Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

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

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

More on Discipline and Classroom Problems

May 11, 2012

The Sun Post did a follow up on problems at RMS and PMS;

Parents of honors students at both District 281 middle schools came to a Listening Hour April 16 to express concerns about discipline issues at Robbinsdale Middle School.

Questions also were raised about the accelerated programs.

“There are huge discipline problems at RMS,” said parent Marna Gisvold. Jennifer Reynolds of Plymouth, another parent, agreed. “We need to bring it up,” Reynolds said. “Our students have a hard time getting to class because of issues in the hallways. They’re late to class because of things happening in the hallways.”

One father said his daughter is afraid to use the bathroom during school hours because of “things she has seen or heard.” “That issue needs to be addressed,” he said. “People aren’t comfortable. They need to look at why it’s happening.”

Another parent, who said she witnessed three incidents “in front of my face within 10 minutes” of being at the school, said, “It’s scary. The school needs a better reputation. It’s going down the slope. It needs to be great.” Supt. Aldo Sicoli said RMS Principal John Cook is working with Lori Simon, District 281’s executive director of educational services, on classroom management.

“John wants to talk about that; he wants ideas,” Sicoli said. “We’re not pretending we have all the answers to everyone’s concerns, but we do take them 100 percent seriously.” On his visits to the school, Sicoli said he has seen “very little that seems really bad.” “What’s reality and what’s perception?” he said.

However, Aileen White, a parent from Plymouth, said: “No one asks the substitute teachers and the EAs (educational assistants) what they observe. They are the silent people in the hallways. They see and hear what’s going on.”

Boardmember Helen Bassett said she considers it “really unfortunate” that discipline concerns are raised at the same time that a school is talking about program changes. “The issue of discipline in schools is a critical issue,” Bassett said. “To have discipline issues threatening program changes is extremely troubling to me. There is a core level of respect we expect from our students.”

Anything less, she said, “is just not acceptable in a school setting.” Of the 1,273 students at Robbinsdale Middle School, the International Baccalaureate program serves 88 sixth-graders, 112 seventh-graders and 128 eighth-graders.

Some of the school’s parents last week said they are concerned about changes proposed for next year that will split the teams of honors students. “This program is a draw to this school,” said Kitty Beal of Plymouth. “It is very well respected.”

She said parents are attracted by the desire for their students to experience the international flavor and critical thinking components of the program, which also has rigorous academic expectations. “I worry that RMS might lose some of its best and brightest [students],” Beal said.

However, Supt. Sicoli assured the parents that the program’s guidelines have not changed, nor will the rigor be lowered. “The only change is that some friends might be on different teams,” Sicoli said. “Some people are fearful that their students will be in more classes with students who are not serious about education.”

But, he added, “There will be more teachers teaching [honors classes] and that’s good for the school. It brings up rigor in all the classes.” Aileen White said parents were invited to a meeting with the principal last month. “Everybody went with open ears, but none of our questions were answered,” White said.

Marna Gisvold agreed. “No one asked us for input,” Gisvold said. “We thought we were being asked for input, and we got shut down.” Murray Levitt of Plymouth said he chose IB rather than Advanced Placement classes for his student.

“But a number of things have changed in the last two years,” he said. “One thing was the team concept and the support they gave to the kids.” He also cited frustration over the administration’s announcement of changes for next year, which was made “long after registration closed for Plymouth Middle School,” so parents who might have chosen to transfer their children no longer had that option.

“The district could have been more thoughtful so parents can make their decisions in a timely fashion,” Levitt said. White said she believes communication regarding proposed changes was targeted to current participants.

“Why weren’t all grade levels involved?” she said. “Why not fifth-graders? They are big stakeholders. The lack of communication upsets me beyond all belief. Stuff is being decided behind closed doors. It’s a slippery slope. They need to begin communicating with us in a timely and appropriate manner.”

Gisvold asked whether the district would consider reopening the Sandburg building to accommodate the growing number of middle school students in both buildings. No thought has been given to doing that, Sicoli said.

