Posts Tagged ‘Robbinsdale schools’

11 of 13 Schools Fail AYP

August 20, 2010

From the August 19 edition of the Sun Post

For the second consecutive year, two of the 13 schools in Robbinsdale District 281 met Adequate Yearly Progress standards in 2010 under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

As in 2009, they are Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School in New Hope and Zachary Lane Elementary in Plymouth.  The Minnesota Department of Education released its Adequate Yearly Progress report of statewide schools’ test results on Tuesday, Aug. 10.  The AYP data is based on students’ performance on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments-II tests administered last spring. Students in grades 3-8 took both reading and math tests. Tenth-graders took a reading test, and 11th-grade students took a math test.

According to the MDE, 1,048 of 2,291 state schools did not make adequate yearly progress in 2010, the same number as last year.  The percentage of District 281 students that reached proficiency on math and reading in 2010 was slightly lower in comparison to 2009 results.

Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School and Zachary Lane Elementary reached annual target scores for each demographic group of tested students in reading and math.  District 281 secondary schools reached some of the targets set by the state for demographic groups.  The district also made some targets for individual demographic groups, but did not make AYP overall in reading or math.

Robbinsdale Area Schools students in grades 3-5 are learning at a greater rate than the average student nationally, according to 2010 Measures of Academic Progress test results, a widely used standardized test. The MAP test measures student growth over the course of the school year and is used by teachers to adjust teaching practices during the year at the grade, classroom and individual student levels.

In 2008 only three schools passed.  In 2009 only two schools passed.  Now in 2010 only two schools passed.  Anyone see a pattern?  How many employees are being held accountable for the lack of adequate yearly progress?  Ah…give me a minute I’m thinking…..Perhaps it is time to test the teachers!  Here are some of Superintendent Sicoli’s comments….

“Minnesota’s standards are very high,” Sicoli said. “And those high standards, which are challenging to meet, give us a confusing picture of student achievement when compared to other states or when other assessments are considered.”

Now we like Dr. Sicoli and think he has been a good addition to RAS but what is wrong with Minnesota having high standards?  So should they be lowered?  Is that a better solution?  Also, I’m also not sure what’s so confusing about passing tests.  Someone help me out!  And of course we can’t ever address anything in education without the liberal obsessed race, so-called poverty, free and reduced lunch, achievement gap.  Here are Sicoli’s comments on that matter….

“This is a serious issue, not just for schools, but for our society as a whole,” Sicoli said. “Addressing the achievement gap in reading and math will be a major focus for Robbinsdale Area Schools this year. Raising the scores of our students of color while maintaining high standards for all students will be beneficial for all students and our community.”

So what are the District’s plans to turn around these schools….

District 281 plans a number of interventions to improve student achievement during the 2010-11 school year, including a new elementary school reading curriculum; use of federal stimulus funds for instructional coaches who support elementary teachers to improve whole-school reading and mathematics instruction; and a full-scale evaluation of all curricular programs to ensure that resources are allocated appropriately to district priorities.

I’m glad we are using a new reading program but the other stuff looks like nothing new.

Once again, as always, test scores are not the be all/end all but they are important and we believe in them.  You have measure what kids are LEARNING.  That high school diploma has to mean something!   These test results, fairly or unfairly, give the district a bad name!  And what about those lower class sizes and restored programs that were obsessed about during the referendum?  We were told by the district and their apologists that coughing up yet more money was going to bring us great results!  So much for that!

Budget reductions approved, jobs cut, unnecessary programs stay?

March 11, 2010

The Sun Post reports that the School Board approved $3.8 million in budget reductions March 1 and seem reasonable:

Reductions at the administrative level next year will include 29.5 full time equivalent administrative and support staff positions, reducing travel and conference fees and moving school board elections to even years.

Cuts are needed because of declining enrollment and reductions in state aid to school districts, officials have said.

“This is an important decision you are making, but it’s not necessarily a final decision, ” Superintendent Also Sicoli said. “If there is anything you choose to remove, there is nothing to prevent the board from adding it back.”

