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 Alejandra Matos, 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 Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

Shakopee district office relocates to the mall

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: November 17, 2014 - 4:51 PM

To avoid a space crunch, the Shakopee District Office has moved to an unlikely location -- the local mall.

The Central Family Center building previously housed the district office, but moving departments like the superintendent's office, human resources, food service and community education to the new location has opened up eight classrooms for early childhood programming. Several classrooms at West Junior High are now free as well thanks to the consolidation.

"It made complete sense to us," said Crystal McNally, the district's spokeswoman, adding that the new digs are also a way to boost traffic in the mall, which has some empty storefronts.

The district moved into the Shakopee Town Square mall starting in late October and recently finished. The storefront, about a mile from the Central Family Center, used to house the Minnesota School of Business, so it was set up to be an office-type space, said McNally.

"It's a nice space," she said. "They left a lot of furniture for us, supplies for us so it saved us some money."

Having so many departments in one place allows for collaboration, she said.

The district's Tokata Learning Center, an alternative high school, was already just down the hall. There's a movie theatre on the other side of the mall, and next-door neighbors are a Dollar General and a Goodwill.

Plaintiff attorney in the landmark Vergara case in Twin Cities to talk about teacher tenure

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: November 14, 2014 - 5:09 PM

When a judge ruled this summer that California's teacher tenure laws deprived minority students of an equal education, legal observers concluded that it was likely other states could see similar lawsuits, particularly those where efforts to scale back tenure have failed.

Could Minnesota - a state lawmakers routinely skirmish over the issue of teacher tenure - be one such state?

That remains unclear but one person with good insight into the matter is Marcellus McRae, the lead co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California. On Friday, he was in the Twin Cities at the urging of the White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce to talk to members about the landmark case.

Before speaking at the chamber event, McRae stopped by the Star Tribune to talk about the case, which has been appealed by the state of California.

Before he had a chance to take his coat off, McRae was asked about the likelihood Minnesota would have to defend its teacher tenure laws in court.

"I think the answer is yes," said McRae, an attorney with Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, a global law firm that has represented clients like Apple Inc., Chevron and Wal Mart.

McRae explained that Minnesota's constitution has a couple of notable provisions that make it ripe for a legal challenge. The first is that students have a constitutional right to an education. The second, he said, is an equal protection clause.

In looking at Minnesota's statutes concerning tenure, he was he was struck by the fact that - like in California - it's not tied to job performance.

In Minnesota, teachers are eligible to earn tenure after three years. In California, it takes two years.

"One of the things that we found is that it is absolutely imperative that you don’t talk about tenure in terms of time," he said. "Saying that someone has been teaching for five years ipso facto they should get tenure. That misses the point entirely."

McRae also noted that current law allows seniority to dictate teacher layoffs in Minnesota, just like it does in California. That particular California statute, however, was found unconstitutional by Judge Rolf Treu in the Vergara case.

With Republicans taking control of the Minnesota House of Representatives, that issue seems all but certain to come back again.

Members of the state teachers union, Education Minnesota, have argued that getting rid of LIFO only allows school district to get rid of their more expensive veteran teachers in favor of rookie teachers with lower salaries.

Tenure, they say, is about ensuring teachers have due process - not jobs for life.

Last week, the Star-Tribune published an article that showed teachers with the lowest ratings work at some of the most economically disadvantaged schools.

Minneapolis teachers have complained that the evaluation data is flawed and that teachers in struggling schools are handicapped from getting better scores.

McRae said he and other attorneys in the Vergara case proved that "grossly ineffective" teachers harm students in ways that affect their learning for years.

"Still, I want to be clear. Our case in California, the Vergara case, was not an anti-tenure case – and was not an anti-teacher case," he said. "It was a pro teacher case. We noted in our complaint that there are a number of teachers who do a good job at educating students"

McRae declined to discuss whether Students Matter, the group that funded the lawsuit and is backed by Silicon Valley technology magnate David Welch, had been in touch with anyone in Minnesota .

