Archive for December, 2011

District Defense of STEAM

December 31, 2011

Well, District 281 continues to use their well-oiled machine to pump it up for the new STEAM magnet school at Olson elementary.  Communications director Tia Clasen wrote this in the sun post last week;

As the administrator in charge of marketing and communications in the Robbinsdale Area Schools, I need to dispel some misconceptions about the Olson STEAM magnet so that our communities have the correct facts.

Misconceptions? Having the correct facts? People who oppose the magnet idea disagree with the concept, they aren’t ignorant of the facts!

Let me clarify: the financial model used for the STEAM magnet does require open enrollment. That should come as no surprise, as in order to create new programming, funding is needed, and rather than “take away from existing programs,” we wish to bring in new funding that comes with new students, or with students who may previously have attended schools other than Robbinsdale Area Schools.

Open enrollment is required?? We’ve been accused of making that up! I guess we were right!

The one-third number that is being conveyed doesn’t solely come from the new magnet. It is a ratio of the number of seats at that school that would be above and beyond the current open enrollment in the district and could be filled by new students coming to any school.

So the one-third number is right or wrong?

The financial model uses numbers that are in keeping with the current percentage of open-enrolled students in the district (approximately 10 percent).

Regarding the financial timeline, the district would begin to see revenue as a result of the STEAM magnet after year nine, using a very conservative financial model. Then the revenue enhancement increases, with an over $5.5 million revenue enhancement in year 14.

Of course, that’s assuming everything stays the same 14 years from now…..

Implying that we can continue to be an exemplary district by contracting within our own walls is simply not forward thinking. I personally don’t wish to “exist,” but to grow and continue to offer students the best possible education anywhere.

Who is implying that? We can’t be a good district unless we open another magnet? According to District 281 they are already the best at everything!

As both a former teacher and coordinator of magnet programs, a “school-within-a-school” model of programming, for STEAM specifically and at the elementary level, is not feasible nor what is best for students. I’m not sure how one assumes this can be done in a “school-within-a-school” model. Would kids be pulled out to learn STEM? If so, that’s not STEM education. Would the school pool their K-5 students together in a STEM classroom? If so, how would that work with such a vast difference in curriculum, age of students, and developmental level?

Wait a minute? Wasn’t the “school within a school option” presented by the district? If it wasn’t feasible, why was it ever mentioned as an option?

The development of a STEAM magnet at Olson Elementary School will provide options for families, and give new families the opportunity to experience the great things that Robbinsdale Area Schools has to offer.

Yes and remember choice is great as long as Robbinsdale provides it.  What if a charter school pushed the STEAM program and offered “choice to our area.” Would District 281 love that?

It will also have a direct effect on the learning across the district.

While I appreciate the opinions of others, this district is moving forward; it is innovative and fresh. Things are happening all across the district that is taking our students to the next level. We must jump on this train of fast-changing education for the benefit not only of our students, but our community members, our residents, and our students yet to come.

We are moving forward and you better get on board!

Tia Clasen is the marketing and communications program director for the Robbinsdale Area Schools.

It Only Takes Nine

December 18, 2011

The ninth time is the charm for Brooklyn Center School District 286! They passed a referendum! Yippy!!!

From KARE 11 news;

After giving the thumbs-down in 8 previous referendums, voters in Brooklyn Center have approved renewing the district’s operating levy. The renewal, passed on a vote of 513 yes votes to 196 no votes (72 to 28 percent), will continue to provide $337 per pupil for ten more years. That amounts to a total of approximately $600,000 per year.

Wow look at that voter turnout! They finally decided that if they hold a vote right before Christmas enough people will ignore it for it to pass!

“We are so grateful that our community approved this levy renewal,” said School Board Chair Cheryl Jechorek. “Stable sources of funding are critical to our ability to provide students with quality educational programming.” Because the renewal will generate the same level of funding the Brooklyn Center schools currently receive, it will not improve district programming nor will it solve the district’s overall financial challenges.

