Schools notebook // Phung seeking School Board seat

Alex Phung seeking School Board seat

The race to represent District 6 on the School Board has its first candidate in 28-year-old Fulton resident Alex Phung, an attorney who works for Cargill and is married to a Hopkins School District teacher.

Phung and his wife, Amy, do not have children, but Phung said they moved to Southwest from Chicago in 2008 with plans to start a family and enroll their children in public schools. While in Chicago, Phung completed a law degree at the University of Chicago and his wife taught in a first-grade classroom on the city’s south side.

Asked about his priorities for the district, Phung emphasized early education and community partnerships as key to closing the achievement gap. He said the “biggest issue” facing the district was “to restore a sense of trust” in Minneapolis Public Schools.

Phung said he learned the value of public education as the son of Vietnamese immigrants who put their trust in Hopkins schools. He met his future wife when they were both students at Hopkins High School.

This is the first year a District 6 School Board seat will be contested, with the winner representing almost all of Southwest south of Lake Street, except for the ECCO neighborhood. Voters approved the new district representation system in 2008 as part of a significant restructuring of the School Board.

Phung plans to seek the DFL endorsement the May 19 Minneapolis City Convention. For more information on his campaign, visit


Ramsey wins arts integration award

TANGLETOWN — School leaders from Ramsey Performing Arts Magnet were in Florida in January to accept the 2011–2012 Arts Integration Award from the Arts Schools Network.

The award, honoring the school’s success in integrating the arts into its curriculum, was presented during the national education network’s annual conference, held Jan. 23–29 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., near Disney World. Arts Schools Network Executive Director Kristy Callaway said Ramsey Principal Sharon Engel  would be presented with a bronze medallion recognizing Ramsey as a “best-practices model” for arts schools.

“They are at the top of the game in planning, teaching and assessing in the arts,” Callaway said.

She said Ramsey excelled at combining arts and other subjects in “a natural way,” as in lessons that linked music, science and math concepts.

“Those things connect really easily,” she said.

Another Minneapolis Public Schools arts magnet, Sheridan School in Northeast, also was honored at the event. Sheridan received the Community Partnership Award in recognition of its innovative partnership with YMCA Beacons to offers students after-school and summer arts and academic programs.


Union petition for mediation “on hold”

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers filed a petition for a state mediator to be present in their ongoing contract talks with Minneapolis Public Schools over the district’s winter break, but have since put that process “on hold,” union President Lynn Nordgren said.

Commissioner of Mediation Services Josh Tilsen confirmed Jan. 17 a petition from the teacher union was on file at his office. Tilsen said he contacted the union and was told “they weren’t quite ready to begin mediation.”

The current round of negotiations has drawn a handful of citizen observers, but the presence of a state mediator would close the talks to the public.

Nordgren said there were “multiple reasons” for the filing. Negotiations were “becoming more about the time on the day, the length of the [school] day and the length of the [school] year,” and the union “want[ed] to make sure we were focusing on students and teachers,” she said.

She added the filing was a means of applying “just a slight little pressure” on the district’s negotiating team, which is led by Chief of Policy and Operations Steve Liss and Employee Relations Director Maria Mason.

Nordgren said the process was put on hold after a meeting with Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and members of the district negotiating team.

Tilsen said state mediators were brought into union-district talks during the last two rounds of negotiations for contracts that expired in 2007 and 2009. It’s not unusual for state mediators to join talks between school districts and teacher unions, either; Tilsen estimated there were around 60 open petitions for mediation in such talks currently.

Lynnell Mickelsen, co-founder of Put Kids First Minneapolis, a parent group advocating for contract reform, said bringing in a mediator would contradict district and union pledges to make contract negotiations an open and public process.

Both sides have agreed to speak publicly about details of the talks only in joint statements. The district maintains a page on its website dedicated to the negotiations at