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, TFA seek state's first alt licensing OK

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 11, 2014 - 1:33 PM

Teach for America and the University of Minnesota are in a race with the calendar to win state approval for the first alternative teacher licensing program in the state before its scheduled start in June.

The Minnesota Board of Teaching got its first look at the proposal submitted by the university to train teachers over two years for TFA, mostly while they’re already teaching students.

The proposal has been controversial among some students and staff at the university, who say it undercuts traditional teaching programs. But proponents say it actually gives TFA corps members more upfront supervised time in classrooms—under an experienced teacher—than the current five-week TFA program to train teachers before they get their own classrooms.

Chair John Bellingham said state staff will make every effort to get the matter on the board’s May 9  agenda, in time for the scheduled June 2 start of the university program, but that depends in part on outside academic reviewers who will review and comment on the proposal application.

The 2011 Legislature authorized alternative programs. The board last year balked over continuing blanket waivers from full licensing it had previously given TFA corps members, and required them to apply individually.

Deborah Dillon, a university professor specializing in curriculum and instruction, called the board’s questions on the proposal constructive.  The 30-credit program plans a June 2 start, assuming board and final internal university approval, but the academic portion doesn’t begin until mid-June.  “We’re feeling respectfully nervous about having it be processed in a timely fashion,” she said.          

Youth coaches to talk character at "Why We Play" workshop

Posted by: Shannon Prather Updated: April 11, 2014 - 6:52 AM

Sometimes it can be one of the hardest lessons learned in competition for both parents and kids.

More than 100 youth coaches and parent boosters will meet on Monday night to talk about good character in competition at the “Why We Play” workshop.

The Anoka-Hennepin School District is hosting the free workshop from 5:45 to 9 p.m.. on Monday at the Coon Rapids High School auditorium, 2340 Northdale Blvd. NW., Coon Rapids.

The district is teaming up with the Anoka-Hennepin Education Foundation and the Minnesota State High School League to organize the event. Presenters will discuss the importance of responding to mistakes positively and defining success by more than the numbers on the scoreboard.

“Youth coaches have the unique opportunity to teach, shape and impact students positively. They may not realize it now, but these coaches are influential well into the future,” said Anoka-Hennepin Schools Associate Superintendent Jeff McGonigal. “Character is developed throughout a child’s life and the experiences that children have early in their extracurricular and academic career are critical. Students develop physical and mental skills that prepare them for conflicts and teamwork when competing in high school sports and later in life.”

Coaches may register to attend online through Anoka-Hennepin Community Education at www.discovercommunityed.com.

New bullying law creates new responsibilities for education department

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: April 10, 2014 - 5:14 PM

For years now, Minnesota lawmakers have haggled over whether the state needs a bullying law.

But after Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act into law Wednesday, the focus turned to how schools will begin implementing the new law.

Overseeing much of that task will be the Minnesota Department of Education. The department already has several bullying prevention initiatives, but the new law definitely increases its workload.

But that appears to be more than okay with Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius who hailed the bill's passage.

"All of our students deserve safe and supportive places where they can learn, thrive and succeed," she said. "With Governor Dayton’s signature, Minnesota will no longer have one of the weakest anti-bullying laws in the nation, but instead will have a law that states clearly that Minnesotans are united in putting our students’ safety first.”

Much of the department's new responsibilities center around the creation of School Safety Technical Assistance Center which will help schools with bullying prevention work. Also, it must develop a state policy model for districts to adopt if they don't come up with their own.

Here are some of the department other new tasks as a result of the new bullying law.

  • Will hire staff to provide technical assistance regarding the policy, creating safe and supportive environments to reduce the amount of bullying, and to use formative and restorative discipline to hold students accountable and make amends for harm they have caused.
  • Develop webinars for school staff and administration regarding effective prevention and intervention practices.
  • Assist a district or school in helping students understand social media and cyberbullying.
  • Provide technical assistance through the Regional Centers of Excellence situated around the state, and making the state better able to respond to schools and parents with calls and concerns.
  • Help districts to review and assess their data regarding school climate, bullying incidents and the effectiveness of interventions.
  • Work with the School Safety Center at Department of Public Safety to coordinate programming for all schools on crisis response as well as prevention.


Anoka-Hennepin and its teachers back at the bargaining table tonight

Posted by: Shannon Prather Updated: March 31, 2014 - 10:17 AM

The Anoka-Hennepin School District and its teachers union will head back to the bargaining table Monday night for an 18th meeting aimed at reaching a new two-year contract. 

The two sides met for six hours on Thursday night but couldn’t reach a deal. They disagree on pay and health-care benefits.

The district negotiations team requested the Monday bargaining session. It will be held at the offices of the state Bureau of Mediation Services.

Anoka-Hennepin is the last large Minnesota district still at the negotiating table. The contract would cover the two-year period from July 2013 through June 2015.

The district has offered raises and $1,000 one-time bonuses. Senior teachers, who make up 60 percent of the faculty, would receive raises of 1.5 percent the first year and 2 percent the second year. Less experienced teachers would receive 0 percent the first year and 1.5 percent the second.

Representatives of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota, the union representing 2,800 teachers, said they wanted the $1,000 to be in the form of two $500 raises vs. one-time bonuses.

“We don’t have any details about the district’s new proposal may be, but we are looking forward to learning about it and working toward an affordable settlement that is good for our members and our students,” said Julie Blaha, president of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota.

Anoka-Hennepin salaries range from $37,000 for new teachers to $80,000 for those with more than two decades of experience and advanced degrees. The average Anoka-Hennepin teacher salary in 2012-13 was $62,300, the eighth-highest in the state. The St. Paul School District topped the list at more than $67,000 while neighboring Centennial was around $56,000.

The teachers union set an April 17 strike authorization vote after talks deteriorated earlier this month. If the vote passed, it would authorize their leaders to call a strike.

North St. Paul schools announce plan to make up snow days, minute by minute

Posted by: Libor Jany Updated: March 28, 2014 - 5:29 PM

The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District plans to temporarily extend the school day to make up for the six days of classes that were canceled earlier this year due to extremely cold temperatures.

Students in grades K-12 will be let out nine minutes later than usual every day between April 1 and May 28, school officials announced on the district’s website. The school board voted to approve the extension at its March 25 meeting.

Extending students’ time in the classroom would “allow the district to regain six additional hours of instructional time,” without having to lengthen the school year into the second week of June, district officials said in an online statement.

"This will also mean that students who ride the bus home will get dropped off about nine minutes later," the statement read.

The district had previously converted two staff development and/or conference days into school days.

Anticipating criticism, district officials conceded that the plan "is not a perfect solution," but, ultimately, it's the best option for to meet the state's requirement of 1,020 classroom hours per year.  

"Unfortunately, this has been a historic winter in Minnesota and while not ideal, we felt this solution, which didn’t involve extending the school day further into June, was the least disruptive to families," officials said.

School hours between April 1 and May 28 will be:

  • 8:45 a.m. to 3:24 p.m. for Castle, Cowern, Eagle Point, Oakdale (including afternoon pre-kindergarten) and Webster elementary schools;
  • 9:15 a.m. to 3:54 p.m. for Carver, Richardson (including afternoon pre-kindergarten), Skyview and Weaver elementary schools;
  • 7:45 a.m. to 2:24 p.m. for John Glenn, Maplewood and Skyview middle schools;
  • 8:15 a.m. to 2:54 p.m. for North and Tartan high schools and the Harmony Learning Center;
  • 8:15 a.m. to 2:24 p.m. for the North St. Paul Community School 8:30 a.m. to 2:29 p.m. for the Next Step Transition Program.

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