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.

Union vote set at St. Paul charter school

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: June 9, 2014 - 8:47 PM

The Community School of Excellence, hit last year by allegations it misused funds and engaged in retaliatory employment practices, could soon become the second unionized charter school in the state.

Teachers and other employees are scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to form a union at the school, a magnet for St. Paul's Hmong families -- with 958 students enrolled last week.

In February, staff members contacted Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union, about organizing a union. The move came after the state Department of Education called for an investigation into allegations against the school and its superintendent, Mo Chang, and about a month before two teachers filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming that white employees had been subjected to retaliation and discrimination, among other concerns.

The school has denied the teachers' allegations.

Of the move to organize, Education Minnesota president Denise Specht said in a statement Monday: "The educators at the Community School of Excellence want respect and a stronger voice in their school so they can improve the quality of education for their students. Those are important goals and Education Minnesota is ready to help those educators achieve them."

Chang could not be reached to comment.

In a statement Monday night, school board Chairwoman Patti Hessling said that the school did not believe a union would add to its success or provide an answer to its challenges.

"But the school respects the protected rights of its employees to make a free choice about union representation as well as to engage in other ways of working together for their mutual benefit without a union present," she added. "We believe that we can achieve best results for our students and our staff by working together directly."

Last summer, the state Department of Education asked the school's authorizer, Concordia University, St. Paul, to investigate reports of misused federal food funds and other allegations.

The independent investigation substantiated claims that Chang improperly directed staff members to enter or have students enter lunch codes for meals that were not eaten and encouraged staff to not report suspected cases of child abuse.

While some complaints were unsupported, the report concluded that Chang had threatened staffers and created an environment where workers were afraid to disagree with her.

But the school board succeeded in fending off Concordia's request to dismiss Chang.

The unionization vote is a "wall-to-wall" vote, meaning all employees, from teachers to cooks to education assistants, would be part of the same bargaining unit, Education Minnesota said.

The school has about 120 staff members.

Earlier this year, 25 teachers at Twin Cities German Immersion School, which also is in St. Paul, gave 80 percent support to forming a union, making it the state's sole unionized charter school.

Minnesota's first charter school, City Academy in St. Paul, was union-represented initially, but no longer is due to a reorganization.

Absent guest of honor has a good excuse

Posted by: Pamela Miller Updated: June 5, 2014 - 3:22 PM

The retiring Anoka-Hennepin superintendent will be skipping a gala in his honor Thursday night, but the head of Minnesota’s largest school district isn’t playing hooky.

Dennis Carlson, below, who was to be honored at the event in Andover, was in Woodstock, N.Y., to celebrate the birth of his grandson, Gideon Lee Carlson Cook. Gideon entered the world at 11:35 p.m. Wednesday, weighing 8 pounds, 11 ounces. Both baby and grandfather are reportedly doing fine.

Carlson and his wife, Edee, were in upstate New York for more than two weeks, waiting with their daughter, Annie, for the big event.

Plans were for Tom Heidemann, chairman of the Anoka-Hennepin school board, to speak on Carlson’s behalf on Thursday,
PAUL LEVY

Governor Dayton dishes on new plan to provide free meals to hungry Minnesota students

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: June 4, 2014 - 12:08 PM

Governor Mark Dayton served breakfast to students at Morris Bye Elementary in Coon Rapids, taking time to dish on state's recent investment of $4 million in school lunch and breakfast programs.

State lawmakers approved legislation that includes $3.5 million for the school lunch program to help ensure 61,000 low-income students have access to healthy meals at lunchtime.

It also provides $569,000 for an imitative that guarantees 64,000 kindergarten students will be provided a free breakfast.

“We cannot expect our students to succeed on empty stomachs,” said Governor Dayton. “Healthy meals are crucial to our students’ achievements. I thank Senator Alice Johnson, Representative Jerry Newton, Senator Jeff Hayden, and Representative Yvonne Selcer for passing this very important measure.”

Dayton was joined at Morris Bye by Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius,as well as Senator Alice Johnson and Representative Jerry Newton.

"When a child is hungry, they have a difficult time learning and concentrating in school," Johnson said. "Studies show a nutritious breakfast will reduce absenteeism, help close the achievement gap and increase graduation rates.

The new initiatives follow a January report from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid that showed 46 school districts had policies that denied students lunches if they could not pay for it.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 138 Minnesota schools were eligible under a provision of new federal law that would make it easier for low-income families to apply for free or reduced price lunches.

Edina elementary student saves classmate from choking during school picnic

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: June 3, 2014 - 2:19 PM

As it turns out, kids sometimes listen to their parents.

From left: Zach, Fletcher and Aiden

From left: Zach, Fletcher and Aiden

Zach Furman certainly did, and today one of his classmates at Concord Elementary in Edina is probably alive because the third-grader learned from his Dad how to administer the Heimlich technique.

During a school picnic, one of Furman's friends, Fletcher Dypwick, began choking on his lunch. Zach and another friend, Aiden Roberts, were nearby.

“I started to ask Fletcher if he wanted to join us and noticed he was choking,” Zach said. “I was scared for him because his face was pale and he was doing the choking sign—covering his neck with both of his hands.”

But Zach remembered his Dad's lesson on the Heimlich technique and jumped into action while Aiden went to get a teacher. By the time a teacher got there, the food was dislodged much to everyone's relief.

The next day, Fletcher's mom invited Zach and Aiden over for a playdate and to formally thank the two boys.

I never thought I was going to use what I had learned,” Zach said. “But I am so glad that I could use that knowledge to help someone.”
 

Mound Westonka student graduates with perfect attendance for her entire school career

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: May 30, 2014 - 2:29 PM

Write this down: Vitamins, swimming, lots of sleep and good genes.

That's what recent Mound Westonka High School graduate Sari Mailey credits with helping her maintain a 14-year perfect attendance record, a streak that actually started in preschool.

"I did not set out to get perfect attendance but did not feel that I had a reason to miss school," Mailey said.

Mailey's perfect attendance was acknowleged this past Sunday when she graduated from high school.

Her parents, Charla and Don Mailey, said they never had to employ extra motivation to get their daughter to go to school. Non-school days were a different story.

"Unless she had a previous commitment, yes, we had to drag her out of bed many times," Charla said.

Mailey will attend the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the fall and plans on studying communication sciences and disorders. She also will swim for the college team.

She also plans on keeping her perfect attendance streak alive in college.

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