“I’m not opposed to smaller middle schools,” he added. “It would be a good thing. These are large middle schools and that does present a challenge.”

Plymouth Middle School parents are concerned about class sizes in pre-Advanced Placement courses. “That is a huge concern,” said Marie Peavey of Plymouth. “Larger teacher to student ratio means decreased personal attention to students.”

The school has an enrollment of 1,290 students. Last year, pre-AP classes at the school had an average of 31 students per class, she said, noting that next year, the average size will be 36 students.

“Those numbers are just too large,” Peavey said. “They only make sense in a high school or college lecture class, not in middle school. Sixth-graders need more interactive learning.”

Sicoli said he hasn’t been aware of larger pre-AP classes at Plymouth Middle.
“We don’t have the same class size throughout the school, but we’re not aiming for 35 [students] in the fall,” Sicoli said. “We’re not in that bad fiscal condition in this district.”

When District 281’s referendum passed two years ago, class sizes were reduced, Sicoli said. They were raised very slightly when budget cuts were made during the 2010-11 school year.

The district also allocated additional administrative staff to middle schools at that time, Sicoli said. He assured parents that the school board has not raised class sizes, and that some money is held back for “hot spots” that occur at the beginning of the school year. Principals are encouraged to ask for more staff if they need it at that time, he said.

“Usually we say yes,” said Sicoli, who added that the school board sets class size, but how it’s implemented is a decision made by individual principals.

According to Dennis Beekman, District 281’s executive director of technology, class size in grades 6-8 core classes (English, math, science and social studies) ranges from 20 to 36 students, and that is comparable to other metro area public middle schools.

Sounds like a zoo.

Bus Service Issue Still in the News

April 20, 2012

Here’s a letter from the Sun Post about the recent decision to contract out the district’s bus service;

Even before March 5, when five of the seven Robbinsdale School Board members voted to outsource bus transportation jobs, the district administration was telling drivers that they will be fine, they can go work for First Student. Parents were assured that there would be no change in service and that they very likely could end up with the same trusted driver.

Well, that remains to be seen. First Student has held meetings with drivers, offering the opportunity to meet First Student administration and apply for jobs. I went to one of those meetings out of curiosity. First Student could not tell us what the wages would be. We were told there will be no sick time, no retirement plan and no bereavement leave. Family health care is completely unaffordable.

So how many of our current trusted drivers will be able to afford to work for First Student?

Something else that I found interesting was what was said about the routes. Our union leadership has long said that the routes are not efficient and that The Center for Efficient School Operations made our routes that way from the beginning (a few years ago when the district hired them to put our routes together).

Part of the conversation we have been having through all of this is exactly the need to make the routes better in order to save money. Center officials were at the First Student meeting and now says that they will not be changing the routes after all. Really?

All along we have been trying to tell the board members that this is not going to be what you think it is. July 1 isn’t even here yet and we already are finding that to be true.

Jean Woznak


Robbinsdale Votes to Contract Out the Bus Service

March 6, 2012

At the March 5 board meeting the district voted 5-2 to contact out the bus service (thank you to Speed Gibson for his live blogging).

The meeting began with presentations by Superintendent Aldo Sicoli and Financial Director Jeff Priess in an attempt to answer some of the questions about contracting out. Priess said the district can save $2.2 million in capital costs and over $1 million in operating costs per year for the next four years.

The board members all then addressed the issue. They largely said the same things; thanking the bus drivers, saying this has been a tough decision, and then, as always, blaming the state for “inadequate funding.”

Voting yes;

Mark Bomchill, Sherry Tyrrell, Linda Johnson, Patsy Green. and Barb Van Heel 

Voting no;

Tom Walsh and Helen Bassett

We think (not 100% sure) the bus drivers are still under contract until June 30. The district will pay $12,500 severance to “any full time driver whose position is eliminated as a result of a decision to contract out.” The part-time drivers will receive $2,000. However, it sounds as though this is still subject to further negotiation with Local 284.

