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Different fireworks may light up Powderhorn Fourth

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 30, 2014 - 4:43 PM

Just because the sky won’t be lit up doesn’t mean there won’t be fireworks this year at Powderhorn Park’s July 4 celebration.

Publisher and political activist Ed Felien is trying to make sure of that. Working with Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, he’s inviting all comers to speak out from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  These stump speakers will have roughly five minutes to make their case on any topic, but they’ll have to run the risk of heckling.

“We have enough gasbags in Powderhorn just circling the park that we can more than fill it up,” said Felien, 75. He lives across from the park’s northwest corner and runs his community newspaper, Southside Pride, from an office two blocks away.

Felien thrives on politics, and is nostalgic for the days before radio, TV and digital media when orators expounded on such public issues as slavery and suffrage, war and peace. He’s hoping the event will help to recreate the magical aura of July 4 at Powderhorn Park that he remembers from his boyhood.

”We’d come to Powderhorn in the late 40s and early 50s and there was still a sense of patriotic fervor and community that was lovely,” he said. That attitude faded somewhat in the tensions of the Vietnam era; Felien remembers quizzing then-Congressman Donald Fraser about the war with other activists one summer.

In those old days, the Felien family would arrive around supper time, picnic food in tow.  After eating, they’d pass the interminable interval until the arrival of dusk and fireworks by watching what Felien recalls as a “macho promenade” of tough guys strolling the park paths with cigarette packs rolled up their sleeves.

The speakout on the Fourth will be held at the “teahouse” gateway on the southwest shore of Powderhorn Lake. Felien said recently he’s expecting the return of mayoral candidates Captain Jack Sparrow and Bob Carney, and current school board candidate Soren Sorensen. So is political firebrand Michael Cavlan. Others can sign up by calling Southside Price at 612-822-4662 or e-mailing edfelien@southsidepride.com

Meanwhile, the association is planning a more family bent to this year's Powderhorn Fourth, with music starting at 11:30 a.m. and rolling through Aztec dancing, a medley of recordings by young people, an acoustic duo, and Latin folk. Also on tap are badminton, croquet, bocce, canoeing, face painting and other diversions.

The lack of actual pyrotechnics will give the association a chance to collect more public input on what future Fourths should look like in the 14-square-block park. Eliminating the fireworks that attracted an estimated 20,000, but also rowdy behavior, cut the fundraising need for the day's events almost by half, according to Becky Timm, the association's staff director.     

(Photos -- Above: Fireworks at Powderhorn Park in 2010. Staff photo by David Joles. Right: Ed Felien)

Northeast Minneapolis impatient for 807 development deal to close

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 23, 2014 - 5:01 PM

More than a year after the sale of a large former factory and school district headquarters was authorized, the deal still hasn’t closed and some Northeasters are getting impatient.

The Logan Park neighborhood is eager for redevelopment of the complex at 807 Broadway St. NE to begin but title problems have held up the deal.

“People in the Northeast community have been wondering what’s taking so long,” said Pat Vogel, co-chair of the neighborhood’s 807 Broadway Task Force. “People say that must have fallen apart because I don’t see anything happening.”

The title issue involves a parking lot used by visitors and employees when the school headquarters was there. It encroaches on the city’s right of way for Quincy St. NE “Buying something with a defective title is a non-starter,” said Scott Tankenoff, managing partner for Hillcrest Development, which won the right to buy the city block-sized complex over six other developers.

The city suggested that Hillcrest petition the City Council vacate a small portion of the right of way, but that will take time.  So the school board on Tuesday is expected to extend the closing date for a second time, by another 120 days. The agreement also potentially knocks $516,550 off the previous sale price. That price by law need not be disclosed until the deal closes, but has been estimated at between $2 million and $3 million, based on the price of similar area property.

The title problems date back years, Tankenoff said.  The district has owned the 1914 building and subsequent add-ons since 1930. Hillcrest originally planned to close by the end of 2013. Tankenoff now said he thinks a closing by Labor Day is feasible. “I think there’s going to be work happening in the building in September,” he said.

Vogel said Hillcrest has been responsive to neighborhood concerns but she hasn’t been able to get an answer to what happens if the 120-day closing deadline isn’t met. “That’s the one thing that kind of makes us as a neighborhood group nervous,” she said. But Tankenoff said he expects the first tenant to move in within 100 to 120 days after closing the deal.

Money from the sale is supposed to help pay part of the cost of the new district headquarters at 1250 Broadway Avenue, into which district offices moved in 2012. 

Goar to new supes: stay out of district HQ

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 20, 2014 - 10:28 AM

The No. 2 administrator in Minneapolis schools said Friday he's directing the district's expanded corps of associate superintendents to stay out of its central office.

He wants them in schools, Michael Goar told a visiting delegation of business people from Charlotte, N.C. in a education panel discussion at the Guthrie.

The district's chief executive officer said the recent expansion of the group of associate superintendents from four to seven will allow them to spend more time with individual schools.

And that's where he wants them.  "They are forbidden to come to the central office," Goar said in his remarks.  Actually, he said afterwards, the seven associates might be allowed in to 1250 Broadway one day a week for meetings.  But otherwise, they should be in schools.

