christina Hester to assume the role of principal at Cooper High School in New Hope following Michael Favor’s move to Executive Director of Student Services and Secondary Schools at the district office.While Hester is Cooper’s new principal, she is a familiar face to many District 281 students and families. Hester, from California originally, moved to the Midwest to begin a career in college basketball coaching. She said she got the itch to begin teaching academically and earned her teaching license from Bethel University .She began student teaching at Cooper High School in 1993 and moved between a number of different roles within the district as she built her career.
Hester taught at Hosterman Elementary, Highview Alternative Program, was principal at Robbinsdale Middle School and became associate principal at Cooper under Favor. She left 281 to become principal at Skyview Middle School in North St. Paul and, following Sicoli’s recommendation, will return to District 281 as principal of Cooper beginning July 13.
Hester said she is excited to come back to the district she calls her “educational home.”

Q: What do you like about Cooper?
A: The people are awesome, I love the kids and the staff is great. It oozes that family atmosphere where kids know they are there to go to school. The warmth within the building is like no other.
Kids talk to each other and groups mix; they don’t isolate themselves. It’s a great opportunity to fill some big shoes, and to work with Mike [Favor] again because he will be my supervisor at the district office.
I want to grow Cooper into something bigger and better than it already is.

Q: Why do you consider District 281 your ‘educational home?’
A: It’s the people and the families. When you talk about staff who get it, and when you work with the large diverse community, you have people working together to do the best for the families and students of the district, regardless of who they are. That, to me, is just so critical in education.
Cooper is at 61 percent kids of color and 57 percent kids of poverty, you have to want to be there. You have to say ‘I signed up for this because I believe so much in the students in the building, and I want to make it the best I can.
Working at Hosterman and Highview really gave me an idea that this is what education is all about.

Q: How is your experience as associate principal of Cooper going to play into your new role?
A: I think the pre-established relationships that I have with staff are a huge deal. It’s a different role, being principal versus AP, but with staff and kids, it helps that they know who I am and where I’m coming from.
I’m hard, but I’m fair. It’s very important that kids know and understand what is expected of them. Our expectations are high and we’re going to hold them to that.
And if they don’t live up to that, we’re going to figure out how we get them there. We’re not just going to say ‘just do what you want to do,’ that’s not a part of the plan.
As an AP, I met with teams of teachers on a daily basis and the freshman class, when I was there, is now the senior class at Cooper, and they are leaving a legacy like non other.
We have built-in rigor at Cooper, but we’re going to give them the support they need to be successful.

Q: What can you say about Michael Favor?
A: What can’t I say? Mike came into the district when I was an AP at Robbinsdale Middle School, and I got to know him there.
He is a gentle giant. He is a man who understands what a building needs; from the adults down to the kids. He knows how to pull things out of people that they didn’t think were there, as far as full potential.
It’s not being critical about who students are, and critical of what they’re not doing. It’s about encouraging and acknowledging the good things and saying ‘hey, I love this, have you thought about that?’ And that’s the stuff that Mike does.
I’ll definitely be applying all that I learned from Mr. Favor.

Q: Where are some areas that you hope to improve at Cooper?
A: Every time I hear that question I say, ‘well, can I get there first?’ It’s a high school of 1,800 kids. You can talk about test scores all you want, it’s only snapshot of a day. But talking about the academic piece for kids and focusing on instruction and giving them the best possible.
That, to me, is an observation of teacher practice and classroom practice and seeing how we can make it better. Because, no matter where you go, classroom instruction has to get better, but that classroom gets better based on the relationship teachers build with kids.
When you ask ‘what is there to improve?” I think education and classroom instruction is always on the rise of improvement. And also, teachers working together and being more collaborative in what they do. And building a community of adult learners that trickles down into students being stronger learners. That’s probably where I’m first going to start.

 Q: What do you like about the leadership role of being principal at a school, what does it mean to you?
A: I love it because, as a classroom teacher, I found that I was effective. And when you’re effective and you’ve got 150 kids, its good. If I’m impacting 150 kids on a yearly basis, that’s pretty cool.
If you’re and administrator and you develop three teachers who have 150 kids, you just now impacted 450 kids indirectly because of the work you’ve done with teachers. That what I love about being a principal. It’s having an impact on adults and building them up as better educators and leaders to have an impact on their students.
Cooper has over 120 staff, so if I impact 10 of those people and they each have 150 kids, you do the math. It’s phenomenal. And it’s only because it’s about giving kids the access, the hope and a future about what they can be and what they want to grow to be.