Singing the Bus Service Blues

September 9, 2011

Well as most of you probably know District 281 is considering contracting out their bus service.  A couple of letters to the editor flew in last week critical of the idea;

Letter: Dist. 281 shouldn’t copy private industry

In the (Aug. 18) article (“District 281 could save $1 million a year by contracting for bus service”), Mark Bomchill wonders how a private contractor can provide bus service for so much less. Here is the answer: By paying drivers $12 per hour rather than $20. That will be the main result once a private contractor gets hold of the program.

That $8 saving for the contractor will reward him well enough that he will have no trouble maintaining the other elements of the program. But what happens to the drivers and to the community?

Those $20 jobs will eventually disappear and most of those remaining will pay closer to $12, with few or no benefits. The contractor’s human resources department can be callous regarding personnel issues. And the $1 million the district saves will no longer be in the hands of local drivers who were spending much of it locally. If the District 281 Board of Education were to bash the drivers in the same way the contractor will, the board could operate the buses even more frugally — it does not have to provide for a profit. But the board should not emulate private industry in this case. Such hammering on lower-paid workers is surely contributing to the nation’s race to the bottom.

Bruce Kittilson

Golden Valley

Now, while we respect Mr. Kittilson’s opinion here we have to take issue with this a bit.  Claiming there will be an $8 an hour drop in pay and that private industry pays “little or no benefits” is quite an exaggeration.  We think the schools SHOULD copy private industry by raising the retirement age and switching from unsustainable pensions to 401K plans.  That would probably be a better idea that getting rid of bus drivers.  We do sympathize with Mr. Kittilson on the issue of lower wages, but it’s been happening in the private sector for years now.  How can we ask a shrinking private sector to endlessly fund an ever-growing public sector?  Something has to give.

Here is another letter;

Letter: Not a simple move

I am quite concerned about the Robbinsdale School Board’s looking into contracting out its busing operation, and the annual million dollars it says can be saved. I can think of some reasons why it might not be a simple move. A few years ago Bloomington changed busing from contracted to in-house. That change was supposed to be for cost-savings and better control. I suggest the board investigate that experience in Bloomington. I can’t imagine Bloomington’s operation can be that much different than ours. If their switch indeed saved them money, Robbinsdale needs to know the how and why of it.

I would also hope that part of the projected savings in transportation would not be offset by an additional long-term rise in custodial costs because of the need for more of those staff. The current driver-custodian positions augment the duties of the custodians. I would like to hope this has been included in the estimates.

If the over-all budget of the district can benefit from the change, then I say “go for it.” But if it’s only a benefit in one budget account, and added cost in another one, then I would like to know that. And whatever negative impacts there may be, such as lost jobs for local people, should be considered as well. My biggest problem is who the contractor might be. The two most likely ones are First Student and Laidlaw, both owned by corporations based in other countries. I really don’t like the idea of my tax dollars going to some foreign corporation’s bottom line profits.

Dutch Fischer


Good information Mr. Fischer, especially the custodial portion; are we going to contract the bus service and then hire new custodians?

Overall, we don’t have enough information to form an opinion on this issue.  We’d love to save more money but we’re not sure this is the best way and we need more information on this $1 million savings figure (ie; what are the long-term implications and what will we do with the custodians).

Enhancing Security?

October 27, 2010

Here is an interesting post about putting in security cameras at our schools.  Apparently the district has received a grant (ie; federal tax dollars) to “enhance security” at the schools in New Hope.


Federal SOS grant to enhance safety at New Hope schools

New Hope, Minnesota—The City of New Hope, in partnership with Robbinsdale Area Schools, has been awarded a “Secure Our Schools” (SOS) grant in the amount of $112,620 from the U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program.

