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.

St. Paul works to reengage dropouts

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: March 12, 2015 - 3:14 PM

The St. Paul School District and Saint Paul College now are part of a national initiative giving high school dropouts and at-risk students help in earning diplomas -- and college credits.

This year, the Gateway to College program serves 52 students between the ages of 16 and 20, with 13 of them taking college-level courses at Saint Paul College.

"Many students have life circumstances that prevented them from succeeding before," Superintendent Valeria Silva said in a news release. "Gateway to College will be an important part of our district's strategy to serve all of our students effectively."

As part of the program, students receive one-on-one advising and support from teachers who are on special assignment who act as coaches and mentors.

The effort is made possible through a contract between the district and the Gateway to College National Network, and is being funded with help from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the Corporation for National and Community Service's Social Innovation Fund and the Travelers Foundation.

There are 42 Gateway to College programs across the U.S.

GOP senators propose dismantling Minneapolis school district

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: March 5, 2015 - 5:26 PM

Minnesota Senate Republicans want to dismantle Minneapolis Public Schools and create six smaller school districts in an attempt to close one of the state's largest achievement gaps. 

Fueled by comments from Minneapolis elected officials that there are systemic failures in the school district, Senate Miniority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, introduced the plan. He says this is a way to reboot a system that has been failing year after year.

"In order to change results and the achievement gap, you have to think about how to change the system, how do you make it more responsive to the parents that it serves," Hann said at a news conference. 

The plan is unlikely to win final passage, but it is renewing debate about how best to manage the state's most troubled school district. Last school year, less than half of the district's students passed state accountability tests, compared to 58.8 percent statewide. 

Under the proposal, the current Minneapolis school board would dictate how to split the school district, which serves about 35,000 children. In 2017, residents would elect six new boards and the new districts would start classes in September 2018. If the Minneapolis school board does not come to an agreement on splitting up the districts, the governor could step in. 

"I think everybody acknowledges there are extreme problems in the performance of the Minneapolis school district when you look at the results," said Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge. "Something has to be done. What else is on the table? Nothing." 

Jenny Arneson, the school board chair, expressed strong opposition to the proposal, saying it is telling that none of the delegates from Minneapolis were involved in devising the plan.

“If [Hann’s] automatic response is to dismantle the system, I disagree with that. There are other ways of addressing the achievement gap,” Arneson said. 

Prior Lake High debates leaving federal school lunch program

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: March 4, 2015 - 3:42 PM

Should they stay or should they go? That's the question school officials are debating in the Prior Lake-Savage district amid complaints from Prior Lake High School students and parents that new federal school lunch guidelines don't provide enough calories to meet active students' needs.

Janeen Peterson, the district's director of food services, gave a presentation of the school's options at a recent school board meeting, with a board decision expected in April or May.

One solution is to leave the National School Lunch Program, which would also mean losing the federal funding attached to participation. The school currently receives about $992 per day in reimbursement from state and federal sources, including $810 for students qualifying for free and reduced lunches.

The district could then implement a two-year pilot program, said district spokeswoman Kristi Mussman.

Finances are one important consideration, but the district will lose money whether it remains a part of the program or not, Mussman said.

"In fact, our district would likely lost more money by staying on the federal program due to the new guidelines that significantly limit portion sizes," Mussman said.

Those guidelines are a part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, federal legislation passed in 2010. This year, the government added to previous guidelines, restricting the total calories, fat and sodium content of foods served for lunch, including in a la carte lines. There is also an emphasis on whole grains and a requirement to take one fruit or vegetable.

"What it will really come down to is what students, parents and staff would like to see in a lunch program  at PLHS," Mussman said.

The district will be sending out a survey in late March to determine what students, parents and staff want.

Last fall, Wayzata High School also opted out of the federal program, citing similar concerns with portion size, calorie content and overall satisfaction.

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