Q: Any final thoughts?
A: I would say I’m one of those people who, if I don’t know you, introduce yourself. There are some people I do know, but I want to know everyone. I still have some connections with families, but I want new families to know not to be afraid of coming up to me.
I’m always open to meeting people and knowing faces. Don’t be shy, my door is always open.

Full Article

Enhanced Security at 281

February 7, 2013

Well District 281 has instituted new “security measures;

From the Golden Valley Patch;

If you want to visit a District 281 school, procedures to enter the building will be a little different beginning this week. On Monday, the district implemented a new visitor management system that uses visitors’ drivers license or government-issued photo to track visits and confirm identity of those entering the school.

“The safety of our students and the security of our buildings is extremely important to Robbinsdale Area Schools,” Jeff Priess, Executive Director of Business Services, said in a letter on Jan. 25. “In an effort to enhance school safety and security, Robbinsdale Area Schools will upgrade to electronic visitor management procedures effective February 4.”

According to Preiss’s letter, here’s how the new system works:

  • Visitors will now be asked to present a form of ID when arriving at any Robbinsdale Area Schools building.
  • A card reader records the name embedded in the magnetic strip or digital bar code. The reader also confirms the authenticity of the ID.     
  • School staff will hand the visitor a time-stamped visitor badge with his/her name printed on it to be displayed during the visit.

In order to maintain privacy, Preiss said that only a single day of visitor names is visible to school check in staff. School administrators can view past visitor records if needed.

Must show an ID? What about the poor and the down-trodden who supposedly don’t have an ID (voter ID debate last year ring a bell)? Are we discriminating against them? Isn’t this an undue burden on them?

And does showing an ID really make our schools safer??

Golden Valley Patch Article

Stable Enrollment for 281

February 5, 2013

From the Sun Post;

Enrollment trends in District 281 indicate that the next four years could see less than a 1 percent variance in the total number of students. Dennis Beekman, the district’s executive director of technology, presented information on 2012-2013 enrollment trends and projections during the Jan. 22 District 281 School Board meeting. Next year’s forecasts, he said, call for a slight decrease in student population (currently at 11,720) due to a smaller incoming kindergarten class than was enrolled this year.

Last year’s population estimate was 11,734 students. The total number of school-aged children in the district has declined 6 percent since 2003. “When we start analyzing factors for decline or growth, for the last 10 years, the largest single factor has been less resident students in our school district,” Beekman said. “The capture rate has changed … it’s trended downward. In the last couple of years, we have been chipping away at that.”

More than 71 percent of students living in the district attend district schools. This number is down from 78 percent in 2003, which is due, Beekman said, to the decline of school-aged kids living within the district itself. Last year saw a 0.7 percent increase, which was the second consecutive year that the percentage increased. The number of residents attending other public schools increased 38 percent 2005-2012, with charter schools’ enrolling nearly 700 District 281 residents since 2003. Open enrollment to other districts has increased 65 percent in the last decade, with the majority of students going to Hopkins and Osseo schools, Beekman said.

Open enrollments to Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center and Wayzata schools have been declining over the last three years.
Beekman noted that more than 90 percent of 1,320 student applications to open enroll elsewhere have been approved.
The number of nonresidents attending Robbinsdale schools has increased 26 percent since 2009. More than 85 percent of those non-residents come from the Osseo or Minneapolis school district.

This year’s retention rates are higher than in past years at all levels. More students are enrolled at the elementary level now than the total between 2008-2010. Enrollment at the high school level is down from last year but up from totals in 2009 and 2010. Beekman said that the retention rate this year at Cooper High School was “as good as I have seen in 10 years.”
Beekman forecast that the district’s overall student totals would vary between -0.6 and -0.2 percent until 2017. To put that in perspective, 2017’s total estimated student population of 11,544 is 176 fewer than the 2012 population.

In other actions during its Jan. 22 meeting, the District 281 School Board also:

• Received a report on general fund revenue assumptions from Executive Director of Business Service Jeff Priess. Priess said the district is forecasting an estimated $52 (1 percent) increase of in per-pupil funding from the state for next school year. The total amount expected to be received from the state is $75.2 million, which serves as the district’s primary source of funding.

The revenue assumptions report showed no changes to the district’s current teacher-student staffing ratios, which call for 18-25 students per kindergarten class through 27 students in each high school class.

