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.

West St. Paul district signals intent to withdraw from EMID

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: January 6, 2015 - 3:37 PM

The West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan school board unanimously approved a resolution stating their intent to withdraw from the East Metro Integration District (EMID), a collaborative of 10 school districts designed to address racial and economic equity issues and promote integration.

The collaborative coordinates professional development for teachers and sponsors student programming. In the past, they ran two schools.

With EMID, "Collaboration is probably the biggest advantage," said Jean Lubke, EMID's executive director. "You can do more things if you're larger than if you're smaller."

But West St. Paul administrators believe the cost of belonging outweighs the benefits, and that the district could provide some of its services in-house. The district might also independently partner with other districts and buy services -- AVID training or artist-in-residence programs -- themselves.

Approving the resolution doesn't mean they are withdrawing immediately, said Superintendent Nancy Allen-Mastro, but "this puts us into an exploration phase." In a year, board members will make a final decision, effective July 2016.

EMID has existed since 1995, and had "a steady 10 districts" for many years, though not always the same ones. The last to leave was Mahtomedi nearly a decade ago, Lubke said.

"It's always a concern when you have members change," Lubke said.

Membership this year costs $30 per student, or about $150,000 for the West St. Paul district. Next year, it will cost $10 per student. That's about $50,000 a year, but other programming costs will still bring the total to $150,000, district documents said.

In order to receive integration funding from the state, districts must form a collaborative. St. Paul, Roseville and Spring Lake Park qualify because they are considered racially isolated. The other member districts --  Forest Lake, Inver Grove Heights, South St. Paul, South Washington County, Stillwater and White Bear Lake -- are adjoining districts or voluntary members.

West St. Paul will continue to purchase programming from EMID, like an AVID camp and kindergarten readiness classes, through this year and next, said Lubke.

Other integration districts in the metro include the 11-district West Metro Education Program and the 8-district Northwest Suburban Integration School District.

Valley View Elementary in Columbia Heights opens new classrooms

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: January 6, 2015 - 2:17 PM

Photo by Casey MahonReturning from winter break is always little exciting, both for students and parents alike.

But kindergarten students at Valley View Elementary in Columbia Heights got an extra boost when they returned to school on Monday to find six new classrooms, courtesy of a $2.9 million project that wrapped up ahead of schedule and under budget.

Construction on the six classrooms - five for kindergarten and one for early childhood classes - started this summer.

School officials say the addition will help off-set enrollment gains at the school, which has recently gotten a lot of attention for the significant academic strides being made by its students, many of which come from low-income families.

For example, the school’s Hispanic, Black and Asian students topped the statewide average of their peers in both reading and math on last year’s MCAs. Valley View’s Hispanic students — who make up about one-third of the student body — were 74 percent proficient in math. That’s more than twice the statewide average.

The Minnesota Business Partnership presented Valley View with its Minnesota Future Award and a check for $20,000 earlier this year in recognition of the school's successes.

Photo by Casey Mahon

St. Paul board member won't seek re-election

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: January 5, 2015 - 12:13 AM

St. Paul School Board Member Louise Seeba announced Sunday night she will not seek re-election.

In a posting on the "I Stand With SPFT" Facebook page, Seeba said that she remains committed to the city's students and its teachers, and to "public education in general." But, she said, she now looks forward to "having more time to spend at our schools' sporting events, concerts, science fairs and art exhibits."

Seeba, an assistant city attorney for St. Paul, is one of four incumbents whose seats are up for election this year. The others are Anne Carroll, Keith Hardy and Board Chairwoman Mary Doran. Doran held a campaign re-election event in early December.

The I Stand With SPFT page was created by and for supporters of the district's teachers union, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, and has been an outlet for concerns about issues that have included classroom misbehavior.

Typically, St. Paul school board members are reliable votes in favor of district initiatives. Last summer, however, Seeba and colleague John Brodrick voted in opposition to the district's sudden switch in its technology plans to a new initiative aimed at putting iPads in the hands of all students.