Cue the “Hokey Pokey” song and dance after that last sentence. Further into the article, we found this:

Closing three school buildings in the spring of 2009 avoided a $2 million annual cost, and passing a referendum in 2008 enabled district officials to restore $5.6 million in programs and staff for the current year. In addition to reducing class size, preserving the arts, saving gifted and talented programs, partially restoring middle school activities and avoiding cutting media specialists.

Note the numbers and programs saved from cuts:

The total $5.3 million in reductions represents 4 percent of the district’s operating budget, Smith said.

He noted that 80% of the district’s operating budget goes to personnel costs.

The board agreed at a work session Feb. 8 not to cut most of the elementary programs on the list of proposed reductions, including full-day kindergarten, visual art specialties, instructional assistants all district choir, band and orchestra and elementary orchestra and band.

To paraphrase an old expression, some on the School Board fiddle while Rome burns. Students are failing AYP and in the basics, but they can draw and sing about it. 
Play on!

We are pleased that Tom Walsh said “we are maintaining a fund balance in case additional state cuts come down the pike.” The teachable moment here is that self reliance makes you stronger: if you can budget without state dependence you stay above water, not sinking in the sea.

We are interested in the school board’s discussion of moving school board elections to even years, saving the district money in odd year elections. This could mean board members agreeing to stay on a year longer (Tyrell, Basset and Van Heel) for a re-election vote in 2012 instead of 2011, and shortening others’ terms (Green, Walsh, Bomchill and Johnson). Putting them up in even years makes sense, when voters are paying attention. Despite parent and voter frustrations last year, a tiny percentage cared enough to come out to vote and change course.

“Race to the Top” or Race to the Loan Sharks?

December 29, 2009

Who knows more about extortion, me or you? – Tony Soprano

Here’s another example of government dictating over local districts with money on a string. If 281 is qualified for and takes this money from MN Race To The Top, they can’t back out and will be forced to comply with their requirements. From the Sun-Post:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier said, “Race to the Top is the equivalent of education reform’s moon shot.”

Districts who are interested must comply with stringent requirements, including a promise to ratify Q-Comp, a tool to reward top teachers, by July 1, 2012.

The catch is that school districts are being asked to sign no-escape contracts by Jan. 13, 2010, without knowing the specific details.

“There are an enormous number of strings attached,” said Peter Eckhoff, president of the 990-member Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers (RFT). “The most daunting is that we need to sign an agreement by Jan. 13, 2010, if we want to participate, and there’s no opt-out clause.”

Eckhoff said teachers’ union attorneys have advised him not to sign any documents until more information is available.

In addition, he cited “excessive reluctance from my [union] leadership,” given the large number of unknowns.

“At this point, I find myself beyond overwhelmed with the amount of detail and the enormous mountain we need to climb without the ability to escape,” Eckhoff said. “I have no authority from my members to sign a non-binding contract at this time.

“I’m getting nothing but caution signs and ‘slow down’ at every turn.”

Did you catch that red flag above?

The catch is that school districts are being asked to sign no-escape contracts by Jan. 13, 2010, without knowing the specific details.

Boardmember Patsy Green seems cool with taking the money and dealing with the loan sharks later:

“Any money we get has strings,” Green said. “I’m not going to be deterred by that. We tried Q-Comp four years ago when it was new. We were taken by surprise; we’ve been interested in Q-Comp. A lot of other districts have developed plans that are being very successfully implemented. Where are the roadblocks within our own school district community?”

But, according to union president Eckhoff:

The teacher’s union and District 281 School Board have explored Q-Comp in the past, and have not yet been successful in implementing the plan.

There’s the rub. Unions don’t like merit over seniority.  The Wall St. Journal digs a bit deeper on union resistance:

The Administration can expect more such opposition to “Race to the Top.” School choice is anathema to the nation’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which also oppose paying teachers for performance rather than for seniority and credentials.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told the Washington Post last week that charter schools and merit pay raise difficult issues for his members, yet Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states that block these reforms could jeopardize their grant eligibility. We’ll see who blinks first.

