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.

Minnesota Transitions closes alternative program

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Charter schools Updated: March 27, 2014 - 8:31 PM

Minnesota Transitions Charter School announced Thursday that it will close its independent study  program that serves 166 students effective Friday after losing a state aid battle.

The school's board made the decision Wednesday night, Minnesota Transitions School Director Patty Brostrom said. She said the school hopes to absorb in its other programs most of the students in the affected alternative learning program. The program's closing will come at the end of the third quarter, the day before spring break begins.

Minnesota Transitions also operates K-12 classroom and online programs that serve almost 3,000 students. Those programs are not affected.

The students involved are seniors, of whom a majority are trying to make up credits toward graduation, Brostrom said. They typically do most of their classwork outside of the school, bringing assignments for teachers to review and grade, and taking unit tests.

Most of the seven full-time teachers for the program will lose their jobs, Brostrom said, but she hopes one or two could be absorbed by other Transitions programs.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals earlier this month ruled in favor of the state Department of Education that charter schools aren't eligible to operate alternative learning programs for struggling students, in an appeal brought by Minnesota Transitions.

According to the decision, the department approved Minnesota Transitions in 2002 as an alternative learning program in 2002, and funded that for the next 11 years.  But in 2011, the department began reviewing the alternative program's status, and it told the school in mid-2013 that it couldn't operate the alternative program.

Alternative programs for Minnesota students experiencing difficulty in traditional schools began in 1988. More than 162,000 students are in alternative programs or schools, according to the department, representing 17 percent of public school students.

The Minnesota Association of Charter Schools is expected to consider whether to seek legislative authorization in the 2015 session for the department to fund charter operation of such schools.

Teacher of the Year finalists narrowed to 10

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: March 27, 2014 - 2:37 PM

In just over a month, a panel of distinguished educators will select the Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

This week, the field was narrowed to ten. It includes teachers of all types - from a choir teacher to a speech and language pathologist who works with pre-kindergarten students. The winner will be named on May 4.

The 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year finalists are:

Emily Anderson, Anoka-Hennepin, social studies, grade 12, Blaine High School

Gretchen Baglyos Reed, West Metro Education Program, choir, grades 6-12, FAIR School Downtown

Terrace (Terri) Evans, Anoka-Hennepin, library media specialist, grades 9-12, Champlin Park High School

Lora Hill, Winona, special education, grades 9-12, Winona Senior High School

Kim Jirik, Lakeville, speech language pathologist, pre-kindergarten, Crystal Lake Education Center

Billy Koenig, Shakopee, biology and ecology, grades 10 and 12, Shakopee Senior High School

Charlotte Landreau, St. Paul, history, philosophy and dance, grades 11-12, Highland Park Senior High School

Virginia Mancini, Mahtomedi, language arts, grades 9-12, Mahtomedi High School

Thomas Rademacher, West Metro Education Program, English, grades 9-12, FAIR School Downtown

Kathryn Kim Westra, Inver Grove Heights, elementary, grades 4-5, Salem Hills Elementary School

Farmington High student uses Twitter to compliment classmates

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: March 21, 2014 - 4:49 PM

An anonymous Farmington High School is on a mission to make the school a kinder place, one compliment at a time.

Three weeks ago, the "FHS Compliments" account, with the handle @FHSKindness_, appeared on Twitter, offering students and even the occasional administrator a dose of cheer.

The student has been tweeting messages like "You're nice and very good at lacrosse. Have a great night" or "You're one of the strongest, most beautiful people I've ever met" to other Farmington teens on Twitter, some of whom she's met, and some she hasn't.

She called Assistant Principal Jason Berg "a pretty cool" administrator and noted how much he cares about his students.

So far, she's tweeted 144 compliments and amassed 307 followers, including Superintendent Jay Haugen.

In the past few years, other students across the country have started similar "Compliments" Twitter accounts, devoted to sharing positive words about classmates.