It will help the district keep classroom teachers and aides, maintain technology for learning and provide support for students at all levels. The Brooklyn Center School District has cut more than $10 million from its budget in the past decade because state funding is not keeping pace with educational costs.

Instead of throwing money at the problem, we AGAIN call on the state to eliminate this district!!!!

How Exciting! The New Education Panel is Here!

December 18, 2011

According to the Sun Post;

Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius announced the names of panelists last week. The Teacher Evaluation Working Group was mandated by the Legislature as part of the new teacher evaluation law passed during the 2011 special session. The panel, slated to meet through August 2012, will develop an evaluation model to be used by school districts and teachers in the event they do not agree on a local evaluation model, according to a press release from the Department of Education.

Peter Eckhoff of New Hope, president of the 900-member Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers, is one of 35 state educators being charged with developing a new evaluation system for Minnesota teachers.

So the person who chosen for this panel to evaluate teachers is the person who their top union negotiator?  We’re sure he’ll be in favor of tough new standards!

You think that is bad here is the list of the 35 member panel from the Echo Press of Douglas County;

Beth Anderson, Secondary Music teacher; Esko Public Schools

Gwen Rosha Anderson, Elementary ELL teacher; Rocori Public Schools

Jay Anderson, High School Math teacher, Local President; Osseo Public Schools

Shawn Andress, Middle School Social Studies teacher; Park Rapids Public Schools

Jim Bartholomew, Education Policy Director, Minnesota Business Partnership

Dan Beck, Middle School Social Studies teacher, Local President; Roseville Public Schools

John Bellingham, Social Studies teacher; Board of Teaching member; Faribault Public Schools

Chithra Binoy, Parent, PTA; Wayzata Public Schools

Mary Bischoff, High School Media Specialist; Orono Public Schools

William Book, Elementary principal, Moundsview Public Schools

Laura Bordelon, Senior Vice President, Advocacy, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Maggie Borman, 2nd Grade Teacher, Best Academy East, Minneapolis, Teach for America

Karrie Boser, High School principal, Pierz Public Schools

Peter Eckhoff, Middle School Classroom teacher; Robbinsdale Public Schools

Amy Galatz, Elementary principal, Deer River Public Schools

Sue Ann Gruver, Superintendent, Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools

David Heistad, Director of Research, Evaluation & Assessment, Minneapolis Public Schools

Joseph Hill, Superintendent; Sartell Public Schools

Ann Hobbie, Parent, Parents United; St. Paul Public Schools

Lynda Ihlan, Life Sciences teacher; Farmington Public Schools

Randall Keillor, Student Performance Improvement Program Coordinator, St. Francis Public schools; retired teacher

Randi Kirchner, Education Minnesota Staff-Rochester

Lloyd Komatsu, Director of Assessment & Testing; Forest Lake Public Schools

Stephanie Larson , Elementary teacher; South Washington County Schools

Jackie Magnuson, Teacher in Northfield; School Board Chair, Rosemount-Apple Valley- Eagan

 Mary Cathryn Ricker, MS English teacher; President, St. Paul Federation of Teachers

 Curt Rock, Elementary teacher; Foley Public Schools

Jeff Ronneberg, Superintendent of Schools; Spring Lake Park Public Schools

Jodi Sapp, School Board Member; Mankato Public Schools

Mistilina (Misty) Sato, Associate Professor Department of Curriculum & Instruction; Teacher Development; University of Minnesota

Louise Sundin, BOSA & MNSCU board member; Retired teacher/former Minneapolis Teacher President

D. John Sylvester , MSBA Staff; St Peter

Brenda Vatthauer, Middle School principal; Montevideo Public Schools

Neil Witikko, High School English teacher; Hermantown Public Schools

It’s funny how the paper doesn’t even identify Eckhoff as the RFT union president! You just have to love this list! Union presidents, superintendents, PTA members, and the “non-partisan” Parents United Group get to come up with a new evaluation program for teachers! We just can’t wait to see what they come up with!!!

