Various Local School Stories

State may force city schools to end High Five program

High Five, a Minneapolis Public Schools readiness program for kids who turn 5 shortly after the Sept. 1 kindergarten cutoff date may be canceled after this school year, according to a school district letter sent to parents.

Spokespersons for the state of Minnesota said earlier this month that they could not spend state funds on the

Minneapolis program, as they have done for 15 years.

High Five serves kids who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 31 and is open to any income level. Twenty-four Minneapolis public schools offer the program, including Jefferson, Armatage, Kenny, Whittier, Bryn Mawr and Lyndale in Southwest. The program costs Minneapolis $1.5 million and currently serves 600 kids.

Bill Walsh, Minnesota Department of Education communications director, said that current state law allows funding for 1st-grade preparatory programs, but High Five prepares students for kindergarten.

Walsh said Minneapolis is "generating two years of kindergarten revenue when state law provides for only one."

Walsh said the issue came up after suburban districts wanted to create a similar program and have the state help pay, as it does for Minneapolis, St. Paul and Robbinsdale. That would cost the state millions of new dollars.

"There is no doubt about the value of the High Five program," Walsh said. "The real issue is fairness. There are 4-year-olds and parents around the state that would love if the state would fund a program for prekindergarten. Most districts don’t do it because it is not within the confines of state law."

Maureen Seiwert, director of Minneapolis schools’ prekindergarten education, said High Five has not changed in the 15 years since state funding began. She said that a state statute that allows school districts to establish their own 1st-grade admission standards makes the program legal in Minnesota.

"We have been operating openly and honestly with the state all along," Seiwert said. "There needs to be some real clarification as to the intent of the legislation and how it is going to be interpreted by the Department of Education."

Seiwart notes the irony of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration cutting off pre-kindergarten programs when Pawlenty is calling for all kids to read by the end of 1st grade. "The governor’s proposal … will not happen if kids are not given the proper foundation, which means strong preschool experience," she said.

The issue may be decided during the coming legislative session that begins in February.

— Bob Gilbert

New Whittier liquor store gets recommendation

A Whittier Alliance committee has recommended the City Council approve a new liquor store at 2750 Nicollet Ave. S.

Isidro Perez will own Marissa’s Liquor Store, connected via a common vestibule to a new 12,000-square-foot grocery store. The Whittier neighborhood group’s Transportation and Land Use Committee approved the recommendation Jan. 13.

Committee Chair Jeff Carlson said he has been in the building and the liquor store is the smaller of the two spaces. He said the interior includes brick archways that make the space look like a Mexican village. Perez also owns Marissa’s Bakeries in Whittier and Kingfield.

Said Carlson, "Even the people who are opposed to the liquor store had nothing but good things to say about Isidro Perez. He put in a big new sign and a bike rack. He employs 25 people and is a good member of the community."

Whittier Alliance Executive Director Angela Currier said support for the liquor store is not universal. "Some people aren’t too enthused about having another liquor store on Nicollet Avenue. There is the fear that it will increase the same problems we currently have, like public drunkenness, public urination, and disorderly conduct."

Laura Boyd, a former Minneapolis employee turned licensing consultant who works for Perez, said she understands the community’s concerns and said he will avoid the problems to which other liquor stores in the area have contributed.

How will Perez do that?

Said Boyd, "By the investment you make in your property, in your faade, your interior and the products that you sell, which are all upscale [at Perez’s establishment]. It’s a matter of who you market your products to. He will not be selling single cans of beer, fortified wines, pints and half pints that appeal to chronic inebriates."

Perez’s next step in the regulatory process is a Minneapolis Planning Commission hearing. No date has been scheduled yet.

— Bob Gilbert


Peace groups meet Jan. 24

Peace in the Precincts, a Minnesota-based coalition of citizens from established peace organizations and neighborhoods, plans to meet Saturday, Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. at the First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, 3400 Dupont Ave. S. to discuss strategy for the upcoming precinct caucuses.

Peace in the Precincts hopes to form a unified political force from the 8,000 people who marched against the Iraq war last spring, a flyer said.

The group will unveil its top five priorities, identified through small group "kitchen table" discussions during the effort’s first phase. Organizers will ask participants to ratify the resolution and set precinct caucus strategy and turnout goals, the flyer said.

Registration begins at 1:30 p.m. For more information or to register, go online at

— Scott Russell


Things going on in the Southwest Area School Districts.

Despite demographics, Lyndale school succeeds

Three years of strong reading scores takes community school off federal list By Bob Gilbert

At Lyndale Community School, 90 percent of its 390 K-5 students live in poverty, 50 percent use English as their second language and 18 percent receive special education. Thirty-nine percent of the student body arrive or depart during the school year. The 3333 Grand Ave. school’s attendance boundary was recently changed, and some of its best students now attend other schools.

So why do district administrators hail Lyndale as one of the best in the city?


Lyndale left the No Child Left Behind underperformance list because students demonstrated "adequate yearly progress" two years in a row. For the past three years, 58 percent of its 1st graders have outperformed the Minneapolis district’s reading standard — a higher percentage than some city schools with fewer kids in poverty.

Principal Ossie Brooks-James recalled former Minneapolis School Superintendent Peter Hutchinson’s favorite expression, "let the main thing be the main thing."

And what is the main thing?

"Student achievement," Brooks-James said. "Reading is crucial, and so we concentrate our resources on reading. If you do not read well in 1st grade, it is really hard to get it going in 2nd grade."

To achieve that end, Lyndale decided that each kindergarten class would be all day (most Minneapolis schools have just one all-day class) and 1st-grade classes would have no more than 15 students, below the district average of 19. Research shows that children in poverty who get that kind of quality instruction in the first two or three years of school are better students, Brooks-James said.