He said a time analysis done earlier found that the four associates previously spent only 17 percent of their time in schools, which is where he said they should be.

The seven will average about 10 schools apiece.  Previously, he said, the associates served mostly as a broker of resources between the district office and schools.  Now, they should be coaching and evaluating principals as instructional leaders, observing their principals in those roles, and walking their schools and getting into their classrooms.

He said he's even fighting the inclination of the superintendents to base themselves at one of their schools.  That's because he doesn't want them disappearing into offices while they should be working with principals. He said he told the associates they can use cars and laptops as their offices.

He said working more with principals is one of four strategies that could help improve how principals and schools perform. The others include more autonomy over curriculum, hiring and firing power over teachers, and more budgetary control.

When the pedal beat the metal

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 18, 2014 - 3:05 PM

NOTE: You read earlier this week about the car beating the biker, the bus and the Green Line train from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis in a playful test of speed involving several Star Tribune staffers. The car was aided by the time trail being run at the tail end of rush hour, when traffic was smoother.

There's precedent for such a race from the opening of the first phase of the Midtown Greenway. That morning rush hour contest went to the bike.  Here's a reprinted time capsule of that contest written by Stribbers Steve Brandt and Mark Brunswick after their epic duel in late summer of 2000.:

It was no contest. Put a bike on the new Midtown Greenway against
a car on nearby Lake Street and two wheels beat four.

That's what we found when the Star Tribune pitted pedal against
metal in a race to test the efficiency of the newest commuter
bikeway in Minneapolis.

The car took 21 percent more time than the bike over the same
distance. The driver was limited to Lake's speed limit. The biker
kept his speed between 20 and 25 miles per hour for which the
greenway was designed, averaging 20.9.

The contest originated with a claim made two years ago by Tim
Springer, the Midtown Greenway Coalition's executive director.
Looking ahead to the greenway's completion, Springer boasted that
bikers would be able to travel faster on the 2.8-mile greenway than
on Lake for the same distance.

He pointed to the numerous traffic obstructions on Lake. They
include stoplights, traffic volume, holdups in the left lane from
turning cars and holdups in the right lane from buses. Bikers must
stop only for the greenway's three intersections with city streets,
just west of Hennepin Avenue S.

Although Lake Street traffic flowed relatively easily on the
morning of the test, it wasn't fast enough. The greenway's fresh
asphalt is a fast riding surface. But it wasn't as fast as it could
have been because dirt had washed onto the paving from the
shoulders of the still-unfinished project. The fit was tight in
spots, especially at bridges over Dean and Lake Calhoun Parkways,
where the bike and pedestrian trails are combined, squeezing down
to 10 feet. In fact, one attempt at a time trial had to be
postponed because the path was completely blocked by a contractor's
truck. It's going to be downright crowded in these sections,
although striping to separate bikes and bladers from walkers and
joggers will help.

Besides speed, there were other advantages to biking. As the
Isuzu Trooper in our test motored down Lake, it passed the garage
where its owner had just paid $692 for an exhaust-brake repair job.
That's almost as much as the the bike cost.

Lake gets its greatest use at rush hour. The greenway is far
busier in the evening and on weekends than during the day. Use is
noticeably higher in the half of the route that is west of Hennepin
than in the trench east of Hennepin. Some of that reflects spinoff
from the adjacent Chain of Lakes, but it also reflects ease of
access. The bikeway has eight access points west of its Hennepin
Avenue midpoint, but only four to the east, where the trench makes
ramps more expensive.

There's more graffiti on the east end, where bridge abutments
offer handy surfaces, and a trash dumpster recently was pushed
through a retaining fence, falling to the paths below. But the
eastern end is better protected from wind, and offers handy
commuter access to such employment centers as Norwest Mortgage and
Abbott Northwestern Hospital. In fact, hospital workers can be
spotted riding down the greenway in their scrubs.

When this part of the greenway is done later this year, sod will
diminish dirt runoff, security features such as call boxes, lights
and cameras will be operational, and striping will separate users.
Trimming a few branches that project onto the path would help.

But this is only the first phase of this ambitious project. The
west end, which now ends abruptly at Chowen Avenue S., is only a
short distance from the end of the suburban trail system being
developed by Hennepin Parks. Officials of that park system hope to
pave that gap this fall.

On the east end, the path ends at 5th Avenue. The Sears tower is
just a short distance down the tracks, and beyond that the Hi-Lake
shopping area. Plans call for an extension from 5th to the
Mississippi River in 2003. Don't hold your breath; any trail
projects in Minneapolis that involve negotiating with railroads
have taken far longer than anticipated.

But when that extension is finished, give us a call and we'll see
if a car fares any better in a 5 1/2-mile contest.


The men:

Steve Brandt/ Mark Brunswick
48 Age 44
5 feet 8 inches Height 6 feet 2 inches
158 lbs. Weight 230 lbs.

