Schools notebook

Graduation rates up in 2007

Minneapolis Public Schools reported a significant increase in the number of high school seniors who earned a diploma last year.

The district’s graduation rate increased to 67.2 percent in 2007, up from 60.7 percent in 2006. Six of the seven high schools posted higher graduation rates, and more seniors from each demographic group counted by the state graduated high school.

The graduation rate was one hopeful sign in the year-end statistics reported by the district, which saw more schools fall short last year of adequate yearly progress goals set by the state under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Chief Academic Officer Bernadeia Johnson expressed optimism that district graduation rates are going up even at a time when graduation requirements are increasingly demanding.

Johnson pointed to the district’s Check & Connect program as one factor in the higher graduation rates.

The program works by monitoring students’ attendance and academic performance to identify those who may be at risk of dropping out. Individualized intervention plans are used to keep those students engaged with their schools and on-track for graduation.

Edison High School in North Minneapolis reported the biggest jump in graduation rates, with an increase of about 15.7 percent in 2007 to 76.6 percent of all students.

Washburn High School posted a greater than 3 percent gain in graduation rates, the biggest increase in Southwest. About 89.9 percent of Washburn seniors graduated in 2007.

At Southwest High School, 87.7 percent of seniors graduated in 2007, an increase of less than 2 percent over 2006.

About 94.4 percent of South High School students graduated in 2007, a slight gain over the previous year.

Southwest schools ‘beat the odds’

District leaders recognized schools that "beat the odds" in 2007 by posting higher-than-expected scores on state tests, including a number of Southwest schools, at the Board of Education meeting Sept. 11.

Dave Heistad, the district’s director of research, evaluation and assessment, said the beat-the-odds schools showed the greatest growth among continuously enrolled students. Student growth over time is a better measure of school quality than the snapshot provided by the results from a single standardized test, Heistad said.

"It’s a good measure of long-term progress for the schools," he said.

Growth was measured by comparing students’ scores on the most recent round of state math and reading tests to their scores from similar tests taken several years earlier.

Four of the 10 schools recognized for the greatest growth in student math proficiency between the end of 5th grade and the end of 8th grade were from Southwest, including Barton Open School, Jefferson Community School, Anthony Middle School and Lake Harriet Community School’s Upper Campus.

Reading growth was measured by comparing students’ scores as 3rd-graders to assessments made when they were kindergarteners. Bryn Mawr Community School, Kenny Community School and Ramsey International Fine Arts Center all placed in the top 10.

Heistad said 8th-grade math proficiency and 3rd-grade reading proficiency are two key indicators of student performance.

OUTspoken training coming to Minneapolis

LYNNHURST — A national training campaign for families headed by gay and lesbian parents comes to Burroughs Community School on Saturday, Sept. 29.

The OUTspoken training program, sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Family Pride, trains lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender parents and their community supporters to tell the stories of their families and advocate for equality.

OUTspoken Families include more than 1,000 people in 44 states and outside the U.S. who have gone through the training, Family Pride reported. Those families make a commitment to speak about family equality in their community at least eight times a year.

The training runs 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at Burroughs, 1601 W. 50th St. Register for the event at

Board endorses Minneapolis Youth Congress

The Minneapolis School Board passed a resolution to support the launch of the Minneapolis Youth Congress at its meeting Sept. 11.

The congress will be a representative body made up of youth in grades 8 through 12. Its 55 members will work to influence policy decisions at the city and county level that impact children and teenagers.

The congress is sponsored by the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board.

Board members will select the first members of the congress, which will convene six times a year and form committees that meet twice a month.

More information and applications to the congress are available on the board’s website,

Reach Dylan Thomas at or 436-4391.

Schools notebook

Whittier principal returning to St. Paul

WHITTIER — Principal Armando Camacho left Whittier International Elementary School over the summer to take a leadership position with St. Paul Public Schools.

Assistant Principal Shelley Berken will serve as interim Whittier principal until a new principal is named.

In August, Camacho was named assistant director of St. Paul’s alternative learning programs. He will oversee nontraditional school programs, such as those serving adults, pregnant teenagers, and youth recovering from drug or alcohol abuse.

Camacho attended St. Paul schools and also worked in that district before joining Minneapolis Public Schools in 1998, a Minneapolis district spokesman said.

In March, Whittier was authorized to teach the International Baccalaureate-Primary Years Programme, a rigorous and highly regarded curriculum used in schools around the world. One of Camacho’s major accomplishments in Minneapolis was leading Whittier through the three-year application process.

Under Camacho’s leadership, the school also went from one of the lowest-performing schools in the state to meeting adequate yearly progress goals set by the state under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. During that same period, school attendance increased from about 280 students to about 440 students.

Big Brothers Big Sisters seek mentors

Adult mentors are needed to volunteer in 21 Hennepin County Schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities announced in August.

The nonprofit program matches adult volunteers with school children ages 7–13. Adult mentors meet with a student at school one hour per week during the school year, usually over lunch.

Big Brother Big Sisters says the connection with a mentor can help improve a students’ school performance and

Jefferson Community School in The Wedge neighborhood and Interdistrict Downtown School are among the area schools still in need of mentors. For more information, or to apply online, visit

Three-year, $500,000 grant will support arts program

A Minneapolis Public Schools program that integrates the arts with classroom learning received a three-year, $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation in August.

The program, Arts for Academic Achievement, which already reaches about 9,000 Minneapolis students, will be expanded throughout the district, Achieve!Minneapolis reported. Achieve!Minneapolis is a nonprofit organization supporting Minneapolis Public Schools.

Since 1997, Arts for Academic Achievement has brought artists into the classroom as a way to enhance the core curriculum and improve student achievement.

A study by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement showed improvement in reading and math scores for some students in classrooms using Arts for Academic Achievement. The Center also found some improvement in teacher practice and stronger ties between community artists and the schools that implemented the

New superintendent for Area C sought

District leaders had yet to name a replacement Area C superintendent at the end of August after reassigning Assistant Superintendent Craig Vana.

Vana was named to a new position leading the district’s emergency management planning. He will also have a leading role overseeing self-governed schools and academic policies.

Vana will serve as interim assistant superintendent for Area C until a replacement is named. The district’s Area C encompasses all schools in Southwest.

Vana’s reassignment came as all three area leadership positions in the district changed hands.

Brenda Cassellius, a former Minneapolis Public Schools administrator, returned to the district to serve as associate superintendent for Area B. Cassellius replaced Karen Pedersen, who announced her retirement at the end of the summer.

Ben Perry was selected as associate superintendent for Area A, replacing Von Sheppard. Sheppard resigned in July to take a leadership position with Twin Cities RISE!, a local job-placement organization primarily serving communities of color.

Girl Scouts collecting school supplies

FULTON — Southwest’s Girl Scout Troop 443 is collecting school supplies for low-income families at the Central Community Housing Trust in Elliot Park.

They request donations of any school supplies for grades K–12, including pencils, ballpoint pens, spiral notebooks, art supplies and three-ring binders. The supplies will go to school age children at the non-profit apartment and town home complex.

Donated supplies can be dropped off at Lake Harriet Community School’s upper campus, 4912 Vincent Ave. S., or lower campus, 4030 Chowen Ave. S. Drop-off boxes will be placed outside the school offices at both locations. Donations are welcome through Sept. 14.

The girls in Troop 443 include students from Lake Harriet Community School, Talmud Torah in St. Paul and Hillcrest Community School in Bloomington.

Reach Dylan Thomas at or 436-4391.