What’s Really Going on this Weekend?

October 20, 2012

So why are kids out of school this week? Here is  a cross post from the Education Freedom for Minnesota blog on a townhall.com article;

So why are the kids really not in school this week? What goes on at these “teacher workshops?” Well here is an article from townhall.com on the matter;

Each year, Minnesota government schools close for two days (just before the weekend, of course) so teachers’ union members can gather at a conference organized by their union. It’s meant to “inspire teachers,” EAGnews.org reported, and the conference includes a session titled, “Using Persona Dolls to Promote Social Emotional Intelligence and Acceptance of Diversity.”

The union describes it this way: “Used around the world, persona dolls are lifelike dolls with personalities and stories you create. The dolls become members of your classroom community and children learn by empathizing with the dolls and giving them heartfelt advice on the same kinds of situations they struggle with daily in the classroom and on the playground.” That’s weird. Teachers are taking time away from the classroom to learn how to play with dolls?

Playing with dolls???

The conference also includes a workshop on how to teach about Islam. The union says about the session: “An expert panel will present information on teaching about Islam in the context of social studies and world religion. They will share perspectives on how educators can help improve intercultural communication and well-being for immigrant and refugee students and families from Muslim countries.”

That sounds nice. Who’s betting they won’t hear anything about the September 11, 2001 hijackers’ jihad or suicide bombers blowing up American soldiers or Israeli children? And why the focus on only one religion?

And of course no teachers union conference would be complete without a session about the importance of the upcoming presidential election (it will become an Obama rally), and a discussion about how education reform efforts are misguided and dangerous.

Yes, we must elect Democrats who will never hold Big Education accountable!

Couldn’t the union hold this session during the summer, or on a weekend, when there are no classes to interrupt? They have to annually take time out of the school calendar to hold their union pep rally and play with dolls?

Is it any wonder American students are trailing behind their counterparts in South Korea, Estonia and Luxembourg? Is it too much for union teachers to remain in in the classroom and focus on the basics, instead of cancelling classes to talk about their ideas of “social justice” and promote their union’s political agenda?

No kidding! Support education freedom today!!!!!

Townhall article

Education Freedom for Minnesota’s blog


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

Enrollment Up Slightly in 281

June 28, 2012

From the Sun Post;

Enrollment was at 11,519 students in Robbinsdale District 281 schools on June 6, the last day of school, an increase of 69 students more than were enrolled on June 9, 2011. Dennis Beekman, District 281’s executive director of technology, on June 18 gave the last of his three annual enrollment reports to the School Board.

“We do monitor enrollment very carefully,” Beekman said. Elementary and high school enrollment is greater than 2010-11 levels, though middle school enrollment is less than last year, according to Beekman.

While midyear enrollment attrition rate was similar to 2010-11, the high school midyear attrition rate was “significantly lower,” Beekman said, primarily due to midyear enrollment option transfers.

Average daily membership exceeded the original 2011-12 enrollment projects by 1 percent, according to Beekman.

It’s so nice to not hear complaining about declining enrollment!

“The primary reasons for the variation are a slightly larger kindergarten and less midyear attrition than anticipated at the high schools,” he said. Whereas there was very little attrition at the elementary level and some reduction in middle school enrollment, there was more attrition at the two high schools, Beekman noted.

Mobility is still supposedly an issue;

Regarding mobility in the elementary schools, Meadow Lake in New Hope, Northport in Brooklyn Center and Lakeview in Robbinsdale had the highest rates of student turnover. Meadow Lake had a 25 percent mobility rate, Lakeview had 26 percent and Northport had 35 percent.

Secondary attrition rates were higher at Robbinsdale Middle School than a Plymouth Middle School, and also higher at Cooper High School than at Armstrong High School, according to Beekman.

Click here for full article

Van Heel Won’t Run Again

May 29, 2012

Barb Van Heel has announced she will not be seeking another term on the Robbinsdale School Board. From the Sun Post;

Barb Van Heel, chair of the Robbinsdale District 281 School Board, announced May 21 that she will not seek re-election in this fall’s election. Van Heel, a Robbinsdale resident, has served on the board since 2002. She has been chairperson for the last two years.

“This decision has been a difficult one,” Van Heel said. “I want to thank all the people who have urged me to run for re-election.  I want them to know I took their comments seriously and thought about this decision very carefully.

