Archive for the ‘Superintendent’ Category

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.

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New York PC Police on the Warpath in Public Schools

March 28, 2012

From the usual government bureaucrats come this story out of New York;

War On Words: NYC Dept. Of Education Wants 50 ‘Forbidden’ Words Banned From Standardized Tests

Folks we are aren’t making this up! Here is the full story;

NYC Department of Education Story

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — George Carlin is rolling over in his grave. The New York City Department of Education is waging a war on words of sorts, and is seeking to have words they deem upsetting removed from standardized tests.

Fearing that certain words and topics can make students feel unpleasant, officials are requesting 50 or so words be removed from city-issued tests. The word “dinosaur” made the hit list because dinosaurs suggest evolution which creationists might not like, WCBS 880′s Marla Diamond reported. “Halloween” is targeted because it suggests paganism; a “birthday” might not be happy to all because it isn’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Julie Lewis’ family celebrates Christmas and Kwanzaa, but she told CBS 2′s Emily Smith she wants her children to appreciate and learn about other holidays and celebrations. “They’re going to meet people from all walks of life and they’re going to have to learn to adjust,” Lewis said. Words that suggest wealth are excluded because they could make kids jealous. “Poverty” is also on the forbidden list. That’s something Sy Fliegal with the Center for Educational Innovation calls ridiculous.

“The Petersons take a vacation for five days in their Mercedes … so what? You think our kids are going to be offended because they don’t have a Mercedes? You think our kids are going to say ‘I’m offended; how could they ask me a question about a Mercedes? I don’t have a Mercedes!’” Fliegal said.

In a throwback to “Footloose,” the word “dancing” is also taboo. However, there is good news for kids that like “ballet”: The city made an exception for this form of dance. Also banned are references to “divorce” and “disease,” because kids taking the tests may have relatives who split from spouses or are ill.

Some students think banning these words from periodic assessment tests is ridiculous. “If you don’t celebrate one thing you might have a friend that does it. So I don’t see why people would find it offensive,” Curtis High School Sophomore Jamella Lewis told Diamond.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the DOE is simply giving guidance to the test developers. “So we’re not an outlier in being politically correct. This is just making sure that test makers are sensitive in the development of their tests,” Walcott said Monday. To which Fliegal responded: “It’s all of life! I don’t know how they figure out what not to put on the list. Every aspect of life is on the list.” There are banned words currently in school districts nationwide. Walcott said New York City’s list is longer because its student body is so diverse.

Here is the complete list of words that could be banned:

Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)

Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs

Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)

Bodily functions

Cancer (and other diseases)

Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)

Celebrities

Children dealing with serious issues

Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)

Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)

Crime

Death and disease

Divorce

Evolution

Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes

Gambling involving money

Halloween

Homelessness

Homes with swimming pools

Hunting

Junk food

In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge

Loss of employment

Nuclear weapons

Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)

Parapsychology

Politics

Pornography

Poverty

Rap Music

Religion

Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)

Rock-and-Roll music

Running away

Sex

Slavery

Terrorism

Television and video games (excessive use)

Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)

Vermin (rats and roaches)

Violence

War and bloodshed

Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)

Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

So the solution to a better education is to ban birthdays, dinosaurs, Rock N’ Roll music, politics, Halloween? These are the idiots in charge of educating our kids. Just one more argument for vouchers, tax credits, and home schooling.

Unions Flustered About Contracts

March 8, 2012

With the January 15 deadline to negotiate teacher contracts now gone, teacher unions are going nuts! From the Sun Post;

Beth Schultz, a kindergarten teacher at Earle Brown Elementary in Brooklyn Center, was scheduled to complete her master’s degree March 1. Normally teachers get raises when they finish advanced degrees. But Schultz doesn’t know if or when she’ll see that money. “My (students) are benefiting, but I’m not getting the recognition of financial compensation from that,” she said.

