Schools notebook

Voters to decide school board election change

After a surprising reversal by one of its members, the Board of Education left it to voters to decide whether school board members should be elected by district.

On a narrow 4–3 vote, the board moved Dec. 11 not to adopt the measures of the so-called "Davnie Bill," which would increase the board’s size from seven to nine members, including three at-large members and six district representatives. Currently, all Minneapolis school board members serve at-large.

The 2006 bill named for state Sen. Jim Davnie (DFL-62A), its author, called for voters to decide on the question if the Minneapolis school board did not comply with the bill. It will appear on the ballot in 2008.

Board Member T. Williams, who previously supported the motion, said he was persuaded by the arguments of fellow board members and cast the deciding vote against the motion.

"I expect my e-mail … box to be filled up with people who are disappointed at my being a turncoat," Williams said after revealing his change of heart.

Board members Lydia Lee and Sharon Henry-Blythe led the attack on the motion, joined by Board Chairwoman Pam Costain and Williams. Board members Tom Madden, Chris Stewart and Peggy Flanagan voted in favor of the motion.

Henry-Blythe warned that board members elected by district might act "parochially" instead of representing all children in Minneapolis. She added that leaving such a major decision up to seven people was "arrogance at its height, in my opinion."

Lee said the additional members would make it harder for the board to reach consensus. Few major, urban districts have boards as large as nine members, she said.

"We can get a lot more done with fewer people," she said. "I think that we should downsize to five [members]."

Lee also spoke to the importance of "stability" on the board as the district prepared to act on its long-term strategic plan, approved earlier in the meeting.

Madden, who made the motion in support of the Davnie Bill, argued that a larger board could better manage its many
commitments.

"One of the benefits of this bill, in my mind, is it divvies up the job, somewhat," he said. "… We have endless community meetings that we’re all invited to and the majority of them none of us can make."

Madden praised the board’s diversity but noted that, as balanced as it was in many respects, there was no representative from Northeast Minneapolis.

"We got it right racially, we got it right gender-wise, we got it right professionally, but we missed a whole quadrant of the city," he said.

Flanagan said representation by district would "increase the responsiveness of this board," giving students, parents and teachers a specific representative to approach with questions or concerns about their part of the city.

Both Stewart and Madden argued that citywide election of school board members gave too much weight to the mostly white residents of South and Southwest, who turn out in large numbers for elections.

"Let’s just face it: There’s a complete monopoly in this city on the process and how you become elected to this board," Stewart said. "I saw it when I ran, and it changed my mind on the Davnie Bill."

If approved by Minneapolis voters next fall, the changes described in the Davnie Bill would go into effect in 2010.

PreK–8 School Choice Fair

The Minneapolis Public Schools prekindergarten through 8th grade School Choice Fair is 9 a.m.-–2 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel, 1300 Nicollet Mall.

Parents of students who will enter prekindergarten, kindergarten or middle school in fall 2008 are especially encouraged to attend. District staff and members of district schools will be on hand to answer questions and assist parents in the school-selection process.

PreK–8 school choice request cards are due Feb. 29.

Area C Parent Forum meeting

WINDOM — The next Area C Parent Forum meeting is 6:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at Windom Spanish Dual Immersion and Open School, 5821 Wentworth Ave. S.

Schools Notebook

District speaks through MPS Communicator
A new source for information on contract talks between the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) and Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) drew a mixed reaction after its debut in early December.

Board of Education Chair Pam Costain said The MPS Communicator would be published “as needed” to report information on ongoing negotiations for a 2007–2009 teachers’ contract.

“We’re in a really important time, and it’s important to have the facts,” Costain said.

MFT President Robert Panning-Miller dismissed Costain’s claim that the newsletter was unbiased.

“It definitely has skewed the information and has misinformation in it,” Panning-Miller said.

The district began posting The MPS Communicator on its website (www.mpls.k12.mn.us/) in early December. Its communications office expected to have a space on the website where parents could sign up to receive The MPS Communicator by e-mail later in the month.

Costain said the newsletter was intended to dispel “rumors and distortions” circulating outside of the negotiations, including talk of a pay freeze for teachers.

But on that particular point, Panning-Miller said The MPS Communicator was one-sided.

“They have not shown us anything that would be an increase in the salary schedule,” he said.

Parents can sign up for the newsletter and decide for themselves. But they shouldn’t expect a similar media offensive from the teachers’ union, Panning-Miller said.

“We’re not going to negotiate in the media,” he said.

Mediator brought into district-teacher talks
An outside mediator entered ongoing negotiations between the Minneapolis school district and the teachers union over a new teachers’ contract, the district reported in late November.

Josh Tilsen, a representative of Minnesota Bureau of Labor Mediation Service, will attempt to aid both sides in hammering out a new teachers’ contract. Labor talks began in March but, after more than eight months of negotiation, it appeared the two sides remained far apart on a number of issues.

Board of Education members made clear they view a new teachers’ contract as a key piece of long-term strategic planning for the district. Meanwhile, many district teachers wore red Dec. 5 as a sign of support for the teachers union.

Armatage on Broadway
ARMATAGE
— The Broadway stagehand strike in New York in November didn’t slow down production of Kids on Broadway, an afterschool program at Armatage Community and Montessori School.