• Received an outline of administrative changes that could be made by the end of the year with the retirement of Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Gayle Walkowiak. The titles and duties of Executive Director for Educational Services Lori Simon will change July 1 to executive director of academics and elementary schools.
Cooper principal Michael Favor will assume the duties of executive director of student services and secondary schools, and the district will also create a curriculum and instruction program director position.

“We will reduce or eliminate some positions so that this reorganization will be cost-neutral or will result in slight savings for the school district,” Sicoli said. More details about the reorganization will be available this spring.

Full Article

Behavior Improving at RMS?

February 5, 2013

According to the Sun Post;

Robbinsdale Middle School Principal John Cook prepared for his hourly hall monitor duties as the seconds on a red digital clock counted down to class dismissal time. When an electronic tone sounded, classroom doors opened and the hallway was flooded with the noise and energy of youth.

“RMS, are we going to be on time for learning?” he asks, his voice booming. “Are we going to be on time for learning today? Who said no? Somebody said no!” Cook turns another corner and is enveloped by a sea of eighth-graders hurriedly exchanging one set of books for another before their next class. Most of them, that is.

“Gentlemen,” Cook says, moving over to a group of young men clustered by a locker. “Gentlemen, what am I seeing? What are we seeing? You need to be walking and talking, let’s go y’all.” Data released by District 281 shows some positive behavioral changes at the school this year in comparison to last. Incidents of truancy and skipping class are down nearly 76 percent since and fights were down 29 percent in the school’s first semester. Incidents of insubordination are down 25 percent and incidents of abusive language are down 38 percent.

Robbinsdale Middle School implemented a program this fall cracking down on the number of tardy slips a student could receive in a given week. The theory, outlined in a letter Principal John Cook sent home to parents, was that there would be fewer incidents in the school’s hallways if more kids were “moving with purpose to class and being on time for learning.”

“We knew (last year) that we were coming into a building that had a reputation of having a difficult climate,” Cook said. “There was a lot of dissatisfaction from parents and staff in terms of the environment that existed in this building. We knew that we needed to make some changes.”

This year is Cook’s first full year as principal at Robbinsdale Middle School. Students from Sandberg Middle School were merged into Robbinsdale Middle School in 2009. Cook said this merging, combined with the Robbinsdale Middle School’ four-story layout, made for a difficult transition.

“We knew that we had to come after some areas that would have a positive impact on the climate,” Cook said. “We decided to attack, and I’m going to use the word ‘attack,’ tardies. “We figured that if we could reduce tardies in our building … it would mean fewer issues in our hallways, with fights, with arguments, that carry into the classroom.”

Student deans work with “check-in” sheets that rate a student’s behavior on a scale from 0-2. Good total scores at the end of the week are rewarded. Administrators are now assigned posts in the hallways, as are hall monitors, during passing times. These staff members are active and engaged with kids and keep an eye out for trouble. The operative words are “Walk and Talk.”

“If there are a group of kids that are standing at a locker, I or another staff member will say, ‘Hey, I see you talking, but you’re not walking,’” Cook said. “It’s OK to talk, but you need to move with a purpose. You are moving to class. We send that message over and over – ‘Be on time for learning.’”

Student discipline is handled differently this year, too, Cook said. Teachers refer students and the administration handles the issues. The school’s administration, Cook says, wants teachers to focus on academic issues, not disciplinary ones. Bette Blei, a seventh-grade English teacher who came to the school from Sandberg, said last year was so bad that she considered retiring.

“Horrible, horrible,” she said. “I’ve been teaching in this district for 28 years. It was my worst year, and I put that in writing to the school board. I saw what was happening. It was so out of control – where do you start?” Blei, who teaches over the summer, said she was worried to head back in the fall. When she came back, she saw that Cook had found his voice.

“I don’t know where the voice came from, but he found his voice,” she said. “He didn’t like what he was seeing last year, but it had snowballed to the point where it was out of control. (Now) we have more paid support, EnVOY (non-verbal communication training) in our building and had made some very smart changes.”

Blei said that she noticed the difference within the first month and credited part of that to everyone having the same expectations. “(The administration is) serious and I think it was because we had a plan in place,” she said. “It’s working. I feel like we are on a real positive course. I’ve had the fewest number of ‘F’s’ I’ve ever had.”

Lunch detentions are given for every four tardies. Parents of students at risk of lunch detention are called on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “When we implemented those phone calls, those numbers in detention went down,” Cook said. “When we call those families, you can hear those parents saying, ‘Hey, come here, why were you late to class? You need to get yourself to class, we’re not going to tolerate it.’”