Like teachers in nearly half the school districts in Minnesota, Schultz has been working without a contract for eight months and counting. Because the state legislature last year eliminated the deadline for school districts to settle teacher contracts, there’s no sure end in sight. “I’m frustrated,” Schultz said. “I feel like we deserve a fair contract.”

And what would a fair contract be? Removing a deadline doesn’t mean a contract is unfair!

Teacher contracts, which are negotiated every two years, expired at the end of June. In the past, districts faced a financial penalty if they didn’t settle by Jan. 15. But not this year. According to Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, about 47 percent of the 338 districts in the state had not settled contracts as of Feb. 14, about a month after the usual deadline.

Schultz, a member of the negotiating team for the Brooklyn Center teachers union, was one of 47 teachers who came to the Feb. 13 board meeting to encourage board members to settle a contract soon. Brooklyn Center teachers aren’t the only ones trying to make their voices heard. As a sign of unity, nearly 500 teachers in the Minnetonka School District met school board members as they arrived at a work session Feb. 24.

Not surprisingly, Education Minnesota opposed the elimination of the negotiations deadline. In a Jan. 18 statement, the group’s president, Tom Dooher, called for its reinstatement. “When contract negotiations drag on, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the community,” he said.

Ahh, poor Mr. Dooher! Did you lose your leverage over districts and by definition the taxpayers? It’s funny how Education Minnesota wants local control yet they want an artificial deadline that benefits them!

But the Minnesota School Boards Association terms the Jan. 15 deadline artificial and says it makes negotiations unfair. “What the Jan. 15 deadline has done for years is really tilt the negotiations in favor of the teachers union,” said Greg Abbott, spokesperson for the school boards association.

Yes!

Minnetonka Supt. Dennis Peterson agrees. “I think during these difficult times, for most school districts across the state of Minnesota, having the deadline taken away has been helpful in the whole process, because it created an artificial climate for negotiations,” Peterson said. Abbott said penalizing districts for missing the deadline hurt students more than anyone.

And we thought Education Minnesota only cared about the children!

Abbot also said it was sometimes difficult for districts to meet the Jan. 15 deadline because of uncertainty regarding their financial positions. Last year that challenge was exacerbated by the state government shutdown. According to Abbott, many districts didn’t negotiate during the summer because of the uncertainty.

“You can’t promise money if you don’t know if you’re going to get anything,” he said. Even in the absence of a government shutdown, school districts often don’t finalize the next school year’s budget until the end of June.

Brooklyn Center School Board Chair Cheryl Jechorek said it’s difficult to make promises to teachers without knowing what the budget will look like. That’s especially true in Brooklyn Center, which is struggling to climb out of statutory operating debt. The elimination of the deadline will help Brooklyn Center make more informed decisions. “It’s better for the district, but I understand it’s frustrating for teachers,” Jechorek said.

“You’ve got to negotiate with the resources that you have,” Abbott said. “So if your reserve is gone and the state gives you nothing, you’ve got to think twice before you start giving increases.” Teachers say they know times are tight for everyone.

“Our intent is not to drive the district further into debt,” said Scott Rykken, a science teacher at Brooklyn Center High School and a member of the negotiating team. But he said teachers are starting to feel unappreciated. “The longer it goes, the more we feel less valued,” he said.

Give us a break! You feel unappreciated with your defined pension and tenure? If you feel unappreciated then quit!

Peter Eckhoff, president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers, called drawn-out negotiations a “distraction.”

A distraction for who? Did you miss a few DFL fundraisers Mr. Eckhoff?

“As we sit in this unsettled state, there’s always a lot of questions about what will be the ultimate outcome,” he said. Ekhoff said people in the business community are often shocked that teachers and districts don’t have another contract in place before the original expires. He thinks the deadline gave at least some impetus to get a deal done in a timely manner. He suggested, however, that the state should consider an incentive for completing contracts on time rather than penalty for missing the deadline.