Co-authored by Robbinsdale Redesign Program Director Melodie Hanson, Robbinsdale Area Schools Safety & Security Director Brian Koch, and New Hope Chief of Police Gary Link, the grant will fund the installation of needed school safety and security equipment at Robbinsdale Cooper High School, Meadow Lake Elementary, Sonnesyn Elementary and Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion (RSI), as well as several ongoing crisis prevention and response programs. The funds will provide infrastructure updates for the security camera system at Cooper, upgrades to the exterior gymnasium doors at Cooper, and additional interior hallway cameras at RSI, Sonnesyn and Meadow Lake Elementary Schools.

This year’s grant for New Hope schools represents the fifth year an SOS award has been received by the district in cooperation with local municipalities. The SOS grant received in 2009 funded safety improvements at Robbinsdale Middle School and Lakeview Elementary School in the City of Robbinsdale, while the 2008 SOS grant funded improvements for schools within the City of Plymouth.

“These funds demonstrate the importance of collaboration in ongoing safety and security planning,” said Koch. “The grant will assist the district and local law enforcement in advancing their ongoing commitment to ensuring safety and security for students, staff and community.”

Now we realize that Federal money (which is still our money or at least the 53% of us that actually pay federal taxes) comes with strings attached.  Perhaps we have few options here.  You want to upgrade doors at Cooper’s gymnasium?  Fine with us.  Should Cooper have a security camera?  We suppose.  But cameras at Meadow Lake, Sonnesyn, and RSI?   Is there a gang problem at these schools?  If there have been issues please feel free to comment here but we don’t think that spending money on cameras at elementary schools is a good way to spend our money.

Problems at RMS?

February 19, 2010

A few residents have informed us that the police were at Robbinsdale Middle School last week breaking up fights.  On Friday a statement condemning these fights by Principal Tom Henderlite was read over the PA by a student!  Is that not the principal’s job?  Several parents have told us that the kids are rude to the staff and that the inmates are running the asylum.  They are also considering their “educational options.”  If anyone has more info on this feel free to post a comment.

Update 2/21: Thanks to a RMS staff member who wrote in to clarify one fight incident on 2/11. There was a verbal argument between two racial groups of students. The police liasons were at training that day so city police were filling in. Principal Henderlite made announcements several times on the 11th, and the next day a student read an updated statement.

Culture of corruption

March 19, 2009

As soon as we know the details, we’ll add to this developing story (from MN Sun-Post):

Two Robbinsdale District 281 administrators were placed on paid leave Tuesday, March 17, pending the outcome of an internal investigation involving “a number of different accusations.”

Mike Severson, the department’s program director, and Jon Olson, transportation safety assistant program director, are currently on leave, Superintendent Stan Mack wrote in a letter to the District 281 Transportation Department.

“There is no violation of criminal law involved,” Mack said Wednesday, March 18, adding he expects the internal investigation to be resolved “within one to two weeks.”

In the meantime, Ken Kostka, the district’s retired executive director of teaching and learning, will manage day-to-day operation of the Transportation Department until further notice, along with Jim Glad, transportation assistant program director, Mack said.

Ethics seem to be an issue with this administration, right Patsy Green?

Sandburg 8th-grader suspended for drug, weapon violations

October 11, 2008

From the MN Sun Post:

A 13-year-old eighth-grader at Sandburg Middle School in Golden Valley has been suspended for trying to sell marijuana to other students and carrying a box cutter in his backpack.

The incident involving the New Hope teen occurred on Sept. 22, according to a Golden Valley Police report.

The boy was suspended from Sandburg and has been reassigned to homebound instruction for the remainder of this school year, Sandburg Principal Tom Henderlite said.

Henderlite said the box cutter was found when school officials were searching the boy’s locker and backpack, after he had been found trying to sell marijuana to other students.

The boy also had pages of gang information in his possession, Henderlite said.

The violation was the second for the eighth-grader, who spent 45 days at TASC last year for possession of a look-alike pistol weapon, Henderlite said.

“Our hope is that this young man will be able to work with someone in the district or at a local social agency who can help him,” Henderlite said. “He has a lot of things going in the wrong direction.”

Henderlite said the boy admitted he was trying to sell drugs to the two other students who were with him.

“The consequences for that are more severe than for possession,” he said.