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.

U.S. Department of Education extends Minnesota's waiver to No Child Left Behind

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: July 31, 2014 - 3:25 PM

The U.S. Department of Education has granted a one-year extension for Minnesota's waiver to No Child Left Behind, the lapsed benchmark education law.

The extension is not much of a surprise. Federal education officials have often touted Minnesota's waiver to other states seeking to set up new school accountability systems and boost student achievement.

Under Minnesota's waiver, the Multiple Measurements Rating system was created. Among other things, the new ratings system recognizes a student's academic growth from year-to year, and how well a school is doing when it comes to closing the achievement gap between white and non-white students.

Under No Child Left Behind, about half of all schools were considered failures.

The law expired in 2007, prompting many states to seek waivers. Minnesota's plan was first approved in 2012.

“America’s schools and classrooms are undergoing some of the largest changes in decades—changes that will help prepare our students with the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that tomorrow’s economy will require,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “These extensions will allow states to continue the critical work of implementing the bold reforms they developed to improve achievement for all students.”

Forty three states currently have waivers in place. Without extensions, most would expire this summer.

Twin Cities school budgets are stablilizing, survey shows

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: July 29, 2014 - 1:14 PM

After years of significant budget cuts and layoffs, most metro-area schools are in better financial shape, according to a survey by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

Two years ago, metro schools laid off over 600 employees and forced to borrow $380 million largely as a result of education payment shifts that occurred to help balance the state budget.

This year's AMSD survey shows that school districts are implementing $24 million in budget cuts for the 2014-2015 school year and laying off 184 employees. Last year, metro schools were facing $133 million in budget cuts. The association represents 38 school districts, three integration districts, and four education cooperatives,

"The latest budget survey shows that the property tax reforms and investments in E-12 education that were approved during the 2013-14 biennium have helped stabilize school district budgets, said AMSD Executive Director Scott Croonquist.  "At the same time, it is clear that school districts are still recovering from the severe state budget shortfalls that followed the Great Recession."

This year, state lawmakers made several investments that will benefit Minnesota schools. They include: funding for all-day kindergarten, increasing funding for special education and English language learners.

Still, Minnesota schools face funding chanllenges. State aid hasn't always caught up with inflation while the gap remains between special education funding and the increasing costs of educating students with complex physical, emotional and behavioral needs.

Similarly, many of the funding increases granted this year are program specific - such as all-day K - and can't be used for general operations. Some school districts are having to tap their fund balance to cover increased expenses.

The survey shows that six metro school districts plan on holding referendums this fall. They include: Robbinsdale, Columbia Heights, Elk River, Mahtomedi, Eden Prairie and St. Anthony.

Scott Croonquist




St. Paul District names initial schools to get student iPads

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: July 23, 2014 - 1:28 PM

Every high school student in the St. Paul School District will have an iPad in 2014-15, according to the list released Wednesday of 37 schools in which the devices initially are to be distributed.

The district had yet to finalize the list of first-round recipients when the school board voted in June to make St. Paul the largest district in the state to put iPads in the hands of all students.

Students at the 37 schools will begin receiving the devices this fall during hand-out events that also will include information for parents, the district has said. Students at the remaining schools -- there are to be 61 sites altogether -- will have iPads in hand in 2015-16.

The district envisions technology as a way to tailor learning to individual student needs. Matt Mohs, the district's former chief academic officer, said that the move to iPads, in particular, was due in large part to it being an "all-in-one tool ... the Swiss Army Knife of devices."

The elementary schools that are to be included in the first round of distribution are: Adams, Capitol Hill, Chelsea Heights, Cherokee Heights, Crossroads, Eastern Heights, Farnsworth, Frost Lake, Galtier, Hamline, Horace Mann, Jackson, John A. Johnson, Linwood Monroe, Maxfield, Mississippi, Obama, Phalen Lake, Randolph Heights, Riverview and St. Anthony Park.

Capitol Hill, Farnsworth and Linwood Monroe also serve grades 6-8.

The secondary schools in the first round are: Central High, Como Park High, Creative Arts (grades 6-12), Harding High, Highland Park Middle, Highland Park Senior High, Humboldt (grades 6-12), Johnson High, Murray Middle, Open World Learning (grades 6-12), Parkway Montessori Middle and Washington Technology Magnet (grades 6-12).

Students at four alternative learning programs -- AGAPE, Gordon Parks High, Journeys Secondary and LEAP High -- also will receive iPads in the first year.

Many East Side schools will have to wait until year two. They include: American Indian Magnet, Battle Creek Elementary, Battle Creek Middle, Bruce Vento Elementary, Dayton's Bluff Elementary, Hazel Park Preparatory Academy, Highwood Hills Elementary, L'Etoile du Nord French Immersion and Nokomis Montessori.

The devices are being leased from Apple Inc. at a cost of about $5.72 million in the first year. In 2015-16, when the project is fully operating, the annual lease cost will be about $8 million.

Minnetonka Public Schools confirms boy found a construction site was a 17-year-old working for his father

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: July 17, 2014 - 4:14 PM

Minnetonka Public School officials say they've determined that a 17-year-old boy recently found working at a school construction site was the son of one the subcontractors and authorized to be there.

Furthermore, school officials say, Minnesota law permits a 17-year-old to work for a parent-owned business.

"In Minnetonka, we have many independent, family-owned businesses where teens gain valuable experience and work ethic during summer employment," school officials said in a statement. "This situation of the 17 year old son assisting his dad is no different. It is unfortunate that a union activist was harassing the teen on a job site."

Laborers International Union of North America 563 filed a complaint this week alleging child labor was being used at the Minnetonka construction site.

Two weeks ago, it filed a similar complaint involving a minor working at Cornelia Elementary in Edina. The school district investigated the incident have been assured by it contractor that minors won't work at the site.

Union officials say the two incidents are proof that there's a "disturbing trend" of contractors using child labor at school construction sites.

Several Minnesota school districts are adding classrooms or modifying space in schools this summer to accommodate for all-day kindergarten next year.

Castle Elementary names new principal

Posted by: Libor Jany Updated: June 26, 2014 - 3:44 PM

North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale school district officials have dropped the “interim” tag from Bridget Bruner’s title and named her the new principal for Castle Elementary School in Oakdale.

Bruner’s appointment was announced at the June 24 Board Meeting. She had served as the interim principal toward the end of the 2013-2014 school year, after taking over for Allie Storti, who left to take the principal job at Pinewood Elementary School in Mounds View.

Bruner, 14-year district veteran, previously worked as a teacher and teacher mentor, and worked to develop middle school math remediation program, school officials said. Most recently, she was an instructional coach at Skyview Middle School in St. Paul.

She received a bachelor’s degree in secondary math education from the University of Northern Iowa and earned a master’s degree and K-12 principal’s certificate from Saint Mary’s University.

“One of the most important parts of being a principal is building solid relationships with students, families and staff. I plan to spend a lot of time in the hallways, classrooms and playground getting to know your students,” Bruner said in a statement to parents that was posted on the school’s website. “I am hoping to connect with many of you at our community playground build on July 26th.”

Bridget Bruner

Bridget Bruner


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