Ramsey teachers audition for students

LYNDALE — For some of the teachers vying to be on staff when the new Ramsey Middle School opens in August, their job interviews didn’t end after a meeting with Principal Paul Marietta.

In April, finalists for the school’s four core teaching positions auditioned in front of 30-some fifth graders from Burroughs and Lyndale community schools. Students from those two schools are expected to fill most of the seats when Ramsey welcomes its inaugural class in just four months.

“You can only gain so much sitting across a table from an adult,” said Marietta, who explained that the student interviews grew out of conversations with district staff about allowing the community to help shape Ramsey, the district’s first stand-alone middle school to open in nearly 40 years.

Also in April, Marietta made his first few hires for the new school’s staff, parents of prospective Ramsey students met to organize a parent teacher association and word got out that Ramsey’s first class of about 200 sixth graders may each get an iPad next fall.

“I’m telling everybody that it’s a strong possibility,” Marietta said.

It was a busy time for the future Ramsey leader, who was still working as Bancroft Elementary principal during the day and planning for next fall late into the evening. But it was also an “exciting” time, he said, as the community’s vision for the new school began to coalesce.

“Once you start putting faces to the staff and students and everyone else, you start to paint a picture in your mind,” Marietta said.

‘Excited to be involved’

The students on the interview team were paid for their time in pizza, and a lunch break gave students Rodman Landi, Max Moen, Henry Kantzes and Grover Bruce a chance to reflect on one particularly animated candidate for an open science teacher position.

“I honestly think he could have been a gym teacher, he had so much energy,” Moen said.

Asked what qualities he was looking for in a science teacher, Bruce said patience and a sense of humor were both good traits, along with “a strong stomach.”

Moen agreed on that last point.

“You’re dissecting stuff,” he explained.

Marietta said inviting students into the interview process was “a first” for him, but the auditions gave him an opportunity to see the candidates thinking on their feet, reacting to a classroom and engaging students in learning.

The students took notes as the teacher candidates presented an “advisory” — a kind of enhanced homeroom period that will be a cornerstone of the Ramsey approach to supporting middle school students’ social and emotional development. Advisories may be used to talk with students about bullying, for example, or to discuss service-learning opportunities.

“We didn’t ask the students to tell us what they didn’t like about the candidates,” Marietta said. “We really wanted to keep it positive.”

When, for example, a student said one candidate appeared to truly value what students were saying, Marietta was listening. The students’ insights “made a difference in our decision-making,” he said.

Burroughs Assistant Principal Frank Catchings Jr., said students from his school returned to class from the interview auditions at Lyndale buzzing about the new teachers. They also met, for the first time, some of their future Ramsey classmates who attend Lyndale.

“They are so excited to be involved,” Catchings said.

PTA in place

Courtney Cushing Kiernat, one member of the district’s Ramsey start-up team, said about 90 parents of prospective Ramsey students gathered for their first parent teacher association meeting in April. They plan to elect officers in May.

A parent group tasked with launching the new school’s PTA was just one of four parent-led teams working closely with Marietta. A school spirit team was collaborating with students to select a school mascot and the school colors, another parent team was drafting a menu of extracurricular activities and yet another was leading the marketing effort for the new program.

“Those are the areas in which parents are truly having an impact and influence in helping to frame this school,” Marietta said.

Their children are, too, and Burroughs fifth grader Ella Kester said that was just as it should be.

One of the student interviewers, Kester said she already felt a part of Ramsey by contributing ideas for a school mascot, adding she hoped to remain involved in the coming months. The importance of her role wasn’t lost on her, either.

Said Kester: “I think our ancestors are going to look back and say, ‘My great-grandmother, she helped start a new school.’”