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.

Five south metro high schools see new faces in principals' offices

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: September 2, 2014 - 5:16 PM

Students at five high schools south of the river will notice new faces in the principal's office this year, due to retirements, a resignation and a case of administrative musical chairs.

One new face is former Farmington High School Principal Ben Kusch, who moved to Shakopee High School, leaving his Farmington post after six years. He's "starting over in a very positive way," he said.

In Farmington, new Principal Jason Berg moved up from the assistant principal role, after previously serving as a curriculum specialist, math teacher and coach in the district.

Henry Sibley High School in the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan district has experienced some turnover in recent years, with Ryan Redetzke unexpectedly announcing his resignation in June 2014 after just a year in the position.

Now, Ronald Monson will be the school's third leader in three years. He was an assistant principal in the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district before taking on this role.

"My excitement is around community and culture," he said.

At Lakeville South High School, John Braun is the new principal, replacing Scott Douglas, who led the school since its opening a decade ago. Braun was principal at Lake Marion Elementary in the Lakeville district for 24 years before deciding to try a new leadership challenge toward the end of his career, he said.

Finally, St. Thomas Academy, the private, Catholic, all-male military academy in Mendota Heights, recently hired an alumnus as its new headmaster. Matt Mohs graduated from the school in 1990 and was most recently an administrator for the St. Paul district.

He's grateful for how St. Thomas shaped his life, and the new job was the only one for which he would have left St. Paul, he said.

Mohs replaced Thomas Mich, who retired last summer after 10 years as headmaster.

Gov. Dayton greets students at Garden City Elementary, talks All-Day K

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: September 2, 2014 - 12:21 PM

Students at Garden City Elementary in Brooklyn Center were greeted Tuesday morning by Governor Mark Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.

Holding the door open for students, Dayton doled out the high fives and asked several if they were excited for the new school year to begin.

Most were. Garden City Elementary is on an upward trajectory, its math scores on the showing significant improvement in recent years.

In fact, in 2013, the Minnesota Department of Education honored Garden City Elementary by naming it a Celebration School, an honor given to high-poverty schools demonstrating strong academic gains. It is located in the Osseo school district.

Before the bell rang, Dayton talked with some of the school's kindergarten teachers who extolled some of the benefits of all-day kindergarten. For the first time this school year, the state is funding full-day kindergarten to the tune of about $134 million.

The teachers agreed that having kids for a full-six hours is what they need to thoroughly cover academic subjects as well as the social and emotional lessons that the state's youngest learners need.

"We really have time to look at the whole child," said teacher Tina Thompson.

Also up for discussion: The state's decision to fund free breakfasts for all kindergarten students, plus additional funding that ensures students who qualify for reduced price lunches can receive a free meal should they be unable to pay for it.

Cassellius said that students who have been denied free meals in the past are often stigmatized by the experience.

"That one little significant event of being denied lunch or breakfast could set them off in terms of their personal development," she said.

Anoka-Hennepin introduces new superintendent in video spot

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: September 2, 2014 - 2:49 PM

The first day of school can be intimidating. Just ask any freshman.

But for David Law, the new Anoka-Hennepin superintendent, Tuesday was shaping up to be a piece of cake.

Sure, he met hundreds of new students, parents and teachers for the first time. And yeah, he's now running the state's largest school district.

But Law said Tuesday that he got the best sleep of his life Monday night, a fact he chalks up to the "tremendous" team of professionals who are helping him chart the district's future.

"Team" seems to be the operative word, for Law, a Coon Rapids graduate who also taught in the district. In fact, in a new video released to staff last week, Law is featured doing just about every job in the Anoka-Hennepin school district - everything from manning the lunch line to driving a bus.

The message is simple. "We can't do it alone." And by the video's end, you'll understand why.

The video took about two days to shoot and there are plans to film an alternative ending in coming days.

You can watch the whole thing here.

Hiawatha Academies to open first high school next year

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: August 27, 2014 - 1:13 PM

Hiawatha Academies, a network of top-performing charter schools in the Twin Cities, is set to open its first high school next year.

Originally, Hiawatha Collegiate High School, was slated to open in 2019. However, school officials say parent and student demand has spurred them to fast track plans.

The school is slated to open next August with just over 100 freshmen expected to attend. It will add one grade each year until it is built out.

Minnesota charter school advocates have long championed the need for successful local charter schools to expand. And Hiawatha is widely considered one of the best.

The Minneapolis schools consistently make the Star Tribune's annual "beating the odds" list, a compilation of high-poverty schools in Minnesota that have the highest standardized test scores.

For example, students at Hiawatha's Morris Park campus were 68 percent proficient in math on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments this year. The statewide average in math was 61 percent.

The high school will be led by Nicole Cooley, who currently serves as Hiawatha's director of teaching and learning.

"In a city where about half of all students graduate from high school, I feel amazingly grateful to be part of a network wherein one hundred percent of students will not only graduate, but will be academically and personally prepared to experience both the success and challenge that will exist for them in college," Cooley said.

She began her career in education teaching middle school in St. Louis through Teach for America. Before joining Hiawatha, she was a teacher and administrator at Gary Comer Prep in Chicago.

Hiawatha will be accepting applications for the new high school next year beginning Oct. 1. For more information, go to http://www.hiawathaacademies.org/

Fewer school districts planning on asking taxpayers for more money this fall

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: August 26, 2014 - 2:53 PM

Very few Minnesota school districts plan on asking voters for more money this fall, according to a survey by the Minnesota School Boards Association.

Thirty three school districts have plans to ask for operating levies in November, according to the survey in which 72 percent of all school districts responded. Twenty five districts plan on asking voters to approve building bonds or capital project levies.

The 33 levy requests would be one of the lowest in two decades – in 1996 there were 37 requests. In 2012, just 40. In 18 of the past 20 years, there were at least 50 districts asking for operating levy help.

MSBA staff said the state's decision to fund all-day kindergarten and some other recent state funding changes as possible reasons for the expected low turnout this fall.

In 2011, 114 school districts held referendums, an all-time high.

Some of the metro-area school districts that plan seeking taxpayer approve this fall include Eden Prairie, Waconia, Robbinsdale, Columbia Heights, and Centennial.

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