The “Patch” on “STEAM”

December 11, 2011

All we can do is shake our head at this from the Golden Valley Patch (sorry for the length of this);

Part 1

For one decade, the building at 1751 Kelly Drive was a thriving elementary school and the pride of its surrounding Golden Valley neighborhood. Sigurd Olson Elementary School opened for the 1971-72 school year. In January 1980, the Robbinsdale Area School Board voted to close it.

For years, the building has been an on-again, off-again home to various school and community programs. Recently, it was used as a temporary school when other active Robbinsdale schools were under renovation. But now the building will once again become an elementary school. On Monday night, the school board unanimously approved the creation of a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) elementary magnet school to open beginning with the 2012-13 school year.

The vote was unanimous? You have to love all the dissent and differences of opinion on the school board!

City Council Member DeDe Scanlon lives in the Olson neighborhood, and over the last few months has sent numerous letters to school board members, urging them to bring STEAM to Olson. Her son attended a Spanish immersion school, and Scanlon said her other children might have attended Olson had it not closed.  Scanlon said when the school closed, the neighborhood, and the city, lost some of its identity.

“Olson has brought such a sense of sadness for all these years,” Scanlon said. “Anyone who has an empty school in their neighborhood knows the feeling that something’s missing. There’s been this piece of the puzzle, of our community, missing for 30 years.” Then last November, a divestiture committee recommended that the district hold on to Olson, but it didn’t give any recommendations for how the building should be used.

“A sub-committee worked from May 2010 to July 2011, investigating a range of magnet options like Spanish immersion and STEM,” said Lori Simon, executive director of education services for the Robbinsdale Area Schools. “There was slightly more interest in STEM from families, and there were more qualified STEM teachers than Spanish teachers.”

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and according to the district, is “a rigorous academic framework focusing on research and critical thinking.” Simon said districts that have implemented this magnet program have generally found success in receiving state and federal grants.

But the district decided to take the program a step further.

“The district added the Arts (A) in STEAM to reflect its deep commitment to and recognition of the arts as a critical component of education,” said Tia Clasen, district communications director, in a news release Tuesday. In a recent blog post for Patch, Clasen explained the value of adding the arts to the tradition core curriculum. “In this age of standardized testing and emphasis on math and science, we can’t forget those who came before us, such as Leonardo daVinci, who bridged science and art,” she wrote. Simon said it would enhance a student’s education, but it would also set their STEAM program apart from the various STEM programs in the area.

Like we keep saying, arts will become the focus of this, not science and math. Let’s see what else Simon says;

“Revenue generated through STEAM would also provide the district with opportunities for other programs and schools and for students at other schools in the district,” she said. Simon said federal grants for programs like STEAM can be in the neighborhood of over $100,000.

When Olson first opened, the school used an individual progress model, allowing students to move ahead at their own pace. It was a new concept at the time, just like STEAM is a relatively new concept now. “The district has always been very innovative—language immersion, for example,” Scanlon said. “To go into this program, it would be grand.” The district had considered both Olson and Pilgrim Lane in Plymouth, but Simon said Olson is nearly move-in ready, while Pilgrim Lane would need significant improvements before opening its doors.

Where is the for sale sign at Pilgram Lane? Simon says more;

Because STEAM is so new, the next step for the district is to further develop the STEAM model and to come up with an enrollment plan. “In order for the model to be successful and financially feasible, we need to reserve a third of the seats for open enrollment,” Simon said. “We’re most likely looking at a lottery situation for the other two-thirds, but that will be determined later this month. We need to be sure the student body reflects the district’s overall enrollment.”

Now how do you interpret that?

1) One-third of the students are reserved for open enrollment

2) We “most likely will lottery the rest” yet…

3) We need to be sure the student body reflects the district’s overall enrollment

So we are going to have a “lottery” that “reflects the district’s overall enrollment?”

If we have conditions to getting in like siblings and the district’s obsessions, race, and free and reduced lunch then it really isn’t a lottery is it?

DeDe Scanlon said one of the challenges for Golden Valley has been uniting a community divided by highways and two school districts. She said the re-opening of Olson for the 2012-13 school year is one way the city will be able to come together. “What an opportunity for Golden Valley. This is going to give life to our neighborhood and to our community. It will give us a better sense of self that’s been missing for quite some time.”