Cook said he is “obsessed” with tardies now and is working on developing generating lists for eighth-graders four days a week. That group of students has the most tardies, he said.

Aileen White has three students in District 281 and works as a test aid. Her youngest will be a sixth grader at Robbinsdale Middle School next year, and her older children went through on their way to high school.

“The climate has changed dramatically,” White said. “I used to be a substitute education assistant, one of the silent people, and we’d see a lot of things,” she said. “It was the first year they were here. You got a lot of attitude, to the point where you didn’t interact with kids. I could see the toll it was taking on the teachers. I could choose whether I could be here or not.”

Something needed to be done last year, White said. Parents, she said, would talk to the board and hear that things were under control, but would hear differently from parents. It was evident that Cook returned to school this year with a plan, she said.

“John has connected with the teenage culture with his short expressions,” White said. “The kids get it and it’s easy for them to remember. There is no gray line. It’s right there and they know where it is. I think it makes for a more settled place. I don’t hear fearful concerns as much now.”

Robbinsdale Middle School, White says, is going to be “a fun place” for her youngest child next year.

“Kids can be sucked into negative behavior, but what we have found is that kids can (also) be sucked into positive behavior,” Cook said. “That’s one of the changes that we’re seeing. Kids are making an effort to get to class and learn on time. In some circles, it’s becoming socially unacceptable to be late for class.”

Cook said this year revolves around a simple message: we hold kids accountable, we are out and about, we praise them when they do well and we’re on them when they are not meeting expectations.

“They know that expectation is you have four minutes to get to class,” he said. “In time, this is just the way we are going to do business.” Another dismissal time looms. Cook is soon up with the eighth-graders again, encouraging and engaging them. “Ladies and gentlemen, we need to get moving,” he said. “Get in those classrooms, guys. When that (timer) hits zero, I want these hallways empty. On time for learning. Let’s go.”

Full Article

$1.5 Million in Savings

January 17, 2013

From the Sun Post;

Buses transporting students in District 281 are more technologically equipped this year – and, it seems, cheaper to operate. Changing bus service providers has saved District 281 more than $1.5 million dollars, according to information presented during the school board’s Jan. 7 work session. Director of Business Services Jeff Priess said the district’s total transportation budget is forecasted to come in around $7.9 million by June. In comparison, the district spent $9.6 million ($9.5 million, minus the severance payments) on transportation costs last year. The savings is due, Priess said, to the district outsourcing its transportation system services to First Student. The savings could be closer to $1.6 million when the final numbers come in. 

“We had a very expensive model in place (before),”  he said. More than $3 million was spent this year on the First Student contract, which  provides regular transportation to-and-from school, midday Kindergarten transportation, shuttles, late activity buses and summer school special education transportation. Contracted special education transportation services provided by Adams Services and the Metropolitan Transportation Network, come in at around $2 million. Management, operations, leasing, and special education driver and monitor salaries make up the remaining $2.9 million. The district currently runs 71 bus routes per day. Priess said two routes have been eliminated from the midday drives, with 19 routes remaining. More efficiencies like that could be made for next year, he said.Jared Reid, a First Student location manager, outlined some of the technological changes on buses this year allowing buses to be tracked, drivers to be kept accountable and students to be monitored. First Student is leasing the district’s buses, and has provided the technological upgrades for each. Every bus now has GPS in it, allowing First Student to track each bus using software called Ground Traffic Control to within two minutes of its last position. That delay is due to the time it takes for a signal to bounce of the satellite, Reid said. This allows First Student to track each stop the bus makes, down to the exact second. Timing and bus speed reports are also generated.

An electronic “pre-trip” checklist requires drivers to scan 11 inspection zones on the bus before departing for a route. If a repair need is detected, it is routed to maintenance for repair. Prior to this, drivers used a sheet of paper, Reid said, and the new electronic system not only records every inspection but allows for faster repairs. This same scanning device plugs into a cradle on the bus, where it automatically downloads information. Drivers also use the device to punch on and off the clock.Some of the technology, like a dual camera recording system with sound, is meant to record both route driving and the half-hour after a bus has been shut off for the day. To date, more than 115 requests for tape to aid in correcting student behavior have been made since September, Reid said, and video downloads are available the same day.“Some of this footage I will tell you is the most boring video you will ever see,” Reid said.Finally, A Child Check-Mate device requires drivers to go to the back of the bus at the end of a route to press a stop-and-check button. This verifies that the driver has checked the bus for sleeping children. An accompanying device, Theft-Mate, contains a motion detector, which tells anyone not authorized to get on the bus that the authorities have been notified, Reid said.The GPS and cameras fit with no modifications,” Reid told the Sun Post. “I do not know what the cost is per bus, but we expect the technology to last for the useful life of the bus. This is all new technology that First Student added to service the school district. Some of the buses did have cameras, but were not all live. 

