Schools notebook

As schools emptied for winter break, the Southwest Journal took a look back at the area’s significant schools happenings in 2008.

JANUARY

A new public school teachers contract, giving school principals greater power to interview and select candidates for teaching positions, won approval from the teachers union by a surprising 2-1 margin.

The 2007–2009 contract marked a shift away from the seniority-based hiring rules in place in the district for decades. The Minneapolis school board approved the contract unanimously, concluding nine months of negotiations.

In the eyes of some board members and district administrators, interview-and-select was an essential tool for completing the reforms outlined in the district’s five-year strategic plan. The new contract also included salary increases for teachers over two years.

FEBRUARY

After listening to passionate testimony from more than a dozen people, the Minneapolis school board voted to limit military recruiter access to high schools.

Students and community members — on both sides of the issue — packed the meeting room Feb. 26. Ultimately, board members were unanimous in setting more restrictions.

Military recruiters’ activity was limited to the high schools’ college and career centers, putting them on equal footing with college recruiters. Military recruiters were no longer allowed to interact with students in lunchrooms or hallways.

MARCH

A fall 2008 fresh start for Washburn High School was announced.

Edison High School in Northeast, too, would get a fresh start, district administrators said. Edison and Washburn were the two lowest performing of the city’s seven traditional high schools.

A fresh start allows principals to make significant staff changes. It was the first time district high schools were given a fresh start.

APRIL

After the district announced it would close Uptown Academy, an alternative program housed in the Lehmann Center, 1006 W. Lake St., it looked as if the district’s Uptown property might soon be up for sale.

The closing of Uptown Academy followed an announcement that another Lehmann Center program, Wellstone International High School, would move. Emptying the building also played into a plan to unload excess district properties.

JUNE

Down to just 42 students, East Harriet’s Visitation Catholic School closed after 61 years.

It was a local manifestation of national trend. Like many urban Catholic schools across the country, Visitation experienced a decline in enrollment while at the same time finding more of its students required tuition
assistance.

The school building, at 4530 Lyndale Ave. S., reopened in the fall as Fraser Academy, a public charter school.

JULY

The inaugural session of Camp MPS ran July 8–31 at four school sites in Southwest and 14 others across the district.

Camp MPS was a revamped version of the district’s K–8 summer school program. While the focus remained on improving reading and math skills, as in past years, the district lengthened the days to include time for field trips, art projects, physical education and other programming.

The goal of the changes was to keep more students in the voluntary program for the full three-week session and improve educational outcomes. Expect Camp MPS to return next summer.

SEPTEMBER

There was some reshuffling of teachers and classrooms just a few weeks into the school year after Minneapolis schools welcomed hundreds more students than expected.

The district’s student accounting office predicted a loss of about 1,600 students this fall, in line with years of declining enrollment. The actual loss came to fewer than 400 students.

The lower-than-expected decline meant the district would receive about $6.6 million more in per-pupil funding from the state than predicted.

OCTOBER

One year into its five-year strategic plan, the district missed four of five targets for raising student achievement, Minneapolis Public Schools Supt. Bill Green reported in his first State of the Schools address.

Green said the district fell short of its goals for improving kindergarten readiness, 3rd-grade reading proficiency, 8th-grade math proficiency and the percentage of students deemed college-ready at graduation. In many cases, white students were outperforming other demographic groups on those measures, highlighting disparities the strategic plan aimed to eliminate.

Still, there was some good news to share: Graduation rates jumped 6 percent in the spring of 2007, and had risen 20 percent in just four years. While graduation rates held steady for white students, they rose across the board for students of color.

NOVEMBER

It was a big Election Day for the district.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a $60 million-a-year, eight-year property tax levy for schools, essentially doubling the district levy already in place. A strong majority also approved significant changes to the school board election process.

On top of that, two well-known parent advocates — Carla Bates and Jill Davis — won seats on the Minneapolis school board, as did incumbent Board Chair Lydia Lee. Sharon Henry-Blythe, the longest serving board member, failed to win re-election.