Part 2

When Anne Borgen’s husband, Dan, took a job with North Memorial Hospital back in 1974, the couple moved from Iowa City, Iowa, to the Twin Cities. They could have chosen other cities or other neighborhoods, but they ended up in Golden Valley. “Olson School is the reason we bought a house here,” Borgen said. “We were excited for our girls to attend the school and it seemed to be the center of a lovely neighborhood.”

Sigurd Olson Elementary School was named after the environmentalist and first opened its doors for the 1971-72 school year. The Borgens loved the school on Kelly Drive so much that when they needed a bigger home, they decided to build one just down the street. “Before the roof was put on, we found out Olson would close,” Borgen said. In the nearly 10 years the school was open, the Robbinsdale District’s enrollment shrunk by nearly 10 thousand students—from about 27,500 to about 17,000. So in 1980, the school board decided to close the school.

Borgen said when she read the headline on Jan. 24, 1980, (see attached photo), she was shocked and saddened. “My two kids just loved it there. It gave the neighborhood an identity,” she said. “It had become a community center of sorts, and then it was just taken away.” Since the school’s closing, the building has been and on-again, off-again home to various school and community programs. But in the minds of Borgen and other neighbors, it’s essentially been an empty building filled with memories of children’s laughter and unique learning.

“It wasn’t pleasant when it’s been vacant,” Borgen said. “People trashed the building, and it would become an eyesore. As long as it’s in use, it’s fine. But even when it’s used for something other than an elementary school, it’s just not the same. It hasn’t been the same for 30 years.”

Then last November, a divestiture committee recommended that the district hold on to Olson. On Tuesday night, the school board voted to create a STEAM magnet school there. STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. According to the district, the program would integrate the arts into “a rigorous academic framework focusing on research and critical thinking.” When she heard talk of bringing STEAM to Olson School, Sonia Casey was excited. She, her husband and her two children live in the Olson neighborhood, and she’s been shopping for a kindergarten for her preschool-age son, Dylan.  “This is what I find interesting looking at my neighborhood—the families around us within a one-block radius mostly send their kids to Noble Elementary with a few exceptions,” she said. “Otherwise, one Meadowbrook, one RSI (Spanish Immersion) and one charter school within this one-block radius.” Casey attends a book club with friends who live about four blocks south of her. She said everyone seems to attend a different school—Noble, RSI, Breck, Meadowbrook, Good Shepherd and City of Lakes Waldorf.

Ahh….that won’t change with STEAM. It makes no difference where you live. This is not a neighborhood school it is a magnet meaning living by Olson has nothing to do with whether your kid attends.

Borgen describes the Olson School of the 1970s as a “community center of sorts.” The Olson of 2012-13 will be much different in that it will draw a third of its students from outside the district and will use a lottery system for the other kindergarten through fifth-grade students in the district. That’s OK with Sonia Casey. “It will entice families to move here and not move out—like across the border to the Hopkins district,” she said. She said she hopes it will also keep high-achieving students and their families in the district, as well.

Casey said she hopes STEAM will be a new way the district can market itself, and that’s a relatively new concept in public education. In fact, STEAM didn’t come to fruition because the district was looking for innovative ways to educate its kids—it was looking for an innovative way to build revenue.

There you have it; It’s not about educating kids, it’s about generating “revenue” or as we call it tax money. No wonder the teachers’ union loves this!

Once again Simon says;

“The (divestiture) committee found that over time, the model would pay for itself and bring additional revenue,” said Lori Simon, executive director of education services for Robbinsdale Area Schools. Simon said in the end, STEAM is actually one of the positive side effects of state budget woes.

“I raised two sons in a more traditional school system,” she said. “And I just think it’s really exciting for families to have more options.” Casey said she’ll be at the Feb. 13 parent information night, and said having her first choice of elementary schools right in her neighborhood is great, even if her son doesn’t get to attend. She said she’s confident they’ll find the right fit somewhere close to home.

