Schools notebook

Washburn begins fresh start interviews

TANGLETOWN — Current Washburn High School teachers and staff at will have first crack at the jobs that opened up when Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) announced a fresh start for the school this spring.

Under a fresh start, all school positions are open and staff must reapply for their positions. Only Principal Carol Markham-Cousins and her counterpart at Edison High School — the other district school to get a fresh start next year — were guaranteed their jobs.

Current faculty and staff who want to return next year will be interviewed before the positions are opened to the rest of the district, said Pat Pratt-Cook, MPS senior executive director of human resources.

Interviews with administrative staff were already begun at Washburn when Pratt-Cook presented the plan to the Minneapolis Board of Education April 8. Teachers were to begin interviews the week of April 21.

Pratt-Cook described a two-tiered interview process at Washburn. An interview team made up of Markham-Cousins or an assistant principal and district staff will interview current teachers in the first round. In the second round, rehired teachers will join the interview teams.

Pratt-Cook said the second round of interviews would begin sometime in mid-May. Before then, both Washburn and Edison will hold informational open houses for all district staff interested in joining the fresh start schools.

Windom partners with VocalEssence

WINDOM — Windom Spanish Dual Immersion and Open School announced a partnership with Minneapolis nonprofit vocal music group VocalEssence for the 2008–2009 school year.

Tami VanOverbeke said the partnership would bring back some musical education programming, which wasn’t available at Windom this school year. Windom also planned to start a band program next fall, VanOverbeke added.

She said composer Sabina Covarrubias from VocalEssence’s ¡Cantaré! Program will work with several classes and teach them about Mexican musical traditions and instruments. The program will culminate in a performance next spring.

For more information on ¡Cantaré! visit the VocalEssence website (

Blake senior honored

— Angelina Momanyi, a senior at The Blake School, was one of 15 high school seniors from across the country honored for activism by the American Civil Liberties Union in April.

Momanyi is an advocate for reproductive rights and has lobbied the state Legislature for comprehensive sexual education in public schools, the ACLU of Minnesota reported. In her junior year she volunteered more than 200 hours educating her peers on reproductive health issues.

Momanyi and the other recipients of the 2008 ACLU Youth Activist Scholarship were each awarded a $5,000 college

Emerson student wins state geography bee

— Emerson Spanish Immersion Learning Center 7th-grader Cody DuBois correctly placed Da Nang to win the state geography bee April 4, Macalester College reported.

The bee, held at Macalester, was the qualifying event from the 2008 National Geographic Bee held May 20–21 in Washington, D.C. Over 100 students from across the state participated.

DuBois’ geographic knowledge earned him a shot at a $25,000 scholarship and lifetime membership to the National Geographic Society at the national championship.

In case you were wondering, Da Nang is located in Vietnam.

Schools notebook

Washburn to get ‘fresh start’

TANGLETOWN — Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) announced in March a plan to shake up staffing at Washburn High School next year, while at the same time providing additional resources to boost student performance.

Washburn, along with Edison High School in Northeast, will get what the district calls a “fresh start” in the fall of 2008. While both schools will retain their current principals, all other staff positions will be opened, and existing staff will have to reapply for their jobs.

“It does not mean that all the teachers are gone,” Washburn Principal Carol Markham-Cousins said. “It means the teachers that are here can recommit to working together.”

Associate Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said the district debated the fresh start for weeks before deciding it was the best way to accelerate reform efforts at both schools. Washburn and Edison were the lowest performing of the city’s seven traditional high schools, said Cassellius, who is leading a broader effort to transform high schools.

Cassellius said student performance was just one of several factors in making a fresh start at Washburn. District leaders also considered staff retention and mobility; enrollment projections; and surveys of students, teachers, and parents.

“We kept on vetting it and making sure it was the right decision,” she said. “It’s just a very difficult decision to make.”

The district has made the decision before with several middle and elementary schools, but Washburn and Edison were the first high schools to get a fresh start, the district reported.

Markham-Cousins cautioned against laying blame on teachers for the fresh start.

She said a “series of decisions over many years” were behind the school’s struggles, as well as community perceptions that Washburn was not as strong academically as other high schools. Markham-Cousins joined the Washburn staff last fall.

Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Robert Panning-Miller did not return calls for comment.

Both Washburn and Edison will receive additional resources to recruit extra staff and provide more teacher training next school year.

Markham-Cousins said she expected to see improvement every year going forward but added that significant change would take time.

“This district and this community needs to be committed over the next three to five years,” she said.

Area C Parent Forum meeting April 10

Parents from Minneapolis Public Schools’ Area C — which includes Southwest — meet 6:30–8:30 p.m. April 10 at Emerson Spanish Immersion School, 1421 Spruce Place.

Topics on the agenda include the district’s plans to redesign high schools and the pathways into high schools, as well as parent engagement in schools. Childcare and interpretive services will be provided.

Finance seminar at Washburn

TANGLETOWN — A personal finance seminar April 24 will raise money to support programs at Washburn High School and Anthony Middle School.

Author Nathan Dungan will present “Money, Values & Habits: Financial Sanity 101,” followed by a question-and-answer session and a social hour with refreshments. Dungan is president of Share Save Spend, an organization that aims to teach children and adults healthy financial habits (

The event is 6:30–9:30 p.m. April 24 in the auditorium at Washburn High School, 201 W. 49th St. Admission is free for parents and community members, but donations will go to support academic enrichment and other programs, such as arts and athletics, at Washburn and Anthony schools.

Prior to the speaker, Washburn Principal Carol Markham-Cousins and Anthony Principal Jackie Hanson plan to give updates on their schools. No childcare will be provided.

Southwest chess team wins third straight title

LINDEN HILLS — Southwest High School’s chess team won the Minnesota State Chess Association (MSCA) Scholastic Championships March 16 to take their third state title in three years, the association

Zachary Adams, Michael Hermanson, Nick Graves and Tremayne Talbot were the top scorers from Southwest, and their performances earned the team its first-place finish. The two-day event at Eagan High School included over 250 students from across the state.

Laura Howard and Claire Richards of Southwest were both among the four highest-scoring female players. The MSCA will choose one of the four in April to represent Minnesota at a girls’ chess tournament in Dallas this summer. The team travels this month to the National High School Chess Championship in Atlanta.