But it was the last election for a school board made up entirely of at-large representatives. The expansion of the school board from seven to nine members — including six representatives elected from the city’s park districts — will play out over the next two election cycles.

DECEMBER

Investment losses and expected cuts in state funding ballooned the Minneapolis School District’s projected budget deficit to $28 million for the 2009–2010 school year.

Previous projections pegged the budget deficit at around $20 million, but wave after wave of bad economic news caused a bad situation to get even worse for the district. The shortfall was roughly equal to 5 percent of the district’s budget.

Schools notebook

Ramsey mural celebrates peace

TANGLETOWN — Middle grades students unveiled a new mural celebrating peace, individual identity and unity in a hallway at Ramsey International Fine Arts Center Nov. 25.

The large mural, which the students titled "Understanding and Expressing Identity," was designed using ideas and artistic contributions from about 180 students in grades 6–8. Ramsey artist-in-residence Greta McLain led students in designing and painting the mural.

The colorful mural depicts students of different backgrounds and abilities against the backdrop of the Twin Cities skyline. The words "we are sharing our gifts with the world" run in a ribbon through the middle of the image.

McLain said it took about six weeks to complete the mural. Students brainstormed ideas for the mural, combined the images into one scale drawing and then worked with McLain and community volunteers to paint the image.

McLain is at Ramsey through a residency funded with an Arts for Academic Achievement grant. Founded in 1997, the district program aims to incorporate the arts into classroom learning.

Kenny principal speaks at national conference

KENNY — Kenny Community School Principal Bill Gibbs joined Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren at an education conference in Washington, D.C., in November.

Strategic Management of Human Capital (SMHC) in Education, a project that aims to recruit and retain top teachers and school administrators and to improve student performance at the nation’s 100 largest school districts, held its annual conference Nov. 18–19. Pawlenty chairs the SMHC task force.

The Minnesota representatives were there to talk about Minnesota’s Q Comp program, a voluntary merit pay program in place at schools in 39 Minnesota districts. Gibbs, who was assigned to Kenny this fall, shared lessons on improving teacher effectiveness.

"We’ve really implemented all those Q Comp components at Kenny, except for the performance pay," Gibbs said.

He said several steps, including aligning professional development for teachers to the school’s achievement goals and eliminating unnecessary meetings, had a direct impact on student performance.

"We’re pumped; our CALT scores were way up," Gibbs said, referring to the Computerized Achievement Level Tests administered students in the fall to measure reading and math abilities.

"At Kenny, 72 percent of our students made a years growth or more in reading" from last fall to this fall, he said.

Gibbs previously headed the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, a district program aimed at recruiting and retaining top talent in teacher positions.

Q Comp was proposed by Pawlenty and approved by the state legislature in 2005.

School information fair Jan. 10

Minneapolis Public Schools scheduled its 2009 School Information Fair for Jan. 10 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 1300 Nicollet Mall.

The annual event is a chance for families with children entering pre-kindergarten, kindergarten or middle school in the fall of 2009 to learn more about their school options.

Representatives from MPS schools and departments will be available to talk with families about school choice process. They will also answer questions about the curriculum and programming at individual schools.

Families must turn in Pre-K–8 school choice cards by Friday, Feb. 28.

To find out which schools are in your family’s attendance area, visit the MPS School Choice Center online (schoolchoice.mpls.k12.mn.us/). The website should have updated information for the 2009–2010 school year by early January.

The website also has a link to the district’s school placement guidelines.

Families often can arrange school tours by contacting MPS schools directly, as well.

For more information on school choice or the information fair, contact School Placement Services at 668-1840 or visit the district website (www.mpls.k12.mn.us/).

Schools notebook

Enrollment figures impact budget process

Minneapolis Public Schools lost only 379 students from last school year to this school year, less than one quarter of the predicted enrollment decline, Chief Financial Officer Peggy Ingison said.

Ingison presented the revised enrollment figures to the Minneapolis School Board Nov. 18, confirming what school principals already knew from this fall’s unexpectedly crowded classrooms: The district’s ongoing decline in enrollment slowed significantly this school year.