You can see McRae's closing arguments in the Vergara case here.


St. Paul students face exams -- of the vision variety

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: November 13, 2014 - 4:20 PM

A public campaign to boost student learning in St. Paul is being expanded to take into account student eyesight issues, as well.

The St. Paul Public Schools Foundation announced Thursday that 40 students at Farnsworth Aerospace Magnet, 1290 Arcade St., will undergo vision screening Monday as part of an initiative dubbed See St. Paul.

"Uncorrected vision problems may impact a child's performance in school and their overall quality of life," Mike Anderson, the foundation's executive director, said in a news release. "Studies have shown that vision is the top health disparity contributing to gaps in student achievement."

The initiative follows the launch last month of Succeed St. Paul, a broader three-year campaign aimed at bolstering the ranks of mentors and tutors, and helping teachers put innovative ideas into action.

See St. Paul is a partnership of the St. Paul Public Schools Foundation, the St. Paul Public Schools and the Phillips Eye Institute Foundation.

The group hopes to raise $500,000 to cover eye screenings and follow-up care over the next 10 years.

Screenings also are planned next month at Battle Creek and Four Seasons A+ elementary schools.

Osseo Area Schools launches a new mobile app to track buses

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: November 13, 2014 - 2:20 PM

When an early season snowstorm struck earlier this week, parents in the Osseo Area School district had a new high tech tool available to help them track whether buses were running late.

MyOsseoBus is a web-based tool and mobile app the district formally launched Monday - just in time for first snow of the year.

In doing so, Osseo joins the growing list of metro-area schools that are using mobile technology to allow them to track school buses.

"It's a really nifty thing," said Barb Olson, the district's spokeswoman. "But we learned on Monday that we have to do more to tell parents how it works."

The tool can be accessed via school or district website. Owners of Apple or Android devices can tap into MyOsseoBus through a free, mobile app. By using the tool, parents will be able to tell if buses are running more than 10 minutes late or if bus service has been canceled because school has been canceled.

Earlier this year, Eastern Carver County Schools began using the web-based MyStop application which lets parents see up-to-date GPS information regarding school bus whereabouts. Burnsville-Eagan-Savage schools began using a similar tool at the beginning of  this school year.

The University of Minnesota also uses a GPS-based system to allow riders to track campus buses.

Complaint about principal: public or private?

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: November 11, 2014 - 3:53 PM

A Woodbury high school principal's sudden decision to resign last week was accompanied by silence as to the details of a complaint made against him.

Aaron Harper, who had been principal at East Ridge High since it opened in 2009, quit after the South Washington County School District completed an investigation into the allegations. No disciplinary action was taken, nor was any payment made to Harper to obtain the resignation, district spokeswoman Barbara Brown said.

Because there had been no discipline in the case, Brown said that the district would not disclose the nature of the complaint against Harper.

But, in an e-mail Tuesday, Brown said that the district plans to seek a written advisory opinion from the state Department of Administration regarding what information, "including the allegations that were made against (Harper)," can be made public.

"The district will maintain and disclose data in accordance with the Department of Administration's advisory opinion," she said.

South Washington County's stance on the specifics of the Harper complaint is consistent with the position the district took in 2012 when John Soma, a former activities director at Woodbury High, resigned as athletic director at Edina High School.

Reporters learned then that two allegations had been made against Soma during his Woodbury tenure.

In one case, South Washington County disciplined Soma for failing to comply with proper accounting procedures. Brown, in turn, made available to the Star Tribune in 2012 a copy of the disciplinary letter sent to Soma in that case.

The second allegation also was investigated but did not result in discipline. As such, Brown said then, the nature of the claim was private under the state's data practices act.

Still, Brown said Tuesday, the district wants to be transparent in its actions, and now will seek the state's guidance in the Harper matter.


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