Schools notebook

State art award winners announced

WHITTIER — Four high school students from two Southwest-area schools were awarded the top prize in the Minnesota Scholastic Art Awards hosted by Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD).

Taylor Lindgren and Isaac Pollak of Southwest High School and Caroline Ricard and Zoe Sponsler-Hoehn of The Blake School were to be presented Gold Key Awards in a Feb. 22 ceremony at MCAD. Gold Key Award winners advance to national competition in New York.

This year, the jury for the state competition reviewed 1,147 individual artworks and 121 portfolios submitted by Minnesota students in grades seven though 12. The judges, art educators from around the United States, awarded 54 Gold Key Awards in the individual competition and eight Gold Key Awards in the portfolio competition.

The Minnesota Scholastic Art Awards exhibition at MCAD closed Feb. 22.

Minnesota Reading Corps accepting applications

Minnesota Reading Corps reports the demand for trained reading tutors in schools is on the rise, and announced an effort to recruit 400 members for the 2009–2010 school year.

The statewide initiative places AmeriCorps members and community volunteers in districts across the state, including Minneapolis. Corps members work with children in preschool through third grade to bring their reading skills up to grade level.

This school year, a record 367 members are working with children in 161 Minnesota schools. But there is still a greater need for trained reading tutors, the organization reported.

Minnesota Reading Corps began accepting applications for the 2009–2010 school year in January. There are part- and full-time positions available in elementary schools, preschools, Head Start programs and Early Childhood Family Education programs at locations around the state.

Corps members commit to the program for a year, beginning in August. Benefits are available to AmeriCorps members who join the program, including college tuition or federal student loan assistance.

District resolves to go green

The Board of Education endorsed efforts to green the district at its Feb. 10 meeting.

The Board adopted a resolution directing district administrators to pursue environmental sustainability and energy efficiency in school operations. It also called for the development of performance targets and objectives as the district continues efforts to reduce waste and conserve energy.

Many individual schools and district departments have programs in place to promote sustainability. The resolution aimed to coordinate those efforts, said Meredith Fox, a special assistant to Policy and Operations Director Steve Liss.

"We hope to reduce our carbon footprint as a district, promote awareness on this important topic, and ultimately achieve financial savings for the district, which is timely," Fox said.

That last comment sounded like a reference to the district’s budget shortfall, which is estimated at $28 million for the 2009–2010 school year. The district spends more than $14 million a year on utilities, but is working to reduce those costs.

Fox said the district planned to enter into a new recycling contract this summer and would soon offer mixed recycling district-wide. She also highlighted two Southwest schools that have entered into what she called the "new frontier" of recycling: organics.

Burroughs and Lake Harriet community schools in Southwest compost lunchroom waste, reducing the amount of food waste that ends up in the landfill.

The district aims to expand organics recycling, and other schools appear to be interested.

Free American history courses at Anthony

KENNY — Middle and high school students can apply now for six-week, tuition-free American history courses in March and April at Anthony Middle School, 5757 Irving Ave. S.

And get this, kids: No homework!

Minneapolis Public Schools is joining with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to put on the Saturday Academy enrichment program. Students can choose from six courses covering a variety of topics, from the history of bicycling to the untold stories of World War II.

The classes run 9 a.m.–12 p.m. Saturdays for six weeks beginning March 7. Although there is no cost for the program, students must provide their own transportation.

The application deadline is Feb. 27.

Course descriptions, an online application form and more information on the Saturday Academy can be found on the Anthony website (http://anthony.mpls.k12.mn.us/Saturday_Academy.html/).

The Gilder Lehrman Institute promotes the study of history using primary source documents. Both Anthony and Washburn High School are in its national network of schools.

Schools notebook

City honors MLK essay contest winners

KENNY — The City Council honored top finishers in the city’s 2009 Martin Luther King Essay Contest at its Jan. 23 meeting.

Students in Southwest-area schools penned the 10 best essays chosen from more than 200 submissions. Students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade were asked write about a human rights issue in current events.

Winners in eighth grade were: Madeline Hillyer, first place; Stephen Jacobs, second place; Megan Lucas, third place; and Marissa Nicol, honorable mention. All are students at Anthony Middle School.

Winners in seventh grade were: Liam Smith, first place; Mackenzie Martin, second place; and Benjamin Weil, third place. All three are Anthony students.

Winners in sixth grade were: Madeline Skjervold, first place; Samantha Coffler, second place; Sarah Kate Stone, third place; and Matthew Wright, honorable mention. All are students at Lake Harriet Community School.

The League of Minnesota Human Rights Commission will chose one first place essay to advance to the annual statewide competition.

Operations planning town hall in February

Two town hall meetings in February will give community members an opportunity to comment on ongoing planning that could significantly reshape Minneapolis Public Schools.

Program and operations planning, known as POP in district jargon, aims to find an appropriate size and structure for the district. Under consideration are: the relocation or closing of school programs and school sites; a change in the number of school options for Minneapolis families; and new standards for racial and economic integration in schools.

POP is intended to achieve better school integration, slow the decline in the district’s student population and simplify the school choice process. It also aims to reduce excess capacity and costs tied to transportation and facilities.

POP is closely related to other district planning efforts, including the work to close an anticipated $28 million budget shortfall for the 2009–2010 school year. The results of the planning process could lead to changes as soon as fall 2009 or 2010.

The community meetings on district program and operations planning are 6:30 p.m.–8 p.m. Feb. 12 at Ann Sullivan Communication Center, 3100 E. 28th St., and at a site in North or Northeast that was yet to be determined as of late January. More details should be available on the district website (www.mpls.k12.mn.us/) closer to the date of the meetings.

The meeting at Sullivan will be held in English, Spanish and Somali.

District seeks ‘100 Strong Who Care’

Minneapolis Public Schools put out a call to leaders in the African-American business community to volunteer four hours Feb. 18–19 for "100 Strong Who Care: Building Bridges for the Next Generation."

Volunteers will spend their time at City View Performing Arts Magnet School, 3350 N. 4th St., reading to students and participating in the school’s career day. The two-day event was designed to inspire students by introducing them to African-American leaders in various professions, including law, science and technology, the district reported.

Volunteers will spend two hours at Cityview each day, from 2 p.m.–4 p.m. For more information, contact the district’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity at 668-0019 or email cedrick.frazier@mpls.k12.mn.us/.

Strategic plan update

Top administrators gave the School Board the third in a series of quarterly updates on implementation of the district’s five-year strategic plan.

Deputy Supt. Bernadeia Johnson and Chief of Operations Steve Liss told the board that the district was making progress on most of its goals under the strategic plan. Key points of the plan include efforts to boost student performance in math and reading, better prepare students for college and close achievement gaps linked to race and income by 2012.

There were several areas where the strategic plan was judged to be "off-track or not started," including planning to recruit staff from under-represented racial and ethnic groups and a proposal to place School Administrative Managers, or SAMs, in schools to assist principals. A new system for evaluating teacher performance has not yet been developed either, the report stated.

Several School Board members asked Liss and Johnson to include benchmarks for progress in their next report on the strategic plan, so that it would be easier to judge how far along the district is in implementing reforms.

School Board members also asked about the progress on a key point of the strategic plan: to re-start the district’s lowest-performing schools. The district has not yet created the proposed Office of New Schools that would carry out that process.