Now, every bus has two cameras and (both are) live whenever the bus is operating.” The report also contained information on accidents and incidents recorded between September and December. With the exception of a hit and run incident in October (Reid declined to provide exact details, save to say that the incident was not the driver’s fault as someone had hit the bus and left), the majority of the 11 accidents reported involved side-swiping or tail swinging. An accident was defined as any incident which caused damage in excess of $100.

Full Article

Middle School STEM is Here

November 30, 2012

From the sun post;

The District 281 School Board approved a proposal Nov. 20 to start a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) magnet school next school year at Robbinsdale Middle School. Up to three sections will open for sixth-graders beginning in the 2013 school year. By 2014, the program will include students in grades 6-7, and students in grade 8 will be added by 2015.

Students matriculating from the School for Engineering and Arts at Olson Elementary will have first priority for enrollment in the new magnet. Additional seats will be filled through a lottery if applications exceed available supply. One change was made to the original proposal. An additional $67,300 was requested to remove two walls in the northeast corner of room 030, one of the rooms to be used for the program, and expand the lab space devoted to small electrical tool use. Those requested were made in addition to the $28,800  originally requested to remove a ramp and half-wall and relocate the south door in room 030.

A sample class schedule included with board documents indicates that students in each grade at the new STEM school would spend period seven, the final class of the day, in classes based on the “Gateway to Technology” curriculum. That curriculum, developed by Project Lead the Way, is currently being used in the district’s middle school technology education programs.

The proposed budget for the first year of classes at the new STEM program comes in at $253,100, with $152,100 for classroom improvements and enhancements. Transportation costs could total around $35,000. “I think this plan will work, and we’re pretty excited about it,” said Gayle Walkowiak, the district’s executive director for teaching and learning.

Board Clerk Mark Bomchill explained his reasons before against the proposal. “I will be (voting no) reluctantly,” he said. “I can’t support something that is going to increase transportation costs. I think that as much as I want a program like this, I can’t support this at this time.”

“One of the reasons that I like this is that students across the district have a chance the participate, and the skills … are the life skills in the 21st century,” said Director Helen Bassett. “I share some of the (transportation) reservations (Bomchill) has … (but) I’m interested in providing something that everyone could use.” The board (sans Treasurer Linda Johnson, who was absent) voted to approve the program, with Bomchill casting the sole vote against. The district opened its School for Engineering and Arts at Olson Elementary this past fall.

Levy Fails in Osseo

November 17, 2012

From the Sun Post;

When the numbers came in, voters had narrowly rejected both proposed levies, and only 83 votes separated the school board candidates in third and fourth place. That’s less than a tenth of a percent difference.

Because voters rejected both proposed levies on the ballot, the school district expects to cut about $14 million from the budget over the next two years. That includes $2 million of reductions to “align staffing with enrollment” that were projected to occur regardless of the election’s outcome.

“One of the things that’s frustrating about this is that our expectations for our work and the accomplishments of our students doesn’t change,” Supt. Kate Maguire said.

One of the levies voters rejected was a 5-year operating levy that would have provided $9 million per year. The other was a 10-year technology levy that would have raised $5 million per year. The operating levy received 33,792 “yes” votes, or 49.9 percent and 33,908 “no” votes, or 50.1 percent. That’s a difference of 116 votes.

The technology levy garnered 32,470 votes in favor, or 48.3 percent, and 34,757 votes against, or 51.7 percent. The difference was 2,287 votes. “It’s heartbreakingly close,” Maguire said. “Certainly I’m disappointed, and I’m disappointed because I know what it means. We’ve been here before. And I know the good results we’re getting for students in our community. … It’s going to be difficult to sustain that progress with fewer and fewer (staff members).”

In spite of the disappointment, Maguire said she’s grateful to everyone who supported the levies and worked to inform others. The district has estimated cuts will result in the loss of the equivalent of about 200 full-time positions.

According to Maguire, the advisory committee that looks at long-range financial planning has already worked to identify essential services, such as those required by law. In November and December the school board will begin having work sessions to consider the budget. The board will provide direction to staff, and the district will begin identifying specific areas for reductions in next year’s budget.

Full Article


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.