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.

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

Missing board member raises WMEP issues

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 19, 2014 - 1:21 PM

Since his appointment to the board of a west metro school integration district, John Solomon has been missing in action more often than not.

Minutes of board meetings for the West Metro Education Program show that Solomon missed 18 of 26 meetings since he was named Brooklyn Center’s representative to the integration board.

Solomon said this week that he’s planning to ask the Brooklyn Center board, on which he also serves, to name a replacement. But the attendance issue highlights a bigger complaint made by dissident parents about the board of WMEP, which operates two arts-focused schools in Minneapolis and Crystal that go by the name of FAIR. They say it’s out of touch, a charge disputed by Vice Chair Julie Sweitzer.

"I think that the board has been quite engaged with the FAIR schools," Sweitzer said. The parent-teacher group demurred.

“Time and again, [joint powers board] members demonstrate, for whatever reason, that they are uniformed about many issues connected to WMEP,” the parents said in a cover letter to a dossier they last week asked the board to review.  The dossier covered alleged misdeeds by the district’s sole principal, Kevin Bennett, whom they want the board to fire.

Part of the group’s frustration is that the WMEP board doesn’t have the normal accountability to parents that marks most school boards.  That’s because the boards of the 10 member suburban districts and Minneapolis each appoint one WMEP board member. So parents typically get to vote for or against only the board member who runs in the school district where they live. And in Minneapolis, since the school board’s  WMEP representative, Kim Ellison, is elected form a North Side district, only one-sixth of that city's voters get a vote for or against her.

A set of recommendations to the WMEP board from two ex-superintendents of WMEP member  districts,  Ken Dragseth of Edina and Toni Johns of Brooklyn Center, noted that parents want more involvement in the board’s proceedings. The consultants recommended a parent advisory group meet monthly with WMEP’s top administrator and at least two board members.

The ex-superintendents also found that the format of the board hampered its supervision. Board members are appointed by the boards of their home districts and seven of 11 board members turned over at the start of the year.  That has slowed the board’s decision-making process on other major questions posed in the report by the consultants. One remedy would be to stagger the expiration of terms on the WMEP board.

Major questions hanging over the board include whether member districts remain committed to WMEP membership for the next three to five years or whether the district should fold, whether it should operate its two schools or shift them to another operator, and whether the district needs a full time superintendent and principal for a district of just over 1,000 students. (Besides running the schools, WMEP also provided training to teachers in its member districts and programs for some of their 99,000 students).

Those questions are necessary to answer before the WMEP board decides whether to hire a new superintendent to replace departing Daniel Jett. But the consultants said board turnover “can leave open a steady influx of members who have little knowledge of WMEP, its history and vision. This can lead to the [joint powers board] by lack of knowledge of WMEP relying more and more on staff to set the direction of WMEP instead of the JPB.”

Gregg Corwin, an attorney representing some parents and teachers dissatisfied with the district’s leadership, put it more bluntly. “Most of the board members are new and have no idea what the history is,” he said.

That’s also true if board members don’t show up.  Several times in the last two years, the board has had only a scant quorum of six of its 11 members show.  Solomon said time conflicts posed by his job as a child protection social worker for Hennepin County account for his many absences. Brooklyn Center board Chair Cheryl Jechorek said she was unaware of Solomon’s absenteeism. “I’ll talk to him,” she said.

But by the time that the Star Tribune reached Solomon, he said: “I’m preparing to ask them to have someone sit in my place.”

The WMEP board last week authorized its leaders to negotiate a contract for former Brooklyn Center superintendent Keith Lester to serve as interim superintendent for the next year. Lester brings the advantage of being familiar with WMEP because superintendents of member districts previously served on the WMEP board.   

Still, Sweitzer noted, in a remark sparked by Solomon’s absence: “It’s unfortunate that our Brooklyn Center representative isn’t here.”

(Photo: Third graders Curtis Hatcher, left, and Kashawn Pierce read their book while their classmates worked independently in their classroom at FAIR School in 2012.)

St. Paul begins assembling details of iPad rollout

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: June 18, 2014 - 7:27 PM

The first year of a two-year plan to put iPads in the hands of all St. Paul students could result in the district paying up to $5.5 million to lease devices in 2014-15, a district official said Wednesday.

The school board is expected to vote on the lease agreement during its monthly meeting Tuesday.

Matt Mohs, the district's chief academic officer, said students at about half of the district's schools could expect to have iPads by early next year, under the plan. Getting the iPad effort rolling would require the district to lease 28,000 iPads for students and teachers, plus an additional 1,400 laptops for teachers, in 2014-15, Mohs said.

In 2015-16, when the iPad project is expected to be fully operating -- with all district students having devices -- the annual lease cost would rise to about $8 million, Mohs said.

He estimated the lease cost for the upcoming school year at between $5 million and $5.5 million, and said that the funding, if approved by the school board next week, would come from a $9-million-per-year technology initiative approved by voters in 2012.

That initiative, dubbed "Personalized Learning Through Technology," was initially intended to produce a "teaching and learning platform," or Facebook-like Web page, through which teachers and students could interact. Last month, however, the district pulled the plug on that project, citing difficulties in getting a platform to work quickly and efficiently enough, and set out to supply students with devices, instead.

Mohs said then that the district intended to take advantage of advancements made in the use of iPads for learning. Providing the devices to all students also would ensure that minority and low-income students were on equal footing with technology, he said.

At a committee meeting last week, school board member John Brodrick warned that the change in direction, if not done right, could be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

It wasn't until Wednesday that the district offered any cost projections.

Mohs said that under the lease arrangement, the devices would cost the district between $100 and $125 per student per year, or a little more than 1 percent of the revenue that a student generates annually.

The district still is working on a list of which schools will be covered in the first year. Also still to be determined is what happens if a student loses or breaks a device. Some districts, Mohs said, have family insurance plans, "but we're really not sure if that works for St. Paul." 


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