The Patsy Green who’s willing to grab the money is the very same who opposes charter schools in our district (as the unions who supported her re-election). That could badda-bing the whole deal. Would 281 ratify Q-Comp, bring in charter schools and raise the performance, along with a chance of getting this award, with unions against this?  Students would benefit greatly from Q-Comp and reform, but not the unions. Now we understand why Tony Soprano saw a psychiatrist.

Charter schools a threat to some on 281 School Board

October 23, 2009

“I would not put a charter school in a residential area to compete with our schools,” Boardmember Sherry Tyrrell said.

But Boardmember Jonas Beugen said he is more concerned about the district losing additional students.

“I think there is a place for charter schools,” he said. “They provide an opportunity for creativity and opportunities for doing things differently. We should keep our options open. Having charter schools in the community isn’t necessarily bad for our community.”

Boardmember Patsy Green maintained it is not “a level playing field.”

“Charter schools can do things we are not allowed to do,” said Green, who did not support the district’s sale of the former Lincoln School to Prairie Seeds Academy charter school.

Why are Patsy Green and Sherry Tyrrell so against charter schools in the district? This stat from a MN Sun Post article may be why:

The charter school segment has grown from 105 students in the 2002-03 school year to 620 students in 2008-09, outpacing non-public, home school and other public district school choices, Executive Director of Technology Dennis Beekman wrote in a memo to the School Board that was reviewed at the board’s work session Monday, Aug. 10.

Of the 620 resident students in the district who are attending 51 different charter schools, 507 (87 percent) attend 16 schools.

Green and Tyrrell don’t support giving parents options in our district. And we’ve seen the growing numbers of parents voting with their feet to other districts, charter schools and home schooling. Speaking of voting: unseat Patsy Green November 3.

After referendum passes, three schools now on the chopping block

December 31, 2008

Near the end of this 281 press release, you’ll see stats of Robbinsdale School District’s declining enrollment. We used the stats to justify voting no on the referendum. They use the stats to justify closing three schools.

School closing recommendation made
Robbinsdale district to hold public meeting Jan. 13

New Hope, Minn. – A facilities study team led by Wold Architects and Engineers recommends closing Sandburg Middle School and Pilgrim Lane and Sunny Hollow Elementary Schools at the end of this school year to right-size Robbinsdale Area Schools. The recommendation is one of four options that the team will present to the school board on Monday, January 5. Selection of one of the options is intended to help the school district run more efficiently by solving the district’s excess capacity problem. A December report indicated the district has enough excess capacity to consider closing up to two elementary schools and potentially one middle school due to recent declines in enrollment. The facilities study was identified by the community as an important goal in the district’s 2008 five-year Strategic Plan.

“We will keep our referendum promises to lower class size and restore the programs and activities that were cut over the last two years,” said Superintendent Stan F. Mack. “We can sustain these restorations for a longer period of time by right-sizing our operation.”

The four options that will be considered by the board propose closing different combinations of schools. The “Two Phases” option would close Pilgrim Lane and Lakeview Elementary Schools in 2009-10 and close a middle school in 2012-13. The “K-6” option moves 6th grade to elementary schools, closes Northport and Lakeview Elementary Schools and Robbinsdale Middle School in 2009-10. Most Northport and Lakeview students would move to the former Robbinsdale Middle School space alongside Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School (RSIS). The “K-5” option closes Pilgrim Lane and Sunny Hollow Elementary Schools and Sandburg Middle School in 2009-10. It also moves RSIS to Sunny Hollow. A “K-5” option variation would close Pilgrim Lane and Noble Elementary Schools and Sandburg Middle School in 2009-10. It moves RSIS to Sandburg.

