Schools notebook

DFL candidates are top finishers in school board primary

Three DFL endorsees were the top vote-earners among nine candidates running for the Minneapolis School Board in the Sept. 9 primary election.

Incumbent Lydia Lee and newcomers Jill Davis and Carla Bates will advance to the Nov. 4 general election.

The other candidates to emerge from the primary were incumbent Sharon Henry-Blythe, GOP-endorsed candidate Kari Reed and Doug Mann, according to unofficial results reported by Hennepin County. With only six slots on the general election ballot, it appeared Allison Johnson, Mary Buss and Thomas Dicks were eliminated from the race.

The six candidates will vie for three open school board seats on Election Day. Board members are elected at-large and serve two-year terms.

Lee, a former middle school math teacher and current chair of the school board, earned 23.22 percent of the 65,733 votes cast in the school board race, according to the unofficial tally. Davis finished second with 20.34 percent of the vote and Bates was third with 17.57 percent of the vote.

Davis, a social services coordinator, and Bates, an information technology professional, are both parents of Minneapolis Public Schools students and serve on the District Parent Advisory Council, a group of parents who meet regularly with Superintendent Bill Green to discuss and advise on district policy.

The top three candidates finished well ahead of the other challengers, which may bode well for their chances on Election Day.

Henry-Blythe, a policy research director for a local nonprofit group, earned 10.43 percent of the vote. Reed, a home-schooling mother of five, and Mann, a licensed practical nurse, finished with 6.71 and 6.16 percent of the vote, respectively.

Report encourages biking and walking to school

In an effort to boost student fitness and reduce transportation costs, the city and Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) jointly released a report in September that aimed to encourage biking and walking to school.

Among other findings, the Minneapolis Safe Routes to Schools report highlighted evidence that biking or walking to school can increase student attendance and achievement. The report also attempted to dispel some safety concerns, Associate Superintendent Craig Vana said.

“It’s trying to … encourage families and the community to work together to make sure that the kids can ride their bikes, walk to school — things that are healthier — rather than just get on school buses,” Vana said.

As described in the report, Safe Routes to School is a national initiative that grew mainly out of concern over rising childhood obesity rates. But the benefits of biking and walking to school go beyond student fitness, the report argues.

Participating cities and school districts report Safe Routes to School efforts encourage safer communities, increase parent involvement in schools and reduce traffic congestion around school buildings.

The report outlined strategies to increase the number of students who bike or walk to school, including: improved walking paths; stricter enforcement of speed limits and crosswalk laws; and the creation of car-free zones around schools.

Another strategy was to install new bike racks at schools. When new bike racks were installed at South High School last year, the number of students biking to school rose to 150 from just 30, Vana said.

The entire report is available to read or download at: http://sss.mpls.k12.mn.us/steps.

Vana said more than 50 percent of MPS students walked or rode their bikes to school in 1969. Today, the rate is less than 20 percent.

“The whole idea is really to increase that and get it back to at least 50 percent,” he said.

ECFE winter enrollment to open

KENNY — Parents of young children can enroll in Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) winter classes online and by mail beginning Sept. 29.

ECFE classes are an opportunity to meet with other parents and gain parenting skills. The classes are open to all Minneapolis families with children from newborns up to kindergarten age.

The cost for ECFE classes is a sliding-scale fee based on household income. The program will not turn away parents based on inability to pay.

In Southwest, ECFE classes are offered at Kenny Community School, 5720 Emerson Ave. S. They are also offered at Kenny’s sister site, Hale Community School, 1220 E. 54th St., and at several other school locations across the city.

Both Kenny and Hale still had room in fall session ECFE classes as of early September.

For more information on classes and locations, or to register for winter classes, visit the ECFE website (http://ecfe.mpls.k12.mn.us/) or call 668-3927.

Online and mail-in registration for winter classes runs Sept. 29–Oct. 31. Late-registration requests for winter classes are taken over the phone until Nov. 10.

Schools notebook

MPS science students score below average

Results from the state’s first-ever standardized science assessment showed Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) performance lagging behind the state average.

At every grade level tested — 5th grade, 8th grade and high school — Minneapolis students as a whole performed below state averages.

Unlike the state’s standardized reading and math tests, however, the new science test does not have any impact on school status under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The math and science test results, released several weeks earlier, showed Minneapolis students lagging in those areas, as well.

More than 180,000 students took the inaugural Science MCA-II. Statewide, about 39 percent of 5th graders, 38 percent of 8th graders and 43 percent of high school students scored “proficient” or better on the test, the Minnesota Department of Education reported.

In MPS schools, about 23 percent of 5th graders, 20 percent of 8th graders and 24 percent of high school students demonstrated the same level of science proficiency.

MPS Chief Academic Officer Bernadeia Johnson said, on average, the district’s white students out-performed students statewide on the science assessment, while students of color, English-language learners and students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch — an indicator of low-income status — fell short.

There were some exceptions to that trend. As an example, Johnson pointed out that African American students at several Southwest-area schools scored better than their peers statewide.

In 5th grade, African American students at Jefferson and Armatage community school scored several points higher than their peers around the state. The same could be said for 8th-graders at Lake Harriet Upper School and Anthony Middle School, as well as high school students at South and Southwest.

Johnson shared several concerns about the new test, which was administered on a computer and included interactive experiments. Students performed the experiments and then answered questions about the results.

“It calls for a little more technical savvy than most tests,” she said, noting that while most students are comfortable with computers, some have less experience than others.

Johnson said there were “limited accommodations” for English-language learners, who make up a larger portion of the MPS population than they do in most districts. Students with limited English skills may not have fully understood scenarios read in English, she said.

Johnson added that some students are exposed to science concepts through visits to science museums and other experiences that their lower-income peers may not share.

“I think there are a couple of things that we need to consider when we look at the data,”
she said.

Still, she acknowledged science education across the district may have “suffered” in recent years because of the emphasis placed on reading and math, a consequence of No Child Left Behind. Schools that do not show yearly improvement in reading and math face escalating consequences under the law.

District administrators anticipate the new science test may also be used to measure school progress under No Child Left Behind someday. The Minnesota Department of Education devised a set of science education standards in 2003 and is currently revising those standards.

Some Southwest schools appear ready to face tougher science standards. Lake Harriet Upper School, Burroughs and Armatage community schools, Barton Open School and Kenwood Performing Arts Magnet all posted student scores well above the state average.

MPS to request proposals for new headquarters

District leaders planned to issue a request for proposals for a new MPS headquarters in September as they weighed their options for moving to a new space.

Chief of Operations Steve Liss presented a timeline for the process that set a Nov. 18 deadline for all proposals. District administrators planned to narrow the list of proposals in January and bring the best to the school board in February, Liss said.

Plans to either remodel the current district headquarters at 807 Broadway Ave. NE, redevelop another district property or move the headquarters to a new location had been openly discussed for several months before Liss presented the request for proposals process at the Aug. 26 school board meeting. The current headquarters, a former factory building known simply as “807,” is widely considered to be substandard, energy inefficient office space by those who work there.

The ongoing administrative office space study aims to find the most cost-efficient space for district operations. CB Richard Ellis Consulting and RSP Architects were hired to carry out the study.

Liss discussed the possibility of pursuing LEED certification for the new headquarters. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a nationally recognized set of standards for environmentally friendly construction.

District leaders are not just looking to energy efficiency for cost savings. They want a headquarters with more and bigger conference rooms to reduce the need to rent group meeting spaces. They also are seeking a centralized location in the city, generally south of Broadway Avenue and north of Lake Street.