Although the Robbinsdale School District announced a tentative agreement with its teachers Feb. 17, pending school board approval, Eckhoff thinks the lack of a deadline slowed the process. “Historically we had been driven by (the Jan. 15) deadline to get our work done early,” he said. “This time it certainly wasn’t the same sense of urgency, at least that was my perception.”

Stephanie Crosby, executive director of human resources for Robbinsdale Schools, downplayed the effect of the change. “We went a couple of weeks over,” she said. “It wasn’t like we said, ‘We don’t have a deadline. Let’s not meet.’ … We did it as timely as possible.” Crosby said negotiators still came up with “a decent package that shows good-faith bargaining on both sides.”

You mean that’s possible without a deadline?

Jechorek offered similar sentiments. “We want it done too,” she said of the Brooklyn Center teacher’s contract. “(Our teachers) deserve whatever we can give them, but we have to live within our means. … We really want to treat them fairly.”But in many school districts it’s not clear when a fair settlement may come.

At least districts don’t have their backs against the wall!

One More Letter to the Editor

February 11, 2012

Here’s a letter to the Sun Post regarding Aldo Sicoli’s contract and the bus driver issue;

To the editor: I am appalled.

Currently dist. 281 is considering contracting out our dedicated bus drivers. The message from the district is that the district could save a lot of money, and that money is needed for the classroom.

The district has told the drivers that the money will be needed as the district faces cuts in the future. If this is true, then why are the superintendent and school board not leading by example? The Board recently approved wage increases of 1.5 percent each year for three years for the superintendent.

This wage for our superintendent places him in the upper brackets of superintendent compensation. Other bargaining units in the district have also negotiated wage and other increases in this round of negotiations.

The district has been asking the drivers to take significant pay cuts at the threat of losing their jobs. The district is only asking transportation to take cuts, while everyone else gets raises. Our drivers are actually paid right in line with area school districts that do their own busing. They are not overcompensated.

If the district leadership wants drivers that play an integral role in our community and schools to take cuts, then be leaders and ask not from others what you will not do yourself. I guess one board member already said what the district thinks about our bus drivers, they are the “low-hanging fruit.”

Howard Wolff

Robbinsdale

Sicoli Inks New Three-Year Deal

January 18, 2012

Superintendent Aldo Sicoli has agreed to a new three-year with Robbinsdale School District. The deal is largely similar to the one he signed in 2009.  Some highlights;

*Salary will be increased 1.5 % each school year which will be $183,745.00 for the 2012-2013 school year, $186,501.00 for the 2013-2014 school year, and $189,299 for the 2014-2015 school year.

*Contract will begin on July 1, 2012 and go until June 30, 2015.

*The board unanimously agreed to the contract at the January 9 meeting.

*40 working days of annual paid personal time off (PTO) each contract year. Unused days may be carried over from one year to the next and accumulate without limit.

*12 paid holidays are included as well.

If you want to read other bullet points in the contract, they can be found here;

contract 

School: Opposition to Gay Adoption is “Bullying”

January 18, 2012

Check out this from Fox News;

By Todd Starnes

A Wisconsin high school is in the middle of a free speech debate after they apologized for publishing a student essay opposing gay families who adopt children. School officials called the essay a form of “bullying and disrespect.”

The column ran on the editorial page of the Shawano High School student newspaper. It was part of an op-ed featuring a student supporting gay families who adopt children and one opposed to the idea. The student who opposed gay adoptions cited Bible passages that called homosexuality and sin punishable by death. “If one is a practicing Christian, Jesus states in the Bible that homosexuality is (a) detestable act and sin which makes adopting wrong for homosexuals because you would be raising the child in a sin-filled environment,” the student wrote.

You cited the Bible? Oh no, big mistake!

The school district profusely apologized after a gay couple – who has a child at the school – complained.

A couple? One couple?