"Louise's absence from the board will leave a huge hole," Al Oertwig, a former board member, said in a statement Sunday night. "She was one who listened to the concerns of parents and staff and worked to resolve issues which needed attention."

During the board's Dec. 16 meeting, Steve Marchese, a lawyer and school district parent, criticized board members for a lack of oversight in ongoing disciplinary issues at Ramsey Middle School, among other concerns. He plans to run for a board seat. Two other candidates -- Jon Schumacher and Mary Vanderwert -- also have filed campaign finance reports.

Precinct caucuses are set for Feb. 3.

District scorecard shows steep decline in Somali student achievement

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: December 19, 2014 - 2:22 PM

Minneapolis Public Schools’ latest scorecard shows it has made only slight gains in student achievement and some student groups, particularly Somali students, are struggling even more to meet state standards.

Overall achievement in math and reading scores stayed virtually the same for the district as whole. The scorecard also shows students receiving a 21 or higher on the ACT decreased by 3 percent. 

The scorecard allows the public to take a deep dive into the district’s MCA scores, ACT scores and graduation rates by race, income status and other demographic information. 

But one trend shown in the scorecard is inaccurate, district officials said. The scorecard shows that middle-class Somali children are the lowest performing group in math, with only 11 percent of them meeting standards. The scorecard shows that subgroup was 51 percent proficient in the 2012-2013 school year.

Eric Moore, the district’s director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment, said some 200 Somali students were eligible for free and reduced lunch that did not have that status at the time that they took the standardized test. 

Despite the error, the district still saw a 25 percent drop in the number of middle-class Somali children that meet math standards. The dip was caused by roughly 12 students, Moore said.

“I’ve looked into that data and it’s a problem,” said outgoing board member Mohamud Noor. The district is not adding resources to address the needs of the district’s “newcomers,” students that are new to the country, which are almost entirely Somali.

The school district is equipped with data systems that allow officials to pinpoint exactly where they are losing ground in achievement. That has led to targeted initiatives for certain groups of students. But Noor said the district should be doing more to address the achievement of all students of color.

“You can go to any south west school right now, even [South High School]. Remove the white students and keep the students of color, they will become a priority school,” the designation given to schools with low academic achievement, Noor said. 

Noor, who will not be on the school board come January, said Somali children no longer have access to after school programs that gave them extra tutoring in math, reading and English language skills. Funding was cut for those programs last year.

“The kids used to spend more time getting more support on a one on one level,” Noor said. “Parents are pushing me so hard on that every single day.”

Second survey says Shakopee residents want 'megaschool'

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: December 19, 2014 - 11:18 AM

A second survey indicates that more Shakopee residents favor building a 1,600 student addition to Shakopee High School, making it a 3,200-student “megaschool," than other options.

The Shakopee school board and a districtwide guidance group received feedback from a recent phone survey on whether to build a second high school, add on to the existing school, create a second high school campus or build a new 3,200-student high school.

The district is making plans to ease an enrollment crunch from early childhood through grade 12. In March 2014, residents voted against a referendum that would have built a second high school.

Since then, the board has been gathering information about what to do next. Results of the professional phone survey of 409 residents indicated that:

-Residents preferred expanding the existing high school, when asked in several different ways.

-When asked which option they preferred, 42 percent chose the addition, the most popular choice.

-There is a good amount of support for a bond referendum, with 65 percent of respondents saying they would vote for it.

- Of the statements presented during the survey, respondents were more likely to support the referendum when they heard that: funds would improve safety and security at all buildings (78 percent more likely), funds would increase access to classroom technology (76 percent more likely), and that enrollment at the high school has been increasing and will continue to increase (70 percent more likely).

-In order for it to pass, the surveyor recommends the cost of the referendum be set at or below $17 per month for a home worth $213,000.

This survey comes after an informal survey last month of 1,900 residents. The most popular option in that survey — which 66 percent of residents said they would approve — was an addition to Shakopee High School.

The board will discuss the options in the coming weeks and make a decision in February for a referendum in May 2015. The full results of this survey and the previous survey are available at: http://bit.ly/1r44oyx

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