“I am just happy that I’m not in the Chicago Public School system, where my sister-in-law is pulling her hair out researching some 200 school options for her son,” she said. “She then applies for 20 schools for the lottery and not at all guarantee her top choices.”

So Mrs. Casey likes the fact that there are more options but doesn’t like the Chicago school system because there are too many options? By the way choosing between public school one and public school two is not choice.

Borgen said she had hoped for years that Olson School would re-open. And while many of the children might not all be from the neighborhood, Borgen said it will still bring people together. “Just seeing the principal greeting the kids in the morning and at lunch—it gave the neighborhood an identity,” she said. “And I think the new Olson School will do the same thing.”

We have and continue to oppose this for the following reasons;

1) This will do little to improves the education gap, in fact, by creating another “special school” the gap may widen

2) It will be 8-10 years before this school “makes a profit” or “generates positive revenue” and that is only if the school funding formulas stay the same.  What if they are different in 4, 6, or 8 years?

3) It opens another building that we cold have sold to help pay for Northport and Lakeview

4) Opening another building means more staff costs, more transportation costs, and more utility costs

5) We think this school and especially the “lottery” and the “one-third of the kids coming from outside the district” will divide the community further

6) Our neighborhood schools will just fall further behind

Study Hall, Buses, and STEAM

December 4, 2011

Once again from the Sun Post;

A final decision on restructuring the format at Plymouth and Robbinsdale middle schools was expected to be made at the Robbinsdale School Board meeting Nov. 21. It will be the first of three budget adjustment decisions slated for this fall. On Dec. 5, the school board is expected to vote on whether to retain its in-house bus transportation system, and whether to open a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) magnet program at Olson School in Golden Valley in the fall of 2012.

At a School Board work session Nov. 14, Supt. Aldo Sicoli said he is recommending keeping the in-house bus system, provided that district officials can identify at least $700,000 in savings in the transportation budget. Administrators also are recommending moving ahead with a new STEAM magnet school, at a projected cost of $1.1 million. Restructuring the middle school format, at a cost of $500,000, will consist of increasing the time spent on task in most classes. It also means that study halls would be abolished. Students who need help in reading and math will receive “double-dosing” in those areas, using the time previously allotted to study halls.

“This is the one we’re most excited about,” Sicoli said. “This is administration’s top priority. We are not using the current day as efficiently as we could. This will allow us to give every student without proficiency in reading and math another class in it. “We think this holds tremendous potential in helping students academically. It’s a bit of an expense, but it’s well worth it. Students struggling with reading or math will make more progress in a second class than in a study hall.” Boardmember Sherry Tyrrell applauded the idea. “I have abhorred study hall; it’s the biggest waste of time,” Tyrrell said. “If this works, it will be a very small price to pay for a great, great opportunity for our kids.” The plan will involve hiring up to 11 new math teachers, according to Gayle Walkowiak, executive director of teaching and learning.

A STEAM magnet school, proposed to open in the fall of 2012, would mean that one-third of the enrolling students would be nonresidents. The $2.17 million expenditure would be partially offset by $1.25 million in open-enrollment revenue.

Yes, do you here that? One-third must come from non-residents! They said it, not us!!!!

Sicoli said district officials are “pretty confident” that a STEAM magnet school is a way to increase student enrollment. “We are even more confident of the financial model than we were before,” Sicoli said. Potential grants could offset start-up costs, officials said.

Of course “grant money” is another word for tax money. Someone is paying it right?

Officials believe the magnet will create more choices for families and more professional opportunities for the current district staff. Boardmember Patsy Green noted that a high level of interest in such a magnet school is district-wide. “We’ve got those numbers, we’ve got that data, and I’m very comfortable with this,” Green said. She said the district’s 15 months of research and study on the magnet proposal have shown that people are “very dedicated to making this work.”

“No one has a Crystal ball,” Green said. “No one knew 25 years ago that Spanish immersion would be the success that it is. Keeping and retaining students is a smart budget choice. This is a choice families want.” She also said a magnet school will complement Robbinsdale Area School’s image as an arts district.

Just as we suspected; arts will become the focus of this, not math and science.