“This is why kids commit suicide,” Nick Uttecht told the Green Bay Press Gazette. “When I saw this I was in shock.” The school district released a statement apologizing for the story. “Offensive articles cultivating a negative environment of disrespect are not appropriate or condoned by the Shawano School District,” the statement read. “We sincerely apologize to anyone we may have offended and are taking steps to prevent items of this nature from happening in the future.”

Todd Carlson, the superintendent of the Shawano School District told Fox News & Commentary he was shocked by the article. “We do apologize,” Carlson said. “We have a responsibility as a school district to make sure we create a positive school climate and culture. This article probably didn’t go along with the policies and the guidelines and the practices that we have as a school district.”

But the school district only took issue with one of the opinion pieces – the one opposed to gays adopting children. That’s because Carlson said the essay is a form of bullying. “It is a form of bullying or disrespect to a group of people – that’s right,” he said. The school district did not comply with a request to read the entire essay – and they declined to say if the student who wrote the essay would be punished.

Really? Why don’t you release the entire essay and let us decide for ourselves if this is “offensive?”

“Our efforts have been placed to make sure that items of this nature don’t happen in the future,” Carlson told Fox News & Commentary. “We have this responsibility to create a positive environment for all.”

However, critics said removing the opinion piece is a form of censorship.

“I hope they won’t squash any political viewpoints because of this,” David Hudson, of the First Amendment Center told USA Today. “Bullying is a serious concern, and I don’t take it lightly. But I hope it doesn’t lead to squashing different viewpoints. I do think (gay adoption) is an issue people are deeply divided about. Hopefully, student journalists don’t have to fear they’ll be squashed if they take a controversial view.”

Trust us, they will only sensor speech if it offends one left-wing person.

Carlson told Fox News & Commentary this is not a case of censorship. “It is not a freedom of speech issue,” he said. “I know some are trying to make it that. It’s our policy that we are concerned about – not to create disrespect and bullying and harassment.”

Harassment? Opposing gay adoption is harassment? So if you don’t believe in gay adoption you are assumed to be a bully? Mr. Carlson you should be fired. Oh wait, you’re a public employee which means you’ll never be fired.

At least one university professor believes the school district did the right thing by apologizing for a student’s personal opinion. “To see something like this debated in the paper could be devastating,” Christine Smith, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay told USA Today.

So you’re not allowed to debate??

“How would you feel if someone said your family is abnormal, is not acceptable, that your parents never should have been allowed to have you, that they’re not suitable to raise you?”

Really “professor?” Why don’t you teach and NOT social engineer!

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

Yet Another Great Letter to the Editor

July 22, 2011

From the Sun Post;

Ask more questions

Someone was wrong and blew it big time.

I could believe the June 30 issue of the Sun Post which quotes District 281’s School Board when they credited Superintendent Aldo Sicoli with “outstanding performance,” or I could believe the July 7 issue of the Sun Post where we’re told the “Four in five Dist. 281 9th-graders pass Minnesota writing test,” as compared to 85 percent or above during the past four years.”

I believe both. What I cannot believe are the circumstances that led to these stories. When the school board conferred its glowing review, they did it on the basis of “strategic plan and results, employee relations, community and external relations, operational management, financial management and board relations.”

None of these items, except maybe strategic plan and results, appear to be related to academic performance and intellectual development. And this is the pitfall of trusting the system to educate children: you have insular, bloated, bureaucratic spendthrifts who heap accolades on one of their cronies for reasons only casually related to the educational mission. Meanwhile, we get 20 percent of our kids who cannot write and probably cannot read either.

Thanks to the Sun Post for running these stories. The paper should follow up by asking the school board some very uncomfortable questions. As for the school board, they all should be fired immediately for managerial malfeasance. Parents should stop sending their children to these schools and citizens should stop paying their property taxes that prop up these miserable failures.

