Schools Notebook: District schools improve in state ratings

Plus: Q Comp passes, five apply for School Board seat and students named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists

Thirteen district schools improved in state ratings released Oct. 1 by the Minnesota Department of Education.

For Kenny Community School, that meant losing a designation reserved for those schools contributing most to the state’s achievement gap. Kenny was one of 10 schools statewide to exit the Focus Schools list; another 17 moved off the list of Priority Schools, reflecting an improvement in overall student achievement at those schools.

Minnesota was granted a federal waiver in 2012 that allowed the state to replace federal No Child Left Behind standards with its own system for measuring student academic progress. The new accountability system is known as Multiple Measurements Rating, or MMR, and it looks beyond just standardized test scores to rate schools, adding in data on year-to-year student growth, achievement gaps and graduation rates.

Schools receive one of five ratings: Reward or Celebration Eligible for those near the top; Continuous Improvement or Priority for those near the bottom; and Focus for those with the widest achievement gaps. The ratings apply only to schools with federal Title 1 status for serving a significant population of low-income students.

Kenny’s improvement earned it Celebration Eligible status. Other district schools on that list this year include Ramsey, Sanford and Anthony middle schools and Wellstone International High School.

Higher ratings for Anwatin Middle School and Jefferson Community School allowed both those schools to drop the Continuous Improvement designation.

Teachers approve Q Comp

Minneapolis Public Schools is set to join the state’s Quality Compensation program following approval from union teachers.

Sixty-one percent of teachers who cast votes in September supported the district’s Q Comp plan. The threshold for passage was 50 percent plus one vote.

Minneapolis’ entry into Q Comp will bring it an additional $9 million in state aid. Schools plan to use the funds for enhanced teacher training and evaluation, additional teacher collaboration time and more classroom support. Q Comp will also provide annual stipends of $350–$500 to teachers who take on leadership roles

The district plans to redirect about $4 million previously dedicated to those areas to other needs.

While Q Comp is often described as a pay-for-performance program, the district and its teachers union have deemphasized that aspect of the Minneapolis plan. Teachers will get just a $3 performance bonus each year.

District officials originally said approval required 70 percent of teachers to cast “yes” votes. During the voting period, they clarified that passage required just a simple majority.

Five apply for School Board seat

Five applicants are seeking appointment to the District 3 School Board seat left vacant when Board Member Hussein Samatar died in August.

The applicants, Abdulkadir Abdalla, Ira Jourdain, Mohumud Noor, Nicque Mabrey and Ubah Jama, will be invited to an Oct. 16 public interview with the School Board. Jama is Samatar’s widow.

Top candidates will undergo a second interview Oct. 22. The board plans to vote on the appointment Nov. 12 and swear in the successful candidate Dec. 10.

When he won in a city election four years ago, Samatar became the Minnesota’s first elected official born in Somalia. A large portion of the Minneapolis Somali student population lives in District 3, which includes the Powderhorn, Phillips, Longfellow, Seward, Downtown East and Cedar-Riverside neighborhoods.

Students reach National Merit semifinals

Seven Minneapolis Public Schools students were named National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalists in September.

The students are William Ibele and Anna Schwartz from South High School and Celia Hallan, Samuel Orfield, Samuel Shaheen, Jonah Shaw and Matthew Villalta from Southwest High School. They are among about 16,000 high school seniors nationwide to advance to the scholarship semifinals.

To make it this far, the Minneapolis students first had to rank among the top scorers on the 2012 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, usually taken by high school juniors. The students must keep up their grades and post a strong score on the SAT to continue on to be named a finalist in February.

The semifinalists are a select group, representing about 1 percent of the 1.5 million high school students who take the qualifying tests each year. About 8,000 finalists will win one of three scholarships offered through the program this spring.

Launched in 1955, the academic competition is in its 59th year. About 377,000 students have received college scholarships worth $1.59 billion.