However, Boardmember Helen Bassett warned that “this is the kind of issue we can never relax on.” “This is costing big dollars,” Bassett said. “This is something we can’t take our eyes off.” Administration’s “paramount concern,” according to Sicoli, is that the student body may not reflect the diversity in the district. “There are steps we can take to increase the likelihood that it will,” he said.

He said he is confident the district can develop a high-quality program, noting that every third-, fourth- and fifth-grade teacher in the district is receiving STEM training. “We intend for this to be the best STEAM program around,” Sicoli said. “There aren’t a lot of STEAM programs.”

Tyrrell said the budget-cutting the district has done during the last four years is allowing what she referred to as “a reinvestment in our schools without having to re-boundary.” She said other district schools would reap the benefits of the magnet school, as well. “I see this as a little Petri dish,” Tyrrell said.

Re-investment? You mean an increase in spending.

Boardmember Tom Walsh said his concern is that the district needs to find “really qualified people” to teach the magnet school courses.

Really Mr. Walsh? The district has supposedly spent 15 months studying this and you don’t know if there are “really qualified people” to teach it?

“One benefit is that we get to select the staff,” Sicoli said. “The president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers is 100 percent behind that. Teachers will know what they’re getting into when they apply.”

Oh wow! The Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers is behind this, we’re shocked! Of course they are. Here comes a whole new school full of union members!

Boardmember Linda Johnson cautioned that even though the district is enthusiastic about a new magnet school, “we need to think about what else we can do for our neighborhood schools.”

Exactly! This is why we’ve supported the “school within a school” since the beginning.

According to Board Chair Barb Van Heel, “the ultimate success of this school is if we get people to move into the district.”

What? The ultimate success is to get people to move into the district? We thought the ultimate success was to educate kids!

On the bus service, it sounds like the district is going to compromise;

District officials are recommending reducing the cost of the current transportation operation by $700,000 and then retaining the current in-house system, Sicoli said. Contracting for bus service would save an estimated $1.3 million, Sicoli said. But he said keeping the current in-house system makes sense.

“We could save more by contracting out, but we value the good work our drivers do,” Sicoli said. “There are some advantages to having the busing in-house.” The district now owns 105 buses and leases five small buses that deliver students to and from school via 74 regular education routes and 17 special education routes. The district also contracts with an outside company for an additional 59 routes.

The district currently has 135 transportation employees, including full- or part-time bus drivers, bus assistants and mechanics. Not all of them drive buses all day long. Twenty-seven of the employees are full-time bus drivers/custodians; 90 are part-time drivers. Jeff Priess, District 281’s executive director of business services, said officials have studied eight modeling scenarios, and have talked about working with the transportation dept on ways to create efficiencies.

“The biggest component is providing for some split shifting that would save $250,000 and eliminate a lot of overtime,” Priess said. One of the issues on the table, Priess said, is employee absenteeism in the transportation department. The 27 full-time drivers average 13.2 absent days per year, he said. “On a daily basis, we have, on average, 20 drivers standing by, and that’s a lot,” Priess said. Substitute drivers who are on standby are guaranteed three hours of pay a day, even if they don’t end up driving a route, Priess said.

Guaranteed three hours of pay for doing nothing????

Additional savings can be achieved by filling buses to a capacity of 80 to 85 percent, instead of the current 60 percent to 70 percent, Priess said, thereby reducing the number of buses needed each day.

Why hasn’t this been done already? We are sending out buses 60% full?

If finances don’t improve, Tyrrell said, further budget cuts in transportation are “always low-hanging fruit.” But, she added, “I appreciate the district working so hard to keep the busing in-house. That’s the direction we would all like to go.” Bassett agreed that “we may come to a place where we have to look at this harder and again.”

Van Heel said she believes there is value in having in-house busing. “There is value in drivers who live in the neighborhoods and know our neighborhoods,” Van Heel said. “There is a value in relationships. Going forward, we need to continue to look for savings.”

Well, there you have it; We should have answers Monday night and don’t forget the truth-in-taxation (if there is such a thing) before the regular meeting!