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Class Act

Star Tribune writers tracking education issue

Valentine's party officially over at St. Paul school

There will be no reprieve, no candy hearts, for children hoping their principal might drop plans to cancel Valentine's Day festivities at Bruce Vento Elementary in St. Paul.

But if Principal Scott Masini knows his school community as well as his high-profile supporters maintained at a school board meeting Tuesday night, the disappointment will not be widespread.

In the past two weeks, district leaders have been besieged with critical emails after a letter that Masini planned to send to families announcing an end to celebrations of "dominant holidays" like Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas was leaked and posted on a Facebook page.

Masini wrote that his East Side school, which is largely nonwhite, needed to "find a way to honor and engage in holidays that are inclusive of our student population."

The letter never went out. But Sharon Freeman, a district assistant superintendent, confirmed Tuesday night that the school is, indeed, canceling Valentine's Day activities. This after she told board members that she was "very sad" that the trust between Masini and the staff members whom he works to involve in school decisions had been broken by the leak and the uproar it created.

"His mission is to always make sure every decision is made in collaboration," Freeman told the board.

Board Chairman Jon Schumacher, who has visited the school and observed work on a vegetable garden there, noted that the district encourages its principals to get to know their communities, and that Masini's outreach efforts were an "example of good community engagement."

Masini's letter also had echoed a longstanding school board policy that states: "Schools shall discourage programs and festivities arranged to celebrate holidays and other special days, and shall strive to eliminate them, except where such observances are required by law."

Michelle Walker, the district's chief executive, said Tuesday night that principals still are free to continue with any Valentine's Day activities that have academic tie-ins -- such as having kindergartners cut out paper hearts as part of a "how to" exercise.

Looking ahead, the "holiday policy" may get a new look from a school board working group that periodically reviews such matters. Board Members John Brodrick, Chue Vue and Mary Vanderwert volunteered Tuesday to serve on the panel. 

Osseo considers small class sizes for grades K-3

Osseo’s superintendent recommended using a fund balance to invest more than $1 million in smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade for next year.

At a board meeting Tuesday, a member said the addition of classroom teachers is the highlight of the proposed budget.

Barb Olson, a spokeswoman for the district, said the recommendation involves a “strategic investment” that means not all classrooms will reduce in size. It also won’t involve cuts or class size caps, she said. The goal is to make sure students are reading at grade level by grade three, supporting the state's World's Best Workforce aim.

“We know that if students are reading at grade level by grade three, they are more likely to have success in later grades,” Olson said.

Robert Gerhart, vice chairperson of the school board, wrote a blog post about the decision. Although the district doesn’t have the resources to reduce classes sizes in higher grades, he said this is a start.

“I plan to support this action,” Gerhart wrote. “The function of the school district is to educate students, and class size is one of the few variable for which there is little disagreement about the return on investment in terms of student achievement.”

The school board will decide whether or not to take action on the recommendation at a meeting on Feb. 16.

Olson said in an email Friday evening that Osseo superintendent Kate Maguire is proposing to draw more than $1 million from the fund balance to invest in smaller class sizes. 

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