Archive for the ‘School Board’ Category

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

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;


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


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

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

Five in the Race for School Board

August 18, 2012

Andrea J. Bejarano-Robinson and Jeffrey A. Beck have withdrawn their candidacy for District 281 School Board this year. Both officially withdrew on August 1, the last day to so.

Three seats are open on the Robbinsdale School Board. Five are now in the race. Sherry Tyrrell and Helen Bassett are running for re-election while incumbent Barb Van Heel is not.  New candidates include John Vento, Peter Vasseur, and Ron Stoffel.

Residents will vote for three school board members in November’s general election.

We will provide more info on these candidates as soon as we get it.

John Vento announced his campaign in the sun post.

Vento’s article

It’s Filing Time!

August 8, 2012

Candidates for Robbinsdale School Board can file for the Nov. 6 election between July 31 and Aug. 14. The terms of school board members Helen Bassett of Golden Valley, Sherry Tyrrell of Crystal and Barb Van Heel of Robbinsdale expire on Dec. 31. School board members are elected at-large and serve four-year terms.

This is something that really needs to be changed. Making them all at-large seats makes it damn near impossible to campaign. We need to have wards and make sure that all the areas of the district have representation.

Van Heel announced in May that she is not seeking re-election. Tyrrell, who is serving her fifth year on the board, said she is seeking re-election. Bassett was appointed to the board in October 2002 and has served since winning the election in 2003, she said.

“I’m leaning heavily toward running and will file after the 31st,” Bassett said of her plans for this year’s elections. Candidates must file their paperwork with the school district elections clerk in the business office at the Education Service Center, 4148 Winnetka Ave. N. in New Hope.

We will pass along information on who is filing as soon as we get it!

Spread That Diversity!

July 26, 2012

Well once again District 281 is obsessing about integration. Here is latest news in Affirmative Action goals. From the Sun Post;

At the July 9 school board meeting, Asst. Supt. Dr. Gayle Walkowiak shared the results of a two-year study. Among the findings: of the 260 participants in elective band classes at Plymouth Middle School in 2012, just 20 percent were students of color. While 38 percent of the 169 students participating in orchestra were students of color and for choir it was 30 percent of the 414 students participating. Plymouth Middle’s total school population is 41 percent students of color.

The numbers were comparable at Robbinsdale Middle School, which also offers the arts as elective classes – 47 percent for band, 44 percent for orchestra and 52 percent for choir. Sixty-two percent of that school’s total population is made up of students of color.

At the high school level, 12 percent of Armstrong High School’s band class was made up of students of color. While one-quarter of the students signed up for both the orchestra and choir were students of color. In visual arts classes, the number was a bit higher – 36 percent. Thirty-seven percent of Armstrong’s population is made up of students of color.

And at Cooper High School where 63 percent of the population is made up of students of color, 22 percent of the band, 24 percent of the orchestra and 38 percent of the choir participants are students of color. Visual arts classes, meantime, had 70 percent participation from students of color.

So what is the solution? Should we have quotas? Should we tell white kids to go home?

The numbers were also low when it came to participation by students of color in honors courses at the middle and high school levels during the 2011/2012 school year – 20 percent at Plymouth Middle School, 35 percent at Robbinsdale Middle School, 22 percent at Armstrong High School and 38 percent at Cooper High School.

Honor courses? Don’t you have to earn that? What should we do; dumb down the standards? Kick white kids out?

Here are some genius comments on the subject;

“The numbers are way too low. A lot of work needs to be done across the board in these areas,” said Walkowiak during the meeting.

“I think it is a good goal to increase minority participation in these areas, fine arts as well as the challenging academics,” added School Board member Tom Walsh.

And your ideas are…….

Full Sun Post Article