Schools notebook // Only two schools hit math, reading targets

Only two Southwest schools hit math and reading targets

Only two Minneapolis Public Schools in Southwest met goals for improving student math and reading proficiency this year, down from six schools in 2010 and eight in 2009.

Fewer schools in the district and statewide met the “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP, goals mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law of 2001, according to results released Sept. 30 by the Minnesota Department of Education, which means more schools could face the law’s escalating sanctions for missed achievement benchmarks. Minnesota is one of the states currently seeking a waiver from the controversial federal mandates many feel unfairly penalize schools.

If the waiver is granted, relief from the mandates could come as soon as this school year, the Minnesota Department of Education reported. Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, a former Minneapolis associate superintendent, has said she intends to apply for a waiver in November.

Kenwood Community School and Lake Harriet Community School’s Upper Campus were the two Southwest-area schools to make AYP this year. Windom Spanish Dual Immersion School, Jefferson Community School and Ramsey International Fine Arts Center were the Southwest schools facing the most severe consequence of the No Child Left Behind law, mandatory restructuring, which could take the form of curriculum or leadership changes or even a so-called “fresh start” of the school.

One common criticism of the AYP system is that it compares one year’s class of students to the previous year’s instead of following one group of students year-to-year, which many say would be a fairer and more accurate measure of student growth. No Child Left Behind also penalizes schools even if they miss AYP benchmarks for just one sub-category of students, such as English-language learners.

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District sets preliminary tax levy

The School Board approved a preliminary district tax levy of $179.4 million for 2012, but only after several board members vowed at their Sept. 27 meeting to cut the levy before the final certification vote in December.

Board Member Carla Bates, who chairs the finance committee, said she had “no intention of increasing our levy beyond what we levied last year, or approximately,” an assertion echoed by other board members.

The preliminary district tax levy is the maximum allowed and represents an increase of about $15.4 million, or just less than 10 percent, over the 2011 levy. If approved, it would increase property taxes next year on a $150,000 home by $69, a $300,000 home by $185 and a $450,000 home by $297.

Inflation adjustments built into the district’s operating referendum and increased payments on district facilities debt accounted for about half the increase, the district reported.

Bates said two factors limited the district’s ability to reduce the projected 2012 levy before a state deadline for its preliminary approval. One was recent turnover in the district’s finance department, specifically the departure of former finance chief Peggy Ingison in September. The other was this summer’s state government shutdown, which meant the district received levy information from the state only about a week before the School Board vote.

“It’s kind of a combination of new staff and short turnaround time,” she said.

Unfortunately for the district, Minneapolis property owners are due for what Bates termed a “shocker” when Truth in Taxation notices are mailed out this fall. School Board members and district staff will spend the next several months looking for ways to cut the levy, she said.

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Southwest senior named National Achievement semifinalist

LINDEN HILLS — Southwest High School senior Elijah Fortson was named a semifinalist in the 2012 National Achievement Scholarship Program, an academic competition that recognizes the country’s most talented black high school students, the district reported Sept. 28.

Fortson was one of only 12 seniors in Minnesota and about 1,600 nationwide to reach this point in the competition. More than 160,000 students across the country were entered into the competition when they took the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Qualifying Test as high school juniors.

This spring, notifications will go out to an estimated 800 Achievement Scholarship award winners.

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Kenny teacher wins classroom supplies

KENNY — Kenny Community School teacher Yau Stillone was one of 1,000 teachers nationwide to win $1,000 worth of classroom supplies from retailer OfficeMax as a part of its “A Day Made Better” event.

Stillone, a fifth-grade teacher, was one of four district teachers surprised the supplies Oct. 4.

Since 2007, OfficeMax and project partner Adopt-A-Classroom, a national nonprofit with offices in Miami and Minneapolis, have provided more than $5.5 million in supplies to more than $5,500 classrooms through A Day Made Better, according to the retailer.

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com.