“But, after much reflection and many discussions with my family about the time and physical and emotional energy it takes to do board work, I know this decision is the right one for me and my family. “I am grateful to the voters who gave me the opportunity to serve for what will be 11 years at the end of my term.”

During Van Heel’s decade-long tenure  the board has closed schools, passed a referendum, hired a new superintendent and is opening a new magnet program in the fall. “I’m happy and pleased I had the opportunity to serve on the board,” she said. “It was a worthwhile thing to do.”

The mother of four married children, Van Heel had one grandchild when she first was elected and now has gained four more grandchildren during her time on the school board. Even though filing for the school board doesn’t open until July 31, Van Heel said she wanted to make her announcement before school is out, so people can start thinking about running for the school board.

“I really want to encourage people to come forward,” she said. Van Heel is encouraging people who might be interested in serving on the board to attend  a forum for potential school board candidates, 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 20, in the third-floor board room at the Education Service Center, 4148 Winnetka Ave. N., New Hope.

Topics will include an overview of the district, what school board members do, school board roles and responsibilities, the everyday impact of being a school board member, and the process for being a candidate.

A question and answer session will follow the presentations. Anyone interested in attending is asked to call Judy Lund at 763-504-8012. In addition to Van Heel’s term, the terms of board members Sherry Tyrrell and Helen Bassett expire on Dec. 31, 2012. They have not announced whether they will be candidates for re-election.

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.

RMS Parents Want an Investigation

May 6, 2012

Here’s an interesting article from the Sun Post. It;s interesting how there is no author listed;

Parents who came to a Robbinsdale District 281 School Board Listening Hour April 16 provided disturbing input about serious discipline problems at Robbinsdale Middle School.

Some students are afraid to use the bathrooms during school hours. Others report being late to class because of disruptive and intimidating activities in the hallways. We’ve been told that teachers and students are subjected to verbal abuse and physical threats.

We strongly believe those reports need to be investigated immediately. Anytime there are 1,300 teenagers in a building, there will be discipline problems. But parents must have a reasonable expectation that when those teens are in a school building, there are teachers and administrators who know how to deal with those problems.

The reports given to three School Board members and three District 281 administrators at last week’s Listening Hour weren’t opening-day problems. Eight months into the school year, the problems persist.

These aren’t one or two isolated reports of discipline problems. There are too many similar reports, and they are too consistent to be ignored.

Parents have a right to expect that when their children are in school, they are safe. And teachers, too, should have an expectation that they are able to do their jobs without fear of bodily harm or gross disrespect from students at the school. That expectation was not borne out by the testimony parents gave last week.

Yes, it’s near the end of a school year, but that is no reason not to take immediate action. The problem is too serious to delay until another school year begins. Input should be solicited from people in the trenches – including students, teachers, aides, hall monitors, food service staff and custodians – and what they say should be taken seriously.

District 281 has dedicated itself to erasing the achievement gap and offering a variety of program choices to attract new students and bring back those who may have left the district. But all the glitzy new programs mean nothing if students are afraid to use the lavatory in school or are fearful of what will happen to them in the hallways. And the dedicated staff people who teach in those programs aren’t going to stick around in a district that does not value them enough to ensure their safety and well-being.

Students who cannot follow the rules and maintain respect for their school, its staff members and their peers need to experience the consequences of their actions, no matter who they are, how old they are or what school they attend.

District 281 needs to take immediate action to ensure that students follow school rules, and that there are immediate consequences for those who don’t.

Anything less is an affront to the community members who are supporting their schools with tax dollars and who have entrusted their young people to the care of educators and staff people they assume are trained professionals.

Mixed News on the Achievement Gap

April 23, 2012

Well, the achievement gap is in the news again from a presentation on April 16 on high school students. Here is the link if you want to read it all;

High School 2012 Winter Map

The data sums up this way;

GRAD Pass Rate Predictions

› Writing Hold steady or decrease slightly
› Reading May improve slightly compared to 2011
› Math May improve slightly compared to 2011
› GAP May improve slightly for all 3 subjects

Growth Rate Fall 2011 to Winter 2012

Reading and Math is Similar to national average
› For low scoring students Above national average

Reading growth

Improved overall and for 3 of 5 subgroups

Math growth:

Improved overall and for 5 of 5 subgroups

So the news doesn’t sound great but it isn’t terrible either.

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