Matt Rothchild

Robbinsdale

Board Gives Sicoli High Marks

July 1, 2011

Yet another one from the sun post;

Robbinsdale Area Schools Supt. credited with ‘outstanding performance’ in 2010-11

At the end of his second year at the helm, Robbinsdale District 281 Supt. Aldo Sicoli’s performance has been outstanding, according to the School Board.  Board Chair Barb Van Heel summarized the board’s June 7 closed-door evaluation of Sicoli at the regular meeting on June 20.

“During our discussion, board members repeatedly expressed how pleased we are with the outstanding performance of Supt. Sicoli and the great things that are happening in our district for all our students due to his collaborative leadership style and excellent communication skills,” Van Heel said.  The board considered Sicoli’s performance in six areas: strategic plan and results, employee relations, community and external relations, operational management, financial management and board relations.  Ratings could be unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, distinguished, or not applicable.

Board members rated Sicoli in each area and also listed commendations and opportunities for action for each category, Van Heel said.  “The board’s evaluation indicated that Dr. Sicoli has consistently demonstrated expertise and skill in all evaluation areas and has exceeded expectations,” Van Heel said.

Strategic Plan and results

Improvement in schools is occurring, Van Heel said, noting that student achievement is up, the climate is improved, and a variety of new systems are in place. The district also has set “stretch” goals for closing the achievement gap, she said.  The board would like to see continued marketing of the school district and focus on targeted staff development, as well as efforts to keep the strategic plan front and center, improvement of academic achievement (especially at the secondary level) and continued efforts to improve school climate and a safe learning environment.

Employee relations

Sicoli was commended for excellent communication skills and “positive, productive relationships,” as well as excelling at empowering the staff.  “The school district has an improved collaborative environment,” Van Heel said. “Supt. Sicoli shows genuine appreciation and great recognition of staff accomplishments, large and small.”  The board would like to see more staff members spotlighted at board meetings, and continuing work on performance evaluations at all levels, as well as professional development where needed, Van Heel said.

Community and external relations

Sicoli’s highly rated communication skills mean that he is visible throughout the district, honest and open, communicates the district’s vision, and promotes the district well, Van Heel said.  The board would like Sicoli to get data on stakeholder satisfaction and “continue to improve customer service at all levels.”

Organizational management

“Supt. Sicoli does not shy away from addressing issues directly,” Van Heel said, adding that “the decision-making process is more inclusive, leading to improved results and buy-in.”  “The work is getting done in spite of cuts,” she said.  The board would like Sicoli to “evaluate the overall effectiveness of all programs and continue to identify and develop leaders among the staff,” Van Heel said.

Financial management

Sicoli was commended for the six successful budget committees he created, for his proactive approach in providing options and making cuts that have “minimal effect to classrooms.”  “The fund balance has increased and he is watchful on expenses,” Van Heel said.  The board is asking that Sicoli “have the budget tell the story to our community.”

Board relations

Regarding board relations, Sicoli was commended for being respectful, genuine, “fun to work with,” and for having integrity, innovation, listening well and maintaining a good sense of humor.

In conclusion, Van Heel quoted a comment from one board member’s evaluation:  “Supt. Sicoli has again distinguished himself as a highly effective Supt. for Robbinsdale Areas Schools. Progress toward many district goals and objectives has surpassed expectations. He is continuing to provide the excellent leadership skills necessary to implement our strategic plan with clarity and focus. He works with staff in a collaborative style and promotes continuous improvement in all areas of the organization through teamwork and a positive attitude. He effectively partners with the board to look for ways to reach out to all members of our community. Our ability to deliver quality educational programs while staying within our financial means is impressive. He celebrates staff and student achievement while recognizing and addressing the need to improve.”

Prior to being hired in April 2009 to replace retiring Supt. Stan Mack, Sicoli was assistant Supt. in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District 191.  Sicoli’s three-year contract in District 281, extending July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2012, specifies a salary of $174,000 in 2009-10; $177,480 for 2010-11; and $181,030 for 2011-12.

Though we’re not sure we’d give him “outstanding marks on everything” Sicoli has been a nice and refreshing change from Stan Mack.