From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Steve Brandt, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Paul Levy and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

Shakopee will let students into athletic, arts events for free

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: September 19, 2014 - 5:04 PM

It just got cheaper to be a high school sports fan or theatre nut in the Shakopee district.

This year, Shakopee students will be admitted into any home athletic events or arts events free of charge. From wrestling to football, volleyball to hockey, admittance to home games is now free.

Attending high school plays and band or choir concerts is also free.

The goal was to "provide access and opportunity for kids to be more involved," said John Janke, Shakopee High School's athletic and activities director. "We work hard to not have money be a hurdle."

High school students show their student ID at the gate to get in. Students in grades K-8 get in for free with their student ID when accompanied by an adult.

The regular cost to attend a game or event is $4 for students and $6 for adults.

"Thus far, I think it's worked out quite well," Janke added. "We've increased our attendance at fall games and events."

The district also recently updated its ticketing system, allowing people to save time by buying tickets online.

More information can be found at or by calling 952-496-5171.

St. Paul schools eyeing 1 percent levy hike

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: September 16, 2014 - 9:15 PM

For a second consecutive year, the St. Paul School District is considering increasing its annual property-tax levy by 1 percent.

The district's tax proposal was presented to board members Tuesday, and follows the release last month of 2015 budget-and-tax plans by the city and Ramsey County.

Mayor Chris Coleman has proposed a 2.4 percent increase in the city's levy. County Manager Julie Kleinschmidt is recommending no change in the county's levy.

If the district's 1 percent increase were to be adopted in December, when final action is taken, the owner of a median-valued $145,000 home would pay $715.29 for the school district's share of the property-tax bill in 2015, compared with $762.63 in 2014, or a $47.34 savings, according to county projections.

But that calculation assumes no change in the home's market value -- an unlikely scenario for most.

According to the county assessor's report earlier this year, the city's median-valued home increased in value by 11.1 percent. Commercial-industrial values, on the other hand, grew more modestly. As a result, homeowners can expect to shoulder a greater share of the tax burden in 2015.

Next year, the district plans to repeat plans first adopted for 2014 calling for it to levy for the costs of maintenance projects, such as roof replacements, rather than issue bonds to pay for the work. The strategy erases potential tax-levy savings now, but will save money in the long-term, officials have said.

The board is expected to vote next week on whether to approve a maximum 1 percent increase for Truth in Taxation purposes. The county then calculates potential tax bills for individual properties based on the ceilings set by the district, city and county. The jurisdictions can lower their levy figures, but not raise them when they take their final votes later this year.

School Board Member Jean O'Connell said Tuesday that she wants to explore ways in the meantime to keep the district's levy flat.

West Side schools to be discussed in St. Paul

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: September 16, 2014 - 10:50 AM

A neighborhood group that wants more local kids attending schools on St. Paul's West Side is co-hosting a community schools forum with district officials on Wednesday night.

"Less than half the parents on the West Side are sending their kids to our local schools and we want to ask district leaders how they plan to counter that exodus out of the neighborhood," said Rebecca Noecker, founder of West Siders for Strong Schools.

The district plans to touch on topics that include testing data, enrollment trends, English Language Learner and special education programs, and its Strong Schools, Strong Communities 2.0 strategic plan.

West Siders for Strong Schools formed in 2013 with plans to be more than a "group of parents who are always cantankerous and always making trouble," Noecker said. To get a better feel for the neighborhood's perceptions of its schools, the group surveyed residents and found most respondents were unlikely to send their children to their community schools, despite the district's new focus on neighborhood schools.

According to the survey results released in February, only 40 percent of the 120 respondents said they were likely to send their children to Cherokee Heights or Riverview elementary schools, and 18 percent said they were likely to send them to Humboldt Secondary School.

The survey also revealed that while some parents did not think highly of the West Side schools, they also did not know much about them. Parents who offered an opinion often indicated their views were formed long ago or without much research -- or that they were based on hearsay.

Wednesday's meeting is scheduled to run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Riverview Elementary, 160 Isabel St. E. Free childcare, translation services and a light dinner will be provided.

Noecker hopes that residents come with plenty of questions.

"All too often the community feels disengaged and this is their chance, as we begin a new school year, to get involved and make their voices heard," she said.

Hopkins principal dyes hair purple after students deliver on a bet

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: September 12, 2014 - 11:46 AM

These days, it's not uncommon for principals to perform outlandish stunts in an effort to entice students.

Last year, for example, an Eden Prairie principal jumped out of airplane. Others have gotten pies to the face, worn a super hero costume for a day or embarrassed themselves in other creative ways.

Usually the embarrassment only lasts a couple of fleeting moments. Kids laugh. And then life returns to normal.

But not for Jody De St. Hubert, principal of Alice Smith Elementary in Hopkins. She recently carried out a stunt that will likely have heads turning for weeks.

After challenging students last year to read over 10,000 books, De St. Hubert lived up to her end of the deal - dyeing her hair purple and camping on top of the school's roof.

She did both recently and plans to issue a new challenge to students, raising the stakes even further. Maybe a tattoo? Shave off her eyebrows?

MPS school board approves strategic plan

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: September 9, 2014 - 8:32 PM

By 2020 Minneapolis public schools will drastically increase student achievement and completly eliminate disparities. 

That’s the goal that the Minneapolis school board approved at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

The Minneapolis school board approved the Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson's Acceleration 2020 strategic plan which aims at closing the district’s vast disparities and boosting achievement for all students.

“It’s ambitious, but it’s doable,” Johnson told the board before it took a vote.

The district’s schools are now tasked with meeting 47 measures designed to achieve six goals: increasing student graduation rates and college readiness, eliminating disparities, improving community involvement, allocating more resources directly to schools, creating financial stability, and development of school staff.

District officials want math and reading scores to increase 5 percent every year for the next five years. For students of color, leaders want those standards to increase by 8 percent each year.

The district is also aiming to increase its graduation rate by 10 percent each year. 

Before voting some school members raised questions about the plan’s attainability.

“A 100 percent graduation rate is mathematically impossible,” board member Alberto Monserrate said. 

Director Mohamud Noor said there is a lack of trust within the community. 

“We have to be able to go out to the community,” Noor said. "We have to earn back their trust and tell them we will do our best."

The plan will allow for greater independence for the district’s principals and teachers to decide how their schools will function, everything from curriculum to start times. 

The district’s leadership spent time talking to the board about the district’s last strategic plan at Tuesday’s board meeting.

They admitted that many goals were not met because of the district’s lack of focus. 

Susanne Griffin, the district’s chief academic officer, said when she arrived to the district a year ago she heard a presentation addressing the district’s initiatives at that time. There were 90 of them.

“There were many competing initiatives,” said Michael Thomas, the district's chief of schools. “It made our objectives wide and an inch deep. We want to go narrow and miles deep.”

The district’s focus is now on making each student college and career ready, reducing suspensions and eliminating disparities.

“It’s going to take buy-in from the 6,000 employees, the parents and the kids,” Monserrate said. “I hope the next boards do allow for this to get underway, but if this doesn’t work, then do something drastically differently."


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