Schools notebook // Experts wanted at Southwest

Experts wanted at Southwest for ‘Lightbulb Project’

LINDEN HILLS — A Southwest High School senior is behind a new effort to bring community experts into the classroom dubbed The Lightbulb Project.

Elliot Altbaum aims to recruit a roster of local professionals in the sciences, humanities and other fields who can explain to students the real-world applications of classroom concepts. Altbaum launched the project over the summer with the help of a faculty advisor, International Baccalaureate (IB) Program Coordinator Dick Schwartz.

Altbaum said The Lightbulb Project was inspired by the numerous visits his father has made to Southwest over the past few years. A mathematician, Michael Altbaum explained to students how the math concepts introduced in high school are put to use in fields as diverse as linguistics, computer science and medical research.

Altbaum planned to build a database of local experts and make it available to Southwest teachers.

“It helps those teachers who wouldn’t spend the time or don’t have the time to find all those connections,” he said.

Altbaum said the project also would count toward a community service requirement for his IB diploma.

He planned to introduce The Lightbulb Project to the Southwest community at freshmen orientation and open house events at the beginning of the school year, but he didn’t want to limit recruiting to the parents likely to hear his pitch at those venues. He encouraged community members without a child at the school to visit the Southwest website (southwest.mpls.k12.mn.us/thelightbulbproject.html) and sign up. Volunteers for The Lightbulb Project are asked to identify their areas of expertise and list the days and times when they are available for classroom visits.

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Bus drivers training for the school year

About 200 bus drivers for Minneapolis Public Schools who received their certificates in August were the latest group to complete the Professional School Bus Driver Academy at Dakota County Technical College (DCTC).

Academy Administrator Rob Anderson, a Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) employee, developed the 40-hour training program that includes both classroom instruction and behind-the-wheel training. Anderson began working with DCTC about two years ago to develop the state’s first college certification program for school bus drivers.

“What we feel is different about it is that it really has a strong focus on the interpersonal skills the drivers need to have with the kids: communication and de-escalation, active listening and things like that,” Anderson said.

He said DCTC operates one of the largest professional driving facilities in the state, providing training for law enforcement officers, semi-trailer drivers and others who spend their workday behind the wheel. Academy students practice defensive driving skills on DCTC’s training course.

The group of drivers who earned their certificates in August went through the training program in the spring. About 500 district and contract bus drivers were expected to complete the training by the end of the summer, the district reported.

Anderson said the district previously had in place a rigorous training program for its bus drivers. In preparing the Academy concept, though, he looked at training programs in other states and wrote a new, 400-page curriculum for the course.

"We’ve basically revamped everything and raised the bar [with the Academy]," he said.

Anderson said most MPS school bus drivers have previous experience and training behind the wheel of a bus. They still are required to complete the district’s training program.

District bus drivers only need be certified once, but training for drivers continues throughout the year. District drivers also are subject to drug and alcohol testing and must complete state licensing requirements.

The district is now working at the state capitol to introduce legislation making the Academy a model for school bus driver training statewide. The district and DCTC are partners in the lobbying effort, the district reported.

Said Anderson: "It’s always been a vision of ours to take this model to the state level, to have it for all school bus drivers in Minnesota."

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Area C meeting schedule set

The Area C Parent Advisory Council meeting schedule for the 2009–2010 school year was available on the district’s website in August.

The parent group meets monthly throughout the school year to discuss issues facing Minneapolis Public Schools in the Southwest area. The first meeting is 6:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at Anthony Middle School, 5757 Irving Ave. S.

Representatives from Area C also serve on the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), a group of parents that meets regularly with the superintendent and district administrators. Area C representatives to DPAC will be elected at the annual meeting in October.

Area C Parent Advisory Council meeting locations change monthly. To find a full schedule, visit the DPAC website (dpac.mpls.k12.mn.us) and click on "meeting dates."

Childcare and translation services are available at all meetings.