"That makes a pretty big difference in the financial situation of the district," Ingison told the board.

Ingison expected an additional $6.6 million from the state this year, based on Minnesota’s per-pupil funding formula. Revenue from other state and federal sources also could increase in coming years, she added.

Recent budget projections had shown a shortfall of about $20 million for the 2009–2010 school year.

Ingison expected that shortfall to decrease by mid-December, when she planned to deliver updated projections to the school board. The board is currently reviewing the 2009–2010 budget but will not adopt that budget until next June.

The Office of Student Accounting had predicted an enrollment decline of 4.8 percent this fall, equal to the loss of nearly 1,600 students. By October, it was clear the district’s enrollment had declined just 1.1 percent.

That was a significant departure from the enrollment declines that have plagued the district since 2001. Last school year, enrollment dropped 5 percent; the year before that it was down 3.8 percent.

While many are wondering why so many more students stuck with Minneapolis schools this year, Ingison told the board there was no "definitive information" to answer that question, yet.

Minneapolis high schools, in particular, were forced into quick action to alleviate crowding in classrooms this fall. Both Washburn and Southwest high schools added additional classes and teaching staff to accommodate the influx.

It was a good problem to have. Cutting teachers and classes because of smaller-than-expected enrollment is a much more painful process, Ingison noted.

Still, she said the district would change its enrollment projection formula in an effort to provide more accurate predictions in coming years.

Enrollment projections are largely determined by Minneapolis birth rates and class sizes. A broader array of factors — including the economy and city housing stock — may be considered in the future, Ingison said.

The district already has revised upward its enrollment projections for the next three years. It had expected to drop below 30,000 students by the 2010–2011 school year; now, it expects to have at least that many in the 2011–2012 school year.

In her presentation to the board, though, Ingison cautioned them that no formula was 100-percent accurate.

"One of the things we know about enrollment projections is that they always will be wrong," she said.

Composting expands to Lake Harriet


LINDEN HILLS
— Lake Harriet Community School planned to be the next Southwest school to start composting lunchroom waste.

Lake Harriet parent Karen Price said the school would partner with Linden Hills Power & Light to begin organics recycling in January. The neighborhood nonprofit organization previously partnered with Hennepin County to launch a pilot program for curbside organic waste pickup in Linden Hills.

Price said the 3rd- through 8th-grade students at the Lake Harriet Upper Campus would learn more about the program this month. She was
organizing the effort with fellow parent Fred Mayer.

"We’re starting in December kind of teaching the kids how to do it" before organics sorting begins in January, she said.

The program likely will not expand to the school’s K–2 Lower Campus until next September, she added.

An anonymous Lake Harriet family donated $1,000 to launch the program, an amount that was matched by Linden Hills Power & Light. That should fund the program through the end of the school year, Price said.

When the program begins, she and other parent volunteers will help to sort organic material like food waste and paper products for recycling. They recently spent several lunch hours picking up sorting tips at nearby Burroughs Community School, which already has an organics recycling program.

"That has been so very, very helpful because they’ve been doing it since last year," Price said. "They’ve had all the wrinkles ironed out of their program."

This may be the beginning of a trend in Minneapolis Public Schools. The district is pursuing a grant to expand organics recycling to other schools next fall.

More information on organics recycling and other green efforts is available on the district website (http://policyandoperations.mpls.k12.mn.us/MPS_goes_green.html).

Two nights of Broadway at Armatage

ARMATAGE — The Kids on Broadway program at Armatage Community and Montessori School holds its annual performances Dec. 11 and 12.

More than 100 Armatage students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade will perform scenes from Broadway musicals including "Camelot,"  "Annie," "The Wiz" and "A Chorus Line." Students have been working on their performances since mid-October, said Julie Railsback, a school social worker who has run the popular after-school program for six years.

Kids on Broadway performs 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11 and 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 in the theater at Armatage, 2501 W. 56th St. The shows are free and open to the public.