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.

District 833 seeks to fill top positions

Posted by: Libor Jany Updated: April 17, 2014 - 5:52 PM

District 833 officials are looking to fill three key positions, with the imminent departures of two assistant superintendents and a longtime school board member.

The latest to announce his departure was Jim Gelbmann, the district’s longest-serving school board member, who revealed his decision at the board’s April 10 meeting. Gelbmann, whose day job is committee administrator for the state House of Representatives Government Operations and Elections committees, said he will remain on the board of the East Metro Integration District (EMID), a consortium of 10 metro-area school districts.

“Prior to Jim Gelbmann’s resignation, we were aware that he was not planning on running for another term as his youngest daughter is graduating. He knew he would be ready to complete his service on the Board. His decision to leave earlier is understandable given the comments he shared at the April 10 meeting regarding his decision,” Superintendent Keith Jacobus said in an emailed statement. “We appreciate the time and energy Jim has dedicated to the students, staff and community members of District 833, through his service on the School Board. He has served on both the District 833 Board, and the East Metro Integration School Board, impacting many decisions over the years. His link to the legislature has proven to support much of his work on our School Board. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.”

Gelbmann’s resignation came after several board members raised concerns about his chronic absences from meetings (Gelbmann says he missed 20 meetings in two years due to illness and “a demanding work schedule”), Gelbmann said earlier this week.

Also leaving are Keith Ryskoski, assistant superintendent of secondary education, and Dave Bernhardson, assistant superintendent of elementary education.

“Their efforts on behalf of the students, staff, parents and community members of South Washington County Schools are appreciated,” school officials said in a statement on the district’s website. “Both leaders are looking forward to new opportunities and requested a simple announcement so they could continue to focus on serving the students in our district as they complete the school year.”

Bernhardson has been mentioned as a candidate for the vacant superintendent post in Inver Grove Heights, according to published reports. Neither man responded to a call for comment.

All three officials will serve out the fiscal school year, which ends on June 30.

St. Paul board member takes district leaders to task

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: April 17, 2014 - 1:46 PM

John Brodrick, a veteran St. Paul school board member with longstanding ties to the community and organized labor, took his colleagues by surprise at this week's board meeting by delivering a prepared statement claiming people "have lost faith in the district."

The comments, offered as a "counter perspective" to Superintendent Valeria Silva's lengthy monthly update, cited both public and internal dissatisfaction with changes in special education and English Language Learner instruction, as well as the district's approach to student discipline.

Brodrick said that a wide range of people, from parents to grandparents to teachers to ordinary citizens, "tell me that they no longer have confidence in the district to provide for the education of their child." He said district leaders could prove their critics wrong by developing "truly transparent strategies" that would give stakeholders reason to believe things will change in 2014-15.

The statement came on the heels of complaints aired by parents at Central High School and community leaders on the West Side about a lack of clarity and transparency in the district's actions, and was unusual coming from a St. Paul board member. They typically unite behind administrative strategies.

Earlier this year, however, Brodrick, 70, a former St. Paul teacher and coach, proved that he could step away from that team player tradition when he nominated -- unsuccessfully -- an alternate candidate for the school board chairwoman's seat that ultimately went to Mary Doran. One observer, Al Oertwig, a former school board member, said it was rare for the board to differ publicly on its new leader. Such decisions typically are worked out behind the scenes, he said.

On the subject of student discipline, teachers have been frustrated by the message sent by central administrative leaders calling for schools to do all they can to keep students in class.

In 2012-13, the district eliminated "continual willful disobedience" from a list of suspendable violations. It also offered financial incentives to principals to trim their suspension numbers.

In addition, the board last summer approved the latest in a series of contracts with a consulting firm that hosts "courageous conversations" encouraging staff members to examine any racial biases they may bring to their work. Brodrick voted in opposition.

On Tuesday night, Board Member Louise Seeba, who Brodrick had backed for chairwoman, thanked him for his "brave words." She said she was a proud parent of students attending district schools, and that she believed safety issues were paramount for parents.

Doran advised colleagues who hear concerns from community members to pass them along to administrators to determine if there's a pattern.

Former Board Chairwoman Jean O'Connell offered a more direct rebuttal to Brodrick's statement, saying she disagreed that a perceived lack of confidence among residents and parents was the "predominant mood in the city." That conclusion, she said, "is a big stretch."

Teachers cut through test-day tension with a power ballad parody

Posted by: Shannon Prather Updated: April 17, 2014 - 11:25 AM

Standardized testing can stress out the littlest students all the way to the most seasoned teachers.

A group of teachers in Mounds View Public Schools decided to shake loose some of those nerves with an original power ballad and accompanying music video that’s become an Internet sensation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb16D43FCWQ

The fifth grade teachers at Turtle Lake Elementary in Shoreview wrote and released “Let it Go” a testing parody with some impressive vocals and inspired, if not frenzied, interpretative dance moves. The video starts with the backpacked teachers disembarking a school bus in front of the school in a snow storm.

“I’ve learned so much this year. It’s like a swirling storm inside, I can’t keep it in. It’s time to shine,” one teacher sings.  “...Let it go. I will let my knowledge show.”

The four-minute video has had 130,000 views on YouTube and other sites, according to a district spokesman. It’s also generated plenty of giggles as teachers across the country have shown it to students to cut through the nerves on testing day.

"Teachers are getting responses from all around the country and even beyond," said district spokesman Colin Sokolowski. "Teachers around the globe are finding it, sharing it and saying 'thank you' to our teachers. They get an A+ for creativity and we're thrilled their work is appreciated by so many."

Inver Grove Heights district to interview six superintendent candidates

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: April 18, 2014 - 10:54 AM

The Inver Grove Heights district has selected six candidates to interview for the position of superintendent, a position currently held by Deirdre Wells. Wells, who has been superintendent for nine years, will step down at the end of June.

The candidates chosen for the first round will be interviewed next Tuesday and Thursday by the school board and an advisory committee, according to Ken LaCroix, the consultant managing the search.

They are:

John Bezek, Assistant Superintendent, Shakopee Public Schools
Jeffrey McGonigal, Associate Superintendent, Anoka-Hennepin School District
Gregory Winter, Superintendent, Braham School District
Dave Bernhardson, Assistant Superintendent, South Washington County Schools
Teri Anne Staloch, Assistant Superintendent, Osseo Area Schools
James Lentz, Superintendent, Pipestone Area Schools

Between April 30 and May 2, the top two or three candidates will be invited back to meet with staff and community groups, tour the district's schools and have a second interview with the board.

The Inver Grove Heights district has 10 schools and enrolls 3,900 students.

LaCroix is a longtime superintendent search consult in the Twin Cities.

No criminal charges to be filed in St. Louis Park school drowning, boy's family says

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: April 11, 2014 - 3:54 PM

No criminal charges will be filed in the death of Abdullahi Charif, the 12-year-old boy who drowned Feb. 27 in a St. Louis Park Middle School swimming pool.

Charif's family issued a statement that said they were very upset to learn Thursday that no criminal charges would be filed in the case, which was investigated by the school district and the St. Louis Park Police Department. The case was reviewed by the Hennepin County attorney's office.

"This decision has been made despite the fact that no one has yet explained how Abdullahi was able to sink to the bottom of the deep end of the pool and drown without being detected by those responsible for his safety," according to the statement released by the family's attorney.

The family has said that Charif did not know how to swim.

They are asking for anyone with information about the incident to contact attorneys Fred Pritzker or Eric Hageman at 612-338-0202.

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