Students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade performed scenes from “Grease,” “Hairspray,” “Oklahoma!” and other Broadway musicals Dec. 6 and 7.

School social worker Julie Railsback, who has run the after-school program for five years, said it is extremely popular with Armatage students. More than 90 students performed scenes from nine Broadway productions, and others had to be put on a waiting list when the program filled.

“I’ve had so many kids come in today and say, ‘Why won’t you open it up to 2nd graders?’” Railsback said.

Kids on Broadway was started eight years ago by another Armatage parent, and now Railsback teaches students singing, acting, and dancing with the help of parent volunteers and the school’s music department. Rehearsals began in October.

Kenwood students share
KENWOOD
— In what has become a twice-yearly tradition at Kenwood Community School, students shared classroom lessons in performances for their school and parents in December.

Courtney Cushing Kiernat, co-chair of the Kenwood site council, said the Kenwood Share-In Day is a chance for students to demonstrate what they have learned through song, dance and speeches.

Third-graders performed the Indonesian Saman or “Dance of a Thousand Hands.” Kenwood’s artists-in-residence, parents Bob Walser and Julie Young-Walser, taught students about the history and cultural significance of the dance, which requires coordinated hand movements.

Southwest holiday concert
LINDEN HILLS
— Southwest High School holds its annual holiday concert 7 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Basilica of St. Mary, 88 N. 17th St.

The concert will feature Southwest’s orchestra as well as wind and choral ensembles. The cost is $5 for students and $7 for adults.

Schools notebook

Students receive free dictionaries

TANGLETOWN — Third-grade students at Ramsey International Fine Arts Center received free dictionaries in November courtesy of the Uptown Rotary Club.

The club has partnered with The Dictionary Project nonprofit organization since 2005 to get dictionaries in the hands of Ramsey students. This year, club members Mary Ellen Scott and Magdeline Aagard delivered dictionaries to all 99 of the school’s 3rd-graders.

The Dictionary Project (www.dictionaryproject.org) and its partners donated more than 1.9 million dictionaries to schoolchildren in 2006. The project began when a Savannah, Ga., woman donated 50 dictionaries to local students in 1992 and since has expanded nationwide.

More than 5,000 dictionaries were donated in Hennepin County so far this school year by the Rotary Club, Lions Club and the Minnesota Vikings.


Board discusses options for Lehmann Center

THE WEDGE — An ongoing Board of Education discussion about the use of school properties may affect one Minneapolis Public Schools building in Southwest.

Chief of Operations Steven Liss presented tentative plans Nov. 20 to move classes out of the Lehmann Education Center, 1006 W. Lake St., which houses the Uptown Academy, Wellstone International High School and other nontraditional school programs.

The plan calls for the closing of Folwell Middle School in South Minneapolis at the end of this school year. Some Lehmann Center programs could then be moved from their current location to Folwell for the 2008–2009 school year.

The move would be part of a larger strategy to consolidate district operations into fewer buildings. Facing continuing declines in its student population, the district may move to close some South schools just a year after closing five schools on the North Side.

Liss said the district also plans to study the relocation of its administrative offices at 807 NE Broadway St., a former factory.

"For lots of reasons, that space doesn’t optimally meet our administrative needs and, financially, it’s a burden on the district," Liss said.

The Lehmann Center also houses some administrative offices, and the relocation of those offices will be a part of the study.

"Both this building [at 807 NE Broadway St.] and the Lehmann Center have some commercial value, so that one piece of moving out of this building or the Lehmann Center is that we’d be able to sell them," Liss told the school board.

Board Member Peggy Flanagan noted that the Lehmann center was located in Uptown, one of the hottest real estate markets in the city. Any revenue from a sale could go into district operations or be used to pay down debt that contributes to an estimated $100 million budget deficit.

Still, several board members expressed concern about closing Folwell Middle School. With only 222 students, the program falls short of the district’s minimum size target. But it has shown recent improvements in academics, including stronger performances on state standardized tests.

Tom Madden was one of several board members who were reluctant to end the program at Folwell.

"It’s got to be about academics," Madden said. "It can’t be about enrollment numbers."

AP and IB get high grades

Two college-preparatory programs that may soon be standard in all Minneapolis public high schools earned high marks for rigor from a Washington, D.C.-based education think tank.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute released its report on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate in November. The report is available for free at www.edexcellence.net.

A panel of experts found both programs to be "generally strong" but also found "some disturbing holes in their curricula," as stated in the forward to the report. Those holes were largest in math and English.

The report may especially interest parents of future high school students who got their first look at the district’s planned redesign of high schools in October.

One aspect of the plan calls for a new "comprehensive high school" model to replace the district’s traditional high schools. All comprehensive schools would include four programs: International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, College in the Schools and career and technical education.

International Baccalaureate is currently offered only at Southwest and Patrick Henry high schools but will be expanded to more high schools over the next few years. Advanced Placement courses already are more widely available.

 
Book sales support Washburn

TANGLETOWN — A portion of sales Dec. 10 at the Barnes & Noble location in the Galleria in Edina will go to Washburn High School.

Washburn students also will present book readings, musical performances and one-act plays during the event. The money raised will purchase reference books and other materials for the school’s classrooms and media center.