Two teachers who've found ways to inspire Central High students to write poetry are among the winners this year of "inspired educator" grants presented by the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation.
The foundation announced this week it had issued $26,632 in grants to teachers at 13 schools.
The Central High teachers, Anthony Jacobs and Jesse Kwakenat, were repeat winners for their project, "Becoming an Author; Finding our Voice," which enlists a spoken word artist to teach poetry to 10th-grade students who in turn write, publish and perform poetry of their own.
Last year, Central's poems served as table centerpieces at a student success breakfast that drew hundreds of business, civic and school leaders to Washington Technology Magnet School in the North End area. The event raised money for mentors and tutors, and for the inspired educator grants.
The grants are used to encourage critical thinking and artistry among students and creativity and innovation among teachers. Other efforts being funded this year include:
The production of an art "zine" at Creative Arts High School that is to feature student artwork and will be offered for sale so the project can be continued at the downtown school.
The purchase of sensory materials such as light filters, pressure vests and DVDs that can be used to calm students for a return to the classroom at Dayton's Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary, Highland Park Middle School and the Riverview West Side School of Excellence.
An iPad-based project at Washington Technology Magnet School that will have students here and in Masaka, Uganda, use email and Skype to share numerical data about their respective cultures.
The use over seven days of a master puppeteer, Gustavo Boada, to help fifth-grade English Language Learner (ELL) students at Mississippi Creative Arts create puppet shows based on their life experiences. Boada's residency ended with a puppet show for students and families on Jan. 13, the foundation said.
Carol Henseler, an ELL teacher at Mississippi Creative Arts, said she hoped that having students incorporate arts and and personal experiences into their speaking and puppet-show rehearsals would help them with their English-language skills.
Despite the fact Minnesota's schools are growing increasingly diverse, its teacher workforce is 96 percent white, according to a state report released this week.
Every two years, the Minnesota Department of Education releases a report to lawmakers that examines the state's teacher workforce with a particular focus on supply and demand
The lack of racial diversity among Minnesota's teachers is one of the report's more alarming findings.
While there has been a slight increase in the number of Hispanic and Asian teachers, the percentage of teachers of color in Minnesota is 3.8 percent. Of the 58,211 public school teachers in the state, about 900 are Asian, 600 are black, 500 are Hispanic and 250 are American Indian, according to 2014 numbers.
The report also shows that Minnesota school districts continue to struggle to find teachers to work with students with special needs as shown by the number of special permissions given by the state to teachers to work outside their license area.
That number of licensed special education teachers in 2014 was slightly down from the year before, but shows a modest increase over the past five years.
Some metro-area school districts have had such a hard time finding special education teachers that they've thrown their efforts into "grow your own" programs like the one recently launched by the University of Minnesota and Intermediate District 916. That program helps paraprofessionals earn their masters degree and become licensed to work with students who have emotional and behavioral disorders. Participants receive on-the-job training so they don't have to quit work as a paraprofessional while they earn their degree.
Other high demand teaching areas cited in the report include: English as a second language, early childhood special education, math, Spanish and physics.
Areas where there is a surplus of teachers include: K-6, physical education, and high school social studies.
The authors of the report say that in addition to the lack of racial diversity in Minnesota's teacher workforce, lawmakers should also be aware of the fact that many districts say they having a tough time finding both short-term and long-term substitute teachers. Also warranting lawmakers' attention, is the fact teaching colleges are reporting that the current slate of testing requirements for teachers is a barrier to recruiting and preparing new teachers.
The St. Paul Public Schools hired a private firm this year to take on the daily challenge of finding substitute teachers, but its struggle to fill absences -- an issue first reported here in October -- continues.
An update presented to school board members this week showed that Teachers On Call filled a smaller percentage of substitute slots in each of the first four months of the 2014-15 school year than did the district when it managed the substitute teaching pool itself a year ago.
The percentage of absences filled by Teachers On Call dropped steadily, from 88 percent in September to 82 percent in December. The district's daily "fill-rate" goal is 90 percent. When classroom absences go unfilled, teachers are more likely to be pulled back from training sessions or principals required to employ creative measures such as rotating in other teachers with time available during a given day.
Superintendent Valeria Silva noted that the frustration of finding substitutes was not unique to St. Paul. As to whether the district is "worse off" now than when it managed the day-to-day operations itself, Laurin Cathey, the district's human resources director, said that he could not say, especially given that requests for substitutes also has been greater each month than it was in 2013-14.
The need for teachers to receive iPad-related training has contributed to the number of daily openings, but illness remains the biggest factor in teacher absences, Cathey said.
"This is the year of the flu," added Silva.
The district now is weighing whether to have teachers who now are on special assignment serve as substitutes in the spring, Cathey said. He also is considering hiring 15 full-time substitute teachers for the 2015-16 school year. What he's not about to do is call for an end to the Teachers On Call arrangement. Cathey told the board he wants to continue working with the firm to build the substitute pool.
Three new school board members were sworn in at Tuesday’s school board meeting. The new members include Don Samuels, Siad Ali, Nelson Inz.Incumbents Jenny Arneson and Rebecca Gagnon were sworn in for their second term.
Some other highlights of Tuesday’s meeting:
Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s spoke passionately at her last school board meeting, saying “this district and this community is hard on its leaders.” She again said that she stands by her work and was hurt my comments made by some in the community she did not care about students of color.
“Some of the ways that people have categorized me is hurtful,” she said.
Board leadership: The new school board elected the following as its leadership:
Boar chair- Jenny Arneson
Vice chair- Kim Ellison
Treasurer - Rebecca Gagnon
Clerk -Josh Reimnitz
Graduation requirements: The board passed new high school graduation requirements. It will reduce the requirements for physical education from one year to one semester. It also reduces the requirements for social studies.
There are no requirements for foreign languages or ethic studies, something the previous board wanted to see in the district’s staff.
District staff says reducing those requirements will allow more flexibility for electives.
After interviewing several candidates, the Shakopee school board has announced that the new head football coach will be Ray Betton, current head coach at the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield.
While there were many great possibilities, Betton was chosen because he had the experience and "such a passion ... to bring Shakopee to the next level" athletically, said Mary Romansky, board member.
Betton will take the job vacated by Jody Stone, who is leaving after nine years to pursue an administrator's license.
Betton, who is licensed to teach special education, will begin either this spring or next fall.