The message is a nice antidote to some of the negativity that surrounds social media and students, said Principal Ben Kusch, including issues with cyber-bullying.

"It's hard to be against something like that," said Kusch. "Boy, you think about all the negative ways that social media can be used ... and it's really kind of neat to see someone doing something positive."

Osseo school board votes to reconfigure grades, build three high school additions

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: March 19, 2014 - 11:47 AM

Maple Grove, Park Center and Osseo High Schools will open their doors to freshmen beginning with the 2015-2016 school year.

Last night Osseo Area Schools board members voted to reconfigure grades across the district which essentially means sixth graders will be moved to junior high and freshmen will move to high school. Currently, Osseo schools serve students in grades K-6, 7-9, and 10-12.

To accommodate the influx of new students, the district plans on spending between $17-$19 million to build additions at the three high schools and make other classroom renovations.

The district began exploring the idea last year after legislators approved funding for all-day kindergarten. That prompted school leaders to begin assessing facility needs on a district-wide basis, which spurred administrators to propose realigning grades.

Administrators say there are many reasons to move to the more traditional grade model. Among them: Sixth-graders and freshmen have better access to tougher and more varied course options. The model also aligns grade spans to state academic standards. And it provides easier access to athletic and activity programs for freshmen.

School board members directed administrators to come up with a plan to reconfigure the grades without changing student boundaries - something many Maple Grove High School parents complained about when it looked their children might be moved to Osseo High School to help execute the student shuffle. 

Under the new plan, construction of the additions in scheduled to begin in October and be complete in September 2015.The additions are expected to cost about $13.5 million.

To pay for the additions, the district would tap its lease levy. If $13.5 million is financed, the owner of a $200,000 home would see an $18 annual increase in taxes.

The district probably would pay for the remainder of the project’s cost by either tapping operating capital funds, selling facility bonds or using an alternative facilities levy for deferred maintenance.

Osseo Superintendent Kate Maguire


 

Stillwater schools superintendent leaving

Posted by: Libor Jany Updated: March 18, 2014 - 1:05 PM

Stillwater schools Superintendent Corey Lunn said this week he is leaving to take the same position at a school system in Iowa.

Lunn, 47, will become the schools chief of Johnston Community School District, which draws its 6,700 students from five towns, including Johnston and Des Moines. Lunn, who previously led the 1,200-student Montgomery-Lonsdale School District in rural Minnesota, has been in Stillwater since 2011.

He said a number of factors weighed into his decision to leave. Among them were the prospect of going to a school district on firmer financial footing and moving to be closer to his wife's family.

 “It’s interesting to note that in Iowa there’s a sales tax that goes back to the schools to maintain and build buildings," he said in a brief interview Tuesday. "It's not so levy-heavy as it is in Minnesota.”

He will take over the Johnston school district on July 1. The job pays $225,000 a year plus comprehensive benefits,” a district spokeswoman said.

On Monday, the Johnston Board of Education voted to offer the job to Lunn, according to a news release posted on the district’s website. The board will approve his hiring at a special meeting on March 20.

“The board is excited to extend the offer to Dr. Lunn,” board president Greg Dockum said in the release. “We are looking forward to him accepting our offer to become the next leader of the Johnston Community School District.”

With roughly 8,800 students, the cash-strapped Stillwater school district is the third largest school system that draws students from Washington County. Under Lunn’s watch, the district enacted the "Bridge to Excellence Project" strategic plan, opened a digital fabrication lab, and implemented a new curriculum process focused on developing “essential learning outcomes and utilized instructional coaches to support teachers across all grade levels,” officials said.

He also steered the district into a research partnership with UCLA to “develop a framework for a comprehensive system of learning supports,” officials said.

Lunn is in the final year of a three-year contract in Stillwater, which paid him $160,000 his first year, $164,000 the second and $168,100 the third. 

“This is a great school district, it always has been. It will continue to be a very good school district," Lunn said.

Dr. Corey Lunn

Dr. Corey Lunn

 

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