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.

Henry Sibley High School hires new principal

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: June 18, 2014 - 10:45 AM

On July 1, Ronald Monson will report to Henry Sibley High School to begin his role as the school's new leader.

Monson most recently served as an assistant principal at North High School in the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district.

He replaces Ryan Redetzke, who served in the role for only a year before resigning in May for "personal and professional reasons."

While Monson was an assistant principal in North St. Paul, a role he held since 2012, he was a lead administrator on several projects, including working with Project Lead the Way (PLTW), an engineering program, and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum at the secondary level.

Before his admininstrative role, Monson taught science at Minnehaha Academy and Hill Murray High School. He has also been a coach and athletic administrator.

Monson holds a bachelor's degree in biology with chemistry and mathematics from Bethel University and a master's degree from the University of St. Thomas. He completed his administrative licensure through Bethel and has also taken classes toward his Ph.D. at Bethel.

Before Redetzke's hire in 2013, previous Henry Sibley principal Robin Percival stepped down abruptly. The district investigated a complaint against her but didn't take disciplinary action. Percival received $64,000 as part of a separation agreement with the district.

D.C. groups says Minnesota colleges are doing a so-so job of preparing teachers

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: June 17, 2014 - 2:10 PM

“The University of Minnesota-Morris, Gustavus Adolphus College, Minnesota State University-Mankato and St. Olaf College are among some of the best institutions when it comes to preparing teachers, according to a report released today.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a D.C.-based group pushing for stronger evaluations of teachers, released a report ranking teacher preparation programs across the country while pressing for more accountability among the institutions.

While acknowledging some programs are raising standards for aspiring teachers, the group argues that most teacher preparation programs don't adequately prepare education majors entering the classroom.

This year, the group reviewed 1600 programs across the nation, an increase from 2013. Still, the group said that many programs were to weak to receive a numeric ranking or chose not to participate.

In Minnesota, of the 39 programs that were evaluated, 15 elementary and 20 secondary programs received a national ranking. Of those, the University of Minnesota-Morris was ranked 50th for secondary programs, Gustavus, St. Olaf's, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, University of Northwestern-St. Paul and the University of St. Thomas tied for 57th. For elementary programs, Minnesota State University-Mankato was ranked 27th.

"Given the increasing knowledge and skills expected of teachers, it is indeed disappointing that we could not identify more exemplary programs in Minnesota. However, Minnesota is by no means unique,” noted Kate Walsh, President of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “The dearth of high-quality programs is a national problem that public school educators, state policymakers and advocates, working alongside higher education, must solve together.”

This is the second time the group has scrutinized national teacher preparation programs based on a set of internal standards that have been widely criticized by colleges and universities. Some - including the Minnesota State Colleges and University system - were sued by the group in 2012 when they refused to turn over course syllabi used in developing the 2013 ratings.

In rankings rely heavily on published course requirements, syllabi, and other documents that spell out what aspiring teachers are expected to learn.

Many universities - like the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities - only provided enough documentation to the group to comply with legal guidance. They question the rankings released Tuesday.

"We got a ranking based on an incomplete data set," said Misty Sato, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development.

Kate Walsh

Kate Walsh


Eden Prairie Public Schools to ask for tax increase next fall

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: June 12, 2014 - 6:26 PM

Eden Prairie Public Schools will ask voters next fall to increase its existing operating levy by $700 per pupil, a move that district officials say will stabilize finances and limit the amount of budget reductions for the next five years.

The school board voted Thursday morning to put two questions on the ballot this November. The first asks voters to renew a portion of the existing operating levy of $589 per pupil and to increase that amount by $700. Under that scenario, the owner of a $325,000 home would see an annual net tax impact of $96

Voters will also be asked to approve an additional increase of $150 per pupil for a possible total operating levy of $1,439. If voters approved both questions, the owner of a $325,000 house would see an annual net tax impact of $152.

If that amount is approved, the district will be able to lower class sizes for some elementary grades, and hire additional staff, administrators say.

Bob Noyed, the district's spokesman, said the main reason why the district is asking voters to increase the operating levy is because that amount of revenue has stayed flat for almost a decade while costs have gone up.

"We're probably $300 to $900 less per pupil than our neighbors," he said of surrounding districts' current operating levies.

Last year, Eden Prairie voters defeated the district's request to revoke and raise its operating levy to $1,666 per pupil. A technology levy, however was approved.

Charter school acknowledges "historic" union vote

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: June 12, 2014 - 11:51 AM

Barring a finding that people were coerced in voting, the Community School of Excellence announced it would abide by what it described as a "historic unionization vote" by employees Wednesday.

"The union campaigned on the theme, 'Say Yes to CSE Success!' and we trust that the union and all our employees will go forward together with commitment and dedication to our mission," Superintendent Mo Chang said in a statement released late Wednesday night.

The St. Paul school becomes the second unionized charter school in the state.

The vote to form a union affects all of the school's approximately 120 employees, and comes nearly a year after the state Department of Education shed light on management issues at the North End area school by calling for an investigation into the alleged misuse of funds as well as allegations that it engaged in retaliatory employment practices.

An independent investigation depicted a tense working environment in which employees were fearful of disagreeing with Chang. She survived a call for her dismissal.

The K-8 school, which teaches Hmong culture and language, has seen remarkable growth. This spring, it had 958 students -- more than five times the number when it opened in 2007.

The run-up to Wednesday's vote had been contentious, with Education Minnesota filing six charges of unfair labor practices against the school.