The Wold team chose the K-5 option as its recommendation because:

  • It is the most efficient as it achieves the highest percentage capacity of any of the options;
  • It produces immediate savings  in operations costs;
  • Enrollment projections indicate the district will likely be right-sized for the next 10 years;
  • Preserves and potentially enhances current education initiatives for all grades;
  • It aligns four elementary schools and one middle school with each high school attendance area which aligns all schools to potentially offer International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement programming;
  • And it relocates the popular Spanish immersion program (which has a large waiting list each year) to a building where a decision to grow the program by one section at each grade level is possible.

“The other options don’t deliver the same scale of benefits, and they don’t support as efficient a delivery of educational initiatives,” said Scott McQueen, project manager for Wold.

No matter which option is chosen by the school board, the popular International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IBMYP) and the pre-Advanced Placement programs at the middle school level would be kept intact, and in some options would have an opportunity to expand.

“We understand that closing facilities is very hard for families, students, staff and community members,” added Mack. “We wish there were other alternatives to closing buildings, but this painful process has been something we’ve needed to do every few years since the 1970s after our enrollment peaked.”

Assumptions and criteria
The Wold team evaluated various options to solve the district’s excess capacity problem using the following assumptions and criteria:

  • Recommend creative solutions equal to the scale of the excess capacity problem
  • Focus on options that save the most money or provide added value at the least expense
  • Recommend buildings to be closed and sold


  • Solutions must geographically balance schools across the district
  • Solutions must preserve remodeled buildings and divest of unremodeled buildings when possible


  • Close smaller schools before larger schools; smaller schools are less efficient to operate than larger schools
  • Close schools with small attendance before those with larger attendance; schools with small attendance are less efficient than schools with larger attendance.

The public is invited to ask questions and provide input at a meeting Tuesday, January 13, 2009, 7 p.m. at Robbinsdale Cooper High School, 8230 47th Ave. N., New Hope.

The school board will hear the presentation of the options by the Wold team at its 7 p.m, January 5 meeting; will discuss the options at its 5:30 p.m., January 12 work session; and is planning to make its decision on which plan to implement at its 7 p.m., January 20 meeting. All meetings are held at the Education Service Center, 4148 Winnetka Ave. N., New Hope. The meetings of January 5 and 20 will be carried live on Ed’s TV Cable Channel 22, and will be replayed at the following times during the week of the board meeting: Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.; Thursday at 8 a.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. The Wold team’s Facilities Study report, including the problem, the solutions, possible attendance boundaries and the enrollment report are available on the district’s website at <; .

About the district’s excess capacity problem
The Wold team said in a mid-study report in December that the district currently has excess capacity of 1,450 students at the elementary level and 800 at the district’s middle schools. According to demographer Hazel Reinhardt, the district’s enrollment is expected at the elementary level in the next few years, and will not see an increase in enrollment in the next 10 years. “The district is doing a good job of retaining students from year to year, but there are simply fewer children entering kindergarten each year primarily due to lower birthrates which will lead to a continuing decline in enrollment,” she said.

School closing history
Robbinsdale Area Schools’ peak enrollment was 28,101 students in 1971. Since then, the school-aged population has declined, and the district’s enrollment has dropped. In 2005-06, enrollment was 13,087. This year’s enrollment is 12,349, a drop of nearly 750 students since 2005-06 when the district last closed a facility (New Hope Elementary). Since 1971, the district has continuously evaluated its facilities needs and closed facilities when necessary. In 1972, prior to the inception of the community education and special education programs, 31 buildings were open. Currently, 15 buildings are used as schools; five are used by community education, special education, administration and other programs; four have been leased to other organizations; and seven have been closed and sold.

Robbinsdale Area Schools operates 11 elementary schools (K-5), three middle schools (6-8), two high schools (9-12) and an alternative high school in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis, including all or parts of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Golden Valley, New Hope, Plymouth and Robbinsdale.

Here’s the chart we showed before the November election: Total enrollment (blue line) & General Fund Revenue (green line)…

What’s wrong with this picture? More revenue for fewer students and now fewer schools!  We agree with the closing of  schools, not the referendum and spending by the district. By all means, attend the January 13 meeting.