The machines:

1996 Bianchi Eros/ 1988 Isuzu Trooper
25 lbs. Weight 3,549 lbs.
24-speed manual Transmission 5-speed manual
9,222.7 Mileage 119,458
Aero bar Modifications/ New brake and exhaust systems
Water (rider) Coolant Water
The results:
7:50 Time 9:31

Barton appointment gets parent blowback

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 18, 2014 - 10:23 AM

The district is getting blowback from parents at Clara Barton Open School at a time that’s usually celebratory for a school – the announcement of a new principal.

The discontent arises from the timing of the announcement, the lack of school participation in the hiring process and lack of information about the new principal’s background. The district filled the job with unusual speed, a mere three weeks. It took four and a half months to name a principal two years ago.

The district late Monday announced that Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson had named Paul Scanlon to be Barton’s new principal. That announcement wasn’t e-mailed to parents until around 7 p.m., hours after the district posted the news on its web site. That left parents scrambling to Google the background of the new principal on Google, according to Julia Paulsen Mullin, co-chair of the school’s leadership council.

Scanlon is taking on Barton and its specialized open education program as a brand-new principal. In fact, he’s not licensed as a principal yet, although district spokesman Stan Alleyne said it expects the paperwork for that to be completed by the end of the month.

That’s unsettling to parents who wonder whether Scanlon has any open school background. Scanlon is replacing Patrick Duffy, who announced last month that he’s taking the job of director of leadership development for the St. Paul district. Some parents also look askance at Scanlon’s combination of charter school and district background. 

According to the district, he’s most recently worked for the district as an instructional specialist at Armatage Montessori School, and at a residential-shelter program the district supplies schooling for at St. Joseph’s Home for Children. According to the district, he also spent two years as an assistant principal at St. Paul City School, a charter school, and was interim director of the former Richard Allen Math and Science Academy in Minneapolis. His LinkedIn resume shows the Barton job will be his sixth in less than five years.

The school’s parent leadership  was already feeling bruised by its lack of participation in the hiring process, Mullin said.  It was allowed to edit a profile of what the school sought in a principal that was written two years ago, but the district didn’t allow parent or teacher representatives to participate in interviews with applicants, as it did two years ago.

The process the district followed when Duffy was hired was also used to fill principal jobs at Sanford and Ramsey middle schools, and most recently, at South and Washburn high schools.  It involves extensive consultations with the school and participation in applicant interviews. The district said it changed practices this year to only allow such involvement at the high school level. Associate Superintendent Cecilia Saddler, who announced the appointment, hasn't responded to Star Tribune calls about the process and appointment.

But she posted the following on the school's online site: "The order of the announcement regarding Mr. Scanlon was compromised, leading to the release of the news on the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) website prior to a communication with staff and parents.  This is not our standard protocol, and we regret the error.  MPS has a longstanding process for making principal announcements, and we are reviewing that process to make sure errors like this don’t happen again."

Meanwhile, area school board member Tracine Asberry said on a parent Facebook page that she's pushing the district to respond to parent questions. Some parents expressed frustration on that page but others advocated waiting to learn more about Scanlon. 

Mullin said representatives of the school’s leadership council were told by that it had a substantial pool of applicants for district principal posts, but would go outside that pool if needed.

The downside to excluding the school from interviews, Mullin said, is that there’s no one to tell parents why the new principal is a good fit, as there was when Duffy was hired.  Duffy also lacked open school background as well, but had a background in educational equity. He also had not worked above the level of assistant principal before Barton.

Mullin said the lack of information is an issue. “Immediately, there were lots of questions. Who is he?  Is he a good fit for Barton?” she said. “I want to know his educational philosophy and how that fits with Barton and open education. I want to know why the district is excited about him.”

A handful of Barton parents met on Tuesday at a coffeehouse and also decided they want more information about the process and the results. "If they chose this candidate because he was such a strong candidate, no one has communicated why he's such a strong candidate," said parent Kori Hennessy. "Maybe we need to slow down this process and look at what went wrong. For myself, I feel disrespected as a parent."

Some parents are advocating for a parent meeting at the school to discuss their issues, while others argue the district should back up and correct mistakes.

"I don't want to know why the district thought he would be a good principal. I want to know why they thought he would be a good principal for Barton," parent Elizabeth Campbell posted on Facebook.

Saddler's letter said her enthusiasm for Scanlon  was undeterred by process issues. She said he had a background in cultural proficiency and teacher growth in differentiated instruction, and worked in district efforts at "continuous improvement in the areas of literacy, mathematics, teacher collaboration and curriculum alignment."

The school is one of two in Minneapolis using the open model of education. The arrival of open education here grew out of a federally funded program in the 1970s that introduced varying educational philosophies in southeast Minneapolis schools, where Marcy Open School is located. Open education emphasizes hands-on studies tailored to a student's learning style and interests. It opened the year with 744 students, and is highly sought-after by southwest parents.

Responding to fears expressed by some, Alleyne denied that the appointment means that the district is de-emphasizing open education. The district still has seven principal openings to fill, weeks after it normally has finished its slate of leaders for the upcoming school year.

(Photo above: Patrick Duffy, by Maren Cotton.)   


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