Even though the legislature won't convene until late February, the push to rally support for bullying prevention legislation kicks into high gear this weekend.
On Sunday, OutFront Minnesota and members of the Safe Schools Coalition will hold a rally beginning at 2 p.m.. at South High School. Students will lead the program, which will feature State Representatives Jim Davnie and Patricia Torres Ray. Guante, a spoken word artist and the two-time winner of the National Poetry Slam contest, will perform.
Education Minnesota, the state teachers' union, has made the passage of the bullying prevention legislation one of its priorities for 2014.
"We know students do better when they're in school and learning," said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht. "The Safe & Supportive Schools Act will help prevent bullying, which will reduce suspensions, absences and drop out rates and save Minnesota taxpayers in the long run."
Crews have repaired a gas leak at Hilltop Primary in Minnetrista where classes were canceled for the day.
At about 6:20 a.m.., a strong gas odor was detected in the school and classes were canceled. School officials later discovered that a skid loader removing snow hit a gas meter.
While classes were canceled, some evening activities slated at the school will resume tonight. Hilltop Family Fun Night will go on as planned at 4:30 p.m..
Westonka Superintendent Kevin Borg credited custodians with quickly discovering the problem and reporting it to CenterPoint Energy and the local fire department. Similarly, bus drivers made sure students weren't waiting at a bus stop unaware of the situation, he said.
There is much hand wringing today in education circles over the less than stellar performance of U.S. students on a test that measures academic performance of students around the globe.
Known as Programme International for Student Assessment (PISA), the test is given every three years to 15 year-olds from 65 participating world economies. The test includes science, math and reading questions.
For the most part, U.S. scores fell in the middle of the pack as students from Shanghai, China dominated all subjects. Other Asian countries did well as did students in Finland and the Netherlands.
The words "stagnant", "mediocre" and "disappointing" seemed to dominate descriptions of the U.S. scores. Here's what some have to say:
"Today’s PISA results drive home what has become abundantly clear: While the intentions may have been good, a decade of top-down, test-based schooling created by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top—focused on hyper-testing students, sanctioning teachers and closing schools—has failed to improve the quality of American public education." Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
"There's absolutely no reason we should settle for mediocrity, especially when it comes to our kids. American students are capable of high achievement on the international stage, and there are just as many exceptional educators in our great nation, but our system has been failing them. While some bipartisan progress has been made to put in place student-centered reforms that are beginning to show results, far too many political and educational leaders are sitting still." Michelle Rhee, founder of StudentsFirst.
“It is no coincidence that the countries with the strongest PISA scores also have rapidly growing economies. Global leaders recognize that in order to continue strong economic expansion, they must invest in their youngest learners. But the U.S. trails behind almost every developed country in the world when it comes to access to high-quality preschool. In fact, countries like China and India are dramatically expanding access to preschool, reflecting growing consensus that transcends political ideologies and geographic boundaries—that skills development starts at birth and lays the foundation for achievement in school, college, career and life." Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund.
Our performance is not worse than it was on earlier PISA assessments – in fact, it held rock steady through each of the successive PISA surveys. " That is the problem. With each survey, more and more countries surpass the U.S.in these important education rankings." Marc S. Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center for Education and the Economy.\
From the National Center for Education Statistics.
The Farmington district is taking steps to provide students with a “choice school” next year, in an effort Superintendent Jay Haugen said is part of the district’s emphasis on trying new things.
Haugen shared the idea for the choice school — an option involving self-directed learning and letting kids learn at their own pace — at the Nov. 25 board meeting. A committee will begin meeting to discuss and design the school on Dec. 5.
It would emphasize creativity and critical thinking, he added, with teachers acting as guides and students using iPads to learn.
“I think what we’re sure of is we’re going to design it,” he said. “We’ll make our best run at opening it next year.”
The school would probably serve kindergarten through grade 8, with the first students in fourth through sixth grade. The goal would be to have 100 students enrolled at the district’s Instructional Service Center, where there are empty classrooms.
Kids in grades four through six are just beginning to develop strong interests, making it the perfect age to transition to the new school, he said.
“But part of the design is, are we even going to call them grades?” he asked.
In recent years, the district has tried to emphasize technology and taking risks. Farmington was among the first districts in the metro area to issue all students iPads and was designated an Innovation Zone last spring by the Minnesota Department of Education, in partnership with the Spring Lake Park district.
“This is exactly the stuff we’re trying to do district-wide,” said Haugen of the school.
Haugen cited the Lakeville district’s Impact Academy and an Edina choice school as models.
At the board meeting, Haugen shared this year’s districtwide enrollment numbers, which include about 265 students living in other districts choosing to enroll into Farmington schools.
But there are also 1,198 students who live in Farmington that leave the district, enrolling elsewhere.
Haugen said that getting some of those students, who are mostly elementary-aged, to enroll back in the district is an ongoing goal, and creating a new kind of school would be part of that effort.
The idea for the new school “literally came up about two weeks ago,” he said.
“But we pride ourselves on being nimble as a school district,” he said.
Schools sometimes “spend way too long up front” researching an idea, rather than just trying it, he said.
Sharon Van Leer, a multicultural affairs specialist at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, had her election to the South Washington County school board affirmed in a recount last week.
She will join Katie Schwartz, a full-time student and stay-at-home from St. Paul Park, as the two new faces on the seven-member board when they are sworn into office in January.
Van Leer, of Woodbury, entered last week's recount with a five-vote advantage over Molly Lutz for the last of the four four-year seats on the Nov. 5 ballot. During a two-day recount ending Friday, Van Leer picked up one additional write-in vote, according to a school district news release.
Schwartz, Van Leer and incumbents Tracy Brunnette and Katy McElwee-Stevens won the four-year seats up for election this fall. Incumbent Laurie Johnson won a two-year term.
Van Leer, who is black, grew up in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul and now lives in Woodbury. She and her husband, the Rev. Thomas Van Leer, raised six children and 30 foster children.