The “Patch” on “STEAM”

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

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2 Responses to “The “Patch” on “STEAM””

  1. wants2know Says:

    This magnet school will do little to benefit the neighborhood and set up a segregated school although necessarily not in the traditional sense. It is a niche school marketed as such and subject an unfair method of determining the makeup of enrollment.

    Is this an example of what the District means by equity?

  2. Matt Wolfe Says:

    This is such a sham. We just realized that a few weeks back….after we sent in our enrollment for the immersion school, that 281 changed the admissions policy and now will have the same “fair” lottery for RSIS and STEAM. So because our household lives outside of walking distance to Olson, makes more than 95k per year, but still lives in the district, and we don’t already have a sibling enrolled, we get no priority for placement whereas someone who is in poverty, or even out of the district gets a better shot at this school that my property taxes are paying for. Nice “lottery” where some kids only get one ticket, but the liberals are passing out extras tickets to better the odds of out of district families and those that make less. I’m sorry but what the fish does income have to do with getting your kid into a good kindergarten? 281 is sad. I hope we get into another districts immersion program at this point because we have zero chance at RSIS.

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