Board Chairwoman Patti Hessling said in Wednesday's statement: "We believe the charges are without merit and will defend them if they are not withdrawn."

Wednesday's vote now awaits certification by the National Labor Relations Board. The next step, then, would be contract bargaining.

"I've often said a union contract is like the First Amendment for educators," Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said Wednesday. "It permits them to speak out without fear about what's happening in their schools. Those conversations are vital for keeping families engaged and schools focused on preparing students for successful lives."

WMEP parents, teachers seek principal ouster

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 11, 2014 - 8:34 PM

An attorney representing multiple parents and teachers Wednesday evening asked the school board of a west metro integration district to fire its sole principal after submitting a dossier about Kevin Bennett to the board that alleges multiple misdeeds.

The request is the culmination of 18 months of turmoil in the arts-oriented West Metro Education Program that directly educates just over 1,000 students but offers programs for thousands of other students and teachers at 10 suburban member districts plus Minneapolis.

The turmoil began in early 2012 when Principal Kevin Bennett was put on leave and later suspended for two days for several infractions, including using his position to date several subordinates. The upheaval continued with Superintendent Daniel Jett soon placed on leave and later reinstated without discipline, only to resign at the start of the school year effective June 30.

Meanwhile, more than half of WMEP’s board turned over this year, and it’s now examining whether the district should continue, whether it should operate schools, whether it needs a superintendent, and whether it needs to revamp academic leadership.

The dossier assembled for board members suggests that the board is out of touch with what’s happening in the schools and suggests a number of transgressions by Bennett. They include accusations that he’s had multiple affairs with staff members, that staff of the district’s downtown Minneapolis and Crystal schools have difficulty locating him during the workday, that he's lost the confidence of students and staff, and that he promoted a business of his while at a national principals conference to which the district paid his attendance. Bennett has not responded to multiple Star Tribune requests for comment, and walked away from a reporter Wednesday.

"These problems continue and they're serious," Corwin told the eight of 11 board members who attended. Teachers say the turmoil is driving their peers to teach elsewhere, including the president of the faculty union.

The list of accusations was assembled behind the protection of attorney Gregg Corwin, whose retainer is being paid by a group of about 10 staff and parents, several of whom are active in leadership of the district's two schools.the school’s leader. Most opted to remain anonymous, fearing retribution.

“Parents are afraid for their kids. Teachers are concern for their jobs and they’re concerned that they’ll be called racist because [Bennett's] African-American,” Corwin said in an interview.

The dossier represents a stunning turnaround for Bennett, who was named Minnesota’s 2012 middle school principal of the year.

A teacher union survey conducted in 2013 documents a massive disaffection among teaching staff. For example, it found that 87 percent of teachers disagreed with the statement that their principal treated all employees fairly, up from 25 percent in 2011.

One award-winning young WMEP teacher now teaching in another district said in a statement included in the dossier that Bennett played favorites, especially favoring young, attractive female teachers. “KB is a terrible leader and the last person that should be in charge of a school,” said Erin Aulik, the former teacher.

Parents complained that the impact of Bennett’s entanglements with selected female staffers eventually drew scorn among older students. The district had a program oriented toward students that urged them to think responsibly, respectfully and safely, urging them to think twice. “A tweet currently circulating amongst students is, ‘I guess Mr. Bennett didn’t think twice,’ ” wrote Bob Aldrich, who has been an officer in the parent-teacher group. “I had a parent of a fourth grader tell me their child now knows all about adultery. They learned it at school.”

Some parents complain that the board is disengaged with school issues and Jett hasn’t held Bennett accountable. “What does it teach our kids? That right or wrong, it’s no big deal? That rules don’t really matter? That if you’re in charge, you can behave with impunity? What messages might boys internalize, what about girls,” parent Kristin Parker Clay asked the board last year.

Jett also did not respond to requests for comment. Board Vice Chair Julie Sweitzer said Wednesday, “I think the board has been quite engaged with the [WMEP] schools.” She said that any information submitted will be given “serious attention,” but added, “I am not going to talk about any individual employee.”

Complaints involving Bennett have been submitted to the state Board of School Administrators three times. Antoinette Johns, the interim WMEP leave while Jett was on leave, said she referred Bennett’s suspension to the state board. Last August, some parents requested in a letter that the board revoke Bennett’s principal license. Recently, a parent whose daughter was listed on a student Web page singling out “ugliest” WMEP students said she asked the board to investigate what she said was Bennett not following district policy on cyberbullying.

Janet Mohr, the board’s administrator, said it has not taken any disciplinary action involving Bennett that meets the statutory threshold allowing disclosure.

Among other issues, the dossier highlighted rising spending by the district on lawyers, while some faculty and parents have complained of cutbacks in arts programming. Parents also raised issues of whether Bennett's business interests have distracted him, and note that a district employee has been listed as one of his business employees.

Meanwhile, the WMEP board on Wednesday authorized the hiring of Keith Lester, former Brooklyn Center superintendent, from three finalists for interim superintendent to lead the district while member districts reassess their commitments to WMEP and the board decides whether it will continue to operate schools and other programs. Lester formerly was a WMEP board member when superintendents of member districts joined representatives of member school boards on the WMEP board.

One issue for p[arents has been that unlike voter in traditional districts, they can't elect the entire WMEP board. Some get to vote on all members from their home district, one of whom serves on the WMEP board, but that's not always true in Minneapolis, which elects a majority of its members from smaller districts.

(Photo above: Kevin Bennett)


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