Three full-time English Language Learner (ELL) teachers also serve as the school’s primary reading teachers — a major reason Lyndale has some of the district’s highest ELL test scores, staffers say.

Four other teachers learned ELL training techniques — because, Brooks-James says, Lyndale has found that more than just foreign-language-speaking kids benefit.

"What we’ve come to realize is that the same strategies that work for ELL students also work for underperforming African-American children," she said. "Many children who are low-income are deficient in vocabulary. There were kids in class who did not know what a sleeve was. By teaching language, vocabulary and comprehension, we have addressed a major area of deficiency."

Ellen Zampino has taught 3rd grade at Lyndale for five years. She thinks Lyndale is the best-kept secret in the city. She credits Brooks-James for creating a positive learning environment wherein the entire staff shares its best lesson strategies.

"The teaching staff’s dedication, hard work and love of children all combine to make an environment where kids know that learning is important," Zampino said. "They know that we expect them to learn. It is done in such a way that they are not even aware of how hard they are working. We have real high expectation; we raise the bar, and they work hard to get there."

East Calhoun neighborhood resident Elizabeth Short discovered the city’s best-kept secret inadvertently. When she missed a Sept. 1 cutoff date to enroll in her son McLean in kindergarten, he wound up in Lyndale’s High Five program, a prekindergarten public school program for kids who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 31.

McLean is now a Lyndale kindergartener. Said Short, "We loved it so much after High Five that we decided to go to Lyndale even though we live outside of the attendance area and have drive him to school everyday. It is a warm, safe environment, and you know your kids are being watched and cared for in a supportive way."

Lyndale has succeeded despite an attendance boundary change two years ago. The decision — which eliminated most busing across I-35W and saved the district $5 million in annual transportation costs — made Southwest elementary schools such as Burroughs and Lake Harriet less diverse, but brought more ELL students to schools such as Lyndale.

Said Brooks-James, "I just has a little girl tell me the other day ‘Ms. James, today is my last day’ and I thought ‘Oh my God, another good one got away from us.’ We were the school of choice for many of our literate Somali families, but they lived on the other side of the freeway and now go to Sullivan."

Dave Heistad, executive director of student information for the Minneapolis district, explained that such changes make it harder for Lyndale to meet the new federal No Child Left Behind standards. Schools are judged on a single year’s test scores — with no allowances for student bodies that become poorer or have more kids with language or developmental obstacles.

"Very often, the students coming into Lyndale are starting with lower test scores than the students leaving," Heistad said.

Despite that bias, Lyndale has left the No Child list. Partly to counter No Child’s deficiencies, the Minneapolis district also measures individual student’s yearly progress. Said Heistad, "if you track the same kids across time, you’d see the exceptional gains they are making there relative to the rest of the district. So by all indicators, Lyndale is an exceptional school — one that should that be emulated, and not one of those schools that should be labeled a failing school."

So how can the Minneapolis district replicate Lyndale’s success districtwide?

"Leadership is a big part of its success," Heistad said. "Not only principal leadership, but teacher leadership. They have an experienced staff that mentors new staff, as well providing leadership in curriculum areas. We are trying to emulate their instructional strategies and trying and provide leadership training and lots of professional development, which is a big key for us."

Brooks-James said that the school has a stable program whose staff has an institutional memory to get the job done. When hiring a new staff person, Brooks-James said she never sugarcoats what Lyndale is like. She looks for a person who has a high level of commitment, who understands the kind of environment that he or she is coming into and is not afraid of hard work. She said she stays away from those she referred to as "missionaries," whose tendency is to pity a child rather than empower him or her.

Brooks-James is also savvy about the accolades her school has earned in recent years. She knows the No Child Left Behind list is an up-today, down-tomorrow thing — that if a brand new crop of 3rd and 5th graders don’t top their predecessors on this spring’s tests, her school may be right back on the list.

"When you work in a school that has been on the underperforming schools list, a lot of your time is mandated by the state meeting with outside experts," Brooks-James said. "The team leaders are very nice people. I had three and I liked every one, but I got sick and tired of seeing their face. I don’t want to see them anymore."

With all the issues confronting Lyndale, how does it remain successful?

"You don’t give up," said Zampino "It’s a hard job, but there are enormous benefits, including the satisfaction of knowing that you are making a change."

Kindergarten registration cards due Jan. 15 Minneapolis parents of kids turning 5 between Sept. 2, 2003 and Sept. 1, 2004 must file school request cards with the Minneapolis Public Schools by Thursday, Jan. 15.

Most but not all Southwest kids have a community school and are guaranteed placement in that school if they file their cards by the Jan. 15 deadline. Parents may also choose among 10 different kindergarten programs; those filing after Jan. 15 may find their choices more limited because schools have reached capacity.

There is also the Choice Is Yours Program that allows qualifying students to attend school in one of eight suburban school districts with transportation provided.

Request cards should be returned to Student Placement Services, 910 W. Broadway, Minneapolis, 55411. The office is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; the phone number is 668-1840 or you can e-mail

Registration cards are available in Hmong, Spanish and Somali and can be downloaded at

When registering, parents are required to show their child’s birth certificate and a record of his or her immunization.

Parents are welcome to tour schools any time of the year but should call ahead first. — Bob Gilbert

Burroughs dedication is Jan. 22 Staff at Burroughs Community School, 1601 W. 50th St., will dedicate their new school building Thursday, Jan. 22 from 6-7:30 p.m.

The school choir will perform in the gym, and the community can tour the new school that opened in September. Cake and punch will be served. For more information, call 668-3280. — Bob Gilbert